I noticed it a few months ago: Grandma Young (my husband’s mother) had added a picture to all of her children’s wedding portraits. Finally, there was a photo of Daren and Steve.
When I married into the family, the sexual orientation of the youngest son was not only kept secret, but skirted around, danced around, squirmed around in rather silly undulations. My in-laws speculated about “the boys’” romantic life, inventing girlfriends for each (actually a lesbian couple who hung out with them). Grandma would declare how obviously attracted Daren was to one of “the girls,” and Grandpa would argue that Steve seemed to be better matched for “that one.” Both stated that things were looking pretty serious between “the boys” and “the girls.”
Then suddenly, nobody was mentioning “the girls” anymore.
I had been a part of the family for two years before my husband made the great confession: His brother was gay. I wish I had a picture of my face back then, of my “Did you honestly think I hadn’t figured that out?” expression.
Sometimes, Grandma would let slip something about the “sin” of homosexuality, or the idea that it was an exaggerated Peter Pan complex, or the “love the sinner; hate the sin” cliché. But her phrasing evolved. Over the past while, I heard only praise for her biological son and his gifted partner—who had become another son.
Through the years, Daren proved to be the best and most loyal of the Young sons. Whenever there was reason for gifts of flowers, he would outdo everybody. It had nothing to do with over-compensation, but with innate generosity. I could always tell when he had been over to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Sometimes I would bring a little bouquet of columbine from my garden, and quietly place them in the shadow of the sprawling roses and lilies which Daren had brought.
It didn’t end with flowers, either. Daren and Steve often had Grandma and Grandpa over to their home for a gourmet meal—meticulously prepared and artfully presented by Daren. Sometimes, when Grandma found herself exhausted, she’d go to their house to sleep. (She once slept there for eighteen hours, and felt herself fully renewed afterwards.) And on Grandma’s walls were many of Daren’s paintings. He filled her life with beauty.
When Daren and Steve decided to have a commitment ceremony, Grandma and Grandpa attended. That marked the biggest change. There were other things too. Would the gay couple sleep together at family reunions? (Yes.) Would Steve be included with the in-laws in family activities? (Yes.)
Grandma died on July 5th. Bruce and I went to the care center where Grandpa was playing Bingo, took him out of the game, and broke his heart in the hallway. “Dad,” Bruce said, and I could feel Grandpa holding his breath, prolonging the moment before the words were uttered, hardly daring to look at his son. “Mom has died.”
There. It was spoken. Grandpa doubled over in an anguished cry. We walked him to his room. I left Bruce with him while I went to the hospital to sit with Grandma’s body until the mortician arrived.
Daren and Steve arrived at the hospital shortly after I did, both of them weeping. We all hugged and cried and stroked Grandma’s lifeless arms. Grandma had boxed up her burial clothes years ago in preparation. I had brought the box with me, and did a quick inventory on the hospital chair. Veil. Brand new garments, still in their packages. “Daren, I don’t see any slippers here. Do you think she needs slippers? Does it matter?”
“Is everything else there?” He checked the robes with me. “Maybe she doesn’t need slippers. We’ll ask Dad.”
Besides preparing her clothes for her burial, Grandma had written her own obituary. This is how she listed her surviving children:
Daren C. and Ruth became the parents of six children. Two daughters, Nancy Young Layton and Lynda Young Tuckett, preceded her in death. She is survived by her husband and four children and their partners: Bruce (Margaret Blair), Provo; Annette (Jim Thomas), Blackfoot, ID; Lawrence (Christine Horne), Pullman, WA; Daren Kurt (Steven Fisher), Salt Lake City; as well as Joseph Tuckett, Payson, husband of daughter Lynda, deceased.”
Back at Grandpa’s place, I read the list out loud. I reached over to Steven, sitting next to me, as I read his name. “That’s good,” I said. “That’s just right.”