Dear Maquel (Letter #1)
A funny story about your burial, and an important announcement about one of my kids
It’s your brother here, doing this thing I’ve been doing over the last year—writing letters to lots of people, most of whom who are dead, here on Substack.
I’m sure you can imagine that I had no idea that you would be one of the dead people I’d be writing letters to when I started this thing around a year ago. Your cancer was such a sonofobitch, such a thief, such a strange and unexpected turn. And now here you are—your energy everywhere, your ashes in the ground. (More on that later.)
I’m going to try to keep this short so it doesn’t become one of my other 23 almost-finished letters to people (some of them to you) that just got so long and involved that I never finished them. Let’s see if we can get this letter to you today. [Note: didn’t happen; it’s now days later and this thing got LONG, but I’m doing a final edit right now so we’re good ;-)]
As I told Mom in one of my letters to her, I feel like there is some magical power in pressing the “post” button on these letters. Perhaps because it involves an electronic exchange—a transfer of real energy here in time and space—it feels like the second I publish it it somehow “gets” to you, and that the energy that is you “receives” my words, or my intention, in some tangible way. I don’t know how this is true, especially when I also have some vague awareness that you can see everything I see and are somehow always with me, but this somehow feels true to me. And that’s what matters I guess.
Your funeral was amazing. I spoke at it. I read you a letter, actually. (I’ll be posting that here soon so I can “send” it to you too.) The funeral was executed according to your every wish, and you would have been so proud of Jenni, and so touched by the way she stood firm in making sure it was exactly right—uncontaminated by any of the forces that led to your many sorrows. It was just right, and your sweet friends all came, and they all got to speak, which was a decision we made on the fly—to let anyone who wanted to speak say whatever they wished to say at the end of the service. They came up one by one and cried and laughed and shared memories, and it was so clear that they really saw you—that they really knew and loved you. It was such a balm to all of our hearts to hear from them and know that in those last years you had found your people, and that you’d been loved so well and had so much fun with like-minded souls with big hearts and great senses of humor.
Speaking of humor, Kelli, you will not believe what happened at your burial. It’s funny, I’ve been so excited to tell you this, and I can already hear your loud laughter about it in my mind. I wish I could see you laugh about this, but I’ll have to settle for knowing that those peals are echoing somewhere, somehow, far away from where I am right now.
Let me set the stage… it’s June 3rd (which was crazy, by the way, because Mom and Mirabel were both buried on June 2nd, and we would have done yours on the 2nd too except Jenni’s kids had their last day of school that day so we did it one day later—a totally “accidental” timing thing, especially since originally we were going to do it in May)…
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Anyway, it’s June 3rd and the family is gathered at the cemetery next to Mom’s grave. I want you to really imagine this scene. I want you to see it in your no-longer-existing-mind’s eye if you can: we are sitting on chairs under a big tarp. The sun is out. There is construction going on in the distance (which was the first thing Justin noticed when we got there—he was like “oh, how nice of them to have some construction playing in the background for this occasion” and it was hilarious.)
We are on the green astro-turf stuff they roll out for these things. It’s hot. Before us sits your beautiful urn containing all that is left of your body. And we are all there, crying. Our hearts are hurting. Dad opens the floor to anyone who wishes to say our final words to you, and we all sit, stunned by the reality of this moment: we are about to say goodbye to the last remnants of you, the very last traces of your body that exist in this world. We sit in contemplative silence, feeling the gravity the moment…
And then we hear the sound of a loud motor, and down the pathway ahead of the row of us, a huge tractor turns and faces us, its big shovel jutting out like it just can’t wait to do its job of burying you in the ground. And we are like “um, is this actually happening?” And the tractor starts inching towards us—the row of us there, missing you, tenderly contemplating how we each want to say goodbye to your remains—and it kinda looks like it’s not gonna stop. The tractor looks hungry to gobble you. It looks like a fucking predator.
But then the driver sees us all sitting there, and halts, and the tractor just rests there, looking almost disappointed that it can’t do its job. And the lady in charge flags the driver and tells him to stand down, and he eventually backs up and out of sight, and then it’s just us there sitting in a row in stunned silence. Here, let me share a picture:
First, there’s your urn. </3
Okay, so this was taken from my seat there on the astroturf stuff as you can see. So just imagine Jenni sitting next to me, and a row of us facing your urn, and all of us are sniffling, and then the tractor pulls up and turns towards us between those flags in the distance, and then drives forward toward us about five feet, then just stops. That actually happened.
And the thing that’s most hilarious to me now is that the moment was so somber that after the lady shewed him away we just kept moving forward? Like somehow we didn’t break and we just pretended that hadn’t happened, and all said our goodbyes, and wrote messages on the box your urn was buried in (which you can see above), and shared our tributes. And none of us broke for even one moment to look at the others and be like “hey, did anybody else notice the huge-ass tractor?” Something about that detail makes me laugh even harder. My God how you would have guffawed, and maybe even are guffawing, at that image! (Did you arrange that for us? Do you have that kind. of sway the behind the scenes?)
Anyway, it was somehow the perfect moment as we said goodbye to you—at least from my perspective. It had the exact flavor of absurd “ah, fuck me! Of course this is happening at my burial!” kind of energy you would have totally relished in and it makes looking back on this moment strangely delightful to me—a merciful chuckle to accompany the terrible sadness of your loss.
Okay so, changing subjects abruptly (as you well know we ADHDers are wont to do) there is some really important news I’ve wanted to tell you that I know you would be so incredibly thrilled by. In fact, one of the saddest parts of having you gone is not being able to see you react to this news about one of my kiddoes, since I know you would have been PUMPED to learn this, and so, so wildly supportive in every way.
Since you were the queen of meme’s I shall first tell you in meme form using a classic oldie but goody:
That’s right! I have a son, and you have another nephew!
The human spawn formerly known as
Tessa sent me a text a month or two ago that said “Dad, I’m trans. You can call me Tyson.” (Actually he wasn’t using that name then, he used a different name and has tried on a few now, but Tyson seems to be where he has landed.) He’d come out as non-binary a month or two before this, and it makes me laugh how clueless I was that I didn’t see it coming! I mean, he was always so insistent that we not assume anyone’s gender and instead use they/them pronouns with people we didn’t know (and he was right about that, of course)—and he was always friends with the trans kids in his classes and I was always like “aw, what a great ally!—that’s what you get when you have gay Dads I guess!” somehow never putting two and two together. Feels a bit silly now!
Anyway, when I got this text where he cam out as trans it all made sense immediately in my head. Like I could feel it “click in” or something, and maybe it does the same for you. So this is why he was always so obsessed with playing with all the other dads of all the other kids when he was little—that kind of thing.
I guess the correct way of saying this is that he has always been himself, and that feels very obvious to me.
Anyway, he’s moved pretty fast through the coming out process (as is his normal way of doing things) and I’ve been extremely impressed by his boldness and strength—especially in the current climate around these issues. He’s told the whole family and he boldly came out at school, even going to the office to make sure they change his name and pronouns on his records. For the most part, he has gotten a very positive and validating response. The school rolled with it, and when we met with some teachers/admin recently they were all using his pronouns (he is he/they) and name correctly, which was awesome to see.
It hasn’t been perfectly smooth sailing, mind you. He’s encountered some bullying at school, and there are complicated situations that have arisen that have made him feel really sad. But overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of acceptance he’s been able to experience, and it all makes me so glad that he comes from the family he comes from, and so relieved that we left Mormonism and its life-threatening messages about people like him long before he (or Viva who as you know is also queer) could internalize any of that stuff.
Here are some photos I snagged of him the other day when I told him I was writing you this letter and got his permission to share it on Substack:
As you can see he has lost nothing of his enthusiasm or sense of humor as he’s become more aligned with his true self! And the relief and joy he often feels is very apparent. He lights up when someone we don’t know genders him correctly. He also loves to say certain things over and over like the following exchange that happens frequently at the moment and makes me grin every time:
“I’m a gay trans man.” *grins*
”Yes. Yes you are.”
Meanwhile, I feel so damn lucky as a parent. I never expected to have a son, let alone a “gay trans son,” so getting to know Tyson in this way, and watching him get to know himself, has been a wonderful gift. It’s been especially fun to watch him enjoy pride month, and see the ways his identity is celebrated and honored by so many in our nation. He loves wearing pride colors and loves his pride and trans flags. And while there is a lot of antipathy and ignorance out there, it is also true that there are a LOT of people out there who love, accept, and make space for queer people and who see trans folx for exactly who they really are, and that makes my Daddy heart (as well as my own queer heart) very happy and grateful.
Anyway, all of this brings me to a little story I wanted to share with you about Tyson and your burial. Initially, we were planning to bury your ashes in May, but it was a very abrupt decision and I was having trouble getting tickets and figuring out who should come. It was distressing, and something didn’t feel quite right, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then, the day before I was supposed to leave, Tyson pulled me aside and said “Dad, I know you already have tickets and stuff, but I just need to tell you that I feel like I’m supposed to go. I can’t explain why, but can just feel it. I just know I’m supposed to be there.”
I could feel the truth of what he was saying very strongly, and told him I’d do my best to make it happen. But everything felt like it was already in motion, and it all felt too late and I started to feel helpless and a bit panicked because I had no idea how to pull it off. It started to feel icky and shamey and like I was a bad ADHD parent that didn’t know how to make the right things happen for my kids—but amidst that garbage I had the thought that I could appeal to you and Mom—so I did. I spoke to you both and I just asked that if Tyson was supposed to be there, you would help it all fall into place the way it needed to behind the scenes, and felt peace. I then felt like should talk to Jenni, who was in communication with Dad, and she felt something too—and then her brain kept her up all night trying to figure out how to make it happen. Eventually we both went to sleep, and the next morning she texted to let me know that the she had been able to contact Dad and that very easily (and generously) the decision had been made to postpone for a couple of weeks so I could make sure I could bring Tyson and whoever else felt that should come.
And I’m so glad! It was a powerfully bonding trip because it ended up that he was the only other person able to go (Carlos had work, Viva had an important end-of-the-year field trip, Anna had to finish up her semester at the community college for running start, etc.) so this trip to bury your ashes became Tyson and my first father/son trip, which felt very special. And it was beautiful to stay with Jenni and see Chad and watch the way everyone in the family immediately and totally embraced Tyson for who he is with zero resistance. I can’t imagine how affirming that must have felt to him.
Anyway, at the end of the gathering we had for your burial, there was a moment where everyone could place an item in the box that ended up containing your ashes.
See that scrunchy in the right-hand corner? That is Ty’s beloved trans scrunchy that he had kept with him every day since coming out. Without thinking twice, he put that in the box with you, and I wanted to let you know that he left it for you, which I found so touching, and it’s even making me tear up right now, because Kelli, I know what a fierce and truly powerful ally you were to me. And I know you would have been that to Tyson. You would have been so pumped for him and so proud of him! I’m so sad you don’t get to do that for him in person. But it touches my heart to know that he felt safe connecting to you in that way, and that maybe, in so doing, you get to be that for him wherever you are now.
Oh man. The emotions I feel as I write this, as I ask these questions. Can you help me protect him, Kelli? It has gone very well for him in many ways, but, as is common with someone going through transition, Tyson has admitted there have been some tough moments. Moments where he has contemplated whether or not he wants to stick around in this life. And that thought is so terrifying. Will you help me watch over my son? Will you help protect him when people are cruel, or when he feels all alone in ways I can’t comprehend? Or even when I make mistakes? When he maybe feels hopeless? Will you help me keep him safe in this at-times dangerous, transphobic, ableist world? It would mean so much to me to know he has you with him, comforting him and guiding him.
Okay, now I’m full on bawling, which means it’s time to wrap this letter up.
But before I do, one tiny last fragment from your burial. Near the very end, after we had all grabbed dirt with our own hands to throw into your grave (which was a strangely tender act) something suddenly occurred to me right there, and I hushed everybody and pulled out my phone so I could make sure I was remembering right.
Remember the poem I wrote you the day after mom died, right as you started recovering your memories? I’m going to share the last lines of that poem, which I read aloud in that moment, standing next to your grave:
You guarded your secret inside yourself
like a rotten pearl till loss crushed the shell
of your youth. You are still that little girl.
With our mother, you bury your childhood.
Into her grave you place your memories
like wounded doves that will never fly
but whose mourning coos will lament
what happened to you until you join her
in the ground, and so do I.
It was surreal to read those words I wrote in 2016 standing next to you as you literally joined mom in the ground in that very grave.
And yes, it is true that I, too, will eventually join you both in the ground. And when that happens I will be thrilled to see you both. But until then, I have a lot of important living and loving and writing and taking care of my kids to do. So, I suspect I won’t see you there for quite some time. :-)
Until then, know that I love you, sweet sister. And that I miss you terribly.
Thank you for being you. Thank you for all you were and are.
Thinking of you always,
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