My grandfather passed away on Christmas Eve. The weather was iffy and the trip would be short, so when the funeral was held later in the week I made the trip to Mississippi while Parker stayed home with the boys. No one really wants to go to a funeral, but a Southern Baptist funeral in the heart of the Deep South is a particularly threatening affair.
Everyone in my extended family is aware of the fact that I have a wife (I always imagine that they refer to Parker, when they refer to her at all, as my “special friend”) and two sons. They are aware, but not conversant. I think the closest I’ve gotten to a word on the matter was my grandmother’s “Well, you sure did surprise us!” scrawled in the Christmas card she sent the year Yogi was born. My people are not a talking people.
Unfortunately I’ve never imagined that I needed a sit-down to have an idea of their thoughts on the matter. The Armstrong clan boasts one preacher, four deacons and almost as many international missionaries as it has members. Sure, none of those facts necessarily means that toasts weren’t made when Park and I were wed (well, there is the matter of alcohol…), but all signs point to pretty damn unlikely. The Facebook wall of one of my cousins offers some pretty big hints. His status update following Obama’s support for gay marriage was: “Mr. President, for you to imply that Jesus would approve of gay marriage is contemptible.” Contemptible. That’s a strong word.
These are some of the reasons why I was bowled over by the funeral. Not only were Yogi and Monkey’s names listed on the program with the other great grandchildren, but Parker’s name was tucked within the parentheses beside my own in the manner of all the other spouses. There were even pictures of the boys displayed in the cavernous room where the visitation was held. Assuming that my father had made waves to ensure that we were included, I was shocked when my mom whispered that they had no idea.
Making the cold, rainy drive home the following morning I was bewildered. I hadn’t expected to be whisked away for a quick exorcism, but what I had been prepared for was my family’s smiling brand of denial. Instead I was met with something like acknowledgement. Although only my mother’s friends asked anything about Park, almost everyone I spoke to told me how eager they were to meet the boys. Boys who have Armstrong in their name, but not in their blood. Boys who are being raised by parents whom every one of them would no doubt vote to ensure could never by legally married.
I wish I could hear the interior conversation of someone like my cousin Paul (of the thoughtfully crafted Facebook post) as he plods through the love the sinner, hate the sin trenches to find a way to tell me that I have a beautiful family while simultaneously holding the belief that my family isn’t as real or right or true as his. How is it possible to hold all of those conflicting ideas in your heart? As much as I long to believe that it is possible and that everything that I heard the day before came from a place that is real and true, I can’t convince myself that it’s anything other than a very mannered and Southern wish to simply be nice. To go through the motions in order to avoid difficult conversations on an already difficult day.
What finally tips the balance in my heart from bewilderment to sadness it that I can’t imagine that there will ever be a day that is right for those kinds of conversations and that is it’s own kind of loss to be mourned.
Alison Armstrong* is a Southern, Stay-at-home-Mom getting used to life outside of academia and raising a child, Yogi*, with her wife, Parker*. You can follow her family’s adventures at her blog, Love Invents Us or read her previous posts for It’s Conceivable here.