The untimely death of his son, followed by his wife, leaves Roy Lavery questioning love, faith and sexuality as he searches for answers outside of the Latter-Day Saints.
I was searching for a recipe online when I found the website for this magazine. It is strange how one action will take you on a path you didn’t expect. The only reason I paused to look is because I have a friend whose son goes to school in Madison. There was a forum asking for comments on spirituality. I started to read and had to comment on some experiences I have had. One thing I read was young people who were gay, trying to find acceptance in church, or just trying to find spiritual peace.
What I am writing I have told very few people and only those I trusted. Four years ago my two sons got in a fight and my oldest son died. These were big boys, over 6’ 6” and both close to 300 pounds. My son David ended up stabbed in the heart and he died in his brothers arms. Like I said–we end up going down paths we least expect. David was a tormented soul. He started acting out as a teenager, so badly we took him for counseling. We were told that David was a woman in a man’s body. We were horrified, how could this be. Our son played football, rugby, he was big and tough. We took him to a counselor at our church. We had been members of the LDS (Mormons) church for about eight years at that time. It wasn’t acceptable in our church to be gay much less have a sex change operation. We were told that if we let David do this he would never be accepted in the church, he could never hold the priesthood, get married and most likely would not be welcome in the presence of God. We tried to ignore the problem and work around it. David’s behavior got worse and worse. I tried to talk to David but all the time I avoided what the real problem was because I just couldn’t accept it.
Then one day I dropped David and his brother at the train station and gave him a hug goodbye, I never saw him alive again. A short time after that my mother died. Then my wife of 32 years developed breast cancer. The cancer spread to her bones and she slowly deteriorated. On top of this I had my younger son in jail and was trying not to abandon him. I didn’t have time to cry or ponder David. Every time I would think of him, heart break would pour over me.
Linda and I had discussed some time before what would be the point when life was no longer worth living. We both agreed that it would be when we became incontinent or when pain became intolerable. Linda became incontinent, first she lost control of her bladder, then her bowels. I cleaned her and cared for her, something I thought I could never do. Then the pain got worse, the cancer had shattered two of her vertebrae and the bone fragments were pressing on her spinal cord.
Near the end someone made a comment at church about how I was going through the trials of Job. Trying to lighten the conversation I replied I could handle any thing Job had to deal with except the boils. Later that week Linda started to get sharp pains in her side. I took her to our family doctor where after examining her said he she had shingles. He warned me that shingles were very contagious and not to touch them. Having no idea what a shingle was I asked what they looked like, boils he replied. At that moment my spirit broke, I looked heaven ward and said to myself “thank you very fucking much”. Linda died a few months later.
I had been faithful to my wife since we had met as teenagers. I had never been with another woman. After she was gone I craved human contact, someone to hold me. Because I had sex with several women I felt guilty, so I talked to my bishop. I knew that as a priesthood holder I was being a hypocrite doing what I was doing. When people asked me to fulfill priesthood duties like giving blessings, I avoided them by making some excuse. I asked the bishop to take away my priesthood and explained why. He was more interested in who I was having sex with and if they were church members. I wouldn’t agree to change my errant ways and remain celibate so I was excommunicated from the church.
This left me free to look for God on my own. I have always been a spiritual person seeking God in many ways through my whole life. I think the closest I have ever been to him was not in a church but in a forest of Silver Birch in northern Canada, by myself with the sun streaming through the branches. I don’t remember ever having that feeling in a church.
Two things happened since my son died that have convinced me that there is a life after this one and that higher existence is for everyone. The night David died his brother sat in a prison cell, breaking his heart, knowing he had hurt his brother. He hadn’t been told that David was dead. He looked up and David was beside him, he hugged him and David let him cry on his shoulder. David told him that he was okay and that he had to take care of his mother. It wasn’t until almost two months later that we knew Linda had cancer.
After Linda died I was like a zombie, just going the motions of living. I had only slept fitfully since the funeral. I had no energy to do anything. One morning while lying in bed I heard Linda call my name.
At first I thought I’d fallen asleep and was dreaming. Then I heard it again—only louder. I jumped out of bed to go to her, hoping against all hope. Then I felt her hug me, I felt the touch of her skin, her smell, her hair brush against me. She was there and just as suddenly she was gone. I talked to friends about this and was surprised at how many people had the same experience or knew someone who had the same experience. All I knew was that she was safe and we would be together again.
After I read this forum on the website last week I went to the bishop in my old church and asked him some questions. The first was about David. Looking back now I can see that David was probably gay, my wife and I both agreed on this but it took his death for us to even consider it. I still had trouble with the idea until I met my friend’s son, the one who lives in Madison. He had been one of my cub scouts years before, I knew this kid. I was shocked when I found out he was gay. I hadn’t seen him in at least ten years. When I met him and his friends, what did I think then? I was shocked to find that they were normal. I realized that I had caused my son to suppress all those feelings and how it had tortured him, it broke my heart all over again. I asked the bishop why God would create someone who was genetically predisposed to being gay or through some event in their lives became gay. Whichever it was, how could he create this situation and then condemn it.
He told me the church would accept someone as gay but only if they were celibate. I thought of how I had craved that human contact after Linda died. I had longed for someone to hold me, to be close physically to another person. I asked how the church could deny someone a close physical relationship. His answer was that they could only have a relationship like brothers or sisters. As with my own situation, I couldn’t accept this.
Then I asked him about Linda. You see she was a good person. I don’t mean she was a good housewife, baking cookies and keeping the house clean. She was a really good person. She was always there for her family and friends, even strangers. She had been a foster mother to 22 kids plus our own three. Twenty years spent as a guide, brownie and cub leader. She worked as a guidance secretary at a school for special needs kids… Kids who would act out for anyone else, always listened to her; they knew she really cared about them. I asked the bishop why she had to suffer so much. If it was her time to go then why not just take her.
It seemed that when the things we feared most, incontinence, pain and boils only happened when it was brought to a higher powers attention. The bishop had to think about this for a few days and his answer surprised me. He explained to me that in the atonement Christ suffered for the sins of the world because he loved us. After reading my book he could see that Linda would do anything for her children. He explained that she was atoning for David’s sins, giving him the ability to progress in the next life. Although it is better than just suffering for no reason at all, I have trouble accepting this.
I had always truly believed that Christ was my savior and I also believed that he was my friend. I have trouble understanding how my friend could let David and Linda suffer so much pain, so much hurt before he took them. I have had too many experiences both before I joined the church, while in the church and after I left the church to deny that there is another level of existence beyond ours. I have not stopped looking for answers. I think I need to find that grove of Silver Birch again.
When I do, I will let nature and life flow over me. Perhaps then I will find an understanding.