Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
“It’s coming on Christmas,” as the song says, so, of course, as a mature Black lesbian, I am facing a dilemma, not to say a crisis. What to do during a bereavement visit with my father that falls close to Christmas but wasn’t meant to be a Christmas visit? How do I handle the inevitable painful memories of past Christmases and my family’s coercive reinterpretation of my trip?
Against my goals, I’m going “home for the holidays.” The last time I tried to visit my parents for the holidays, I was warned the door would not be opened for my life partner, Lorraine, and me because “Christmas is a time for family, and she’s not my family. If you come, you’ll be sorry.”
Based on past incidents, I believed Lorraine and I really would be sorry, so, as badly as I yearned to see my mother that last time, I changed course. The year was 2009.
At Christmas 2018, after taking fresh stock of my values, I sent my father a white-handkerchief greeting: I forgave all, and I asked forgiveness. He granted forgiveness. We’ve spoken a few times since, superficially only until he endured a health scare last September, then a series of deaths in October and November. Because I couldn’t attend those funerals with him, I’ve taken the first opportunity to visit him and my mom. That’s this Not-Christmas visit I'm anticipating, as I write this.
Since 2002, when my only sister first hosted family Christmas but declared “no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7) for the 2 of us, Lorraine and I have made—or not made—Christmas in myriad ways. Sis’s daughters were ages 8 and 4 then, and she told me she didn’t want to expose them to lesbianism, for she considers it unchristian and ungodly.
The thing is, I meant my forgiveness last year expansively. I don’t want to hold onto old grudges. At the same time, I will not walk knowingly into an abusive situation—or remain in one. I dishonor, rather than honor, my beloved elders and ancestors when I allow myself to be abused.
Recently, watching this short video on neuroplasticity, I wondered if I could reimagine my upcoming visit with my parents, transforming it from a dreaded re-immersion into unbridled African American homophobia into opportunities for me to practice compassion for elders and self-compassion.
I know it’s distorting the point of the video, but I trust watching it often enough will help me resist traumatic family patterns and triggers and instead shape-shift as needed from a sad and “queer” daughter into a grown Black person eager to honor their 85-year-old parents. May it be so.
The video reminds me of the many tools in my kit. Just a few:
I also just finished teaching Roxane Gay’s Hunger, which stirred dormant feelings I’ve had as an African American queer academic and Black feminist daughter. Besides arousing sorrow and anger I’ve felt as weird, isolated, recalcitrant daughter, Hunger reminded me of the power of the written word. It reminded me of what efficacy writing, journaling, self-expression and self-representation can endow. So, two tools more: reading and writing.
How will I care for my father and myself on this bereavement trip that happens to fall on a holiday laden with grief for us?
Until next time,