Post by Bridget R. Gaudette (Twitter – @BridgetGaudette )
I had a very strange realization today: I don’t know what it’s like to be someone’s adult child. My parents didn’t get the privilege of seeing me come of age. I didn’t get walked down the aisle when I got married. I didn’t get parental advice when I went house hunting. I missed out on seeing pride in their eyes when I received my degrees. I haven’t had their shoulders to lean on when I struggled with infertility. I never got relationship advice or job advice or any other counsel an adult child would need. We never got to discuss politics or philosophy or any other complex subject matter. No, my parents aren’t dead, but I grieve for them.
I’ve been estranged from my parents for nearly ten years. It doesn’t impress them that I live a pretty decent life. I’ve never been arrested, don’t do illicit drugs, I have a graduate degree, I’ve been married for 12 years, I volunteer dozens of hours a month. Still, I am a disappointment. They have one reason for rejecting me: I do not share their religious beliefs. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) and I am an Atheist.
What a lot of people don’t know is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult. They are pretty mainstream, but they maintain a high level of control over the membership. When you reject the cult, you are ostracized. They use the following scriptures to justify their actions: Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 1 Timothy 5:20, and 2 Thessalonians 3:14. One of the first suggestions that people tend to make upon hearing that my relationship with my parents would be improved if I simply returned to being a JW is to fake it. First, I don’t want to live a lie. Second, that’s not how this particular cult works. To be in “good standing” within the congregation you must attend their church services weekly and go proselytizing in the local neighborhood. They literally track your activities. Every month you report how many hours you spend going door-to-door. You can attempt to make a false report, but they monitor their followers closely. So, I couldn’t simply say I am a JW, I would have to invest a lot of time in this lie. I would be disgusted with myself and I refuse to do it.
I have grieved for them for years and it has been excruciating. I wonder how and if my grief differs from people who have lost their parents in death. It’s been emotionally devastating at times.. but they are still alive.. so that fact makes everything confusing. I have pleaded with my mother to just love me. Her response is that she does, but she loves Jehovah more. I don’t have children, but I’ve heard that a mother’s love for her child can not be surpassed. In fact, I’d guess that many parents would rather go to hell than deny their offspring their love.
I know that I’m not the only person who has a dysfunctional or non-existent parent-child relationship, but my parents were great parents when I was growing up. My mother was especially loving. When I’m sad I still long for my mother’s hug. She has soft skin and is smooshy and warm. She always smelled like bleach and to this day I associate that smell with good feelings. (My husband knows this and has been known to dribble some bleach around the house when I’m sad).
I differ from my peers whose parents have died because I still have hope (even though it’s all but dissipated). I have hope that before either of us passes, we’ll be able to reconnect. Until that time comes, I leave my door opened and fingers crossed while I grieve.
When I get really down about this, I read my favorite poem:
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.