By DR. ARLEN LEIGHT
I unexpectedly lost my partner-in-life on Memorial Day. We met in 1980 and, as relationships always do, ours evolved and changed over the passing years. Charles was the love of my life, and I miss him dearly. It’s hard to imagine my life without him. My professional career and my book, coming out later this year, grew out of the successes and the challenges of our 32-year connection. The following is the eulogy I gave at his funeral service held in the small town where he grew up in Tennessee. Being gay is not something folks in this community openly talk about. I chose my words and message in a way that would honor Charles, and respect the sensitivities of the attendees. I realized that what I learned from Charles and our relationship were universal in scope, and could in no way offend my fellow mourners.
So, I thought I might take this column to bring them to you. I hope I can always live up to these ideals, and I hope they have meaning for you:
“Charles was not a man of many words, but he was my greatest teacher. I’d like to share with you the 10 most important lessons he taught me by the grace and dignity of his life.
1. Being honest with yourself is absolutely necessary to being honest with others.
2. Trust is the most important aspect of all relationships.
3. True love is unconditional, comes from the heart—not from the head—and is given freely without any expectation about receiving anything in return.
4. Silence is golden.
5. Peace of mind is happiness.
6. The more we judge, the less we love.
7. We learn when we are listening, not when we are talking.
8. Forgiving ourselves and forgiving others are among the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.
9. Life, like relationships, is not about how long it lasts, but, rather, about the love you leave behind.
10. There’s no place like home, because home is where the heart is.”
After Charles was laid to rest, family and friends from this Bible Belt town came up to me one-by-one to offer their condolences.
By far the single most frequent comment to me was, “I am so grateful Charles had you to love.” I was especially touched by Charles’ great nephew. A tall, good looking guy— about 20 years old, extensively tattooed, and dressed in the casual attire of his generation—he reminded me of the young Charles I had met 32 years ago. There is definitely a family resemblance, and on three separate occasions he came up to me to shake my hand and say, “I’m really sorry for your loss, man.” Through the rough exterior, I could see the gentle man inside, which is so much about who Charles was.
I really appreciate all the expressions of sympathy from friends, family, and loved ones. Everyone described Charles as a warm, gentle soul with a big heart. I am so grateful to have had this wonderful man to love. And I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to share with you the lessons and love of Charles, my Forever Babycakes.