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  • Writer's pictureBen Schilaty

A Love Letter to the Other Moms



“Look around. Who needs you and your influence? If we really want to make a difference, it will happen as we mother those we have borne and those we are willing to bear with.” -Sheri L. Dew, Are We not All Mothers?, October 2001


In 2021 I was 37 years and going through a bit of a rough patch. One of those times when I really wanted to talk to my mom. I just needed to tell her how discouraged I was feeling and then hear her say that everything would be alright. But she wasn’t able to do that. The year before my friend Charlie and I had started the “Questions from the Closet” podcast to help educate our community on what it’s like to be LGBTQ Latter-day Saints. Charlie and I share a lot of personal stories on the podcast so I regularly run into listeners who feel like we’re close friends even though I don’t know them. Charlie’s mom Cathy is one of those listeners. She and I had met a handful of times, but weren’t super close. After one particularly vulnerable episode she sent me a message on Facebook that said in part: “I couldn’t let today pass without letting you know how spectacular I think you are. I feel privileged to know you. I hope you realize you have a friend in me.” I responded: “Thank you so much, Cathy. I don't need to talk today, but could I call you sometime? I was home visiting my parents a few weeks ago and I said to my dad how sad I was that my mom had no idea about any of the stuff happening in my life. Book, podcast, firesides, being on TV. Because she would have loved it so much. And since I can't talk to my mom about all this stuff, it'd be nice to talk to you sometimes.” She responded: “I would be honored and love that, Ben! You know who has my number.” 


I didn’t call right away. It felt weird to reach out to Cathy even though I had wanted to talk to her and she had said I could. Then a few weeks later I hit the rough patch and I needed to talk to a mom. But not just any mom, a mom who knew what it was like to have a gay son. So I called Cathy. She was delighted to hear from me, even as I unloaded all of my problems onto her. I told her that sometimes it didn’t feel like what I did mattered and that I wasn’t making a difference. I said that the work of trying to educate felt exhausting and fruitless. I complained about the people who misunderstood me and were unkind. Then in the middle of my unloading she interrupted me. She told me what a blessing I was to so many, including her. She then said, “Ben, you will never know the impact you have on the world. You will never be able to see it all. But I can see what you’re doing and it matters so much.” She cried and I cried and it was exactly the conversation I needed. Cathy couldn’t replace my mom, but she said exactly what my mom would have said. That night I wrote a whole paragraph in my journal expressing my thanks for Charlie’s mom who stepped in for a moment to be my mom. She gave me the mom pep talk I so desperately needed. 


A few months later Charlie and I were asked to speak at an event for moms with LGBTQ kids. There were well over a hundred moms in attendance. We had been asked to speak in the evening so we showed up right before dinner in the middle of someone else’s presentation. As we walked into the large room where all the moms were listening to a speaker, the speaker paused and started clapping for us, and within moments the whole room was clapping and cheering. Never in my life have I felt like such a rockstar. More than a little embarrassed, Charlie and I walked to the back of the room where we stood waiting for the presentation to end. Then as soon as it was over an impromptu receiving line formed as mom after mom introduced herself, gave us a hug, and told us about their LGBTQ kiddo. We smiled and posed for so many pictures and were greeted with so much love. Mom after mom told us how our podcast and books had helped them know how to better love and support their LGBTQ child. All the gratitude heaped on us was a bit overwhelming, but Cathy had been right, what we were doing did matter. 


A bunch of moms said things like, “You don’t know me, but we’re best friends. I listen to your podcast every week.” It was odd to feel so seen and loved by all these women who we didn’t know but who knew us. Then one of the moms made me cry. She looked right at us, told us how much she loved us, and then said, “A lot of us here feel like you boys are our boys. We love you like you’re our own kids.” Even writing that now makes me emotional. That kind of love, the love of a mother towards her child, is a special kind of love. And I felt mom-love that evening. And I needed it. In a church where we call each other brother and sister, sometimes the title that feels most appropriate to bestow on the women who love me is mother


In His last moments of life, hanging in agony on the cross, Jesus looked at His mother Mary and His beloved disciple John and said, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then He addressed John, “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26-27). Jesus used some of His final words to affirm that two people whom He loved, who were not related by blood, were family. And they had a responsibility to each other. While not technically John’s mother, Mary would have a mothering role in his life. And while not technically her son, John would fulfill the role of son in her life. John most certainly could never have replaced the role that Jesus fulfilled for Mary, but Jesus had told them that they were family. No woman in my life could ever replace my mother, but there are some who do things that she would do if she could be present, people that the Lord has brought into my life and said, “Behold thy mother!” 


In 2018 I moved in with an 84 year old widow named Charlotte. She owns a beautiful brick home near BYU campus and I couldn’t believe my luck that I got to live somewhere that was both beautiful and convenient. She and I had only chatted a handful of times before I moved in so my first few days in the house were a smidge awkward. I didn’t know what the routines of the house were or what our day to day interactions would look like. Occasionally Charlotte would offer to make me dinner, but I wasn’t sure if that was something she was just doing to be nice or if she actually enjoyed doing it. We quickly developed a routine of her asking me if I had eaten. If I hadn’t, she whipped something up. And if I had, she seemed a little disappointed. One of Charlotte’s love languages, I learned, is food preparation. Either way, we would sit around the kitchen table every night and chat about our days. That habit then led to us doing the Come, Follow Me reading together every week. Charlotte is 50 years older than me so she’s more like a grandmother figure than a mother figure to me, and she treats me as I imagine she would treat one of her grandkids. My daily chats with Charlotte began just as Mom was losing her ability to talk to me. I don’t think that is a coincidence. 

Some nights I would get home after Charlotte had already gone to bed. I noticed that when this happened the light to the basement where my room was would be on. At first I assumed that I had simply left the light on by accident when leaving the house in a hurry. Then on the nights when I would get home and she was still awake the light wouldn’t be on. Then it hit me that Charlotte was leaving the light on for me. I pictured Charlotte home alone, getting ready for bed, and walking around the house shutting off the lights, and then walking to the stairs to turn on my light so I wouldn’t come home to a dark house. A totally unnecessary act, but exactly the kind of thing my mom would do. Such a small thing that made me feel super loved. Every day there was a woman in my life who cared that I came home, and who I knew had been thinking about me as she turned off the lights and turned on one more. 

One day as Charlotte and I were sitting around the kitchen table I told her that someone had called me the anti-Christ in a blog post. I was upset and hurt by the public name calling. I was expecting empathy from Charlotte, but instead she said, “Oh Ben, you’re not the first person in this house to be called the anti-Christ.” I laughed at her comment which I knew was also true. And suddenly I saw things with a greater perspective and felt 100% better. Just like my mom, Charlotte knew how to use a witty comment to turn a bad day into a moment of laughter. Sometimes I just need a mom to poke fun at a problem that I’m blowing out of proportion. 


Four years into living with Charlotte she and I had gotten very comfortable with each other. She and I were chatting one day as I loaded clothes into the washing machine, then out of nowhere she asked, “Will you promise me something, Ben?” “Probably,” I replied, not sure what I’d be committing to, “What is it?” She then asked, “When you get married, will you have your wedding in my house?” I was totally caught off guard by this incredibly kind and loving offer, especially since we hadn’t been talking about weddings and I hadn’t even had a significant other the entire time we’d lived together. She clearly had been thinking about this more than at this moment. So with a smile I said, “Of course, Charlotte. It would be an honor to have my wedding in your home. But we’ll hire a caterer so you don’t have to make all the food.” “But making the food is half the fun!” she said. Like I said, food preparation is her love language. Charlotte then explained to me, a person with no significant other and no plans to ever have one, where the ceremony would be, how many people would fit, and other wedding details. She also made sure to tell me about other weddings they’d held in the house so I knew that mine wouldn’t be a bust. Charlotte was excited about my future and wanted it to be as lovely and special as possible. And she wanted to be part of it. She had the kind of dreams for my life that my mom would have. If the day comes that I do get married, Mom won’t be able to be there, but the other moms will be. 


Having lived away from home for most of my adult life, I’ve had to rely a lot on what people often call “found family” of “psychological family.” These are friends who are not actually related to me, but who fill the roles my family normally would. Grief and loss researcher Pauline Boss explains, “[Found family is] the people you choose to have with you at your special times, like holidays and celebrations. It’s the person or persons you want to talk with in good times and bad. It’s someone who truly likes you and is there for you. Your psychological family could be made up of friends, neighbors, a book group, a spiritual congregation–or even other caregivers who understand best what it is you do” (cite). A widow in her 80s can be family, even if we’re only 11th cousins twice removed according to the Family Search app.  


During the few years I lived near my parents as an adult I went home for Sunday dinner every week. Mom would make a meal and give me leftovers for later in the week. Those happy Sunday evenings together are just memories now. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have happy Sunday dinners. I now spend nearly every Sunday with the Wrights in Orem. Cyndi, the mom, is barely old enough to be my mom so she feels more like a cool aunt. The Wrights adopted me into their family a decade and a half ago and it’s been an expectation for years now that I will be spending Sunday dinners and holidays with them. Charlotte always invites me to spend holidays with her family and then says, “Oh, I forgot, you probably have plans with the Wrights.” And I usually do. After meals Cyndi usually insists that I take leftovers for lunch later in the week, just like my mom would. Sometimes I have friends who don’t have dinner plans and I ask last minute if I can bring them along. The answer has always been, “Of course!” The same answer Mom always gave when I increased the headcount right before dinner. 


I often linger at the Wrights long after dinner to play games, go on walks, or watch a show. One week Cyndi’s daughter Sami texted me to ask for a current picture of me. I was more than happy to send her a few handsome photos, not knowing what they were for. The next Sunday I noticed a framed picture of me on a shelf in the living room together with pictures of actual family members. I took a picture of the shelf and shared it on social media with the caption: “Tell me I’m family without telling me I’m family.” On Sunday evenings nothing special happens. We don’t expound on our feelings. We don’t talk about how much we love and appreciate each other. We don’t have deep, emotional conversations. We just have dinner and hang out. Because that’s what family does. The consistency of knowing that I will be with people every week that feel lucky to have me in their home has been such a blessing to me. As Elder Jonathan S. Schmitt taught, “Consistency is a Christlike attribute” (Cite). One Sunday, just a normal Sunday, I said goodbye to the Wrights and walked to my car. As I crossed the lawn an overwhelming feeling of gratitude swept over me and I started to cry. The emotion hit because I knew that no matter what happened, they would be there with me. I never had to wonder if life would be lonely because they would be there. When I got in my car I said an audible prayer, “Heavenly Father, thank you for the Wrights. I am so lucky to have them.” 


I've become quite close with Allison, the woman who planned the event for the moms that Charlie and I spoke at. She’s not old enough to be my mom, but sometimes fills that role for me. One day I had a big decision to make about my career and I needed advice. I called her early in the morning and said, “Allison, I need some mom advice right now.” Then I explained the situation and asked, “So what do I do?” She said, “Ben, you already know the right thing to do. Now just go do it! You got this!” “You’re right,” I said, “I do know what to do. It’s just scary.” “I believe in you. Trust your gut,” she urged. I got off the phone and knelt down and said a prayer of gratitude for Allison. She was right, I totally knew what to do. I just needed confirmation from a mom that this difficult choice was the right choice. 


My friend Beth is another woman who isn't quite old enough to be my mom, but who has filled some mom roles in my life. She and I became close when we both lived in Tucson and I traded her Spanish tutoring for home cooked meals. It was Beth who called me on the phone one day and encouraged me to write my first book. I told her that I wasn’t sure I could take on such a big, overwhelming task. She promised, “I will help you every step of the way.” Beth read the first draft of every chapter I wrote and gave the kind of honest, blunt feedback I needed. She often reminded me to write in my own voice. “This paragraph doesn’t sound like you,” she’d say, so I’d rework it so it sounded like I was having a conversation with the reader. To make sure my authentic voice came through, she recommended that I read the entire manuscript out loud to her. So Beth and I spent hours together on FaceTime while I read each word of the final draft to her. We discussed every paragraph and together made it something that we are both so proud of. At the same time I was home visiting my parents and I read the whole book out loud to my mom, too. But her Alzheimer’s had advanced to the point that she didn’t understand that I was reading stories about her. But Beth knew, and she shared insights that my mother couldn’t. 


A few months later I was sitting at home in the rec room with my mom when an email arrived from Deseret Book. I had sent them the manuscript and was waiting to see if it would be accepted for publication. I read the subject of the email that simply said “Congratulations!” Instead of opening it right then like I desperately wanted to, I said, “Mom, we have to read this with Dad.” So she and I ran into the living room and woke Dad up from a nap he hadn’t planned on taking. I then read my parents these words from the email: “I have some great news for you… We would love to have your manuscript published with Deseret Book. I am so excited for you! I know your book is going to be a help to many, many people. So go out and celebrate!” Dad cheered and hollered and pounded the wall. Mom clapped and shouted “Yippee!” even though she didn’t know what was happening. She cheered, “I knew you could do it!” It felt right that they were there to share that moment with me. “Well how about that!” Dad said putting his arm around Mom, “Our son is going to be a published author. Who would’ve thought when we joined the Church that any of this would’ve happened? It really is remarkable.” He hugged and kissed Mom and said to her, “You sure raised a good son.” 


But Mom didn’t know she had a son. And she didn’t understand what she was cheering about. But there was a woman who would understand what this moment meant. So I ran back to the rec room and called Beth. “I just got an email from Deseret Book,” I said. Then I paused for dramatic effect. “They’re going to publish the book!” I nearly shouted into the phone. Beth replied, “Ben, this is incredible! You did it!” With the biggest smile plastered across my face I said, “Come on, Beth, we did it. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Then I danced around in excitement as we talked on the phone. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life, and I got to share it with my mom who was cluelessly happy for me, and Beth who knew every single detail. 


A year later I was speaking at a book club discussing my book. Someone commented about Mom and how amazing it was to learn about her as they read. I responded, “If I’m anything, I hope to be a credit to my parents.” Then I started to cry. “I just wish she could be here to see all of this. She would have loved all of this so much. She would be so thrilled about the book and the podcast and all the firesides I’m giving. She would have been so excited, but she has no idea any of this is happening.” It was one of those moments where I felt her loss acutely. Not just because I missed her, but because I knew she was missing something that she most definitely would not have wanted to miss. I later posted about this experience on social media. Someone I don’t know who used to live in my parents’ ward sent me this message: “Ginny would be so proud of everything you’re doing! She loves the stuff out of you. She would always tell me the story of how she knew you were coming, she knew you’d be named Ben, and how she didn’t have to worry about you because she knew you were going to do amazing things. She may not know about your work now, but she knew it then. She was proud of you in advance.” Now when something special happens in my life that I wish Mom could be a part of, I think, she was proud of me in advance. A phrase I got from someone who is a stranger to me, but was a friend to my mom. And I often get to see the joy in the faces of the other moms who are present with me in those moments. 


When I was 22 years old I took my parents to Chihuahua, Mexico to visit my mission. I was young and dumb failed to realize I could spend money on conveniences now that I wasn’t a missionary. We walked across the border from El Paso, TX to Ciudad Juarez where I had spent half my mission. Trying to be frugal, instead of taking a taxi to our destination, I made my parents walk a mile and then take an unairconditioned bus in the middle of August. In hindsight, I definitely should’ve spent a few dollars to take a taxi. Mom had lived her entire life in the Pacific Northwest so this summer trek in the desert was too much for her. She was quickly exhausted so Dad and I left her at a friend’s house so she could rest in the air conditioning. When we got back I asked my friend how things had gone. She said in Spanish, “Your mom took a nap and when she woke up we couldn’t understand each other so we just smiled and pointed at things.” I realized Mom needed to be able to say at least a few things to the people we were visiting. 


Dad had studied Spanish so he could hold a conversation, but Mom knew only a handful of words. So I taught her how to introduce herself, how to tell people that they had a lovely home, and how to thank them for taking care of me as a missionary. I liked to hear her say that last one the most: gracias por cuidar a mi hijo (thank you for taking care of my son). She said this to every person we visited. Then they would respond with sweet, sincere words that she couldn’t understand. But she meant what she said in heavily accented Spanish. She was grateful for the people who had cared for me when she couldn’t. 


I imagine some future event, when this life is over, when Mom will get to talk to all the people who have helped me throughout my life. “Thank you for feeding my son.” “Thank you for giving him a home.” “Thank you for cheering him up when he was down.” “Thank you for loving Ben like he was your own.” “Thank you for being his mom when I couldn’t be.” If these women are anything like the women my mom thanked in Mexico, I know exactly what they’ll say. “It was a pleasure to love and care for your son.” When all these women showed up at various points in my life, Jesus didn’t say to me, “Behold thy mother!” but that is precisely what happened. 


With all these replacement moms in my life, I oddly haven’t felt many replacement dads. That’s despite having so many amazing men in my life, too. Because I don’t need anyone to replace my dad or fill his fatherly roles. My dad is still active and fully present in my life. I can still call him for advice and get father’s blessings from him and learn from his wisdom. My dad can still be my dad, but my mom can’t fully be my mom. There’s no need for God to compensate for his loss because he isn’t lost. 


I have learned that God will place people in my life who can partially fill in the voids that are left by the absence of my mother. He is so good at compensating my losses. But I also need to take the initiative, reach out, and ask for help. I need to be self-aware enough to notice my needs, and then bold enough to make the call. I need to let the other moms know that I need them. They have always been there when I’ve reached out. But at some future day I won’t need anyone to fill in for Mom because she will be there herself. Because of Jesus Christ we will be reunited again. I don’t know what that first heavenly interaction will look like. I don’t know what we’ll talk about after having not talked for so long. But I know that we will both be so relieved to be connected again. I imagine Mom will say something like, “I’m so sorry I missed so many things that were important to you.” And I’ll reply, “It was okay, Mom. The other moms were there for me when you couldn’t be.” And she’ll say, “Thank goodness for the other moms!” 

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Day Cross
Day Cross
May 20

Ben, before I met you your mom told me about you. I was staying at your house and she gave the the tour-your room was very "BEN". She spoke then of how proud she was of you, and she told me the story of your coming into this world. Something that stuck with me was how during her time of bedrest, others stepped in to serve so that she could bring you into the world. As you talk about the "Moms" I think about that conversation. Heavenly Father brings others in to serve when we can't. They served your home when Ginny couldn't. Others serve you now as she can't. Isn't it cool how He supplies what we need, even…

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liliana.grover
May 13

I, too, fell like we are friends and yet we have never met. You are a spectacular writer and have a way of conveying the emotions our mortal experience in such an authentic and heartfelt way. I hung on every word and have Been uplifted in a way I never knew I needed. Keep writing, keep sharing, keep shining bright. The world needs you, most especially, the kingdom of God needs you.

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elizabethbcampbell
May 12

This. This is so beautiful and made me cry. YES. And yes, you are doing a remarkable work that so many of us need, find hope in, and hold on to. Thank you. So very, very much. And I know your mom would be so incredibly proud if she fully understood all that you are doing today. It’s remarkable.

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rachguymon
May 12

Beautiful tribute. You have a gift. I love hearing from you and your perspective. I feel like the moms who you don’t really know, but we are best friends. I completely understand why so many people feel that way about you. I love and appreciate you for the person you are and the good you are doing.

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brooke.d.lee87
May 12

What an amazing tribute to all the women who have made your life better. Everyone in this post is a stranger to me but I love them all and am grateful for their example of what it means to be a disciple. Thank you for sharing, Ben! Your post was the perfect read this morning.

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