Another Death in the Family – Part 1

This is related to my previous post, ‘A Death in the Family‘, and the events I describe here follow on from that post, later in the same year. Since this is a long story to tell, I have broken it into multiple parts. All related posts are under the category ‘Death in my Family‘.

So, what was the final push that got me out of Christian Science? The final of the “death by 1,000 cuts” of my faith in it? My father’s death. Yes, I’m being very un-Christian Science by saying the “D” word, but he died. Unlike in the case of my Mom, I was there for every terrible part of it. Christian Science failed my father in the most horrible way. He was dedicated to it for most of his life, but in the end, his unwavering faith in it condemned him to unspeakable suffering, just as it had my Mom.Death to me, is a leaving of this existence. What happens after that, I don’t know. I hope we do continue; I think we do, maybe our existence here is like something out of the movie The Matrix–who knows? I don’t know. Nobody does. Anyone who claims to know should, in my opinion, be approached with the utmost of skepticism. I have read some interesting articles recently however, on research into the nature of consciousness that suggests that we may exist in some form after death. It’s an intriguing thought. Someday, science may find the answer. Until then, all opinions are just that: opinions.

In the same year that my Mom died in March, my Dad in December; December 25th–Christmas Day. Christian Science had miserably failed them both. This is the Christmas present radical reliance on Christian Science gave me and my family, and most of all, my Dad. I was not present for Mom’s suffering and death, but I was for Dad’s. I had a ringside seat to the whole gruesome display of what “radical reliance” on Christian Science will ultimately bring you, and no boys and girls, it is not pretty.

First, let’s go back in time a bit for some background, Dad had been suffering from unspecified discomfort and pain for several years. I can pinpoint one the earliest times I recall an awareness of it to a visit my parents made to me six years earlier when I was living and working in Boston. My parents had driven across the country from their home in western Canada to visit me and attend Annual Meeting at The Mother Church.  After Annual Meeting, the three of us drove down to western Virginia and West Virginia to take in the Appalachians (my maternal grandmother was from that area), and also to see Washington, DC.

We were visiting a landmark in Virginia called Natural Bridge. It’s a bit of a long walk from the parking area to the site, but it’s a wide flat path, and not overly strenuous. Dad noticeably struggled, and appeared to be very uncomfortable. He said he was ‘ok’, and being a dutiful Christian Scientist, I didn’t press further, and worked to discount the ‘material evidence’ before me. To a degree, I also chalked it up to a combination of age (he was 73), and the fact that he suffered somewhat from arthritis, and had for some years, having had a hip replacement when I was in my late teens. Little did I know that six years later, he would be dead, and it wasn’t arthritis that was affecting him. I also vaguely remember him beginning to slow down somewhat during the previous Christmas holiday.

In successive visits home for Christmas holidays, and Association meetings in May (Dad and I had the same teacher), I saw him suffer increasingly from pain and discomfort. He had a Christian Science practitioner on the case almost constantly. Sometimes, it seemed as if he was making progress, but he never seemed to get over the top or fully get a handle on the situation. The condition, whatever it was, persisted. Again, I just thought it was age and arthritis. He moved slow, and seemed to be in constant pain and/or discomfort. I asked him sometimes if he wanted to go to a doctor. Always, he refused. He was adamant that he would experience healing through Christian Science. Radical reliance was creeping in. It’s insidious. You don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late–especially when you’re also ‘in the faith’ yourself. I was also in the same state of denial to some degree, thanks to Christian Science.

Now, growing up I would not characterize my parents as overly ‘radical reliers‘ on Christian Science–they were generally more practical and if something didn’t seem to be getting healed they would seek other means (such as the medical route). My younger brother required, and received without hesitation, extensive medical care and physio therapy throughout his life, due to a condition known as cerebral palsy. I drew a better hand in the genetic poker game, and never did go to the doctor as a child, except for the odd occasion of a minor injury, or required physical exam (until I was in my 40s, I actually only ever had one, and that one was required to gain residency in the United States). Dad had even had hip replacement surgery in his early 50s. But, in the last years of their lives, my parents’ attitudes seemed to radically shift–they became what many of us in the ex-Christian Scientist community call ‘radical reliers’.

After my Mom died, Dad became like a ship that lost its rudder. We talked almost daily on the phone after I returned to Boston . He would think about selling the house and moving into a retirement resort, then change his mind–back and forth. The most mundane decisions seemed almost overwhelming. I could see that his mental and emotional state was declining, but again my sense of denial blunted my reaction, and I also chalked it up to grief over Mom’s death. What I didn’t see, or perhaps in my Christian Science-addled mind didn’t want to see, was the accompanying decline in his physical condition. It was easy for him to hide the physical side by simply not talking about it, and since I was 5,000 or so kilometres away, I had to pretty much go on his word. And, the sense of denial on my part kept me from seeing anything but the potential for ‘healing’.

The first real indications that began to break through my veil of denial that Dad’s health was taking a sudden turn for the worse came from my cousin (a non-Christian Scientist) who, with her family, visited him that summer. My cousin regaled me with the story of a rather scary ride they had with Dad in his car, and how he seemed frighteningly inattentive while driving. I asked Dad about this, and he of course brushed it off. I told him on no uncertain terms that if he was physically and mentally unable to drive, he was putting not only himself in danger, but others as well, and he had no right to take that gamble with other people’s lives, and that he shouldn’t be driving. To say he got pissed off at me would be an understatement. For the only time in my life that I can remember, he hung up on me.

Subsequent conversations became more routine, and for the time being I dropped the subject of driving, and it seemed that he was curtailing his driving anyway. I could tell that some days were better than others, but it was difficult to discern if he was just emotionally feeling down, or if it was more. We leaned a lot on each other, and we both felt quite alone without Mom. Dad immensely so. After all, they had been married for 57 years. They first met in Sunday School when they were in the college-age class together. Their marriage had survived financial hardship, and the deaths of two of their three children.* They had come close to divorce twice that I know of, but they worked things out, and ultimately became inseparable as a couple. You rarely thought of one without the other, and their relationship was very close and loving. It was also extremely symbiotic–much more so than I ever realized. They truly were a team of two, and very interdependent upon each other.

In early November, I received an unusual call from close church friends of my parents’ (I’ll call them  Mr. & Mrs. Smith). We had a long conversation in which they informed me that recently Dad had taken a bad fall in the house and had apparently been crawling around for a few hours, unable to get up. Somehow, he had apparently gotten to the phone and called 911. Paramedics came to assist him, but he refused to be taken to the hospital and by law they couldn’t force him. Now, Dad and I had talked once between this incident and when his friend called me. Dad had only said that he had a minor fall, but he was ok, as if to say he’d just tripped on something.

The Smiths were very worried, and said that anytime either of them suggested that Dad should maybe get to the hospital, he would become very angry and belligerent. I want to emphasize that these people are both dedicated Christian Scientists. They also informed me of just how bad Dad’s physical condition was, and also that his mental condition and attitude had suddenly changed. They said I needed to get there and see for myself, and get him proper care. He was not at all fit to stay in the house alone. My own veil of denial was beginning to lift finally, and when I arrived at Dad’s house and saw for myself how bad things really were, that veil was shattered completely.

*I am one of three children my parents had. I grew up with my younger brother, whom I mention in several posts. He died at the age of 16 due to a lung infection that was complicated by factors surrounding his cerebral palsy. They also had a girl who would be four years older than me. She died of liver cancer two years before I was born. Both my brother and sister were under medical care when they died, and both received prompt medical care when their health demanded it.

This post continues with Part 2.

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