My thoughts on Father’s Day…

This originally appeared on Emerging Gently, and is re-published here–with some edits, with permission.


A few years ago on Father’s Day, I shared a picture of my Dad on my Facebook timeline. Unlike many other pictures that people share of their fathers on Father’s Day, I don’t share the camera space with him in this picture: my cousin does. It was taken during a visit she and her husband had with him the summer before he died. It is also the last known picture that was ever taken of Dad. He died later that same year on Christmas Day. I’ve looked at this picture often. Even now, nearly seven years after his death, it still brings a tear to my eye.

I look at his face and remember how it felt to hug him. I hear his voice, a kind voice that carried so much wisdom. Yes, I miss him, I always will. The grieving has long passed, and I go on with my life without him and Mom, but I never stop missing them. I’ve been told you never do, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It keeps them alive in your heart.

My thoughts turn to a conversation I had last week with a friend as we were driving back home from a camping trip. It was a long drive, so we dived deep into a lot of topics, and the discussion eventually turned to religion. We’re both what you’d call ‘spiritual, not religious’. We both attend First Nations/Native American ceremonies and follow that spirituality. I told him the whole story about my parents’ deaths–he knew some of the story, but not the Christian Science back-story–I haven’t shared that very much with my current circle of friends. It came out through the conversation that I have moved into a stage with my whole process of dealing with my parents’ deaths of very deep anger. I hate what Christian Science made my parents do to themselves in their latter years. No, they didn’t die young (Mom was 81, Dad was 79), but it was the fact that they suffered needless physical pain (in Mom’s case it was extreme), and discomfort (Dad lived for around seven years with untreated heart failure).

Each and every day, they prayed for a healing in Christian Science. They paid hundreds of dollars to Christian Science practitioners, and in Mom’s latter days, thousands of dollars to a Christian Science nursing facility where she languished in the most unimaginable pain. Yes, I seethe with anger over how their last days were thanks to their unwavering adherence to Christian Science. It promised them healing, it gave them painful deaths. They chased the elusive healing like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow–it was always ‘just around the corner’; but, they never could get around that corner.

I see, through the stories told in the ex-Christian Scientist Facebook groups I’m in, of horrific ways lives have been damaged thanks to Christian Science. People who, as children, were scolded simply for being sick, for instance. Or, in a more extreme example, my friend Liz Heywood, who ultimately lost a leg due to a bone infection that was “treated” with a Christian Science “treatment”. This condition could have been routinely treated with antibiotics if her parents had simply taken her to the doctor, and the disease would have just been a footnote in her childhood memories. My anger is also kindled at the recent news that someone I knew from my college days at Principia died at the ripe old age of 43. Now, I don’t know if this person was still an actively practicing Christian Scientist, but there have been many deaths of Principia graduates far before their time.

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence”
~Christopher Hitchens

Yes, I hate Christian Science, and I hate what it’s done to my family, and so many others. It promises everything, and delivers little to nothing. It’s nothing more than an opiate for desperate minds. Christian Science asserts that it can heal anything, yet offers little credible evidence that it can; so, to follow on Mr. Hitchens’s thought, it can also be summarily dismissed. However, I can trot out plenty of irrefutable evidence that it absolutely cannot heal anything, and it causes people to suffer needlessly and in many cases die far too young. It is one of the most refined forms of delusional thinking there is. So, I do not dismiss it without evidence. Quite the opposite–I have seen plenty of evidence that Christian Science can’t heal anything.

Do Not Grieve, There is Nothing to Grieve About

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about how death is ‘handled’ in Christian Science.

 

I have found Christian Science’s ‘do not grieve, there’s nothing to grieve about’ instruction to be particularly damaging. It leads those who have lost loved ones to feel ashamed—the deeper the love, the greater the shame. And it leads others to ignore grief in the guise of pretending that it doesn’t exist. We’re providing prayerful support to the grieving person so we don’t have to, you know, acknowledge the loss or do anything practical to help.

– Anonymous



I think I remember one memorial service from when I was young that may or may not have been for a Christian Scientist. But, generally people just didn’t show up at church anymore and nobody ever asked. Why would you mourn someone? What does it matter that they’re dead? Christian Science tears apart the human psyche. It devalues and denies the empathy and compassion that makes us human.

– Heidi


A woman I knew from the local Christian Science branch church, who was about three years older than I was, suddenly vanished. I asked my Christian Scientist mother about her and got double-talk. Later I was alone with my non-Christian Scientist father and he told me she had appendicitis and was under the care of a practitioner, and her appendix burst and she died. When I asked my mother about it she told me, “people are dying in hospitals all the time!”

– Anonymous

 

I felt I had no right to mourn because my father had just ‘passed away’

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

A year ago I started an Master in Fine Arts program in creative writing. I’d left Christian Science officially two years before. My first workshopped article was a piece I had written on all the wonderful strangers who had helped me with car trouble. The piece was meant to be inspirational and uplifting. It had a very happy ending. I did mention in the piece that my father had died and I felt lost when it came to taking care of my car because he had been a mechanic and always looked out for me in this way. I was twenty-five when he died a grisly death of untreated colon cancer under Christian Science care.

When I was having my piece workshopped the teacher asked me why I felt it was necessary to have a happy ending. He told me I was completely wrapped up in magical thinking and that I needed to dig deeper in order to have a story and not a string of anecdotes. Essentially he told me my whole life was an anecdote and not a story. I was shattered. I told him there was no point in not having a happy ending. Who would want to hear or read about things that aren’t resolved in a harmonious way?

Then he told me that although the appearance of my story was happy, it was clear to him that underneath I was suffering greatly from unresolved grief due to my father’s death. My father’s death was three decades past, which added to my shock about this teacher’s statement. It was a very uncomfortable discussion for me because I had shut Dad off after he died, always believing I had no right to mourn because my father had just ‘passed away’ and nothing had really happened to him, according to my religion. I have since written a chapter about my fathers death, and the writing was therapy for me. The guy was correct; I was—perhaps still am—a mess.

I left the session in internal chaos, realizing I had nothing to write about because I had always been taught by Christian Science that my life should be treated like a testimony at church, with the final words being: “I am so grateful for Christian Science.” Over the next few days I realized I needed to look completely differently at my past, to revisit these experiences I had shut away and put aside with Christian Science. The whole conversation was a revelation. Now I see that everything about Christian Science is anecdotal, and there is a big difference between anecdotes and stories.

My thesis has ended up being about my journey away from Christian Science, and through writing it I am discovering truths about myself, my upbringing, and the difference between what I think now and how I thought when I was a gung-ho Christian Scientist.

I don’t believe I knew just what I thought about all that until I wrote it down. Writing is therapy. It really helps