Dear President Trump,
It’s been another incredibly long day. There were three memorial oriented events today and one more tomorrow morning so lots of people, lots of tears, lots of stories about our brother-in-law (BIL). As pleased I am to see the headline that there is going to be some sort of FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, I just don’t have anything left over tonight to write about any of that and instead will share the letter I read aloud at BIL’s memorial service today.
I so wish this were a normal letter that you could read and potentially respond to, rather than one that is essentially directed to all the scattered bits of energy and matter that once were you. Fortunately, those of us who love you still carry many of your energy quarks and maybe even some bits of BIL-matter around with us, kind of like a precious and well-loved ring we’ll never take off, so really, this letter is to all of the bits of you we are all holding here.
From the beginning of knowing you were sick and through the process and now aftermath of your dying, I’ve found myself alternating between recalling the beginning of knowing you and the confusion and sadness I still feel as I try to imagine the future without you. I don’t usually live so much in the past or worry so much about the future, but extreme circumstances often seem to push people out of their present and so I’m just going with these mental temporal swings as best I can.
When I think about the beginning of knowing you I mostly remember your smile and how it always, always came shining through your eyes. You had the warmest, kindest smile ever and it was infinitely contagious. Imagining it now makes me smile even though I feel shaky and on the verge of tears as I write this.
I met you almost exactly 30 years ago when we all lived in Albuquerque. I remember being pretty overawed by you and somewhat confused that someone who was a university professor and attending physician could be so regular, so welcoming and accepting of Laurie’s new girlfriend who was just a first year graduate student. I don’t remember exactly how many months it took for the four of us to become a unit, but it didn’t take long before we were hanging out in each others’ hip pockets becoming a family.
There weren’t many families like us then, comprised as we were of two gay couples. At least that I knew of. Our gayness never seemed to be a huge deal to any of us, but it always felt like we had something of a haven or a little circle of understanding about how it was to navigate the world in this different way than is the norm. Looking back, I realize that I saw you as a role model for how to be out and true to oneself in whatever setting I might find myself because you seemed so at home in yourself no matter where you were. I think you really embodied the idea that being your true, full self gives other people permission to be their true, full selves.
A couple of other things from those early days that have popped into my head are your name and your dog. When I first met you and learned that your given name was really BIL Larry I thought surely Jim must be mistaken, your real name must be William Lawrence because BIL Larry was so very informal. I think maybe my bias was driven by having always wished that I had a name that came with a built-in nickname instead of Tracy Lynn, which is a lot like BIL Larry in that it is just what it is. I know none of us have any say whatsoever in the names our parents bestow upon us, usually without first meeting us, but as I got to know you it became clear that your parents actually did a great job naming you. You were someone who had no airs, no pretensions, and as I just said, always carried yourself in ways that helped other people feel more comfortable in their own skins and I kind of doubt someone named William Lawrence would have been able to pull this off.
And then there was Scruffy, your perfectly named, ugliest, sweetest dog on earth. I personally had somewhat mixed feelings about Scruffy because she was a licker and that’s not a quality I like much in dogs, but seeing you interacting with that strange little mutt was always like seeing the clouds parting and the sun bursting through. You loved her with absolutely no reservations. I know I’m mixing metaphors, but it was as though she hung the moon for you, you loved her so much. I don’t remember how Scruffy came to be in your life, but it was clear you were meant to be together and that she couldn’t have asked for a better human to care for her. Actually, I think how you were with Scruffy is how you were with the rest of us who got to soak up some of the light you emitted, all of us seriously scruffy mutts had various less than wholly desirable qualities that didn’t faze you, didn’t make you love us any less.
I’ve been thinking about what we can do for you in return and although it will be intensely personal for each of us and will no doubt evolve and morph over time, there are two things I hope we can do for you. The first is that I hope we can keep using you as a compass or guide, and the second is that I’d like us all to keep telling stories about you. In 10, 20, 30 years I want to still be saying, ‘what would BIL do?’ and ‘remember that time when BIL listened to Radiohead on the headphones and rocked out? Remember how he smiled, and nodded his head to the music?’
Even though you are now scattered about the universe, I hope we can all continue to give you and ourselves a sense of coherence by piecing together our memories of you. At least for me, this will help me trust that the universe is still an ok place even though we can’t call you up and hear your voice anymore. I didn’t really understand before you died that it is truly possible to love someone in the present tense who is now in the past tense and as hard as this is, I will always be grateful to you for this.
I love you.
May we be safe to love without reservation.
May we be happy to bring out the best in one another.
May we be healthy and strong for one another.
May we make peace with death so we can be fully engaged with life.