“This Story Shows How My Mother Lived Rather Than Just How She Died.”

by Terry McGovern

My name is Terry McGovern, I’m from East Meadow, New York.

My mother was an interesting character. She was kind of athletic, she coached softball when I was a kid, so she was a little bit nontraditional, but nonetheless she had a hard time when she found out I was a lesbian.

When I was in my 20s in law school, my partner pushed me, she said, “You have to tell your mother.”

So I wrote a letter and I mailed it to my mother on Long Island and apparently the letter came and my brother and my sister and my mother and a family friend were out on the stoop in front of the house and my mother said, “Oh, it’s a letter from Terry. I can’t ever read her writing,” handed it to my sister and said to read it aloud.

So my sister who is younger started reading it and said, “I don’t think I should read this aloud.”

And my mother said, “Just keep reading it!”

So my coming out letter was dramatically read in front of 5 people. And then my mother apparently went into her room and didn’t come out for a week. My sister called me and said, “Mommy is sick and not coming out of her room because you’re gay.”

And then I guess my sister kept making calls because she called everybody in my family to tell them I was gay, because they started calling me, but eventually my mother wrote me a letter which said, “You know, you’re very special. You’ll always be special. I still love you.”

So we began a journey.

I think in the years between when I first told her when she got the letter, the way she made peace with it, she started really noticing the people in her environment and celebrities who were gay. So she would kind of tell me who was gay. She said, “Dolly Parton is gay.” She definitely knew that Whitney Houston was gay. Rosie O’Donnell was gay. She liked all these people and she would tell me they were gay and I think she was kind of working it out. She would also just do a running commentary on whatever was going on. Like, “Why do the gays want to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade? That’s a horrible parade. They should run in the opposite direction.” She was constantly reacting to the gay. So I guess she was kind of integrating herself into it.

Years later, I was a pregnant lesbian, I have a partner, and my mother is fascinated. She comes to visit me, she’s so interested in every aspect of my pregnancy. I had a difficult pregnancy and my mother was kind of extremely attentive and, just to give you an idea of what she was like, she was calling me two weeks before because she’d had her second hole-in-one on the golf course. So she wasn’t like traditionally maternal at all, but she was super interested in my pregnancy and she started asking if she could be in the birth room which seemed horrible to me. I was like, “Absolutely not.”

And my partner was like, “We have to let her in. She’s so excited.”

So thank God she convinced me to let my mother in. So my mother shows up with this enormous coffee cup and stays the entire time. My partner fell asleep, my mother was cleaning me up as I was throwing up, and we had this incredible night together. I was completely loopy from the medication, but it ended up being this lovely visit, right? And my son was born and there’s pictures of her holding him right after. And unfortunately she worked in the World Trade Center so she was killed in the 9/11 attacks which were about 6 and a half, 7 weeks later.

My mother really, really, really rejected homophobia and totally accepted her grandson and her daughter, and her daughter’s partner. And she was gone a minute later. But it’s really meaningful because it shows how my mother lived rather than just how she died and what she left us with, that is kind of unusual I think.

It ended up being really nice that we had that time. It was very meaningful to me, very meaningful to my son now, we have the pictures. And she couldn’t have been more accepting, she couldn’t have been more happier, so that was really lovely for me.

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