It was our fault that my father died because we let him out of our ‘experience.’

By Sharon, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

Christian Scientists have a lack of humanity, sympathy, empathy—whatever you want to call it—in the face of death. It’s downright weird. My mother’s explanation to me about my Grandpa’s death when I was just a little girl was, “Oh, he could be down the street, or he could be upstairs.” I could never figure it out, whether he had become invisible to me or what.

I had a grandmother who was of a sort of Mennonite religion. She had lost a little boy when he was six. She would tell me how he died, and how he went to heaven, and how she wasn’t worried because she knew she would join him some day, and she would rejoice when she did. I very much preferred Grandma’s story because I couldn’t figure out why my Grandpa would just be ‘down the street’ and wouldn’t come see me.

Later on my aunt died and I went to her funeral. My mother actually went with me, which was unusual. They had a sermon which included statements about how we should be glad because she would be seeing her husband and other loved ones. My mother left the funeral and said, “that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. She will NEVER see her husband again because she let him die.”

My mother also once told me that it was our fault that my father died because we let him out of our ‘experience.’ My passive father had waited for my mother’s permission to seek treatment for his throat cancer, but by then it was too late. She said that my father had just gone on and he didn’t know he had died and he still had all of us, but we had let him go.

When my mother’s mother died, I was eight years old. I was never told that she died. I was told that a package was to be delivered and I was just to sign for it and put it on the kitchen table. It was my grandmother’s ashes. My mother acted as if nothing had happened.

My mother was a class-taught Christian Scientist by a teacher who was taught by a student of Mary Baker Eddy’s. My mother spent countless hours with that teacher between her Association meetings. She wrote many, many letters to the teacher, received many back. She non-stop studied, talked, researched all Mrs. Eddy’s writings. Certainly during all these visits and during her class or Association meetings, the subject of death—or non-death, I should say—came up. She was taught this malarkey somewhere.

5 comments

  • cdf

    The mind games played on children in Christian Science…such as the above example of Sharon’s mother not being direct about her Grandfather’s passing…can have an element of unintended cruelty to them. And some of those mind games are intentionally cruel, and confusing, and the people doing them actually take pleasure in it. Sort of a spiritual oneupsmanship with a child that really doesn’t have the resources to comprehend the import of what’s being said to them, and so the adult enjoys throwing out “advanced Scientific” concepts to the child, while feeling smug and superior. I had the same thing done to me, the one with cruel intent.

    Years ago, I saw a French movie (I don’t remember the title), where a Grandmother was telling her granddaughter that she (the Grandmother), would die someday. This made the little girl start to cry. But the Grandmother comforted the little girl by telling her that it was normal for everyone to die at some point, and that it was a part of the cycle of life for everyone, that she (the Grandmother), had lived a long life, that she loved her children and grandchildren, that she would die when it was her time, and that death was not something to be frightened of.

    A nice, gentle way of explaining the cycle of life to a child. Compare that to the C.S. way of confusing the child by telling the child that her Grandmother “may be upstairs”, or “may be down the street”…jeez…

  • I hadn’t thought about the idea that the “down the street” metaphor meant they were nearby but wouldn’t visit! So poignant. Really, my mom’s explanation of death rings up like some strange sort of atheist denial– no heaven, not really knowing it’s happened, clearly not being *here* anymore, but also not being something bad. So confusing. When I started sorting through my CS thoughts I was amazed at how much death thinking I had to do.

  • BAZ

    My mother is a “dyed in the wool” Christian Scientist. Her own mother was one of the original Christian Scientists, who died in her late 30’s of something never named in my household as a child.

    My mother now has dementia and has been in assisted living for the past five years. She has just recently been enrolled in Hospice/Palliative care because her condition is declining. At the age of 12 years old I realized that Christian Science was not for me. I thought it was a cruel religion. When I chose medical attention it seemed as though there were always consequences because I did not choose to read S&H. I was considered a bad influence on my younger brother and sister. During my midlife I was baptized into the Episcopal church which, once I decided to do, has provided me with a spiritual road map that is right for me. My younger sister became a Roman Catholic although she remained a Christian Scientist into her late 20’s. My father, once a Roman Catholic, converted to Christian Science, late in his life. He was a very enthusiastic convert and very sociable and likable. At the age of 67 (1990) he suddenly passed away from a heart attack at home. My mother asked him if he would like her to call a doctor and he said no and died. This made me very angry with my mother, for many years. And she knew it. I visited with her on rare occasions during the years following. My mother did have a funeral for my dad, held at a funeral home. The room overflowed with people from church. My dad was in art school at the time and some of his work was scheduled to be juried the week following. We included some of his art work at the funeral service. I felt satisfied with this event on my father’s behalf.

    My mother began to show signs of Alzheimer’s/Dementia in her 70’s. The most startling sign appeared somewhere around 2005. She suddenly dropped all of her weight (she tended to carry extra weight), and her skin had become completely draped. It had been a year since I saw her last. I did not refer to this observation directly, however, I talked with her about fixing up her house, which was falling down around her, and asked her if she had considered having live in help. My mother rose to the occasion and very sternly, as she always did when declaring the truth, quoted passages from S&H and informed me that she is perfectly capable of caring for herself. And, I was not qualified to make any decisions for her because I was not a Christian Scientist. I spent that spring identifying sources of financial support for seniors, as well as contractors to make much needed repairs to her house. I loved the idea that I was able to assist my mother and put together a plan that would keep her in her home. She seemed to appreciate the help.

    My sister, lives on the east coast, and although she had become a Roman Catholic, calls our mother every day, sometimes twice a day (to this day). They are kindred spirits although, my sister has a personality disorder which was finally identified for me by a physician assigned to my mothers care a few years later. My sister found out I was working with our mother to fix up her house and told our mother that I was trying to get her out of her house. My mother refused to speak to me for the next two years. She would not answer the phone or return my messages. She lived in another state. I had issues with my sisters behavior and my lifelong relationship with our mother and so I tended to my own life.

    A few years later, some people from my mothers church contacted me to tell me that they could no longer help my mother. I had no idea how they were involved. She needed more help with her day to day living. I called her and she answered the phone. I told her that I was driving down to visit with her that day. When I arrived she was in the process of emptying out the house with some of her chosen articles and informed me that she was leaving my father because he had found another woman . . . I helped her put everything back in the house and got her into my car and drove her three hours away to my house. She spent four days with me. I got to see very clearly that she was incapable of living alone. We had a delightful visit. We watched “Dancing With Wolves” together. We went to a museum and I watched her become a little girl as we spoke to the museum attendant. I had no idea what to do with her. There was no money, and , I knew she would kick and scream if I tried to put her in any assisted living facility. I brought her back to her home. As I was driving away I saw this little girl wave to me from the kitchen window. I know I had no business leaving her alone there. Her next door neighbor had also been looking after her. They were heavily steeped with the day to day chores of caring for their own mother who had very advanced dementia. For a long time, my mother provided support to this family, sitting with this woman that she had known as a younger vibrant woman, and sang CS hymns to her. I called my sister when I got home from dropping our mother off, to tell her that we need to do something now. She did not agree and said that she could engage the CS nurses and community in my mothers town to visit and keep tabs on our mother. My sister believed she was best suited to handle our mothers affairs because of their unique relationship.

    Our mother was always a night owl, often took walks late at night on a nearby busy, not neighborly, street. The local police picked her up on several occasions between 2-4 am. My mother loved the attention as they drove her off to the nearest ER where she rose to the occasion, and explained to the doctors that she was a Christian Scientist, and she was just fine. They let her go home each time. The local police finally started to call me and we strategized the next step with the CS Nurses and friends, deliberately leaving my sister out of it. I was in graduate school and had an onsite weekend coming up the next weekend. We agreed that I would be at my mothers house that Sunday and I would put the gears in motion to find more suitable care facility for my mother.

    Unfortunately, I had an accident Thursday night before my scheduled arrival, which delayed my visit by two weeks. During this time, my mother was “captured” one more time by the police and this time, the hospital would not let her go. She was placed in the psych ward, with a door guard to keep her safe. CS nurses visited with her regularly, some members of church dropped by. I was finally able to hobble down to visit two weeks after my surgery.

    I was appointed guardian of her estate through social services in January. My sister visited for about three weeks, and started emptying out the house of her things and anything she thought she deserved. I spent every weekend (at 4 days each) during the rest of the year liquidating my mothers personal assets. I had hoped we would get enough money out of her assets to come-up with at least one year of pay in an assisted living facility. This would raise the quality of her care, I thought. Most places do not take Medicaid unless the individual lived 1-3 years as a full paying resident. I thought we had a shot of pulling together one year. As far as I could see, Medicaid only facilities means that my mother would share a room with three other women, with one bathroom down the hall shared by residents of four other rooms, a situation I think would make all of this even more unpleasant and distressing than it needed to be for my mother. Unfortunately, there was not enough money left over to achieve this small hope and dream. I purchased a quality bed for her and interesting furniture for her side of the room at the facility that eventually did work out for her.

    Once we found a suitable place for my mother to live in, it was the perfect place for her. There were six places in between, that each have their unique stories, which if told, would stray away from the CS aspect of my story. It took nine months to find the right place. We finally found a locked facility, with two buildings that she can walk through. This facility turned me down flat in February. I asked again in August and they said yes. I believed this was divine intervention.

    Through out this journey, I tried to honor my mothers religious beliefs, although I knew that in an assisted living place, she would be required to take medication. I believe that this facility has been respectful of her beliefs. I tried to engage CS practitioners through out this experience. It is difficult. I found one who was early in her training, referred to me by a prominent local CS practitioner. She visited with my mother 3-4 times a week during a 6 week period. My mother moved to a different geographic location and we needed to find another. We found someone who was also prominent in the local CS community who visited with my mother weekly for about three years.

    I took her to Wednesday evening services for about three years as well. The people who attended this service happened to be affiliated with the CS Nursing facility my mother spent three days in before she was asked to leave. (This just happened, it was not planned on my part) The nurses at the CS Nursing facility were trained for healing, not caring for someone who cannot be healed, although they were willing to give it a try.

    Early on, at the Wednesday Evening Service, my mother would give her testimony, which she repeated about six times in as many separate occasions. She struggled at first but always pulled it off. I thought this was an excellent experience for my mother. It was a median through which she could still express herself as an individual. However, her abilities to interact as an individual were limited and she never really did connect with the congregation. The congregation was loving to her. Her practitioner was very attentive to her for about 3 years, however, I felt that he was loosing patience with her. He was not capable, or maybe just unwilling to “go with the flow” with her. He may have lost interest. I appreciated his time and efforts. I ran out of money. My mother does not seem to have noticed that he is no longer visiting with her. There is no healing yet from dementia. I enjoyed the Wednesday evening meetings that I attended with my mother. I appreciated the uplifting spirit in which each testimony was offered. As I remember it, everything was attributed to Mrs Eddy and to her teaching. I do not recall having heard thanks to “Jesus”. They read the new testament, and Jesus teachings do appear in their worship. I wonder if Mrs Eddy intended to be thanked as much as she is thanked today.

    As I stated earlier, my mother is now in hospice/palliative care, as of four days ago. She is in excruciating pain now and is using a wheelchair. (She would never use her walker during her first five years). Two of her vertebrates in her back were fractured, during a fall a few years ago. At the time we scheduled an MRI exam after an initial visit with a physician. This MRI would tell us whether he could fix her spine or not. She refused to go to the MRI and specifically opted for pain medications, although the med tech tells me that sometimes she forgoes them. However, the pain has increased so much that she is in constant pain, (sometimes screaming). Hospice/Palliative care is intended to comfort her. Some of her medications will be increased to allow her relief from the pain. Part of the process of hospice/palliative care includes spiritual care. I do not see how a Christian Scientist nurse or practitioner could assist her in this case. I know she knows this, or she knew this well when she had all of her cognitive abilities. Back in the day, she turned away from people from her church who stepped aside to get medical treatment for a claim they could not meet. Never the less, I am sad that she is really on her own now in the human sense. (God is still with her) She has no support from the religion that she devoted every minute of her life to. Why isn’t there a chapter on supporting people who are dying? I remember a Sunday School teacher talking about someone having a “beautiful death”. I was too young to appreciate the statement, and, was sorry that I heard it, and, I never forgot it. Now, I would like to know just exactly what that teacher was talking about, in the context of the Christian Science belief, and who in my geographic location can provide that kind of support. I know and understand what a beautiful death means in terms of my own religious beliefs.

  • Nancy

    Oh my gosh, I cannot believe I stumbled upon this site. I can relate to each of your stories. I’m 63 years old, a United Methodist Minister, and I am unable to understand or forgive my mother for raising her children, myself included, as Christian Scientists. I firmly believe it was physical and emotional abuse.

    My mother is currently 89 years old having been born in 1927. Her mother was also a CS and died of Parkinson’s when she was 55. Her father died at 67 from a heart attack after he refused treatment. I only found out the causes of death from seeing death certificates when I was in my 40’s. My dad, a fairly passive man, went along with my mothers beliefs and I blame him for not protecting his children.

    Yes, I have a lot of hurt and anger at the decisions my mother made and continues to make. My brothers and I are fortunate to not have any lasting physical problems from not being taken to doctors. We were often sick as children are but we were never given so much as a aspirin for any kind of pain. I won’t list off all the illness, broken bones, deep cuts needing stitches , surgeries, that were denied us. All under the belief that our mother, practioners, or ourselves could heal if we just prayed and had the right thoughts. God or Jesus never got the credit for any “healing” only my mother for thinking the right thoughts.

    The worst was the constant inability to deal with real emotions. Anything other than happy and “harmonious” thoughts weren’t real and thinking these thoughts would make you sick, kill you, or make something bad happen to you. If you didn’t read your lesson before school you were in danger from “error ” getting you. The guilt I suffered, the fear I suffered trying to control my thoughts and “experience ” I have come to believe was and is emotional abuse in one of its cruelest forms.

    Three years ago my father did after having been clearly ill for several years. He also suffered from dementia. My mother would not take his car keys away or take him to a doctor. She refused to admit anything was wrong because then he wouldn’t be healed. My father died an excruciating death from cancer that was found in almost every organ in his body including his brain from curable prostrate cancer. We felt that he had made the decisions to live with my mother and her/their lifestyle long before the dementia set in.

    My mother suffers from many physical ailments but until a year ago refused all medical treatment. She convinced my brothers and I that it was her choice to pick how she wants to live. Yes, after all this we do love our mother. After much agonizing and nothing short of emotional trauma we agreed. She even had CS practioners calling us and laying lots of guilt. Finally sitting in her recliner having been ill for about six months with her condo neighbors fed up with her being so ill and ready to call the police, thinking she was dying; I called 911 and an ambulance took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a heart valve problem and congestive heart failure.

    As a previous writer wrote I felt and knew I was the worst daughter ever to the hospital staff. Why hadn’t I made her come in? Why hadn’t she seen doctors and sought medical care for a long laundry list of problems from crippling arthritis, a bladder infection, broken knee cap, hips needing replacements to list a few. And I knew nothing because she was always “fine”

    She is now receiving medical care but knows absolutely nothing about so much as taking tyelonol. The basic medical life skills aren’t there and at 89 there is no desire to learn them. She finally agreed to medical care because she was afraid of a painful death. She has a new heart valve and although she is bent over and hardly walking because of needing hip and knee replacements she refuses to use a cane or Walker because that would be admitting something is wrong. Last of all she talks to people including her broker about living another 20 years at least. There is definitely something weird in her thinking about death.

    How did all this affect me? As soon as I was able I cut all ties with the CS church. I was in counseling for years to deal with the hocus pocus that resided in my head and the damage my mother and the CS church did to my sense of how I was. My husband led me to the Methodist Church and I found new, comfortable, healthy ways to exercise my faith. And my children, all four of them-have had a hyper vigilant mother that always made sure they got the best medical care possible along with plenty of prayers?

    Thank you for my being able to write this to people that I know will get it.