Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gay Men and Our Mothers

More thoughts on my mother

Mother and Dad

W.H.Auden said that most gay men aren’t worth much after their mothers died. I don’t know why that throwaway line has stayed with me--I don 't agree--Auden himself wrote some pretty good verse after his mother’s death. Mothers are important to everyone, and in the lives of most of the gay men I’ve known, they hold a key place, the corner stone or a lynch pin.

My sister, Julie, organized a memorial serivce in the small Connecticut town where we grew up.  I sent these few words which the priest herself read.

I am so sorry that I cannot be with you in Nichols today, but circumstances have proved to be too formidable. I am with you, however, in my sorrow, my gratitude for this memorial service and my love for our mother, our wife, our sister, our sister-in-law, our mother-in-law, our grandmother, and our friend.

There are moments in life that require a few words, and this is one of them. Julie has graciously included my few awkward ones in the service so that I can honor her passing and mark my love for her.

I just wrote to a friend that friends and lovers, children and grandchildren, sisters and brothers, even husbands and wives these days, can come in multiples, but that still, in most cases, we get just one mother, and certainly with regard to me and Leona Mare Carroll Ireland, she filled that role completely.

When I was describing mother to a friend, he just said, "That woman was a force of nature." He totally got that she was a very, very strong woman and a central figure in my life. That force of her character was, thankfully, balanced with enormous amounts humor and grace, good taste, refinement and a very sharp mind. But if any one of you ever really believe that she liked it when she lost the rubber in bridge, it had to be some mellowing in her later years that I didn't witness.

It is no secret that she and I shared, at times, a rough road together. She was disappointed with the path that I chose in life and, I think, with the path that has been given to me, in this culture, by my sexual orientation. Though I held a grudge about that for a long time, I would like to share an experience that changed all that. During these last very difficult two plus years, when we knew that there would be no recovery, no going home, I knew anything that I really had to say to her had to said then or never said at all.

And so we talked one afternoon at La Posada, very openly and frankly - about everything. It was not an easy conversation for either of us. But as her strength was fading, she said that all she ever wanted was for me to happy. In that moment all I could feel was her constant love for me, and I knew that that had always been true. Even my regrets that I had not always been able to fully express the love that she deserved disappeared. So thank you mother, there are no more grudges. From my side any resentment has evaporated and that's because, in no small measure, you were so generous and so courageous in those last difficult 27 months.

During the whole weekend before she died, still believing that death was in the future, for some reason I could not fathom, she was always with me. I showed her picture to a guest at Sunday brunch. I made a copy of a great picture a friend had taken of me that I knew would make her happy. And I found a poem by Seamus Heaney that would not let me go.

Just a little background, in zen retreats there are only a few activities, meditating, eating, sleeping, and preparing the vegetables, which means lots of peeling potatoes. With this poem I asked all the people with whom I shared those retreats to pray for mother. I now ask that our prayers be added to yours, in gratitude that her suffering is over, and with the prayer and our blessing that she finds peace in the invisible life that is always with us.


When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little splashes

From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -

Never closer the whole rest of our lives

And finally, my apologies to the parish priest at Trinity Church in Nichols who I'm sure did not go at the prayers for the dead with hammer and tongs, but with compassion and love,

my deep thanks to Julie for organizing this tribute and including me,

and my love to all of you.


Charles, nyc said...

Thanks for sharing this meditation on your late mother and her stance on your being gay. May I post this in my new weblog called
"You've got a friend"

tellall said...

Of course Charles, and thank you for the time and effort of putting your weblog together. May we be of service.