Monday, February 4, 2013

Life lessons from Mom

I’ve shared pretty openly about my tumultuous history with my parents when I told them I was gay—my Mom, in particular. And while it was difficult at first, I witnessed a change in my Mom that was nothing short of remarkable. Over time, she made the transition from someone who wished I hadn’t been born at all (out of fear of how difficult my life would be), to a woman who not only loved me as her gay son—but advocated for and celebrated me. 

This past week I ran across the letter I wrote her as part of her memorial a few years ago. I want to share it here today because I think it stands as an example of how hearts can change—and delivers my very imperfect homage to one of the humans I loved most in this world.

Most of all, I hope there are a few Moms of gay Mormons out there who read this and realize the same thing my Mom did—if you allow it to be, having a gay child can be a blessing unlike any other. Often, parents of gay kids are given opportunities to develop Christlike unconditional love, compassion, and forgiveness that others are not offered. No, it is not an easy path—but if it is navigated with guidance from our Savior and His gospel, it can be one of the most rewarding any human can travel. 

Dear Mom-

I know you’re aware how my heart groans today, how much losing you hurts me, and how unprepared I feel to continue on without you. But I want you to know how glad I am for your release from your struggles here.

Mom, you left me a soul stretching legacy. One of the most profound was passing to me your life long love of education. You inspired me to levels of achievement I could never have accomplished on my own. When we were small children, you set a goal for yourself to return to nursing school. How difficult this time must have been for you —two small children to raise, very little money, and in order to survive you needed to clean houses on the weekends and in the evenings. When you weren’t studying the rigorous nursing curriculum, you were in the home of a stranger, stooped over cleaning their floors —   to make a better life for yourself and your family. But you never complained. How proud I am of you for that.

When I was contemplating graduate school some years ago, I thought of many choices. You encouraged me to aim high, just like you did when you decided to return to school, and with that encouragement I chose Stanford University, certain that I would be rejected. How could they be interested in a poor kid from a small town in Idaho? But they accepted me. That accomplishment is not only my own, Mom—it is yours, as well. Without your example and encouragement, I would not have made it to that milestone in my life. 

When I left for school, I know it broke your heart. I saw it in your eyes. Your words and countenance projected a bravado I knew was false, but in order to make my departure easier you hid your sorrow. You knew that when I left, I would not return. You would not have your youngest son at home any longer…but you let me go, wished me well, and assured me that I could do this —   that I could reach this goal —   in spite of your  heart breaking as you watched me drive away in the moving van. Thank you for setting me free, mom, when I know it took all your strength to do so.

As my life and career took root in San Francisco, I turned to you often for counsel and advice. Often I would dismiss the wisdom you shared with me, but more often than not I would regret doing so. I talked to you almost every day, Mom. Sometimes I would call with nothing really to say—a commentary on the weather, or something else insignificant—but you always made time for me even when my conversations had to be less than interesting. I drew comfort knowing you were there—just simply, perfectly, there. 

When I told you I was gay, it created a rift in our relationship—but mercifully, that rift was temporary. Years later, when you came to not only understand what it meant to have a gay son—but also recognized it as a gift—you shared a story with me that I’ve never forgotten. 

“Years ago,” you said, “my best friend Adele discovered she had a brain tumor. Her initial diagnosis was dire—but also, fortunately inaccurate. When I heard about Adele’s choices for treatment, I felt that she should pursue specific avenues she’d ruled out. I grew increasingly impatient with her choices until I read an article in a medical journal written by someone I respect, suggesting the avenues I had been championing could do more harm than good.” 

“That’s when I realized the limits of my own understanding. Not just when it came to Adele, but when it came to you, as my gay son. In both cases, my sense of urgency to push you both into care that could harm you stemmed not from certainty, but from fear. I learned that my only honest course of action was to turn my fear, my love, and each of you over to the care of your Savior—and to love you both for who you were. I could no longer pretend to know what is best.”

“I’m not a genius, a philosopher, or a wizard. Even if I were all three, I’d still find myself looking off the edge of my own understanding into the vast unknown. And when I recognize my limitations, I am more grateful than ever for a Savior who is free from such restrictions."

"I’m sorry our road was rough. I’m sorry I didn’t always see what a wonderful blessing you are to me and to our family. Today, I am grateful to have you as my gay son—and I love you.” 

What I learned from you that day is that people can change their minds—and that often their hearts then follow. I learned that like you, as a human I don’t know what’s best for anyone, either. My only job is to stick close to my Savior, make the best decisions I can, and to allow others the dignity to do the same—and to love them just the way they are. Thank you for being an example to me again, Mom. 

Two weeks ago at Christmas was the last time we were all together as a family. As I drove you home Christmas night, you told me you didn’t want to me to come up with you to your place. But I needed to; I needed to help you carry your gifts upstairs. I dismissed your request and took you upstairs anyway. Inside your apartment, I turned to find you crying by the front door…tears flowed down your cheeks from behind the reading glasses that were too large for the frame of your tiny face. 

When I asked you why you were crying, you said it seemed extra hard to say goodbye to me this time, and it felt like it would be a long time before you got to see me again. I just grabbed you and hugged you, and I said, “Sssshhh…it’s okay. Don’t worry, Mama. Don’t cry--I’ll see you later.” You looked me in the eyes and said, “Okay…okay. If we can say, ‘I’ll see you later,’ I’ll be alright with that. But I won't say goodbye to you.” 

I hugged you again, kissed your forehead, wiped your tears, and walked away. That was the last time I saw you. Part of me regrets not staying and spending more time with you, but another part of me recognizes that it happened exactly as it should—that in the opportunity to tell you, “I’ll see you later,” our Savior was at work as well, reminding us that this isn’t really goodbye at all.  Our final moments together had our Savior’s fingerprints all over them. For that, I’m also grateful. 

You weren't perfect, Mom--but you were the perfect Mom for me. I know in this world, this phrase often carries a negative connotation. But Mom, I am, and always will be, a Mama’s boy. And I’m proud to be one. 

I won’t tell you good-bye, Mom. But I will close with this: “I love you mom. That will never change. And you can bet that I will, indeed, see you later.”

With much love, your gay son,


  1. This was a beautiful tribute to an obviously wonderful mother. You have a wonderful way with words. Although, part of me wonders why you signed it "your gay son" Yes, being gay is part of who you are, but you are so much more. I think being a disciple of Christ, being an empathic man, a devoted son, etc. is so much more important--and more important to focus on. Just my thoughts. Still, thank you for sharing the letter. We never outgrow our need for our mothers, do we? I am certain you miss yours. God bless.

  2. I enjoyed this moving tribute, Mitch. Your mother sounds like a wonderful person. And she was blessed to have a kind, gay son. Having a gay son has made me a better person.

  3. What an awesome guy you are Mitch. I am a straight mom of seven (and a new-ish foster daughter) and I know a little bit about mother love. I love my mom too, and I think that the mother-child bond is just one of the coolest inventions ever.
    I am certain your mom is watching you and smiling and sending you every blessing she has the power to help send.
    You will see her later, and what a joyful reunion that will be. Thank-you for sharing such a touching and personal story. i am grateful to be your sister from heaven, and though we will likely never meet in this life-I look forward to seeing you in heaven. You are trying to do much good here on earth. I want to hear even more about it when we all tell out stories "up there" one day. Your friend, Mary Bell