Getting Grandma’s Blessing
When I got engaged—to another rabbi, and another woman—my grandmother’s approval didn’t come easy
I do not believe that my grandmother’s reaction to my engagement stemmed from homophobia, but rather from the shock that the life that she had planned for her granddaughter was not playing out exactly as she had imagined. It is true that life for same-sex couples can be harder, and much of her fear likely came from not wanting our lives to be difficult. Even though our families knew intellectually that being gay is not a choice, they still hoped that our future lives would be as safe and easy as possible.
Coming out is a process. It was and continues to be a process for me, and it is also a process that my family members went through in their own way. Because it was painful, I sometimes avoided speaking directly with my grandmother about my relationship, not realizing that this may have kept her from having the appropriate time and space she needed to work through her own thoughts and feelings. While it was disappointing not to be able to pick up the phone and share every detail of my wedding planning with her, it was enormously helpful to have the support of my fiancée, my friends, my other family members, and my rabbi. For every couple, identifying a support system through this process and knowing where to turn for which problems makes all the difference in planning not only for the wedding day, but also for the new life ahead.
To my grandmother, the idea of two people of the same sex getting married was entertaining when talking about Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, or endearing when it was the gay men from the salon. Sadly, I was starting to learn that when it came to one’s own family members, the rules sometimes change. It took time for my grandmother to realize that even though I was marrying a woman, I would still have the same opportunities (and challenges) as any other couple. She would still have grandchildren, we would still spend holidays together as a family, and I had indeed found a partner who would love and care for me (as I would for her) through all of the joys and sorrows of life.
I cannot remember now how I mustered the courage to keep moving through the wedding planning, knowing that my grandmother would not be attending, though there were certainly a lot of tears involved. What I do remember is the day when, standing in my dining room, I received a call from our close family friend who had been like an aunt to me since I was born. She told me that she had asked my grandmother to lunch and planned to “have a talk” with her. I was doubtful that this would have any impact, but was nevertheless grateful for the gesture. A few days later, I heard that the conversation went something like this:
“There are too many sad occasions and people who are sick and dying in this world,” my “aunt” told my grandmother. “Roni’s wedding is a chance to celebrate and bring a little joy into the world. She and Isabel are happy. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that and celebrate with her?”
To this day I cannot believe this approach worked, that this simple conversation is all that it took to give my grandmother a new perspective. Maybe there was more to that discussion that was not shared with me. And if this is really all it took, maybe my mom or I should have tried having this conversation earlier. But I actually think that my grandmother needed to come to this in her own manner. The greeting for a couple upon their engagement and upon the news of expecting a child is besha’ah tovah, in good time or the right hour. Maybe we just each needed to be able to digest this news in our own time and in our own way, while also letting go of the notion of the “perfect” plan.
The next thing I knew, I was in the mall with my mom shopping for both mother-of-the-bride and grandmother-of-the-bride dresses. When the wedding day came, a year after we’d announced our engagement, not only was my grandmother sitting in the front row as Isabel and I stood under our custom-made chuppah, but she also lent me her wedding band to use during the ceremony. I don’t know whether she intended this gesture to hold as much significance as I felt. But as Isabel placed my grandmother’s ring on my forefinger, the same ring that my late grandfather placed on my Bubbe’s finger more than 60 years ago, I felt the blessings she was offering, even if they had not been expressed with words. And I knew that the right hour, the sha’ah tovah, had arrived.
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