My Name is Sarah

MY NAME IS SARAH. I am a quilt designer and the sewcial director of Sarah's Sewcial Lounge. I also have a business called Down Right Charming. I sell my quilts mostly on etsy and I make pillowcases to donate to patients in the hospital in memory of my friend Kristen Kirton. I am a young adult living with Down syndrome. I hope you enjoy reading about my life journey.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Gay in Bloom

By Joyce...The world of Down syndrome is a buzz over a newly released book this week called Bloom. It is billed as a memoir, written by Kelle Cryderman Hampton.  I assumed it is mostly about the birth of Kelle's daughter Nella and overcoming the emotional turmoil the diagnosis of Down syndrome stirs.  I wrote a post about Kelle shortly after the arrival of her daughter. I have been actively following her story on the wildly popular blog, Enjoying the Small Things, so I did not really feel the need to pre-order a copy.  Actually, I wasn't even planning on reading it.  Afterall, Sarah is nearly twenty three. I'm many long years past getting over the hurdles first thrown at you with the presence of three twenty ones. A trisomy.

Then a week or so ago, I read a review by Barbara Curtis (updated to include our condolences to Barbara's family upon her untimely death after this was written). It was not an especially kind review. In my opinion, it was in parts almost cruel. But then, it was a review by a critic.  And let's just say Barbara and I do not usually see eye to eye, so I did not give it much thought.  But there was one little sentence that took me by surprise.  She revealed Kelle's father is gay.  Why I did not know this, I'm not sure.  Rik Cryderman often comments on Kelle's posts and others who post about his daughter and/or granddaughter.  His words, as I described in my first blog post about the family, are often poetic, inspirational and spiritual in nature.  My curiosity was peaked by Barbara adding that little detail.  Now, I looked forward to reading the book.

I wanted to hear about how this family was able to cope with something so controversial.  I wanted to know how they repaired their relationship so as to accept a gay man, a gay father, back into their lives.  For I was certain, there had to have been some very dark days.  Deep pain. Torn memories and shattered dreams.  Why was I so curious about this one aspect of the Cryderman family you may ask?

Because I have personally been witness to and been affected by having gay members of my family. I know the hurt. I have seen the hatred with my own eyes. I have witnessed the tearing apart of family. I have listened to ugly lies and venomous tirades. I've watched the turning of one's back to a loved one, simply because of that three letter word.  I've been on the receiving end of emails and phone calls when the pain is so great, the only option is to scream, before one explodes.  I also know what it is like to loose years, with no contact, because certain family members shun their own kin. 

And I am ashamed to admit that because of my own inability to acknowledge they were wrong, I joined in with the avoidance. Until one day, a group of co-workers at the Cleveland Ballet, helped me realize that I was missing out.  I also opened my eyes to the fact that if I wanted others to see my daughter with Down syndrome, as just a girl, I too needed to be open to the differences of others.

So I set out to find my cousin Joel.  The last time I had seen him, was at his father's funeral. He was a college student and I was just a young girl. 

It was now late 1998. The Internet was cryptic, at best, so it was not much help.  I found a relative who had an address. I sat down and wrote Joel a letter.  It came back a few weeks later stamped, "undeliverable."  That Christmas, the same relative received a holiday card with a different address.  I resent the original letter. A few weeks later, I received a very long letter in return. It included an email.  We began conversing every few days.  He also began emailing my oldest son.  I loved watching their relationship blossom.

I should probably mention that I am an only child.  My relatives are few, I have (had) exactly three cousins on my mothers side, and three on my fathers side.  So I especially cherished this new found connection.

I was beyond excited the day I found out Joel was going to fly from Seattle to Cleveland to see me and meet my family.  I had no reservations about introducing him to my children. I was certain that TJ had enough correspondence with him to not be judgmental. And the best part, Sarah was born without prejudice.  Hatred is just not in her vocabulary.


And sure enough. As soon as Joel arrived, Sarah climbed right up next to him and snuggled into his arms. I know his heart melted at that moment. He felt something from family that he had not felt in a very long time. Sarah showed us all something that day.  Increased intelligence, college degrees, fancy job titles, mean little when it comes to the acceptance of other human beings.  Her love is purely unconditional.


Unfortunately, my time with Joel was not long lived.  A few short years later I received a call from a doctor at a hospital in Seattle. Unbeknown to me, Joel had created a card he kept in his wallet that suggested emergency phone calls come to me.  The doctor was calling to tell me Joel had a massive stroke with significant brain bleed.  He wanted to know if they should keep him alive.  The shock, I suppose, kept me from collapsing. I had never discussed anything like this with him.  I told the doctor I could not make that decision without seeing him first. I needed to get on a plane. 

Joel passed in the night before I could arrive.  Along with his friends we planned an event. It was a celebration of life, rather than dwelling on his death. He was much too young to die.  I was grateful for the time we had, yet I so wish I had been able to see earlier that I needed to break the cycle. I needed to be able to see past the hatred of others. Past the hatred of the church, especially. I wished I could have been more like Sarah.

So tonight as I read Chapter Two in Bloom, I cried with Kelle.  Not because of Nella at all.  But because I somehow could feel what she describes. Certainly not on her level. She was a child in the third grade. With a newly identified gay father.  I can't pretend I know that emotion.  But I understood her words. Her description of the time it took for acceptance.

When I read Kelle write about the day she finally saw her dad as just her Dad and not as a gay man anymore, I smiled. Why?  Because I know something from experience she probably doesn't yet...she will never have to explain or worry about that transition with Nella. To her, Poppa will always just be Poppa. For Nella's love is unconditional.  She was born that way.  It's just too bad, the rest of us weren't.  
  

27 comments:

Dawn said...

WOW!

I loved this post!

My grandaughter is Ella Grace (with the Pretty Face)

My brother Ken was gay and died of AIDS nearly 20 years ago. I still miss him every day. I learned so much about unconditional love, tolerance and compassion from him...but find I have much more to learn...and now my lessons come from Ella. I am so thankful for them both.

Thank you for sharing this today...

Anonymous said...

I can not identify myself and I too am ashamed by it, but my family is not there yet. I wish all my family would read this.

Kacey Bode said...

My mom, Dawn (the 1st comment) just sent me a message and said go read My Name is Sarah now! Like my mom said, my Uncle Kenny was gay and died of AIDS when I was 12 years old. I was really close with him and he left a big impact on my life! I guess I knew back when he was alive that he had AIDS but really didn't know what that meant. All I knew is that I loved him. My uncle had a big impact on me. I so wish that he was still here, I know that he would be head over heels in love with my Ella! I love love love this post and thank you for writing it!!!!!

~ Teresa ~ said...

Oh, the tears that you have created in me this morning. When will people realize that we are all God's children? I myself have a family member who is gay and it is something that is just not spoken about. Just stupid......

Sabrina said...

Joyce, I truly loved the way you wrote this post, and you have also piqued my interest in reading this book! I am also living in a somewhat similar situation as yours, and like you I do not speak up. Thank you for writing this, and bringing this book to my attention.

May you and your family have a blessed Easter, and God bless! <3

Amy L said...

I read with this post with tears. I'm so happy that you got to reconnect with your cousin Joel. What a blessing!

one_plustwins said...

Wow, Joyce...thank you for sharing. I grew up with my gay Aunt and I have never known anything "different" or "wrong". I knew acceptance. My father, once extremely accepting of his sister is now, sadly, very judgmental. I hate it. Then again, this is also the man that has never held my youngest child :(

Anonymous said...

It seems like maybe there is more to this story. Could there be?

Kristin said...

Beautiful words Joyce!

Mary said...

Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God Joyce, that was so beautiful. I haven't always been as accepting of the gay population as I am now. My daughter's DS has made me so much more compassionate the last few years. While I still believe being gay is not right in God's eyes, I don't judge or condemn. I respect the gay population in the same manner I would want anyone to respect my daughter. Being different doesn't equal being disrepected. Most of the time I scan through Kelle's comments just to read her Dad's comments. I think he is absolutely wonderful and Kelle is so lucky to have him ;-)

ParkerMama said...

Beautiful.

Suzie said...

Very well written. I have changed my way of looking at people because of two my my children. I am very grateful for them in my life.

Elbog said...

Thank you, Joyce. I arrived at nearly the same destination from a different station. http://elbog.blogspot.com/2008/03/fasten-your-seat-belts.html
There is so much more to this life. You've stated this beautifully.
Jeff

CJ said...

Standing ovation!!

Allison said...

I, too, follow Kelle's blog and look forward to reading her blog. Thank you for sharing your story! I have come out to a few members of my family, but struggle with some others because of the reaction I am afraid I will get.
Thank you for sharing and letting me see that people can change. Peace, Allison

Noahs Dad said...

Thanks for sharing this. I hope you and your family are doing well. :)

StarSpry said...

What a beautiful post! I am sorry you didn't have more time with your cousin, but I'm so glad you were able to contact him and have him back in your life for several years. My older sister has Down Syndrome, and I have seen the wonderful, unconditional love she has for everyone :)

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful and powerful post! Thank you for sharing.

I had a Ds prenatal diagnosis and my doctor was pushing for abortion. I went on the internet looking for something positive about Down syndrome and found the ETST blog. I can say that thanks to the beautiful side of Ds that KH shows the world, today, I have my almond eyed boy, and can't imagine my life without him. I saw KH on the Today Show early this week and loved the message she is spreading. I am hoping more lives of children with Ds are saved because of all the positive awareness.

This morning, I got my People Magazine issue (William Levy is on the cover, the 04/23/12 issue) and found a lovely surprise: A review of Bloom on page 51. The last sentence on the review is: "grief and disappointment can be transformed into compassion and joy". So true.

Lilah

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. My husband is a Literary Agent and told me last night that Bloom is #11 on the New York Times Best Seller List. It doesn't surprise me. The majority of her readers are from all walks of life, lots of them don't have a child with Ds and were looking forward to getting to know more about KH perspective and positive outlook in life. I couldn't be more happy for her.
Lilah

Anonymous said...

I'm a random commenter here, but I've never seen a lot written (in the small corner of the internet that I frequent) about people's experiences with gay family members. I hvane't read Kelle's book, but I do appreciate the blog. Anyway, my parents are divorced and my mom is gay, and its interesting - I don't remember ever learning or being told, "your mom's gay." I don't remember seeing my mom as something different than just that - my mom. She loved me, and that was all that mattered to the small child that loved her mom. It wasn't until I got older and heard kids' disparaging comments about gay people that I realized that some people thought there was something wrong with it. For awhile, in middle school, I was embarrassed, I didn't want to get picked on, so I kept it a secret. As I've gotten older, well, it just doesn't matter. My mom is an incredibly kind, altruistic, sincere person. THAT'S who my mom is. She's not some label that people use to judge more easily. Anyway, I enjoyed your post.

Anonymous said...

One of the most incredible examples of selfless love. Joyce, I admire your empathy and how you reached out to your cousin. That catapults you to the top in my book.

Anonymous said...

Have you read what the Pope said today? I remembered reading this a while back but never commented. You were so wise in searching for your cousin Joyce. I so admire what you bring to life. You are a beautiful human being. God will continue to bless you richly for your compassionate heart.

Yours in spiritual love, Maggie

Anonymous said...

I in awe of how you brought the elements of this story together. You are of great mind.

Anonymous said...

All the degrees in the world do not make a person smart. IQ alone is simply a measure to assess what someone is capable of, what they do with the level of intelligence is up to them. Most fail themselves miserably by being bigoted and egotistical.

You have been given anecdotal evidence that smart is more about love and acceptance. Good for you for recognizing this.

Anonymous said...

Sarah and Nella are beacons of light in a world of darkness. We are asked to be Christlike. They are perfect examples.

Anonymous said...

Hatred is such a bitter emotion. There are ninety year old men sitting alone in corners like a plant in a pot of dirt because their hearts are so cold. How can they not love their own children for who they are? Good for you to speak up Joyce.