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Three funerals and a wedding

04/28/2011

April’s been an interesting month. In a period of six days, I attended three funerals. The day after the third funeral, I heard about plans for a wedding. All this got me to thinking about how precious life is, and about how glad I am to finally be out.

The funerals were rough – not all to the same degree, and not all in the same way – but rough.

One was for a 20-year-old son of old friends of mine, a sophomore at an out-of-state university, who died of an accidental overdose at his fraternity house only hours before his father arrived for parents’ weekend.

Another was for a friend/teacher/mentor of mine at church, a wonderful woman with a sharp mind, a sharp sense of humor, and an amazing store of knowledge. She was kind to me and to everyone she encountered. Dripping wet, she might have weighed all of 90 pounds, yet she could knock back a couple of martinis without even slowing down. She also smoked until the week before her death of emphysema at the age of 71.

The third was for the father of a good friend and former business partner. He died of cancer at 74 – too young, of course – but having lived his life pretty much full-tilt until the end, leaving this world behind with no enemies and few regrets.

And then there’s the wedding. Two of my dearest friends, who have helped me in uncountable ways as I have made my ongoing journey outward, are planning to marry this summer on a trip abroad. The marriage won’t be legally valid here in Tennessee where we live, but the spirit of it is alive and will serve them well as they live their lives together, hoping to become parents and grow old in each other’s care.

Each of these emotionally charged events, has shed a little light on my life and the paths I’ve taken over the years. There are lessons here for me, and for all of us who have struggled with defining who we are, and who come out late – if at all.

One pretty obvious lesson here, is to live – as big and as much as you can. The tragedy of the college student’s death – or any death that young – is in wasted potential. He was smart and charming, and there’s no telling what he might have made of himself and the world around him had he lived. Same with my friend who smoked herself to death. Most people who don’t smoke live to be older than 71 these days. She still had so much to offer the world when she died, and that potential is lost.

Coming out late, is the flip side of this picture. Rather than dying early, we are late coming to life. The potential we offer the world can’t be fully realized until we deal with who we really are, and live honestly. To reiterate a point I’ve made often in this blog, the sooner you come out, the sooner your life gets better. Looking at it from another angle –  we all have something to offer. The sooner you’re out, the sooner the rest of the world benefits from knowing the authentic you.

Another lesson along these lines is to live now because you don’t know what’s coming. My friend’s father, who had done very well in business, had recently retired and had plans for years of relaxation and good times with his wife, children and grandchildren. He wasn’t expecting the pancreatic cancer that took less than a year to kill him. This guy wasn’t the type to waste a single minute, but had he known what was coming, might he have retired earlier and kicked back with friends and family more often? Maybe so.

The point here is a tough one for us late bloomers, but it’s important. How much time can we afford to spend in fear and indecision? How much authentic living can we afford to give up? As I’ve said before, I have no big regrets about my life. It’s all been good. But how much better might things have been had I faced myself sooner and come out? No way to know, of course, but it’s something to think about if you are still undecided.

And then there’s this: Deal with your pain. Any kid of 20, who has everything in the world going for him – good looks, good brains, lots of friends, supportive parents – and who kills himself with an overdose, even though accidental, is in some sort of pain. Left unaddressed, emotional pain can kill. What a tragedy that a promising young life is over. And how crushing for his parents and brother, and everyone who loved him.

It reminds me of the pain I felt, and many of us feel, when we can’t or won’t come out and live authentically. And I think of the young gay people, boys and girls both, whose lives are damaged – or ended – in the midst of this kind of pain.  Coming out is great pain relief. The sooner you do it, the sooner the pain ends and the healing begins.

And finally, there’s the lovely news about the wedding. After three funerals, hearing my friend’s news that he and his partner are going to South Africa this summer and will be getting married there, was like water in the desert – after all that death and loss, a dose of life-affirming, happy news.

It’s a reminder that life goes on, and that life is ours for the making – even if we get started a little late.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Margaret Ellis permalink
    04/28/2011 6:04 AM

    Another beautiful piece of writing, David. Always inspiring.

    • 04/28/2011 6:09 AM

      Thanks, hon.

  2. Patrick Mizelle permalink
    04/29/2011 11:30 AM

    Hi, David! Ms. Bowers put me on to your blogs, which I have been enjoying and have passed on to friends, including a cousin coming out in middle age. Your point is well taken: I could have worked a few more years and been a bit better off or retired early and enjoyed some good years with the partner, who (as you may not know) is a decade and a bit older than me. I opted for the early retirement and do not regret it. Even if I have to get a little job to top things up as time and inflation go on, we’ve still had five years so far of good, if simple, times in our new home here in Athens. Keep up with the writing. Somehow our invitation to the royal wedding got lost in the mail, but we enjoyed it at o-dark-thirty on telly this morning. If we can scrape up enough cash to go next year to UK (the partner is a citizen) again, maybe we will get married for our 33rd anniversary. Or maybe just continue living in sin.

    • 04/29/2011 11:39 AM

      Hi Patrick! Great hearing from you, and glad you like the blogs. And thanks for passing this one on. I want it to help people – like your cousin maybe – who are where I was a few years ago, and are unsure of what to do next, if not totally scared to death.

      More later today via regular email. Glad to have your address. Somehow I had lost it. Typical.

      Best – DP

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