Over the summer my mom became a published author. She also turned 73 in August. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that my mom, my dad, and me all have books coming out this year. A lovely turn of events to be sure!
Scattering Ashes: A Sister’s Journey with her Gay Brother is a story of love, sorrow, and growth. For my mom, the writing of this book was not an easy journey. From recalling childhood memories tucked away in the deep recesses of her mind to reliving my uncle’s final days as his body–ravaged by the effects of the AIDS virus–slowly succumbed to death, the retelling of these experiences took an emotional toll. But how grateful we, the readers, are for her perseverance.
My uncle Ron was the fourth child of Ray and Doris Smith. Some might call him a “dessert baby.” My mom was the middle sister and the two of them shared a special sibling bond. In the opening pages of the book, my mom writes of the Christmas Eve when the young-adult Ron finally told her he was gay. Unbeknownst to me, a young child at the time who was dreaming of Christmas morning surprises, my mom was the only family member he told for a number of years.
My mom had no idea how to respond. There were no good books on the topic for Christians with gay family members. Neither the culture nor the Church was talking about the topic in the 70s. The reader joins in my mom’s journey as she wrestles with trying to say just the right words to her brother. Early on, she put immense pressure on herself out of a desire to “fix” the situation. Wise counsel from a priest eventually frees her from this weighty burden and she begins to see that loving her brother and walking alongside him is the better path.
My uncle’s story isn’t always easy to read. Alcoholism and drug abuse plagued him throughout his life. Fears of all sorts were a constant companion. Toward the end of his life, paranoia settled in too. In many respects, his life is a story of sadness and pain.
My early memories of him were happy ones. He had a smoker’s laugh and as a young child I liked the way it sounded. He smelled of tobacco. One time, I rode in his car with my cousin Kris, and he wanted us to sing because his radio didn’t work. I can’t remember why we were in his car or where we were headed, but I remember singing all sorts of songs to pass the time.
For Christians, I think the main reason this book needs to be read is that the Church hasn’t always provided the tools or resources we need to grapple with this difficult topic. We have loved ones who are gay and suddenly we have all sorts of questions that we don’t know how to answer. Readers will appreciate the honesty with which my mom shares her mistakes. She didn’t always handle situations perfectly. But she loved her brother and she sought to have a relationship with him. Perhaps this is the key lesson for all of us, regardless of whether we have a gay loved one or not. How often do critical thoughts or judgmental attitudes trickle into our assumptions about others? What does it mean to love the other even when we disagree with her choices?
This may be a hard book for some to read. Some may think my mom homophobic for even suggesting that my uncle should have changed his lifestyle. Others will think she should have tried harder to convince him otherwise. Yet others, shaped by their own personal experiences, will find themselves a bit raw, feeling like the book opens old wounds. To all of this I say, give the book a read. Whether you agree or disagree or find yourself somewhere in the middle, this book serves as a launching point for personal reflection as well as group dialogue.
Of course, I am immensely proud of my mom. She never sought to write a book about her experiences. But over the years and numerous conversations later, she realized she had a story to share that would benefit others. Her readers will be grateful.