My Mothers’ Day

They both died at 68, one by her own hand, the other, cancer. Both gone too soon as far as I’m concerned and both were in the light of reality, my mother.

One of the things you learn as a child who has been adopted is this; blood may be thicker than water but family is thicker than blood. One of the phrases all adoptees I know truly hate is, “Well who are your real parents?”  Hell, I’ve known mothers and fathers who are anything but loving and kind to their genetic progeny. In fact, some of the most brutal experiences some children have gone through were inflicted by one or both of their parents. Like I said, blood may be thicker than water but family is thicker than blood.

Frankly, I only use the term adoptive mother and birth mother so the listener or reader can tell who I am talking about. In my heart, there are no qualifiers, they are both my mother. There is my mother Virginia who raised me and my mother Leona who surrendered me for adoption for reasons not of her making I would learn when we were reunited on January 8, 1987.

Like any human being, neither was perfect, but both loved me and from both I learned and gained an enormous amount. Both were instinctively supportive of equal rights for everyone and both were deeply empathetic to the underdog, the castaway, the persecuted. Both were fiercely supportive of my advocacy instincts. In fact, for years my mother Virginia was my number one confidant when it came to things like fighting for the Brady Bill and against the death penalty, when it came to fighting for Gay rights and disability rights and against things like anti-Semitism. 

My mother Leona was, without question, my emotional and spiritual familiar. Time with her allowed me to learn a lot about where who I am came from. To this day she is one of the most emotionally and physically courageous human beings I have ever known.

My mother Virginia ended her life August 12, 1992 and my mother Leona died of cancer on December 19, 2001.

I can tell you that I love both my mothers with all my heart and I miss them both – with all my heart.

I love them my whole wide world and then some.

Writing My Mother’s Suicide

Writing about my mother’s suicide in the memoir is, as you might imagine, a deeply emotional task. I can’t say it’s an unwanted to task because at least when I write the sentences I have some control over their content, and suicide, if you’ve had the misfortune to encounter it in life, is a remarkable and merciless reminder that we control very little. Even with our best efforts, we can’t stop someone from ending their life if that is what they want to do.

My mother commited suicide with a well-researched mix of drugs and alcohol on August 12, 1992. I will say nothing more about that in this essay for it is not the salient point of the essay. The salient point is this; my mother, Virginia Kahrmann, was a complete human being who does not deserve to be defined by that admittedly singular moment. Nor does she deserve to be defined by some of her rather harsh and emotionally brutal treatment of me when I grew up. Very few of us, if any, are all one thing. We are amalgams of life experience. My mother was no exception.

Her suicide was the culmination of a life that, for a variety of reasons, some I know, some I don’t, robbed her of her ability to love herself and thus her ability to believe anyone loved her. How do I know this to be true? She told me.

I once told her that her death (no matter how it came about) would be one of the biggest blows I would ever endure in life. She was completely and utterly baffled by this. “Really, Peter? Why?” I was speechless, a rare state for me.

As cruel as she could be to me at times – days after my father died when I was 15 she told me if I hadn’t been such a bastard he might have had enough strength to live – she inflicted far more damage on herself.

Yet, she was far more than the aforementioned. She was brilliant and the best conversationalist I’ve ever known. In the last 10 years of her life we became very close. I’d go to visit her in her Pearl River, New York home mid-morning, and we would talk straight through into the evening, our talks being accompanied by coffee, crackers and cheese, and going out to dinner.

We conferred regularly as we both threw all we had into fighting for the Brady Bill – a bill requiring states to have a waiting period to purchase a handgun until they had an instant check system in place – or when we fought against the death penalty, or the rights of immigrants. She countless volunteer hours to the GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) a group she referred to as the best run non-profit in the country, and worked tirelessly to help refugees from Laos find homes.

Her demons killed her love for herself and ultimately guided her into ending her own life. I am asking, hoping, that readers will not allow those demons to blind them to the beautiful person she in so many ways was, and in my heart, still is. If they do, then the demons win again, and winning again is the last thing they deserve.


Watching Governor Mitt Romney on Meet the Press today it dawned on me that the only thing greasier than what he puts in his hair is what he puts on his words. Russert, in typical Russert fashion, confronted Romney with example after example of Romney flip-flops on abortion, gun control and stem cell research along with a hideous response to Russert’s query about Romney’s view of the Mormon Church’s late-to-the-table 1978 repudiation of racism against blacksin the church.

Asked if his church was wrong to have what many considered a racist policy well into the 1970s, Romney did what most politicians do these days, he skirted the question which, in my book, is simply a wordier way of saying he lied. Romney launched into how his father marched with Dr. King and how he, young Romney, has always believed all people are equal. Asked again if he didn’t think his church was wrong, Romney said what he said earier in the interview, “I stand by my faith.” Kind of like belonging to a white’s only club, going out of the club’s headquarters, pretending to be for equal rights, then retreating behind the club’s “lily-white” doors again to mull things over, in the company of, well, white people.

Then Russert asked Romney about his flip-flopping on gun control. Years ago Romney was in full support of the Brady Bill, a bill I helped fight for and a bill that is, needless to say, dear to my heart, as are Jim and Sarah Brady, by the way. Asked if he still supported the Brady Bill, Romney immediately…well, you know where this sentence is going – twisted and turned and, when all is said and done, lied. Romney said the Brady Bill, which in part called for a five-day waiting period allowing for a background check to go through before the sale of a handgun, had changed over the years and he now supports an instant check system. Asked again if he stood by his support of the Brady Bill, Romney simply repeated his affection for the instant check and his just-in-time-for-the-election membership in the NRA.

As one who fought for the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, signed into law in 1993, let me offer a few facts for the Gov. When it was passed into law the Brady Bill had a provision that allowed the five-day waiting periond to be waived the moment a state had an instant background check system in place. Moreover, on November 30, 1998, the five-day waiting period was replaced by the NICS (National Instant Check System) managed by the FBI.

In its 2002 report the NICS said since its inception there have been more than 563,000 handgun denials. I’d say some lives have been saved. Hey, didn’t Romney say he was pro life?