We buried you yesterday, under the trees and shadow of Long Cane Church in Troy, amid the headstones of generations and generations and generations of those who came long before you and me. The stillness out there is stunning, really. And beautiful. The quiet, though – all that stillness – is what struck me most. All that stillness was the space you’ve left behind. Space that we’re struggling to cope with, and do not want to accept. We want you here, filling up all that space with your big heart and your Michael Jackson paraphernalia.
You would have approved of your memorial service, I think, though we were probably still more reserved than you would have been. I suspect, however, that it was the most nontraditional service that Abbeville has seen. Michael and Elton haven’t made it into too many services there, I don’t think, and certainly not both in the same service! And we told the truth, all of us. Joel and Carmen both sat in front with your family. No one tiptoed around any closets in their speaking, no one pretended your life was perfect. We celebrated your real life, the one that was complicated and beautiful, your life that was messy and joy-filled, your days that were heartbreaking and those that were spent laughing.
Your sisters and brother are grieving for you with every breath, greeting each day with disbelief that you are not here. I suspect Joel feels much the same. They all loved you so deeply, and so fully – every part of you, always. And I know you loved them the same way, and did and would have done anything for any one of them and their families. The love you had for the people in your life, and the generosity with which you approached your relationships always made an impression on me. Your capacity for love, for giving, was extraordinary. I know you weren’t perfect, none of us are. But you had an amazing heart, you possessed such a beautiful spirit. I could always see that – as I’m sure so many others did – even when I could also see the pain you struggled with that held you too tightly, too often.
There’s so much I wish I had talked to you about, so much I wish I had said to you these last several years. We are such different people, you and I, and I’m certain we would have never met or spent any time together if we weren’t related. I’ve admired you, though, my whole life. I remember going to your house when everyone was in South Carolina for summer vacations and Christmas holidays. The older I got, the more I knew there was something you and I had in common, something neither of us could name in that big, crazy family we shared. Even with all the love that was there, there was also strong feeling and definitive ideas about who we were supposed to love and no room for straying from that path. You stayed away for a long time, and then as I got older I took my own hiatus from those gatherings.
I don’t think I ever said thank you to you. Thank you for coming back to the big and crazy family. You helped me come back, too. There wasn’t anything easy about it for you, I’m sure, because I know it wasn’t easy for me. Knowing that you were taking the risk too helped me find the courage to stop pretending, to dare them to make good on their promises to always love us no matter what, and to trust that we would all figure it out somehow – figure out how to be family with our whole selves. And they did. They loved us. Loved you, loved me, even if not everyone understands. I know now we don’t all have to understand everything about each other to enjoy being a family, to laugh and cry and live together in all of our diversity. I’ve wanted to say thank you for a long time, now, and I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance when I could look at you face to face.
You never believed me when we would have conversations about God and religion and heaven and hell. Peace about who you had been created to be eluded you when you thought about all you had been taught. You know now. You know that nothing ever truly separated you from the Love that created you. You know that gay or straight, in recovery or in relapse, sad or happy, male or female, rich or poor…You know now that Love holds you, and always has. And while tears run down my face because your feet won’t walk beside mine again on this side of God’s great embrace, I am so glad you are free of the pain that never left you. You are whole now. You are free.
I love you, Kip. And I will miss you for all the days to come.