Monday, May 27, 2013

Religious Matters.

I've just finished an amazing book and I can tell I'm still processing it, but I wanted to do a post on it because it strikes a place near and dear to my heart.  It is not, for once, a book about dementia and caregiving; it is a memoir written by a woman near to my own age who grew up in the Christian Science religion.  It is called, father, mother, god, which as those in the know will know, refers to a very common prayer in Christian Science; it is written by Lucia Greenhouse; and it is the closest narrative I have found to my own experience; it is almost eery, in fact.  I have mentioned a few times that my father was a Christian Scientist; I included a whole chapter on it in my first book because growing up in the religion has had the most lasting, negative effects on my life of any other experience I've ever had.

Christian Scientists believe in the purity of humans, that they are in the image of God and can therefore never be sick, or unhappy, or even die.  They refer to death as, 'passing on.'  They rely on prayer to heal themselves - believing that reciting hymns, Bible passages, and the writings of the religion's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, will heal them without the necessity of medical intervention.  You don't hear as much about the religion anymore, largely because it seems to be dying out(no pun intended), but back in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, there were several cases of parents being brought up on charges for allowing their children to die while they prayed for their recovery from whatever illness was affecting them.  It is a terrible religion, and I think it is part of the reason I'm so intent on end of life issues - accepting the realities of loss, grief, and bereavement and using the word,'death' as honestly and openly as possible.

As a child, I was shamed whenever I was ill or had any needs at all.  I was told to pray and recite passages when I felt sick - even when I was quite young and didn't really understand what was going on.  I was never certain whether one of my parents would truly help me if something seriously were to go seriously wrong, and it made me incapable of asking for help and medications from doctors.  In fact, it made it impossible for me to seek medical help when I actually needed it and I almost died when I was twenty-one.  I ended up with a chronic illness called Rheumatoid Arthritis, which has changed the course of my life and made it difficult to accept the task of caring for my father.  I had to go through a lot of therapy to be able to come to terms with my illness; the ways that the illness, and my parents, failed me; being able to seek appropriate medical attention for myself; and taking on my Dad's care.

It has not always been easy, but I feel like it makes me a better caregiver advocate, since I know what it is like to have to take over care of someone who didn't care for you as a child.  I also know how difficult it can be to give care when one suffers from a chronic illness, as many caregivers do.  These are all issues that real people must deal with and come to terms with - and it is all part of the caregiver experience.  I don't personally know anyone who has survived Christian Science, so reading this book gave my experiences a validity that really helps.  I will continue to process and do my work around these personal issues - and I wanted anyone out there who has experienced the same thing, or something similar, to know that they are not alone.

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