It’s probably the oldest cliché in the book that Thanksgiving through New Years is the hardest time for people. For some, spending time with family is a huge challenge—it can be alienating and even depressing.
But my family is amazing, and I am proud to be a Mehta. We survived persecution at the hands of a dictator when we fled Africa as refugees more than 40 years ago. We tried to hold onto our identity as Indians and Hindus while still embracing the American dream. My three brothers—who are strewn around the country from Hawaii to Florida—would go to bat for me any day. However, this Thanksgiving was the first time we all planned to be together, and I felt overcome by anxiety as the week approached.
This has been a pivotal, life-changing year for me. I went through a painful divorce. I made the decision to take the leap and make a complete career transition in early November, leaving a corporate career that I nurtured for more than two decades to take a chance on myself. And, my beloved 84-year-old mother, who I care for near my home in New Jersey, is battling end-stage cirrhosis of the liver. If it sounds daunting, it’s because it was and continues to be.
I have been hosting this holiday for the past 9 years, and this year I was doubling down—this was going to be the first time the entire Mehta clan was going to be together, ever. And, all I could think as Thanksgiving grew closer was that my family, who is notorious for stonewalling and a lack of honest communication, would be descending on my life and I would have no choice but to show them my true self.
I wasn’t worried about the 12-pound veggie lasagna I would make for 14 vegetarians or the home base that would accommodate us all. Instead, I was terrified of the conversations I’d have to have about Mom’s illness but also frustrated with the idea of heading back into the closet, even for a short while. Yes, we were all there to rally around our ailing mother, but I didn’t want to cede ground after working so hard to establish and live comfortably in my own skin.
While this should have been a time of gratitude that we were all going to be together, all I could do was stress about when we’d all be able to have the conversation about mom’s prognosis. I knew this conversation had to happen, but in a family where honest communication is a premium and in which I—as the only daughter—am the presumed caretaker, I doubted how well this conversation would go. My family is just used to me taking care of things. I’ve got it all under control. But little do they know, I don’t. And the thing that makes my heart most heavy is that I don’t feel seen or heard…by my own family.
But the closer we got to the day, the more sure I was that I only had one option. I made a conscious decision that I was going to be me. I was going to stop bending to others’ opinions and the norms that are entrenched in my Indian culture. I wasn’t going to hide my life as a lesbian. And, you know what? While it was hard—even painful—at times, I leaned into it.
I made sure to pull each of my brothers aside to talk openly about our mother. I explained—even when the conversations became strained—the hard reality of what we’re dealing with. Sometimes these conversations were well received, and other times not, but I said my piece.
And where I would normally dance around my sexual orientation, I talked openly about my life. I offered thoughts about how I related to the Freddie Mercury portrayal in Bohemian Rhapsody and his struggle with his own sexual identity. I discussed my role on the board of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in support of LGBTQ youth and how meaningful the work is to me. I even invited someone special to me to join us for my nephew’s 7th birthday party and to play a little musical chairs with the fam.
While that approach forced some of my family members into uncomfortable moments, having to deal with their own issues (because I’m not going to own their feelings or insecurities), I felt proud that I could impart to the third generation of Mehta’s that anything is possible, and you should own who you are.
And who am I? I’m the cool aunt. I’m the caring daughter. I’m the loving, devoted sister. And, I’m also a lesbian. I’m imperfect. I’m a terrible singer. But I am amazing at performing karaoke and I make one hell of a veggie lasagna. And that’s the truth.
About the Author: Amita Mehta is an inspirational storyteller who helps individuals discover their passions and embrace their truths personally and professionally. She is facilitating “The Marvels of Being a Misfit” at the 2019 Rise Gathering Weekend Getaway.