Death of a Much Loved Mother

There is so much I want to write and say about Mum, but little of it is relevant to the scope of this blog, which is the story of my Christianity and deconversion from it. However, Mum was a major influence on my life and the story of her life is a genuinely interesting one which I think could be told on its own. I often entertain the idea of attempting to write her story myself. She certainly deserves it.

Mum’s death from Pancreatic Cancer a little over three years ago had a huge impact on me and I am definitely not over it. Writing this blog entry will likely be the hardest one I do. Mum’s death also came at the time when my Christian faith died. The two are not related, one definitely did not cause the other, at least not for me.

“I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen to Mum”

Those are not my words, rather they are the words of my youngest brother. He said it to me while she was still alive. My brother lived with Mum (and our step-father) for the last three years of Mum’s life and saw the cancer slowly kill her. He cared for her daily, cooked for her and confided with her. During that time I watched my brother change into the man that he now is and it makes me immensely proud to be his brother.

Mum’s death affected him deeply too. We are both witness much of what Mum went through in Zambia, one small snippet is referred to here (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/coming-close-to-being-an-orphan/) and we are witnesses to her unending dignity, love and patience. In fact at her funeral, several people made references to this event where she was kidnapped from the farm we lived on and commented on how she responded to it.

My brother was far more damning about God in Mum’s final years than I was. He was blunt, if there was a God, then that would mean he watched Mum through her life serve Him and suffer greatly physically and mentally and still serve Him, and serve Him well. Then in her early 60s let her suffer and die with what is arguably the worst cancer you could get today. Surely such a woman deserved better from God and God should reward such service.

I could see my brother’s point, but I didn’t agree; despite my faltering faith I wasn’t going to buy into the argument that bad things happening to good people means there is no God. My brothers story is very different from mine and I wasn’t at all surprised by his reasoning. He’d long ago stopped living like a Christian and I figured his faith was long past rescuing. I think this experience for him was just a final nail in the coffin.

I couldn’t tell Mum about my loss of faith. I was still processing it myself and the acceptance of what was to come and the grief that followed complicated that somewhat. Would I tell her now if she was alive and well still? I don’t know. I did ponder on telling her but decided against it, given the circumstances I didn’t want to put the spiritual worries of another son onto her.

It wouldn’t be until some months after Mum’s funeral that I would tell my brother about my loss of faith.

 

 

I was Away at School when Dad Remarried

The news that Dad and new woman had eventually decided to get married wasn’t broken to me until after the event.

He met me at the airport, on his own, which was unusual, normally the airport run was a family affair and everyone came along. I realised why as soon as he broke the news to me. He wanted to be alone with me, though why I am not entirely sure, maybe he dreaded some sort of teenage strop. Whatever his reasons, he told me as casually as he could and we had the rest of the journey home to recover. While I would later ponder over the various reasons for my (and my brothers) exclusion from this event, it was never voiced out loud.

I can’t really recall what I felt inside, but my response was “I’m proud of you”. It was a lie of course. The years between my parents separating and this moment were full of anger, pain and deep upset. There were many moments when he and new woman had argued and fought. Fights that I never witnessed between mum and dad. These were times when I truly wished dad would leave her and I really could not understand why he didn’t. Life was horrid and the worst that mum and dad has was far better than an average day with this cobbled together group of incompatibilities, trying to call itself a family.

So the news they had finally got married meant that the dream of dad leaving her was over and my brothers and I were doomed to spend most of the rest of our childhood in this very unhappy unit.

The emotional needs of my brothers and I, in this post remarriage family were never met. We were always bottom of the pile and regularly manipulated and bullied by our new step family. Several behavioural issues came to a head over the years and were never acknowledged or even dealt with properly.

Life with mum was a complete contrast, unconditional love, always and never ending.

Through all these years we still went to church. dad to a very traditional Scottish Presbyterian and mum to a very charismatic Assemblies of God church, despite her Plymouth Brethren upbringing. My spiritual life was fed very effectively by mum’s church, while going to church with dad and the new family was utterly tedious. It was immensely boring and something to be endured, just to keep the peace, because speaking out would invoke the wrath of the wicked step-mum.

The curse of the Elder Sibling

As part of the fallout of my parents separation, and eventual divorce, I took it upon myself to take extra care of my younger brothers. It would be many years before mum re-married so made sure I was the man of the house there. Life with dad and the new woman was mostly horrid. New woman controlled the household with an iron fist and we sat at the bottom of the pile of priorities, while her own children got preferential treatment.

The emotional effect on me was devastating. I always did my best to make sure my brothers were okay. This, predictably, ended up with me making decisions about how they should behave and took it upon myself to let them know how much of a failure they were, when they didn’t match my unrealistic expectations. Some people tried to tell me that I was making a mistake, but I didn’t see it.

My brothers did their best to continue growing up as kids, they did their little rebellions and messed about. I was constantly stressed up about being good and at times simply forgot about just having fun.

Part of this process meant that I immersed myself even more into my Christianity. It was the only place where I found peace from the pain of family life.

Looking back, I am embarrassed, even shamed, by how I acted. My relationships with my brothers suffered greatly as a result. At the time when they needed me to just be a fun brother I became a bossy older sibling. Talking it over with my youngest brother recently, he was very philosophical about the whole thing and insisted he understood why I did it. He then teased me about being a goody-two-shoes. I am so glad to have such a reliable and dedicated brother. I owe home much.

The saddest part is that our middle brother makes no effort to contact us and despite efforts from both of us, we have had no relationship with him for more than 10 years now. It hurts us both immensely but we have no idea how we can change the situation.

Oh how I long to change my past, and how I fear that some of my actions all those years ago have contributed to the situation that exists now.

As a young pre-teen adjusting to the reality of separated parents, the wisdom I have now would have been of immense value then. Instead, the pain of life drove me deeper and deeper into my bible and the comforting arms of Christian belief.

Parental Marriage Breakdown

After the horrible events of my mothers kidnapping. The next time I saw my parents was the next school holiday, which just happened to be the Christmas holiday. They were separated and my father introduced me to the woman who would later become my step-mother. It was a lot to take in for a 9 year old.

To my young mind, a near disaster like that should mean a family looks after each other. Yet here what I saw was the apparent abandonment by my father. The truth was much more complicated than that, but my young mind could not comprehend why my parents were separating, why there was a new woman being forced into the situation and how this related to the kidnapping of my mother. It would change forever how I related to my parents, my mother became someone even more special to me and my father lost much of the respect I had for him, from that point on our relationship would be difficult and strained. In my mind he was the villain.

The truth is, neither of my parents were perfect and both had their roles to play in the breakup. It was how they acted post breakup that influenced how I viewed them. My mother would never tolerate me saying anything derogatory about my father, no matter how true. She always behaved with dignity and I never felt unloved by her. The opposite is true of my father, I had to endure much spite against my mother and often felt that I came second place to the siblings of the new woman in his life.

How did this shape my Christianity?

Given that I had no reason to question the validity of the Christian God or the truth of Christianity, it didn’t directly shape it. I never consciously thought that the separation of my parents or the events that led up to it could in any way challenge the existence of God. After all, it is humans that mess up, not God.

My father and his new woman would also continue to go to church, long before they eventually married, even before my parents divorce came through. I couldn’t understand why I had to endure this pain of my parents separation, but it certainly wasn’t God’s fault.

Boarding school would be a regular refuge from this pain and the care provided to me by my teachers would be a constant source of encouragement and strength. At least with them I knew there was a consistency of love and presence. This was very important to me and it was this that continued to nourish my growing Christian devotion.