The Secret I Never Got to Tell My Mom

When I was younger, I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets. The guilt would quickly take over, and I had no choice but to confess whatever it was I was trying to keep hidden. You could say this worked to my mom’s advantage as very little was kept from her in my pre-teen years.

I had just turned 13 when my mom died. A few days before she passed, I felt the need to tell her my biggest secret yet – I had made out with my then boyfriend for nine seconds. I was relieved to get it off my chest before she was gone.

Despite the urge to spill my guts as a child, I was not someone who immediately opened up about being gay later in life. I kept this secret longer than I should have. Even when I had my first girlfriend in college in 2013, I never felt ready to share this with the world beyond my inner circle of friends. The rumors that circulated about us caused me to hide it even more. I wasn’t ready to face that reality yet. So, we kept our relationship a secret (but not very well).

It’s hard to say if I no longer felt pressure to share this secret life of mine because my mom died. I don’t know if I would have kept it from her if she were still here when it all started, and I don’t know if she would have picked up on it when my “best college friend” came on multiple family vacations (although the rest of my family was clueless). But I do know that her dying was eventually what pushed me to come out to my dad and stepmom years later.

Aliza, in pre-school, with her mom

On July 18, 2018, I went to visit the cemetery on the 12th anniversary of my mom’s death. I was emotional. Although her anniversary is always emotional, this year felt different. I had been dating my new girlfriend, Chelsea, for a little over four months. While my friends and sister knew, I was reluctant to tell my dad and stepmom. I didn’t want to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation, and that anxiety overruled my desire to share this part of me. I sat at her grave distraught that I still had this overwhelming fear of being open about who I was.

The next day, I made the decision to write them an email. I opened with this:

“July 18th is always a day I look at myself and ask if mom would be proud of me. This year, it was a slightly different feeling – one where I felt like she would be proud of me, but you two didn’t know why.”

I went on to share that I was dating a girl. Her name was Chelsea, and I had never been happier. I read the words over and over, held my breath and pressed send. 

Immediately after, my phone rang, and I was filled with their love and encouragement (and them asking how soon they could meet her). And that’s when my dad said, “there is no doubt in my mind that your mom would support you.” 

These words hit hard. Tears filled my eyes. It was something I desperately needed to hear in that moment. She would have supported me. She would have approved. She would have been overjoyed to eventually meet Chelsea, too.

I won’t ever get this validation straight from my mom, of course. And there will always be a sadness that comes with never getting the opportunity to tell her this past secret of mine. But I remind myself of my dad’s words and know she would have accepted Chelsea whether she was male or female. 

Chelsea (left) and Aliza (right) at their 2022 wedding in in Chicago

I recognize how lucky I am to have such supportive family and friends. When I initially told my sister about Chelsea, she was incredibly happy for me, as well. Her one pause, though, was not wanting my life to be any harder than it already had been. After losing a parent in middle school, I already had this abnormal childhood. Now, I was going down a path that also seemingly had more obstacles to overcome. 

While I understood her concern, I do think, in a sense, my grief has prepared me for such obstacles. 

My confidence has grown – when it comes to speaking openly about my grief and about my wife. 

My appreciation for family and friends has grown – when they stood by me after my mom died and as I became comfortable with my sexuality.

My persistence has grown – when I navigated adolescence without my mom and adulthood as a more honest version of myself today.

And for that, I know my mom’s proud of me.

This will be my Aliza’s fifth summer volunteering at Experience Camps in Michigan, and third year as the unit leader for the older girls. She currently works as the Director of Strategic Planning at Mindshare in Chicago.