Deathbed Confessions

It was a cold, winter night one Christmastime when I got the call. My grandfather was in the hospital and the doctors did not think he would make it through the night. I met up with my parents, and we all took the long drive north. It was near midnight when we arrived at the hospital.

My aunt and uncle were there, watching over my grandfather as he slept.  We perched uncomfortably on the hard hospital chairs, waiting for him to wake up, hoping we’d at least get a chance to say good-bye. We talked about this and that. There was a lull in conversation, and I was quietly drowsing, when suddenly, loudly, my aunt announced, “My son’s gay.”

My mother, taken off guard, stared at my aunt for a moment in disbelief, then said, “Chick knows gay people.”

Chick knows gay people. Like I’d written the “Suburban Housewife’s Guide to Gays” or something. It was so funny that it shocked me back to wakefulness.

As they continued to discuss this amazing revelation, others things became clear. For one thing, my Gaydar was crap. Had I learned nothing at college, hanging out with gay people, dancing at gay clubs, drinking gay drinks? Apparently not. I never would have guessed that my cousin was gay.

My aunt is a big woman with an even bigger attitude, but that night she showed her equally big heart. It was a testament to her love for her son that she immediately started trying to accept him as he was, rather than to push him away or try to change him. Oh, she did it in her characteristic fashion—kicking, screaming, swearing, and name calling—but she did it.

My mother can be a stern woman, but she proved that night that she can also be flexible. It was a testament to her love for her brother and his family that she made the Olympic leap necessary to find any connection, however tenuous, to this foreign and unexpected idea. It was a stretch for her, and it was fortunate that she thought of me first, and not my brother, because “My son has a gay neighbor” might not have gone over as well.

And it was a testament to the atmosphere of love and acceptance that my grandfather created around him, even as he lay near death, that these two women, so different from one another, could wrestle with their prejudices together at such a difficult time—and win!

They weren’t the only ones victorious that night. My grandfather pulled through. He stayed with us until April 7, four years ago today. My cousin, who is lucky to live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, has since married. Now everyone in the family can say that they know gay people. And they know that gay people are just people, people who need their mothers, their aunties, and their cousins, and who miss their grandfathers, just like the rest of us.

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