My grandparents were born and raised during very prejudiced times.
Despite that fact, throughout my life I only witnessed them demonstrate unconditional love towards others, towards one another, and towards me. Because of that I have always had a remarkably close and sacred relationship with them. They were the first--and the only--people I sat down with to 'officially' come out to.
Other people in my life had either already assumed that I was gay or figured it out organically. For the most part of my adult life, I was determined to just be me. I didn't try to hide my sexuality, but I also didn't go out of my way to publicly label myself. Whatever people thought was fine with me. But because of the special relationship I had with my grandparents, it was important to me that I had a proper talk with them about it.
Every New Year's Eve, for many years, I would decline invitations to cool parties and instead spend the evening with my grandparents. It was on one of those nights that I knew it was time for the talk.
I was nervous. It was late. My grandfather had just fallen asleep, and that left me--after a bottle of Prosecco--alone with my grandmother with just enough courage to start talking.
"Grandma, I need to tell you something. You may want to sit down."
She sat down and said, "What is it, Mandy?" That was their pet name for me.
"Well, I'm in a relationship with (name of girlfriend at the time), and we're not just friends. We're like ... a thing ... we're ... a couple."
At that moment, my grandmother took a deep breath, closed her eyes and started shaking her head. I panicked thinking, Oh no what have I done? I couldn't handle the thought of disappointing them. What if what I just revealed made them feel differently about me and changed our relationship? My heart sank to my stomach. Just when I could feel it ready to explode my grandmother opened her eyes, glared at me, and in a stern voice said, "But she is just so bossy to you!"
She went on to give me the lecture of my life about not letting others boss me around, about how I deserved to be treated, and how I needed to stand up for myself.
God love her.
I got up from the chair, went to the other side of the table, gave her a massive hug and showered her with kisses. Then I cried.
The next day my grandfather heard the news. Still to this day when I think about his response I get overwhelmed with emotion. While he probably already knew, after getting confirmation that I was indeed gay, all he cared about was that when I found the one that I would be committed to loving and honoring them with all of my heart and that they would love and honor me in the same way.
My grandfather passed away last September-shortly after Grandparents Day-after a long battle with Parkinson's. During the last year of his life, even though he was in an electric wheel chair and it would take him an hour to get from one end of the room to the other, even though he could barely take care of himself, he'd still make the journey to my grandmother's dresser and lay out her pajamas for her before they'd go to bed.
He did that every night.
On the day my grandfather died we all could sense the time had arrived. About an hour before he passed away my grandmother went to her bedroom, put on her finest outfit and fixed herself up to look beautiful for him. She came back out, sat beside him on his hospice bed and held his hand. She begin to tell him some of the most touching things that I'd ever heard one lover speak to another - about how she felt about him, their love and the life they shared together. She thanked him for loving her so well and let him know that Jesus was waiting for him, that it was ok for him to go and that she would be taken care of.
My grandparents, Don and Maxine Hite, were married for over 64 years.
When I think about the type of unconditional love we hope to receive from others when we come out and the type of unconditional love we hope to share with another for the rest of our lives, I think of them. That's the type of love we come out for.