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Letter #7 — Perseverance of Positivity during the Endgame

Dear, Dad.


In the midst of the pain, grief and uncertainty in our lives and country right now, I feel a new contentment. The day after we moved you into your new home, after my ten days with Bruce in the motorhome and three and a half weeks living in close quarters with you and Mom, Bruce and I were discussing how we both felt different. You and Mom were in your new home. You were here to stay. And we both felt a release of stress and resulting contentment, because you and Mom were surrounded by family who love you and treat you well.


Thanks for recounting the trip, the “Journey of Love.” It truly was. It was transformative for me, and, I think, for all four of us. I’m so grateful for the honest, courageous conversations we had. The 30 hours I had alone with you on the return trip, while Mom and Bruce drove her car, were such a gift. How many parents and children have the opportunity, in the face of death, to have the gift of time together that we shared?


There are so many moments on the trip that I cherish. The one that stands out the most was horrifying at first. We were just west of Laramie. Bruce and Mom had missed an exit and were slowly catching up. You started showing signs of oxygen deprivation and I asked you if you were OK. With the 7,000 foot elevation, you’d gone through your two mobile tanks faster than we’d expected. Your oxygen level was low. You couldn’t catch your breath. The panic hit you, mentally and bodily. And I had prepped the wrong plug for “Brownie,” your small plug-in machine. As I pulled to a stop on the side of I-80 in the middle of nowhere as you gasped. I realized just how dangerous a journey we were on. Mom and Bruce caught up just as I got the machine plugged in, so you could breathe again. After you recovered and as we drove onward, you said to me that you knew you were moving up here to die.


That was such a painful moment. We cried. And there was also joy, because we were finally talking about the reality. And you said something about how admitting that you’re dying seemed pessimistic and you’re such a positive person. I listened. I understood you. And I also disagreed. I said something like, admitting the truth, as painful as it is, is an act of optimism, because now we can plan and prepare for you death together, make the most of the time we have left, be daring in our sharing, and build a space for you and Mom that will make your passing as loving and comfortable as we can. We can be optimistic about the circumstances of your death.


I don’t think I would have come to that worldview without being gay. (We had also been talking about my being gay, what it was like growing up gay, etc.) Coming out of the closet was a death, more so than any of the religious rites that claim death and rebirth. When I came out, I killed the obedient Catholic priest. I claimed my truth and was finally able to move forward in peace, joy and freedom, even in the midst of the loss, grief and pain.


The conversation we had the remainder of that day in Wyoming will forever be one of my most cherished. We were able to ask anything, to talk about things like whether you'd ever been in love before meeting Mom, what you were like in high school and college, and what it was like to lose your father at such a young age. You taught more than I knew about your dad and mom that day, and now more of them lives on in me, as you will continue to do so.


There was a part of me that really didn’t believe we’d all make it back alive from the trip. Through the lens of the compounded stressors of the past few years, especially the unrelenting traumas of 2020, there were so many variables and possibilities for accidents. Driving that gigantic motorhome across the country and back while maintaining a strict quarantine was the most difficult physical and mental challenge of my life. There were times on the trip down to Texas that I thought I’d crack. The wind was relentless. I bet I white-knuckled it 95% of the way, especially through Colorado — the Washboard State — and the two near accidents we had there. Each night I tossed and turned in bed not knowing how I’d continue the next morning. But I persevered and took it one task at a time. Because that’s what I do. I get it done. That’s how I survive in this world. You and Mom taught me that: We persevere, we love and we hope. And once we arrived in Texas, all the toxicity and pain of 2020 disappeared, because we were bringing you home. The hugs we all shared during our weeks together — the ability to show love in an embrace — in the touch-starved pandemic reality, we all needed that healing closeness.


Another profound and painful moment was the night here in the TV room that you and Mom were releasing the pain, sadness, anger and grief surrounding the abuses you endured from your eldest daughter and her husband. As distressing as it was to hear and feel the pain that you endured, I was relieved and optimistic, because you were both finally releasing it and naming it. You’d been trying to heal things for so long, but the other parties had no interest in love and healing. And that’s when you have to fight for yourself, move on, and persevere through the unknown path ahead (another lesson I’ve learned from coming out). You know I put up with the same abuse from them for years, before walking away ten years ago.


I hurt to the core that you and Mom share that same wound with me now. You have been generous, empathetic, magnanimous, loving and devoted Catholics throughout your lives. You should not have had to endure such religious abuse from your own child and now grandchild. And it is abuse — weaponizing religion or philosophy to shame and shun, nurturing such myopic and uncompassionate views in your children that they will disown their loving and devoted grandparents. There aren't many things more despicable than that. I hope, now that you have escaped the proximity of the toxic cult of your daughter and grandsons, that you will find peace here in the love that you and Mom nurtured in Maria, me and our families. You and mom showed all of us kids so much love. So many times, you drove across the country or even flew across oceans to be with us kids and to help us when we were in need. I'm thankful that I was able to return that love to you, because you deserve of love and gratitude.


Thank you for not using your religion as a weapon to shame, control and shun me.


You have taught me so much. You’re a healer, as am I. And while I might seem pessimistic to you, I’m not. I just have a brain that overcalculates all the variables, options, connections, paths, and possible consequences, a driving intellect doesn’t accept easy answers and that seeks to understand the hard truths of reality. Those truths, such as death and the end of intimate relationships, are often painful, but I’ve the heart of a healer, a lover who perseveres in hope and desires to nurture and sew more love in the world. I have so much love, empathy and hope in my heart. I got that from you and Mom. Thank you.


I love you,


Tommy


Home, at last (with pandemic hair)



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Salem, Oregon

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