By: Dani Langevin – July 2014
When you fall love at the same time that your mother is dying, do you focus on love’s beginning or life’s end? In 1994 my heart was ripped in half by the two most important women in my life. Nothing, in my previous twenty-nine years, would have prepared me to balance what would prove to be the best and worst of times. Coming out is never easy, but it’s a great deal harder when the one person you were counting on to help you with its process is diagnosed with terminal cancer and has months to live. That’s where I found myself twenty years ago.
When my marriage dissolved, I moved in with my parents. We were all masters at keeping secrets from each other. I could see my mother wasting away, but in no way understood completely the hell that they went through every night when we each closed our bedroom doors. They sensed my loneliness and frustration, but likened it to a woman trying to come to terms with the end of her marriage and an uncertain future. They had no idea, at that point, that I was also wrestling with coming out. The wall between our bedrooms became symbolic of the wall we placed between us. It protected them from my truth and I from theirs.
I perseverated between coming out to my mother or not. I needed her to know before she died. Knowing that my mother knew me completely, loved me and accepted me as I am would give me the strength and confidence to push forward. I was naturally concerned for her present condition. She was sick and weak and I wasn’t sure how she would handle the news. I prayed that I would make the right choice. Every time I thought it was a the right time, a family member would make a disparaging remark against homosexuals or some other aspect in my life would throw me a curve ball and my resolve would falter. It was an incredibly lonely and frightening time in my life.
I came out to my best friend, a wonderfully supportive and loving woman who saved my life that year. I joined a Methodist church that had just made a public statement about becoming open and affirming to the gay community. I attended gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered support groups and social groups and began to create and extend my circle of friends. I was accepted and supported by these amazing strangers and yet still balked at coming out to me family for fear of rejection.
Every day I prayed for strength, guidance and hope. I was exhausted from praying. Some moments were more difficult than others. There were times that I could see no end to my misery. Other times I would find hope and promise in my future. Every day I felt like I ate a bowl of anxiety. My belly was full of it as I watched my mother starve to death.
One day, out of the blue, I just blurted it out to my mother because I couldn’t hold it in any more which is something most, if not all, gay people will tell you. For those of us who did come out and didn’t live our lives as openly gay from the start, there comes a time that you can’t ignore it any more and you can’t hold it in. It becomes impossible like not letting the air escape your lungs while trying to hold it in.
When I told my mother I was a lesbian I apologized. Her exact words were, “I love you, Dani. I will support you no matter what you do. And don’t ever apologize for who you are. I just want you to be happy.” This is how every person who loves someone should be. I was elated and rejuvenated. I was feeling better in so many ways as a result of coming out to my mother. I felt stronger. I felt the tension I had been feeling for months begin to ease in my bones.
Shortly after telling my mother, I fell in love. This would prove to be as terrible as it was wonderful. When you fall in love you want to share it with the world, but I couldn’t because I was only out to a couple of friends and my mother. How would my family react? Would they be angry? Would they think me selfish to do this at a time when our mother was dying? My mother was happy for me. I hoped that they would see this and be happy, too. My mother promised to help me with the family, but how long would she be around? How much strength did she have? I certainly didn’t want her using it for me. She needed all she could muster for herself.
Before my mother passed, just eight short months after her diagnosis, I did come out to every one in my family. I didn’t realize until years later that it was a coming out for them, too. They had readjust to seeing their little sister build a relationship with another woman. But, like my mother, they love me and want me to be happy. It was the most wonderful and terrible of years for me. To gain and lose so much at the same time split my heart in two.
Thankfully, I have a truly loving and supportive family. Isn’t that what everyone should have?