Sunday, April 24, 2005

Not exactly Mother's Day

I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. In 1993 I came out to my family (as gay) and told them that I was leaving the religion since it did not tolerate gay people. They claimed they were shocked - they had no idea I was gay. (I find this very hard to believe. I mean, I have photos of my hair in the 80s...) They also said they were heartbroken that they would no longer be able to see or talk to me anymore since I was leaving the church. That I believed, as I knew those to be the church's rules. My family plays by the rules, too. It has been 12 years.

In October of 2004 my mother called to tell me that my father had suffered an unexpected medical emergency and was in the hospital. Jehovah's Witnesses are allowed to communicate with a "disfellowshipped" family member in the event of an emergency, so I wasn't totally shocked to hear from her. I patiently let her tell me all about his situation, and the doctor's prognosis that he would be okay. I thought for a second or two about checking on his condition later in the week, but decided against it.

A few weeks ago I got an answering message from Paul, the son of Marie, a longtime family friend. Marie and my mother were childhood friends. Paul's message said he was trying to get in touch with my mother to let her know that Marie has passed away, so I called Paul back and gave him my mother's phone number. Then I sent an email to my mother, letting her know that Marie had passed and that I had given her phone number to Paul. A few days later I received the following email from my mother:

"Hi Mark,
I was surprised to see the e-mail and shocked to hear the news about Marie. I had no idea she was in distress so that she died. I just talked with Paul and he said Marie was found in the house by the police because neighbors hadn't seen her and her news papers were still there. She had been depressed for a few years but her main problem was diabetes. So she probably had a heart attack or a stroke. So sad, my friend for 69 years. Our mothers were friends before we were born.

Mark, there wouldn't be a problem for you to call me about such a matter. Neither would there be for you to inquire about your Dad's health. Fortunately, the Dr.s didn't find a reason for his blacking out so we are just regarding it as a fluke-a once in a life time blip or chemical imbalance. He is going on with his life and is fishing with Steve in Md. for 3 days. He is wearing a monitor but since he has had no symptoms, it's almost a waste. His most serious problem was a bruised kidney from when he fell. It is healing and he is resuming his normal activities. He is enjoying retirement, having a life free of other peoples schedules. He is still the presiding overseer in the cong. and a fine example to all. Just a great human being. A phone call or a card would have been nice, just to let him know you still care. Mary shouldn't be your only source of info.

I hope these days you are well and happy in your job. Many still inquire about you- I just wish I had something positive to tell them about you, spiritually. But, only time will tell. I hope we are still here if it happens.

We love you Mark, and wish circumstances allowed for us to be together. It is our greatest wish.
Love and hugs,

I could hardly believe that in the same email, she could scold me for not inquiring about my father's medical situation AND claim she wished circumstances allowed for us to be together. At first I shook my head in disbelief. Then I started getting angry. Then I decided I had had enough of the manipulation, and that I would write back to her in a few days when I wasn't angry and could clearly and concisely explain why I hadn't called to check on my father and why I hadn't called to relay the information about Marie.

So about two weeks later I sent this email:


I realize that I could have called you regarding Marie's passing and to inquire about Dad's health. In fact, I could call for no reason at all if I wanted to, because your religion's rules about association only apply to you - not to me. But I chose not to call because I didn't want to. Twelve years ago you, Dad, and my sisters made it clear to me that I was no longer a suitable associate for you all, despite my being your son and brother. So I find it irritating that you expect me to come running back to you all when one of you is in some kind of crisis. It is as if you think you can ignore me during the 'good' times, but expect me to be there for you in the 'bad' times. I don't think that's right.

For just one moment, think about what it was like for me when I took the only step available to me to be happy, and you all cut me off. It took quite a while, but I finally grieved the loss of my relationship with you all, the way a survivor grieves the death of a loved one. Only for me it was the equivalent of grieving the loss of both my parents, my sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and friends - simultaneously. It was not easy. But knowing I would never return to the JW religion, I eventually made piece with my losses and moved on.

I have had very little contact with you, even less with Dad, and absolutely none with my sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces or nephews. As I recall, Dad told you in front of me that he wasn't going to join us in the living room because he did not want people to think it was okay to associate with disfellowshipped people. I likely wouldn't even recognize the kids, so you can imagine how odd it would be for me to continue to feel warmth toward these people I used to know. Twelve years have gone by, and in that time I have been fortunate enough to be blessed with a second family. When Joe's father was alive Joe and I would frequently have Sunday family dinner at his parents house. After his father passed, Joe and I decided to visit his mother and go out to dinner with her every Thursday night. We spend time with Joe's brothers and sister and their families, too. Next month will mark 9 years that he and I have been together, and his family has been a real family to me from the start. You know that I am in frequent contact with Mary and Nez, too. So when there is a family crisis, it will be these people to whom I will run, and it will be these people that I will hold dear. I have already dealt with the loss of my first family. It would be redundant for me to to act any differently.

I realize you were probably not prepared to read this, and that my words may sound strong or harsh. But there is an old saying that goes 'you can't have your cake and eat it too'. You can't ignore me when things are going well for you and then expect me to jump at the chance to comfort you when things aren't going well for you. I'm not going to do that.

I firmly believe that we all make choices - lots of them - every day. Many times we can choose again if we're not happy with how things turned out. I know of others like me who are no longer JWs whose families eventually found a way to have a relationship with them. But every day you choose to let your religion separate you from your son. It is your choice. And I choose to continue trying to be an authentic person who does now hide behind tradition or religion or anything else, but strives to be as open and loving and genuine as I can be. That is my choice.

So when people I used to know inquire about me, I hope that you will tell them that I am healthy and happy, because that is the Truth.


Its been almost a week and I've not heard back from her. Honestly, I don't think I will. I imagine she was shocked by what I'd written, and likely now believes that my 'heart has grown cold'. (That was an expression she used on me once before.) But I sent the email and I'm glad I did because I needed to say those things and she needed to hear them. My intention was not to shock her, although I did anticipate that's what would happen. My intention was to be honest and to stop this silly cycle of no communication for months or years, as long as they are both healthy, and then to suddenly expect me to rally around them when they have a medical condition. My mother is 69 and my father is 72. At their ages, medical conditions are likely going to be coming more and more frequently. But they have three obedient Jehovah's Witness daughters whose hearts are surely as 'warm' as fresh-baked bread, so they will not be alone. And neither will I.


Spencer said...

Mark I am in tears reading this what a heart felt post. I totally agree with you and the way you are handling it. I tell you if you feel you need a brother I would be honored to yours!


Anonymous said...

I know that was a difficult email to send, but I am really proud of you for sending it. You have managed to surround yourself with a loving new family and friends and you are blessed by that.

Spencer said...

My Boy did good last night don't you think?