Saturday, November 5, 2016

Losing my mother

I wasn't raised with religion. I was always attracted to church and the idea of god, but it wasn't something that was a cornerstone of my upbringing.

I got married to Chip at 18, and Andy was born when I was 22.

After we got married, we quickly became involved with Chip's dad's church and Amway group, and were pretty immersed in that cult-like environment for about 5 years. When Chip wanted to go to college, he decided he wanted to step away from the church, and reluctantly, so did I. And after beginning to attend classes as well, I realized how brainwashed I had been about people who didn't believe like I did. My mind opened up, and so did my heart. What happened in the process is that we both stopped practicing or believing in god. We lost our entire friendship network and community.

My mom had gotten married around the same time that Chip and I did, and they were both deeply involved in the same church and Amway group as us. When we stepped away from all of that, it caused a huge rift in that part of my family. We decided to just not discuss religion or Amway, as a way to not compromise our individual belief systems, in order to keep the peace.

That worked for a long time, but when Andy came out as gay, and then Liz as trans, we slowly lost touch with them, and our communication became less and less frequent. My mom lived on the other side of the country for a while, so we never saw them. When they moved closer, to Montana, I thought maybe they'd come over and visit, but they never did.

I can't blame my mom solely for the lack of communication and distance in our relationship. I didn't reach out to her much either, with the busyness of life and also I knew she didn't approve of the kids alternative paths, and honestly I didn't want to expose them to the rigid dogma of their lifestyle either. So, we drifted.

The times that we did talk about the kids, or Reggie and me being in an open relationship and us both having girlfriends (that was a hell of a conversation!), she made sure I knew that regardless of her disapproval, she loved us all and wanted us to be happy.

When Liz found herself in a transportation pickle this summer coming back from Alaska, she and I looked for places where she could stay for 4-5 days until her scheduled return home flight. My mom had just moved to Alaska, so I asked her.

She responded with an email that basically said, she loved us, but she couldn't allow Liz to stay with them. Her beliefs were such that she feared judgement from god if she associated with Liz.

At first I was angry. She would let her granddaughter be stranded for 5 days because of the possibility that god might judge her for allowing her into her home.  Not only did she reject the idea for her own home, but she also stated that Liz wasn't welcome into my grandfather's home either. She did later text to tell me my aunt could use mileage points to get her a ticket home. I was so sad and disappointed, but on some level I think I knew she'd feel that way.

I took some time to respond, I didn't want to be angry or unkind, and I wanted to process everything and give the kids a chance to chime in with their thoughts. Liz didn't really care all that much, because of the absent relationship she and all the kids have had with my mother for the past 6 years anyway. It didn't feel like a huge loss, because...there was nothing to lose.

The bigger issue that we all agreed on was that there was a loss for me. And that loss wasn't something I was going to take lightly.

After talking with the kids and having some good heart to hearts with Dan as well as Chip, I sent my response to her. Essentially I said being transgender isn't a choice. That I don't think she understood what being transgender even *is*. As far as I know, she thinks Liz is a drag queen or something. I tried to explain it the best I could. Then I said that I wouldn't permit her to pick and choose which of my children she could accept in her life, and in choosing to ostracize my daughter, she is losing us all. Package deal. I tried to be compassionate, because honestly my mom isn't an evil, heartless person. She is brainwashed by a religion that tells her it's okay to reject her family because they don't believe the same things she does. She is devout to that believe. And she's honestly afraid for her mortal soul. Fuck, I can't blame her for that. The point I tried to make with her was that it was a choice for her to believe in god, and it was a choice for her to deny my daughter a safe place to stay in a time of need. Liz never made the choice to be trans. Liz makes the choice every day to honor who she is by presenting as a female. I would NEVER in a million years ask her to stop doing that because I felt uncomfortable/offended by it. Liz is a girl. Bottom line.

She has messaged me a couple of times, saying that she loves us.

I think I'm still processing it all, so I'm never sure how to respond. I did tell her I love her and she will always be my mom.

I'm still angry and incredibly hurt. I'm so disgusted by religion and how it tears individuals, families, communities and countries apart. I'm sad for her. I'm sad for us all.

I hope that eventually, maybe, she'll meet someone who is trans, and that will change the way she thinks of it all, and maybe she'll come to find out that it's not weird or harmful and want to have a relationship with us all again.

The real kicker for me is that she is MISSING OUT on knowing these beautiful kids. She is missing opportunities to connect and understand and love on them. She is missing opportunities to show them how beautiful and connective religion *can* be. How Christianity, unmolested, is really supposed to be about compassion, love, peace, honoring each other, being neighborly, and not judging anyone, because we are all "sinners".  Instead, she is missing seeing them sprout up and grow to be taller than her, she is missing their deepening voices, missing hearing about their art and music and jiu jitsu and astronomy and school progress and all their love interests. She is missing being an important and special person in their lives.  She is missing them growing up. They'll all be adults soon, and especially now, one right after the other, they are about to fly the nest in short order.  They are missing out on knowing her, her sweet calm, loving nature. Her innocence and nurturing presence. Her playfulness and amazing cooking. They are missing out on learning about quilting and knitting and hearing her stories of her own adventures of youth and travel and love and regret. They are missing her wisdom, her support. We had all of that for a long time. We haven't had that since Max was only 2, when they moved away. 

I'm grateful that she still has relationships with my sister's children. I'm glad they get to enjoy whatever benefits they might get out of those connections. I can't say I'm not bitter about our loss, but I'm choosing to fight to stay in a place of peace about it all, knowing I did the right thing for my children and our family. I'm trying really hard to stay in a place of compassion. But it's hard.

In so many ways, it almost feels like she died. I'm grieving the loss of the potential of my relationship with her, and the potential my kids had with her. Until she comes around to a place of acceptance, or at the very least tolerance...there's not room for reconciliation. I honestly don't see that happening.

This whole experience has given me a lot of perspective, and I've come to respect Chip's folks more, who are about as conservative as you can get, but even *they* wouldn't reject Liz or Andy because of how they live and who they are. It just goes to show, you can love and care for people and be in their lives, and still not agree with how they live.

I wish my mom could that.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing. So much of this resonated hard with me, having experienced much the same with my family of origin, and having lost them as well as my entire community for stepping away from that entire cult like belief system in order to remove myself from an abusive relationship. My father died before Cat and Faith were born, and he and I (thankfully) shared quite a bit of reconciliatory time together in the last month of his life...but my mother only passed 2 years ago, having been a stanger to me and my girls for 17 years. It's more difficult to reconcile and mourn the loss of loved ones who are still living...the sting of it was surprisingly fresh for so many years. I still regret that my parents never got to be grandparents to my daughters, and that my daughters never got to know the things I loved and appreciated about them as well as my brothers and sisters...but I am proud to have had the strength to teach them unconditional love, and the importance of healthy boundaries.
    I have so much respect for the decisions you've made, while also sitting with empathy for those who disagree.
    Beautiful you. <3