February 29, 2012

My Bubby and Pop Pop

February 7th marked the 15th anniversary of my grandmother (Grandmom)’s death. I was in the second grade when she died, and here I am, about to graduate college. Her husband, my grandfather (Grandpop) died when I was only four years old. I never really got to know either one of them, which continues to upset me to this day. I can’t really talk about either of them (or write this post) without crying. There are so many things about my life that they never saw and that they will never know. A few things stick in my mind as pretty significant: my Bat Mitzvah in 2002, that I’m here at Duke, that my parents divorced (after 30 years), that my sexuality defies labels.

I am incredibly fortunate that both of my mom’s parents (Bubby and Pop Pop) are around and that we’re really close. They have been there for my Bat Mitzvah, have visited me here at Duke, and were incredibly supportive during my parent’s divorce. Still, I haven’t come out to either of them. They’re always telling me how proud they are of me and I’m afraid that probably not being 100% straight will change that.

My Pop Pop is 87 years old and has his share of health ailments. Most recently, right before Thanksgiving, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. On a night when my mind raced and I couldn’t sleep, I started writing him a letter. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him and to thank him for so many of the opportunities in my life. In part, I wrote:

“I know this isn’t the happiest letter, but pretending that your health woes don’t exist won’t make you better. It will just mean that we don’t ever talk about them, or about this.”

About this. I knew where I meant to be going with this letter. I wanted to thank him for always pushing me to never settle, for sparking my interest in history from a young age, for that family vacation we took. And yet, the letter could have gone in an entirely different way.

About this. My “I love you; thank you” seemed to be writing itself into some sort of coming out letter. I never did give him the letter—I never got around to finishing it. Then I learned that his doctors no longer characterized his condition as congestive heart failure, and it seemed less imperative.

But on this 15 year marker of my Grandmom’s death, and as I reflect on all the things I wish I could have shared with her and my Grandpop, I can’t help but think that I still have a chance to do this whole grandparent thing right, albeit with my mom’s parents and not my dad’s. So what’s holding me back?

I want to be The Perfect granddaughter. It’s flawed that in my mind, coming out to them would jeopardize this. I don’t think being anything other than 100% straight makes anyone less “perfect,” but they’re two generations older. They might. It seems so different.

And yet, my grandparents have (inconsistently) hinted to me that it’d be okay with them if I wasn’t straight! My Pop Pop, a retired surgeon, still receives the American Medical Association Magazine monthly. This summer, when I was visiting, he pulled out two articles on LGBTQ health and left them at my place at the table. “I thought this might interest you,” he told me. A few months earlier, he told me that the symphony was a great place to take a date—whether they are a man or “a special lady friend.” Other instances like this pepper the last year. My Bubby has been less gentle in our conversations about my involvement with BDU, some of my academic work, living in Women’s Housing, etc. But she reads the blog on occasion, and I have reason to believe that she came across my coming out post.

So, really, the only thing left to do is to talk about it. Which is exactly what I plan to do when I see them in April for Passover.


  1. Good luck Risa! For what it's worth, your grandparents sound really awesome. I hope conversation with them goes well.

  2. Risa, you are fierce!! (in the good, not scary animal way duh)