Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Family Reunions... well, sorta

As you know from my past posts or from personal conversations with me, my family has no contact with me because I decided to leave their fundamentalist religion, the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs). Anytime someone decides to leave or is forced to leave for behavior they do not tolerate (like being gay), all JWs are instructed to cut off association with that person, even family members. Further, they tell members that anyone who leaves or gets kicked out will certainly wind up living an empty, loveless life, without God's spirit or assistance. (I remember being taught that those who left were certain to become drug addicts, alcoholics, and tramps who would never have any 'real' friends. They may have toned that down in recent years, I don't know.) Sounds kind of harsh, but that is how they emotionally blackmail members who may be 'on the fence' to stay in the religion. It didn't work for me, as I left 12 years ago, and do not have contact with my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and other extended relatives who are also JWs.

About 2 weeks ago my cousin Inez (Nez) who is not and never was a JW IM'd me at work, telling me that my 15-year old niece Leslie had been asking her about me. Apparently Leslie does not wish to be a JW anymore, but is fearful of her parent's reaction. Leslie was curious about me and wanted Nez to put her in contact with me. Nez decided she would not do so unless Leslie could get approval from her parents. After all, Nez is a mother too, and would not appreciate someone assisting her children to do something they know is against their parent's wishes.

A few days later, Nez told me that not only does Leslie not want to be a JW anymore, but her 18-year old sister Lauren doesn't either. Lauren also began asking Nez (via IM) about getting in contact with me. Nez gave her the same answer: as long as they lived under their parent's roof, she couldn't help them contact me since she knew their parents didn't approve.

Just before leaving on vacation, I got another IM from Nez telling me that Lauren had told her parents she was no longer going to be a JW or attend their religious meetings. Apparently it was an emotional and heated discussion which resulted in Lauren being told to leave the house for good. That's right - my sister and her husband kicked their 18-year old daughter out of the house for having different religious beliefs (or non-beliefs). I was rather shocked, as the JW religion does not require parents to kick their kids out if they are living at home. But apparently Lauren was rather adamant about no longer going to church with them or living under all of the religion's strict prohibitions.

When I returned from vacation I confirmed with Nez that Lauren had left her parents' home and was staying with some friends in a nearby town. My sister had called Lauren and pleaded with her to reconsider her decision and to come back home, but Lauren said no. She was unwilling to live under those conditions. Since Lauren was no longer under her parent's rood, I asked Nez for Lauren's IM screen name, and when I saw her online, I IM'd her.

After introducing myself I was pleased at her excited reaction. I explained that the main thing I felt was important for her to know was that all that stuff they said about those who leave or get kicked out was CRAP. I was pleased to find that she was aware of that and understood the manipulation behind it. We then went on to catch up on what was going on with her, I checked to make sure she had a safe place to stay, and she asked questions about my life. She was only 6 years old the last time we had seen each other.

Since then we have IM'd on several occasions, and I've been able to help her understand some of the unknown/scary/unsure feelings she's beginning to have. As I explained to her, she's in the biggest transitional period of her life right now, and it is understandable to have such feelings. I shared with her some of my feelings from that period as well as my coping strategies. Part of what she's going through is the realization that her actions have separated her from her family - the main people she's grown up with and trusted. So I'm helping her to know that she can trust others too, like me, to understand her and help her through this time.

So far she's not requested to see me in person yet, but my guess is that that is coming soon. She knows I'm gay, she knows about my life with Joe, and she's totally fine with it. She told me one of her best friends is an 18-year old young man named Ryan who is gay and who is also trying to deal with his parents and the issue of not being a JW anymore. I'm glad she's cool with the gay topic because I definitely had no plans to hide it from her, or anyone else.

I asked her about her sister, Leslie. She said Leslie is pretty much miserable because she's being forced to continue going to church with her parents even though she's told them she does not believe in it. But being only 15 it is illegal for her parents to kick her out, so I guess that house is going to have some stress for the next 3 years. Lord help them.

Two days after initially making contact with Lauren, I received an email from my cousin Hilleary. Being the oldest of the cousins, Hilleary decided a long, long time ago that the JW religion was not for him, and stopped participating. Since his father was not a JW (only his mother and siblings were) there was never any question of him being kicked out of the house. His father was probably glad about it! But Hilleary moved to California a long time ago and I only remember seeing him a few times here and there, when someone in the family got married or had a baby. Even then those of us who were 'good JWs' treated Hilleary coolly, since we knew he was not a JW anymore.

Hilleary explained in his email that he had thought of me many times over the years, especially after hearing that I was no longer a JW, and wondered how I was doing. He finally found a way to contact me by asking my non-JW cousin, Nez.

I was thrilled to hear from my cousin, and happy he took the time to tell me a bit about his life and family. He and his female 'partner' Mindy are not legally married, but they live as married people, like me and Joe. They have 3 sons together, and live in Mendocino. He works for a music company, out of his home office, and volunteers at his youngest son's school. The older two boys are in college. He told me he'd like to know about my life if I cared to share.

When I wrote back I thanked him for his email and told him briefly about the circumstances that surrounded my leaving the JWs. I told him about my life with Joe for the last 9+ years, and about my work and interests. I told him I was sorry I missed his recent visit to the east coast (4 months ago) for his nephew's wedding, but offered to meet him the next time he comes out here. I also told him I hoped our dialog could continue so that we could catch up on all the lost years.

These two recent cyber reunions have made me happy. It's ironic: For many years after leaving the JWs (which resulted in loosing my family) I believe I really grieved that great loss. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to find family enrichment elsewhere. Joe's family came to the rescue, and I was so, so blessed to have them fill the family void that used to exist in my life. Feeling that that was enough, I was content. And then, Lauren and Hilleary contact me in the same week, and I am now getting reacquainted with them. How lucky can a guy get?

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Wow...I am so happy that you are getting back in tuoch with family. I guess the important thing is that a family has to help and support each other, which is what you're now starting to be able to do again! Congratulations!