I never knew my great Uncle Gordie very well, but the memories I have of him have stuck with me over the course of my life. I can’t say that I remember a lot about him, or that I remember each memory very specifically, but I know that I always really liked him, and vice versa, and that was enough for me. He lived in Ontario with his partner, and I’ve lived in BC for almost my entire life (save for 9 months or so in 1998-1999 when my family and I did a stint in Alberta before moving back, but that’s a different story), so I’d maybe only met him a handful of times. I think the last time I saw him I was not even five years old, at Christmas at my grandmother’s in Cranbrook, and the rest of the times were phone-calls during holiday seasons or cards and gifts in the mail. Every time he called, though, he made a point of making sure he’d talk to me, and I always got really excited when my grandmother would pass me the phone and tell me my Uncle Gordie wanted to talk to me. We’d chat for a few minutes – sometimes it felt like eons because time does when you’re a kid – and I’d give the phone back and my heart would be happy and I’d look forward to the next time we talked. It would always be “soon” and I liked that.
I don’t recall the specifics, but at some point I was told that Gordie was sick and that he wasn’t getting better. He’d been diagnosed with AIDS before I was even born but I could never tell he was sick because there was never any physically visible aspects that gave it away – in pictures or in person, at least from what I could tell as a child. Of course I didn’t know what AIDS meant as a child, but it broke my heart knowing that Gordie would never get better and there would be no more phone calls from him to look forward to.
After I found out about Gordie being sick, him and I never talked about it. I don’t think either of us wanted to taint our phone conversations and instead enjoyed what we had because there wasn’t much there to begin with. There was no time-frame on how much longer he’d live, and he’d already lived beyond any expectations anyone had of someone with his illness. At that point, all anybody knew was the unknown. Time passed and he seemed okay so no one ever talked about it until one day in June of 1997 when we got the call that he was in the Toronto General Hospital. I broke down and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I hadn’t cried that much in a very long time. He hadn’t passed away but I was crushed; things weren’t looking good and there was nothing anyone could do. My mom flew out that night or the next day and a friend of hers came to stay with me. I wanted to go, but I couldn’t, so I stayed home and waited for the inevitable.
I thought a lot about our phone calls over the next few days and the gifts he’d given me over the years stuck out more than usual: porcelain dolls he’d given me; a piggy bank with a wind-up circus clown (that I still have), to name a few. They were original and different and I wanted to keep them always because they were all I had to conserve his memory.
If memory serves me correctly, my Uncle Gordie died with my mom and her sisters, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and his partner surrounding him. He was very much loved by everyone in that room and the feeling was one-hundred per cent mutual, except there was one thing he’d been keeping secret his entire life: all of his family members in that room knew he was gay except his own mother. Gordie had once been married to a woman and subsequently divorced her to live the life he was born to live, met his partner some time later (I’m not sure how long they were together before he passed away), and spent the rest of his days with him. It wasn’t until Gordie was dying that he told his mother he was gay. Her response was simply that she knew, had always known, but had loved him just the same. There was never a question of loving him any differently because he was still the same person. You and I know that that’s the way it should be.
I didn’t cry when I was given the news about his passing, I’d done plenty of that over the days leading up to it, but that didn’t mean I was any less upset about it. He passed away, I grieved silently and waited for my mom to come home after the funeral so we could grieve together.
My Uncle Gordie has been on my mind over the years, off and on; every now and then I’ll think about him and smile and vaguely recall our phone calls and brief visits. It’s strange to think that he’s been gone longer than I knew him, but he was special to me. It breaks my heart, nearly 16 and a half years after his death, that he just couldn’t muster the courage to tell his mother the truth about his sexuality because he was afraid of the repercussions. It’s so unfathomable to me that anyone would turn their backs on their child, or loved one, simply because of their sexual orientation. Granted, things were different back in the 90’s and ‘being gay’ wasn’t as widely accepted yet; I guess in many ways it still isn’t, in 2013. I know that there are people out there struggling to tell their loved ones about their sexuality and it bothers me to no end that it’s even an issue.
Love is love is love.