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I Told My Mom I Am Gay at Her Casket

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It was early April 1997, a cold and unusually snowy day.

woman at mothers casket

Sue Carswell: My friends from New York City were taking the train up to be there to pay their respects to my mother, who had passed away at 63. Before friends were allowed into Albany's McVeigh Funeral Home, there was an open casket for the family to say our formal goodbyes.

No one wanted to. No one wanted to stand in front of the casket, open, seeing her lying there ever so still. But eventually, members of my family took a deep breath and made their way toward her mahogany coffin. Sarah and I just sat in the front row chairs. We kept stalling until she said, "Let's go talk to Mommy."

And so we headed toward my mother, as the snow picked up its bluster outside. It was the most daunting image of my life, seeing my mother lying there, dead. Still, she really did look lovely with the Hermes scarf I had bought for her, tied around her head so lovingly. And she wore her favorite skirt and blouse. My mother always dressed like a classy lady. For some reason, I followed my sister's lead -- and we bowed our heads toward our mom.

Finally Sarah broke the ice and said, "Sue. Isn't there something you always wanted to tell Mommy?" I swore a bit that she had brought it up now, but finally said, "Why yes, Sarah, there is." Then I turned my head to my mother's closed eyes and said, "Mom? I'm gay." And for some morbid reason, my sister and I both just started laughing in the midst of the funeral home. It was all so depressing, but ridiculous that I was telling my mother I am gay not during her life, but when they were about to shut the curtain in the final moments of her now deceased life.

At that point, my father came running up to the casket because he wanted to know what was so funny. Sarah repeated it. "We're good. Sue just told Mom that she's gay." And then, after telling her how much we loved her, we walked away and only then began to wail. My sister cried for her reasons and I cried for mine, namely the fact that I kept something so hidden from my mother for almost five years, as I had come out late in life.

My father knew I was gay, and I remember he once said, "Your mother is fine with having her gay guy friends, but I just don't know how she will take the news about you." And so I never told her, even when I brought a girlfriend (or good "pal") up to stay at our family home. I never wanted to rock the boat with my mother -- and so I never thought it was worth losing her love over my declaring my sexuality to her. Was I a failure not to do so? I don't know.

That following Christmas, my father came down after my mother's death -- and we were enjoying a few martinis when the subject of my sexuality and the memories of my mom came up. "I do wonder what she would have thought if she had known," I said to my father. After a few sips, he said, "She did know. I just forgot to tell you." I was stunned. My mother knew I'm gay? Well, what did she say? "Oh, she was fine with it," he said. "She even mentioned we should talk about it when you came home again. But you know what happened. She learned she had breast cancer, and our world became all about that." Our world did become about illness and far less joy. It was my mother's time, not mine. But I do wish I had known what my father at least knew. I will always wish for that.

That said, have you told your parents that you're gay?

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Walter Owen November 6, 2009, 7:37 AM

This poignant story exposes how wasteful a stigma can be. The author and her mother obviously had a precious bond, and yet needless shame, or at least unease, restrained each at a time when heartbreak called for holding nothing back. A beautifully depicted cautionary tale we should all remember in our struggles to love those closest to us with open hearts.

niallyb November 6, 2009, 8:51 AM

It’s just like the scene at the end of Sordid Lives.

Steven November 6, 2009, 3:09 PM

yes i have told my mother that i am gay but she insisted that she always knew so no big deal on my end

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