Posts tagged ‘Death’

A Bittersweet Birthday

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A few weeks ago, I had a dream about my mom. All I remember was that the conversation was relatively normal and I had this overwhelming feeling that we could’ve really gotten along had some things been different. What are those “things”? I’m not sure. Probably some things on her part and some on mine.

She would’ve turned 53 today. Truth be told, during what would become the last few years of her life, I didn’t really care to keep her filled in on my life anymore. I didn’t really feel like she deserved it and I didn’t really feel like she even paid attention, so it was, for me, a chore at best.

Another hard truth is that if she were still living today, I can’t promise I’d feel differently about it. At that point, I was tired of trying. After all, it would be her death that would cause me to give any of this additional thought.

I believe we should all relentlessly work to understand ourselves and the world around us, but I also believe some things will always remain a mystery. One thing I’ve come to understand (and try to remember daily) is that my thoughts and actions are just that — my thoughts and actions. How I treat others does not have to be based on how I perceive their treatment of me. Rather, how I treat others can (and, at this point, I think probably should) be based on how I believe others should be treated given their inherent dignity and worth as human beings and as children of God. To be clear, this doesn’t mean we’re all just human punching bags, ready and waiting for people to repeatedly take advantage of us. Also, it’s a relatively recent change in thinking for me, so I really, really suck at it right now. But I’m trying.

Here’s the great news: While I don’t know that I would treat my mom differently if she were living today, nor do I have the opportunity to take what I’ve learned and apply it to our relationship, I can encourage others who have similar relationships with their loved ones to consider another perspective. These days, I’d love the opportunity to introduce my mom to the man I plan to marry, for example, but it’s not even a possibility. Perhaps, for others, it’s not too late.

But one day, it will be. And “one day” might come on a random Friday morning, when you least expect it.

And hey — if your relationships with your loved ones are “peachy keen,” as my mom would say, fantastic. There’s something else most of us can do to honor the woman I knew as my mother on her birthday: Sit back, relax, and drink a beer.

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Welp, I’m 30.

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20-year-old Kyle takes a birthday photo!

Today, I turn 30. I’m not sure it’s hit me yet. Maybe it won’t. I mean it’s just a number, right?

I find myself trying to think about all the life lessons I’ve learned over the last decade. What I have yet to learn. Where my 20s started. Where they ended. How much has happened. How much has remained the same. How much will change over the next decade.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m in some sort of hyperdrive, where people decades older than me are recounting some life lesson they just learned and I’m thinking, “Um. Yeah. Of course that’s the case.” Typical know-it-all millennial, right? But other times, I’ve felt like I’m stopped or even in reverse, watching people my age pass by me. In some way, they’ve moved on and I haven’t.

But then I remember those lovely words of wisdom everyone loves to impart but not actually listen to themselves: We shouldn’t judge ourselves based on what others are doing. We shouldn’t care what they think, either.

As I think about things I’ve “lost” over the last decade, by far, my mother is the first thing that comes to mind. My immediate next thought is that 20-year-old Kyle would’ve been like, “It’s not like she was ever around in any meaningful way anyway.” Maybe not, 20-year-old Kyle. But the option was there. The chance that things might change was there, even if there was little hope they ever would. Now, it’s not possible. She’s gone.

As I think about what I’ve gained, the first thing that comes to mind is a fiancé. Like, what?! I mean 20-year-old Kyle may have expected to be at least engaged by 30, maybe, but I don’t know. I also find it fascinating that the first loss that comes to mind intersects with the first big “gain” that comes to mind. I would’ve loved for my mom to be able to meet him. I have to wonder if that would’ve been the same case if she were living. Would I have really cared?

I then of course think about how all of it — what I’ve lost and what I’ve gained — translates into growth, or at least change. And I think I’ve changed so much. I’m not even sure I can list the ways. It might be easiest to just say I’ve matured. Priorities have shifted. Thoughts and actions, words and deeds, have shifted. I’ve started paying attention more. Listening more. Being silent more. (Stop shaking your head in disbelief. I have!) Loving more, or trying to.

When I started this decade, I was still in college at the University of Florida. Since then, I’ve changed cities, changed careers, gained friends and lost friends. I spent most of the first year of my 20s single and ended my 20s engaged. Hell, I couldn’t have even gotten legally married back then had I wanted to! All anyone needs to do is just take a quick, contemplative look back to see the ebb and flow of life.

Society has changed so much, too. I mentioned marriage equality above, but it’s so much more than that. Technology has changed. Politics has changed. People have changed. Society has changed. And, honestly, it’s all kind of flown by, especially over the last few years. And yet there’s still so much more to do in the world. I suspect there always will be.

I’m a big fan of trying to be forward-thinking, so here’s what I hope for the next 10 years:

I hope to love more. 

I don’t just mean romantic love. I mean love in general. And love, for me, isn’t just something you feel. It’s something you do. I hope to do more for others. I hope to get to know them. I hope to better understand them. I hope to listen more. I hope to be a better servant leader.

I hope to listen more. 

Everyone knows I’m a talker. I always will be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t listen more. Like, actually listen. I find I enjoy listening and getting to know people. But also, I hope to listen to nature more. I hope to sit in silence more and just listen to what’s going on around me. There’s such serenity and peace in just listening in silence sometimes. Plus, it can help you think.

I hope to learn more.

I’m naturally a lifelong learner and I swear by it, so I definitely plan to keep that up. There’s just so much to learn that my challenge is often narrowing things down enough to focus on one thing at a time. Which reminds me — I should probably try to be more patient, too!

I hope to say “YES!” and get out of my comfort zone more. 

I’m a safe zone kind of guy. Sometimes, I’ll do enough to appear as if I’m going out of my comfort zone, but actually doing so is more rare than I think people think. I certainly talk more about it than I do it. I’d like to change that. I’d like to say “yes” more often to things that might prove to be fun or worthwhile in some way, even when they sound scary. Especially then, perhaps.

I hope to care for me more. 

I’ve worked pretty hard on this over the last few years, but I can certainly do more to improve self-care — mind, body and spirit. Again, I go back to just relaxing and sitting in silence to quiet the mind. Hopefully, I can meditate more and finally go to a damn yoga class. As for my body, well, that’s an easy solution — just start exercising and being more active. Sounds so simple. Ha! For my spirit, I think I’m doing pretty great at that lately, if I’m honest, but I hope to focus more on this in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

I hope to act more. 

Self-care is definitely important, but so is action. I want to sit on the sidelines less and do more. Whether it’s helping people in need, advocating for the rights of other people — I want to be there. I want to do more.

It’s been a great decade and I’m really looking forward to the next one. Even for all the shitty stuff I can think of that happened in my 20s, I can think of ways I learned from those experiences. While it’s admittedly a little weird to be 30, I don’t see it as “old” or anything like that. It does feel like a chapter has closed and a new one has opened, which is probably kind of silly because it’s just a number, right?

I think I’d be missing an opportunity, though, if I didn’t take this moment to think about the past and how it can help me be better in the future. I’m thankful that I have such wonderful loved ones to help me along the way and I look forward to helping them, too. So here’s to my 30s and beyond!

I Love You This Much

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When I was little, my mom would ask me how much I loved her. I’d stretch out my arms as far as I could and say, “Thiiiiiis much!” She’d ask again. I’d stretch out my arms again and say the words again and she’d tickle me and I’d just laugh and laugh.

She was a great cook. On some weekend mornings, she’d make some of the best grits. Never early, as I recall — usually at around 10 or 11 — making sure to make enough for the neighborhood girl who’d sometimes come over. She always wanted to be the “cool mom.”

Some of my first driving experiences were with her, out on a dirt road in the country while visiting her family, most likely before I was 15. That’s where I learned about Alanis. And thanks to some of her lyrics, which Mom was happy to explain when I asked, I learned about a lot more than driving in that truck.

When my parents split for the final time, I recall spending time with my mom at her job, in a bar on Jacksonville’s Westside. Men would flirt with her and give me quarters for what I called the “claw grabby machine” and I’d go play. I got a lot of new toys that night. And I remember helping her clean the place up when the night was over.

As I got older, Mom was rarely what I would consider “appropriate.” She sometimes put me in precarious positions when I’d visit her house. She’d ask me questions that would make nearly anyone blush. At one point, she told me she and her second husband had taken bets on whether I’d lost my virginity. She thought I was a good Christian boy. He thought I was a growing teenager. Neither were completely wrong.

After my parents divorced, here’s what I recall most, though: Missed events. Showing up late or not at all. Missed calls. Not listening when we did talk. Trying to convince her to not listen to her sister because she was a good mom, all while believing her sister more right than wrong. Trying to connect with her, time after time, failure after failure. Weirdness. Awkwardness. Drunkenness. Death.

I learned that you can grow up thinking your mom is going to die prematurely and yet it can still surprise you. You can spend time thinking about what that might be like and it still won’t prepare you. You can think about what you could’ve done differently, but it still won’t console you. You can think about how much you know she loved you, but it still won’t fulfill you.

So why am I telling you this on what would have been her 52nd birthday?

Despite the negative, she was one of my biggest defenders and fiercest supporters. She would’ve moved a mountain for me, if she could’ve. Growing up, if anyone messed with me, she always told me she’d “kick their ass.” I’m sure she’d still do the same today.

I spent so much time refusing to accept that I had been influenced by her in any way. Yet here I am. Short. Brown eyes. Brown hair. A pretty consistent smile. I talk a lot. I talk with my hands. I tell stories. I repeat myself. I try to help others. I care. I’m sometimes quick to anger, but I also sometimes fume silently when I’m angry. I love Alanis (old Alanis). And Celine. I’m a fan of beer. And how can I ever forget, as she always told me, I have her butt.

Truth be told, I never thought I’d miss her as much as I do. I never truly considered what it would be like to not have her available to me at all. Period. Did I need her to make it through life? No. But that’s partially because of her. Goodness knows she was independent.

You know what sucks? Plenty of people don’t call their mom, even on their birthdays. They don’t see them. They don’t get them a card. Nothing. Maybe they rarely talk to them at all. I understand that some moms are truly terrible moms. But, for the most part, they aren’t so terrible that you can’t at least reach out to them every now and then.

Your mom could die tomorrow. You could die tomorrow. Consider that when planning for today. Make it count while you can. 

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you thiiiiiiiis much! 

What Would Jacksonville Do?

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As I’ve watched the outpouring of support in Orlando, I can’t help but wonder what that support would look like had this tragedy happened in Jacksonville.

Would our mayor even acknowledge that it was an attack on the LGBT and Hispanic communities? Or would he just speak in generalities?

Would our churches do more than just “pray”? And, if so, would they do it without qualifying their charity in some way? Or would they only say they’d love and pray for us, making sure to mention that it’s in spite of our sin?

Would our city council representatives be out in the community, sharing in the collective pain of such an event? Comforting people, even LGBT ones? Would we even WANT some of them to do so after some of the things that have been said about us? Or would they go radio silent or only gravitate to the reporters for their next quote or sound bite?

Would city leaders be working to help get victims and their families visas if need be? Or would they be worried about where these people are from?

And if — IF — all of these answers are the best answers we could hope for, would we believe any of it is true and honest and good, given how our community has been treated? Given how we can’t even pass basic protections for our community? Given that, on the Monday after 49 people were murdered, people had to go to a school board meeting to defend a bathroom policy that has been in effect since 2008 with seemingly no issues? Would our community treat us better in death than it does in life?

Will our community now consider treating us better in life by treating us like everyone else? We’ll see.

Struggle & Strength

Ten years ago, I sat my dad down at the dining room table before heading off to college and came out to him. The realization was all still very new to me, but I knew I definitely wasn’t straight and had finally come to terms with it.

He had lots of things to say, all understandable and none bad. Naturally, there was some confusion, but more importantly, there was unwavering support and love. But there’s one thing that currently stands out in my mind more than anything else.

Dad told me he was worried because my life would be more difficult and dangerous as an openly gay man.

It was a reality I was already aware of and I’m sure I agreed with him, while maintaining my truth. But it’s a reality that I don’t think I fully grasped until Sunday.

Sure, I’ve dealt with my unfair share of haters. I’ve heard all the names and the rhetoric. I’ve been an “issue to be dealt with” and not a person to be loved. Every day, it seems like there’s a new version of “coming out” we have to encounter. And you know what? Some days, in some fleeting moments, it’s easier to say “roommate” than deal with the potential fallout of saying “boyfriend.” Perhaps that’s a terrible thing to admit, but it’s true.

But this — this is different. This is life and death, literally life and death. And sure, we all deal with life and death and our own issues. But this is people wanting to kill us for simply existing or showing any form of affection to someone we love.

Over the last few days, I’ve read and heard more times than I care to count that there will always be people with hate or evil in their hearts. Maybe that’s true. But should we not at least try to erase the hate and replace it with love? Should we not at least try to eliminate the evil and replace it with good? Is it not worth at least an attempt?

My dad was right. Our lives are filled with different and sometimes greater challenges for being different. But I wouldn’t trade this for the world because I am also stronger and smarter because of it. I have met some of the kindest, most beautiful people I have ever known, and will ever know, because of who I am. And I have learned from them.

We are fighters. We are fierce. We love because we all too often feel the sting of hate as a result of fear. We understand the importance and value of diversity and celebrate it. We support each other because sometimes it feels like no one else will.

So while my dad’s point was right, it was not the full story. Thank God it wasn’t the full story.

One of my favorite quotes lately has been one from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

We. Are. Beautiful.

My ‘Aunt Sister’

Today, I spoke at my great-aunt’s funeral. It was tough, but was definitely something I needed to do. I wanted to share what I wrote with you. Perhaps, in some way, it can be helpful to others:

In 1922, the cost of a first-class stamp was two cents. In January of that year, doctors first used insulin to treat diabetes. The U.S. Geological Survey said America’s oil supply would run out in 20 years. With February came a new pope and radio technology to the White House. The Supreme Court upheld women’s right to vote, too. In March, the Navy’s first aircraft carrier was commissioned and an airplane landed at the U.S. Capitol for the first time ever. In April, Annie Oakley set a women’s record by shooting and breaking 100 clay targets in a row. In May, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated and some guy named Walt Disney incorporated his first film company.

But we are here today because of something that happened in September. In fact, many of you are quite literally here today — on this Earth today — because of something that happened on a Saturday in 1922. On September 16th, my Aunt Sister was born. I call her “Aunt Sister” NOT because our family got a little too…friendly… with each other back then, but because she is my grandma’s sister and my grandma always called her “sister.” So I grew up calling her “Aunt Sister.”

And she is in good company. Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip was born the same year. So were Betty White, Judy Garland, Bea Arthur and even Doris Day…depending on who you ask. If you don’t count the year, she shares a birthday with BB King, Nick Jonas and — my personal favorite — J.C. Penney.

When Aunt Sister was a child, she was sick all the time. In fact, doctors told her family on three separate occasions that she wouldn’t survive the night. She lived to be 92. I think this is a good time to mention that Aunt Sister was stubborn. She knew what she liked and what she didn’t. She wasn’t a huge fan of pets or pizza. Yes to okra. No to Chinese food. Yes to squash, but only if you put about a pound of butter in it. No wonder she was always so overweight. Green and brown weren’t her colors, but pink…that hit the spot. She liked her water as cold as possible and when she’d make her coffee, she’d brew it, pour it out of the coffee pot and into a cup and put it into the microwave to heat it up. And I longed to see her wear jeans — just once. That never happened.

Aunt Sister also knew what she loved. And this is where I should mention the love of her life — my Uncle Elmer. I believe they were married for…uh…like 226 years or something like that. Anyway, one of my favorite photos of the two of them is from a few years ago. Uncle Elmer is in his typical white t-shirt and khaki pants in his recliner. And Aunt Sister is in her typical blouse and skirt, sitting on his lap. His arm is around her waist. A slight grin on Aunt Sister’s face. Remove the color — and a few of the wrinkles — and maybe add some hair to Uncle Elmer — and you’d think the photo was taken decades ago.

When Uncle Elmer took a turn for the worst a couple years ago, Aunt Sister barely left his side. In fact, one of the most heartbreaking photos I’ve seen was of them — in his hospice room — she was holding his hand as he slept on what would end up being the last night they’d spend together — here, at least. When I entered the room, shortly after Uncle Elmer had passed, I walked to Aunt Sister and hugged her. She continued to cry and repeatedly said things like, “how am I going to live without him” and “I just keep praying to God to take me, too.” That was more than two years ago. Did I mention Aunt Sister was also strong — and brave?

Aunt Sister was also cold. Like, literally cold. As strong as her relationship was to Uncle Elmer, I think she also had a pretty great relationship with her sweater collection. She always had a sweater. The night before she passed, we were looking at cruise photos from 10 years ago. In one of the photos sits Aunt Sister — outside in the caribbean in June…in a sweater. I’m pretty sure she had backup sweaters for her backup sweater.

At least as much as her sweaters, Aunt Sister loved the rest of her family. Ok, maybe more than her sweaters. In all seriousness, she adored her brothers and sister, her kids, her grandkids, her great-grandkids. Especially in the last two years, I never saw her smile more than when there were little kids running around, occasionally stopping to sit in her lap or hug or kiss her and say “I love you.” She loved fully and she was loved fully.

Aunt Sister was like another grandma to me. In fact, in many ways, she and my Grandma were the best mother figures I could ever ask for. And Grandma still is. If I had to pick one thing that Aunt Sister taught me over the years, it’s how to love and love fully. I’m reminded of First Corinthians 13, verses one through three:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith to say to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give all I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

At about 9:45 the night before she passed away, I said my goodbyes for the night. We said we loved each other. I told her I’d see her tomorrow, put my hand on hers and said something about her being a pretty lady. And I left. At 6:15 the next morning, so did she.

Those of us who have had to stare death in the face, whether directly indirectly…we know the miracle that is life. Without death, we can’t fully appreciate life. And still — even with it — it can be tough to consistently and fully appreciate life.

The night before that, I sat with Aunt Sister as she cried, longing to be reunited with Uncle Elmer. She said she’s cried herself to sleep each night since he died. Whenever she would come home from anywhere, all she wanted to do was tell him about her day. And she couldn’t. Now, she can.

With a few exceptions, today’s service is just like Uncle Elmer’s. In fact, Aunt Sandra, Aunt Gail and Aunt Cheryl even picked the same verse to be printed on the programs — and it was totally coincidental. So — as it should be — until the very end — Aunt Sister showed me — showed us all — how to love. And that’s why — while she may not be physically with us anymore — I will always have her here with me. That’s the beauty of the heart.

So don’t let yours break for too long. Because Aunt Sister is no longer in pain. And she’s with so many of her loved ones that have gone before her, including Uncle Elmer. I know I’ll see her again. And when that time comes, I know exactly how to find her — she’ll be the one in the sweater.

Will you pray with me?

God, our life is a fleeting shadow that does not endure. Our years pass quickly and our days are few and full of trouble. We thank you that Aunt Sister no longer has to suffer pain or fear — grappling with death, fighting for life; and that — for her — limitations are ended, weakness is overcome, and death itself is conquered.

We thank you for the 92 amazing years we had with Aunt Sister. And while we feel pain right now, we rejoice in the faith that she has gone to be with you, for in your presence is the fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Bless those who cared for Aunt Sister, especially our family, doctors, nurses and technicians. Guide physicians and researchers in their search to discover the way of health and healing. Grant that by their vision and courage we may understand the world better — and better be able to help those in need.

Father — you pursue us with untiring love and dispel the shadow of death with the bright dawn of life. Give us courage. Be our refuge and strength. Reassure us of your continuing love and lift us from the depths of grief into the peace and light of your presence. Your Son — our Lord Jesus Christ — by dying has destroyed our death, and by rising, restored our life. Come alongside your people now, remind us of your eternal presence and give us your comfort and strength.

Amen.

About My Mom’s “Memorial Service”…

Yesterday, as I was writing about my experience at my mom’s “memorial service,” I definitely had a lot to say. I wrote a lot of wonderfully worded stuff about the man who claimed to follow Jesus’ teachings and spoke yesterday. My writing was intense. Angry. Negative. And boy, did it feel good. I thought I should sleep on it. And then, as I prepared to sleep, feeling so exhausted, it hit me…

I’m incredibly fortunate.

You see, the lousy excuse for a Christ follower who claimed to be a “preacher” uses his pulpit just as I use this blog. He’s trying to get his message across. And yes, it is HIS message. Jesus would not have said many of those things that man said yesterday. And – for a Monday afternoon – he had an audience of mostly people who he’d never seen before. He used that time to spew hate. Anger. Fear. Condemnation for anyone who disagreed, even a little bit. Intolerance. Politics. A lack of compassion. Think about the story of Jesus and tell me — who does that sound like more? The man ON the cross or the people who put him there?

So I’m fortunate because I know when to say enough is enough. I know when to ignore the socially acceptable move and go with the morally required one. I know when to stand up. I’m fortunate because I know one bad apple doesn’t mean they all should be blindly tossed out. I’m fortunate because I have amazing friends who support me in doing what is right, which is not always what is easy or what you want to do. I’m fortunate because more people will read this in a day than people who will hear that preacher in a month. I’m fortunate because I can get angry and transition that anger to something productive — not just name calling. Not just hate. Or intolerance. Or negativity. Something that matters. Something that I — and hopefully others — can benefit from.

I’m fortunate because I only had to endure an angry man’s rant for a few minutes before I got up and walked out. I’m fortunate because I knew that’s exactly what it was — an angry man’s rant — not something from God or for God. It was for religion. It was for pride. It was for prejudice. It was because he could, not because he should. Others have to sit there and hear it over and over again. What’s worse — even more people probably CHOOSE to sit there and listen to that garbage. Why do you think so many people are angry in this world? Is it ACTUALLY the world we live in or is it people like him telling them they should be angry. Telling them all is wrong with the world while the world changes around them, for the better.

I’m fortunate because I get to let this experience shape me in whatever way it will and I get to move on. I never have to go back. I never have to see that person or that place again and I surely never have to give him or any of them any ounce of respect. Respect is earned. Leadership is earned. Honor is earned. That man, that church, that congregation has none of it. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If those people are the kinds of people that God wants in heaven, it doesn’t sound like any place I’ve heard about or would like to visit.

I’m fortunate because I know plenty of people who call themselves Christians who would have been ashamed of that man in that “church” yesterday. Unfortunately for him and the man he claims to represent, others may not.

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