My mother was not well. She had very severe asthma and had to be on disability. On top of that, she suffered from horrible depression. Mostly she was ignored. She had one close friend in the church. I don’t have anything bad to say about that woman, she was one of the few who always showed my mother kindness. I feel that because we were poor and my mother made some choices the church did not agree with she was deemed to be unimportant. She suffered for years with her illness and an alcoholic husband. She had my brother when I was 13 and it was hard to raise him after she became sick. My stepfather was no help. I became a second mother to my little brother.
When I was nineteen, about three years after leaving the church my mother died. It was sudden and the worst thing that has ever happened to me. My mother, even with all of her flaws, was my whole world and I loved her unconditionally. It felt like time and space stopped and all of the colors were drained from my life. My mother’s super religious family flew here from Florida to attend the funeral. They were not much help. At nineteen I planned the funeral, picked the casket and acted as the executor of her estate. I became an instant mother. My stepdad was in rehab at the time and so he could not care for my little brother.
The funeral was surreal. Many people from my old church showed up and I was really shocked. A few were people who I knew and had friendships. I was not the only one who had left. I had a lot on my plate. My grandmother was complaining that I was not paying enough attention to her. My little brother needed me more than anyone else, and now I had to deal with these church people. Pastor Grant was offended that I did not ask him to speak at her service. He felt that because he had been her pastor for so long he should have the privilege of handling the service. This was shocking to me because he never cared about her when she was sick. She had not heard from him in years. Thankfully none of the church people said anything really offensive to me but they did go after my stepfather.
I was greeting people as they came in and my stepdad was sitting slumped in a chair, grieving his loss. I saw this old woman come in and I could not help but groan. She was a busybody and always gossiping. She approached my stepdad and proceeded to tell him that if he did not get his life right with god that he would end up like my mother. This filled me with rage! Not only was she saying this to a man who was out on a day pass from rehab, but what exactly was she implying about my mother? My mother died from an asthma attack in the middle of the night. She was implying that my mother died and was probably in hell because she had sin in her life. That was the reason for everything within that congregation. Do you have cancer? It is probably because of unconfessed sin or because you do not have enough faith. Are you plagued with depression? If you would just get your life right with god everything would work out. Over and over I watched people approach my stepdad not from a place of compassion but from a place of preaching at him.
This whole scene made me so angry. Ninety percent of the people from the church who showed up did not show compassion. They were more interested in saying “see we told you so.” The weeks following my mother’s death were some of the darkest days I have ever know. All of those church people disappeared and I was left alone to handle my grief. From here it just gets worse.
Ten days after my mother died my stepdad was released from rehab. He arranged to meet me at the house so I could help him find some documents. When I arrived he was dead. He had shot himself in the head and timed it so I would find him. This time around no one from the church showed up. I shut down and to be honest I have almost no memory of this time. I don’t know how I survived or moved through the days that followed.
My poor mother had such a hard life. The church could have been her refuge. They could have strengthened her through fellowship and loving-kindness. They could have visited her when she was ill or helped when she was hungry. Instead, they offered gossip, judgment, fear, and shame. My mother loved god so much and wanted nothing more than to serve him. Eventually, she did start going to another church but she did not build strong friendships there because she was unable to attend regularly due to illness. She knew what the congregation thought about her and that kept her away. They never came after her, just like they never came after me. She had no money to offer them, and she was too sick to earn their love through service.
I did not see people from that church much after this. I avoided all contact because I could see their true colors. The older I became the more clear things were. They are often referred to as Jesus Only people but I did not experience much Jesus coming from them.