Category Archives: loss

How We Must Love As Parents (part 3)

Some time later, Patrick was found on a Padre Island beach in Texas. He had been a victim of a homophobic attack. As a result of the trauma, he lost his memory.

As the details became clear, a former co-worker at the Clarksville Red Lobster passed on the phone number for the hospice where Patrick was staying. I called and left messages, asking him to call me back. The Tennessee his memory afforded was not a place where he felt comfortable anymore. He needed to make a new life in Texas, one without the pain of the past.

I had lost a friend. But I still imagined Patrick coming to my wedding, playing with my children and becoming “Uncle Patrick.”

Over time, I continued to introduce my father to my gay friends. One night, just after my wedding, my father pulled me aside at a party and said, “I like Jeffrey! He’s so funny!” I revealed that Jeffrey was gay, and my father said, “So? That is none of my business. He’s a really funny guy.” Patrick’s words of wisdom came back. “He will come around.” My father’s fear was falling away.

In 1998, I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado, and news of Matthew Shepard’s death flooded the media. All the emotions from 1990 came rushing back. Matthew’s lifeless body on the fence became Patrick’s lifeless body on a beach. If I couldn’t connect with my friend, I would fight the hatred and fear that took him away. I devoted my time to human rights … rights for all.

I attended PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, and listened as parents warned, “Watch what you say. When you say, ‘Someday, you will marry a nice girl,’ to your son, you’re building a wall.” Along with the normal fears of becoming a parent, I was determined that I would never build that wall.  When I had my first child, I promised to teach him to never fear those who were different and to never fear being different himself. 

I still held the memory of Patrick and the hope of reconnecting with him someday. I called the hospice until they informed me that he was no longer there. I searched the internet for Patrick Goettl and found nothing.

In 2009, I moved to Wisconsin, his hometown state. This started my search again. Still, nothing emerged. 

Last summer, I decided to search for Patrick again. This time, I based my search on the crime of his abduction and discovered that he had changed his name to “Zach” and had passed away in Corpus Christi on March 16, 2000, a month and a half before my son’s birth. This time, my loss was final.

I connected with his former boss in Corpus Christi, Marco Mattolini. He filled in the years I had missed, and I told him of the man named “Patrick.” The man Marco knew as “Zach” was Marco’s “right-arm,” and his death affected him and his business. “I might cry now,” he said as he explained how Patrick had died of pneumonia, a complication due to AIDS. 

I wanted to be there at his bedside. While I was rejoicing in the new life I had as a parent, he was wasting away in a hospital bed. I have imagined and dreamed of what ifs … if I had made a different decision … if our society had been more like it is now … if he had found a partner to love … if his family had accepted him as the person he was.

I still feel the loss just as I did in 1990. This loss drives me. When my children are secretive about crushes, I am quick to say, “I respect your secrecy about your crush, and I want you to know that no matter who you may have a crush on, be it boy or girl, I will support and love you.” This dialogue has happened since they were toddlers and professed their desire to marry their parents. It happens so much that they now say, “Yes, Mom, I know you will love me, even if I am gay.”

At The Changing Face of Adoption Conference in Appleton, we were asked to talk about how our race impacted our lives. Interestingly, my fellow panelist, Alex, made it clear that his haunts were not about race but about his being gay. In the same breath, he punctuated the love and support from his adoptive family. He said he felt safe at home. 

I was reminded again of the pain Patrick had felt as his adoptive family slipped from him. I asked some social workers if they ever mentioned to prospective adoptive families that there could be the possibility that their child might be gay. They said they tell families that a child’s future self is unknown, but they did not specifically mention sexual orientation.

We talked at the conference about making changes in transracial adoption. There are huge waves of this spreading love for our cultures. But what about love for other aspects of our being?

Just as Tom French said, “To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control,” we as parents can control our love. We can love our children without judgement.

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This day …

Today, at my daughter’s parent-teacher conference, I signed a required form and finished by dating it 11-15-67. My husband said, “Well, you just told everyone your age!”

I’m 45 today, or at least, I’ve been conditioned to believe my birthday is today. It’s been quite a history for the fifteenth of November.

Many of my sweetest memories on this date include my mother. She always made my day. (See this entry.) Today, when the phone rang, I wished her voice would be on the other end. Instead, I heard a voice on the other end say, “If you are a senior citizen … ”

This week, my father also called to leave sweet serenades on the answering machine and my mobile voicemail. I loved my father’s heavily accented “Happy Birthday” as his wife played on the piano.

In November 2000, I sat with my sweet boy. I immediately knew the wonder of parenthood. We were preparing to surprise my mother for Thanksgiving. This was the last birthday with my mother. While she was recovering from a stroke, her pride in the newest addition to her family was unmistakable.

In 2002, on this date, I went for my 12-week prenatal appointment. My husband and my son had just given me a platinum band to celebrate our growing family. It had taken my husband several moonlighting overnight shifts in the animal ER to pay for it. I was on a high that Friday.

My OB said, “Let’s check on the baby with a birthday ultrasound!” My day was getting even better! There was excitement, then silence, then another OB, then blood tests. The news wasn’t good. I lost that baby on the Sunday, and a stone fell out of my new ring.

Within the year, we were blessed with our very sweet girl.

Forty-five years of many things … happiness, sadness and immeasurable love. What a path I was given! I’ll keep November 15 and all its memories.

Her scent …

White linen and the scent of comfort. That is how I remember my mother when I see this photograph.

I thought about this when I read an article today on the Huffington Post website. Find it here. While I am not adverse to having my photograph taken, I am often the photographer. So, the majority of our family photographs are of the kids, the cats and the chickens.

My husband is also frequently absent. We should change that. But in the meantime, for posterity I share this image of me and my peeps.

This was a memorable Mother’s Day a few years back. With full tummies, smiles and warm embraces, we sat for a quick photograph.  I love how our hands came together naturally. I hope my children look back on this image and remember that day at the Frank Lloyd Wright Cafe in Spring Green. It captured that fleeting moment before our lives went back into full gear, and we rushed off to the boy’s soccer match.
Time to stop and record. Make memories that bring back the scent of mothers and fathers.

Melancholy Mother’s Day

On the eve of Mother’s Day, I must always reflect on my own mother.  I do this to clear my sadness and to prepare myself for my own day … one where my children become the focus.

My mother passed eleven years ago. But every day, I think of her, remember her, miss her. 
Tonight, I flipped through the images of my history with my mother. In the August 1968 photo above, my mother and I are meeting for the first time. Her face says it all. She was my mother from that smile on.
Only in the last few years have I been able to truly enjoy Mother’s Day. That has been in part due to my children growing up to an age where they fully relish the celebration. How can I be somber when they are so joyful? 
Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

Trade Offs

It is February 2nd.  February isn’t the best month for me.  If you have followed me for a while, you know that today is the anniversary of my mother’s death.  In addition, the second most influential woman in my life, my mother’s mother, died on February 10th.

These two women have left an indelible mark on my life, although my life path hasn’t exactly followed theirs.

As a child in Tennessee, I had my grandmother just a short walk from my house. When I was lonely or had argued with my mother, I had only to make the short walk … where my grandmother would offer me my grandfather’s leftovers of country ham and biscuits. She would listen to me and let me sit with her at the kitchen table, or she would ask me to help her snap beans.

My son could use a grandparent next door. He is adjusting to yet another transition in schools. He has entered middle school, only two years after our big move to Wisconsin. He is a sweet boy, but he longs for acceptance. I know that longing. It was that longing that made me choose this life path unlike my mother’s … to live away from my hometown and family. Moving away meant that my children would go to school in a more racially diverse community, but it also meant that we would sacrifice the proximity of family.

This week, after a nice spell of having my husband home in a holiday holdover, he resumed his travels for work. It has struck both the boy and me very hard. Our family is fractured, and we’re both lonely. We miss family and the comfort we had in Virginia with friends we had spent ten years knowing … they were our family there.

We are building friendships in Wisconsin, but it will take another ten years to have what we once had. Perhaps someday we will be able to impulsively invite our friends over for dinner like we did in our Virginia days. Or we could drop in and have leftovers at a friend’s house.

As a mother, I want to see my son build lasting friendships. But lately, his desire for friends is wound up tightly with the dynamics of middle school, and he is having a hard time untangling his feelings. I listen, but I also do not want to risk alienating him from me. It’s a fine line. We are our family here. I cannot risk that loss.

However my mother did what a mother is supposed to do, she risked that loss. She watched as her child move away, and I know that it broke her heart to be so far from me and my sister.

In the loneliness of February 2001 with the excitement of the holidays behind her, she quietly slipped away. February is indeed a hard month …

A snowy reunion

We were hit … hard. Snow drifts and crazy temps. In Wisconsin, that rarely constitutes a snow day. But today was our day.

I personally was very thankful for the extra time spent with my kids today. We were able to start the day with the four of us in our queen bed together. We all gazed at the white wonder outside. Once the moment was over, it was time for friends. Phone calls and arrangements. All in our house to keep the activity around.

Today was not only groundhog’s day or a snow day, it was the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. The snow reminded me of the story of the little match girl. As a young girl my mother played this tragic figure in a play. She told me she was cast because of her red curls.

The Little Match Girl is one of my daughter’s favorite story books. It was also owned by my mother. In it, a young girl must sell her matches on the street as a snow storm brews. She lights one, then another to keep warm. Eventually, she freezes to death but is taken up to be with her deceased and beloved grandmother.

My girl has never known her grandmother, and I think she feels a connection through this book. She feels the tragedy of never having known her grandmother, but also wishes for that opportunity to see her in another lifetime.

The snow did not bring death today like it does in the story. Instead, it brought back lovely memories of snow days in Tennessee. My mother baking. Her inventive sleds of black trash bags and cardboard boxes. The photos she took of my sister and I dressed in multiple layers and sporting red cheeks and smiles.

For the last month, I had dreaded today. And yet, today was a day of happiness, filled with the joy of being a mother, my mother.

The loss of a mother

On another day in February, years ago, my mother sat. Tears welled up in her eyes. And we asked what was wrong.

That same day, years before, her mother and our grandmother had died. She kept the date of loss with her and remembered every year, while I only remembered when she started crying. At that time, my grandmother was the most significant loss I had experienced. And yet, I did not remember the date of her death. The loss of a parent is so much more significant.

This Sunday it was announced that someone had lost her mother. The daughter was merely an acquaintance. I had just recently started singing again, and we both sang first soprano in the church choir. But the news hit me hard. I began to cry silently.

So many times, people have asked me if I wanted to find my “real” mother. But my real mother was the woman who raised me.

She comforted me when I had lost my first love. She scrutinized my subsequent boyfriends. She protected me, sometimes too much. She cried when I flew to Africa with my new husband. And she rejoiced in the birth of my son. That is a mother … a real mother.

Today, I remember her death like it was yesterday. Just as she did every twenty-fourth of February. The pain is still the same, though on most days it is eclipsed by music lessons, school pick-ups, bedtime stories and such. But every February 2, I am reminded of the morning call in 2001.

It was my father. His voice had a restrained calm about it. And when he called, I knew. I cried that day as I cradled my little boy. I was clinging to the one thing of hers I had left … being a mother.