After the suicide of her daughter, Anna, in February of 1997, Mary Lou Wallner found herself faced with a spiritual journey to try to comprehend the events of their stormy mother-daughter relationship and the implications of her refusal to accept Anna's homosexuality.
Mary Lou has completed her book entitled "The Slow Miracle of Transformation". The following story highlights a small part of Mary Lou's pilgrimage.
I used to think that the only way to relate to gays was to confront them. I had no use for them. I didn't understand them, and I was judgmental and arrogant. And then one day our lives were changed forever.
It was about 5:15 p.m. on December 8, 1988. I had just walked into the house from work with the mail in my hand. There was a letter from my daughter, Anna. I opened it with the pleasure of anticipation that a mom feels when she hears from her daughter who is away at college. Her letter was dated December 4, 1988. She told me that lots had happened in her life with regard to her sexuality. She said she had fought long and hard to be comfortable and now she was. She said she was comfortable with women.
She went on to say she loved me and hoped I wouldn't try to change her. She said she loved God and knew He loved her.
On December 20, 1988, I answered her letter and told her I was devastated by what she had written. Please allow me to quote one paragraph from my letter to Anna:
Almost a year later, August 13, 1989, I was taking Anna back to the airport to go back to college after she played the piano for her cousin's wedding. I told her that IF she ever decided she wanted to get her act together, she was welcome to come home.
What followed were more than 8 stormy years, at best. We had a few good times, but not many.
In mid-August 1996, I received a letter from Anna. She basically said she wanted nothing more to do with me. She said that I was her mother biologically only, that I had stolen her childhood from her, and that I had done colossal damage to her soul with my shaming words. She did not want me in her life, not then, maybe not ever. She told me she did not want to, and did not have to forgive me.
I sought advice from a counselor, several friends and family members. To a person, all said the same thing: You must respect Anna's wishes and give her the space she needs. And that's what I did.
I keep wondering what would have happened if, after receiving her letter, I had grabbed my toothbrush, credit card and car keys, driven the 550 miles to where she was living and told her that I loved her no matter what. I didn't do that. The worst part is that I'll never be able to do that.
On February 28, 1997 at 10:00 p.m., I received a phone call from my ex-husband and Anna's Dad. At about 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, Anna had been found hanging from the bar in her closet. She had been dead for 15 hours. It was ruled a suicide by the coroner -- no autopsy, no note, no nothing -- but days, weeks, months and years of pain and anguish.
I have heard it said that when a loved one dies of suicide, there is a sense of utter failure. I can identify with that. I did not love her unconditionally, even though I knew 1 Corinthians 13 well. Among other things it says, Love is patient...and kind; Love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs...It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres.
Throughout these years, since Anna's death, I have done a lot of soul searching to figure out just what part I played in Anna's death. I have wrestled with who I am and how I treated my own flesh and blood.
Following the death of my daughter I embarked on an arduous journey to discover the truth about homosexuality, eventually coming to believe that it is not a choice and therefore cannot be a sin.
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No matter what else happens in my life, I will always acknowledge the pain and tragedy of Anna's suicide. However, her death has also brought me face-to-face with the untruth I have been taught throughout my life by the church. My transformation has occurred through a wonderful gift given to me by God: getting to know, understand, and love GLBTA (Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, and Allies). I am now proud to call myself an ally and am honored to count these children of God amongst my closest and dearest friends. This new awareness has been supported through intense study of biblical passages, as well as continued dialogue with individuals on both sides of the issue.
Recently, I went to the curio cabinet that holds Anna's pictures and dolphin collection. I said to her, "I will never again treat a gay person the way I treated you. That's a promise!"
After reading this, I hope you will take this message to heart. In keeping with this promise, my husband, Bob and I are reaching out to all of our new friends. We pray that you will contact us and share your journey. Let us all remember that we are here to support and nourish one another, as Christ does us.
-- Mary Lou Wallner
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