A Friend’s Death

A survivor e-friend of mine died recently. She had been very, very sick for a long time, but she kept going and she kept going until I thought she might be immortal. She just plain refused to give up and I just plain refused to believe she ever would give up.

In the end, it wasn’t her that gave up, it was her body that gave in. She lay down and her friends came and sat with her and sang her favorite songs and surrounded her with love. And then she slipped away, peacefully. It sounded like a really beautiful death, and I would like to die in a similar way.

I gave something of myself to her after she died. I wrote a letter to her and another to a little that I had been close to. The letters were burned and their ashes buried outdoors in a favorite spot of hers. But I have nothing of hers except for memory of what she was like and verbatim memories of some of our e-mails. (I just now realized I have saved all of her e-mails and also the ones I sent her. So I do have a lot of her!)

I was really surprised at how deep my grief was when I learned she had passed away. I was far more attached than I realized. I cried steadily for several days, and now I am in the crying on-and-off stage. (I am crying now.) The child part of me keeps protesting – “I didn’t want her to die! It’s not fair!” And the adult part simply says, “I miss her.”

Usually when a survivor dies I am very angry, not at the person, but at the cult. So many of our illnesses are caused, directly or indirectly, by the torture we underwent in our childhoods. She was no different from the rest of us in that she was tortured mercilessly. But she happened to die of illnesses that could not be laid at the abusers’ feet. It’s often hard for me to remember that there are plenty of bad things in the world outside the cult and that genetics, infections, auto accidents, all sorts of things, can harm us and they have no connection to the cult.

Of course the cult claimed that they had caused all the awful things in the world and we believed them. Worse yet, they often said we had caused them because we were so evil. The guilt lingered long after we were old enough to realize that the accusation was ridiculous. I have no idea why they felt they had to puff themselves up so much – weren’t they powerful enough and evil enough as it was? I guess they were greedy and wanted all the evil in the whole wide world.

When a survivor dies, I grieve for the survivor community’s loss as well as my own personal loss. We each have a unique voice; there is nobody who can speak for us, speak like us, possess the same wisdom and compassion and beauty. There is a hole in the community that cannot be filled.

One death stir up feelings about other deaths, of course. I’m thinking of Lynn Moss-Sharman and Lynn Wosnak and Vern and Maggie and Julie and Karen Wiltshire and a man whose name I have forgotten who worked for the SPCA and investigated RA cases at the same time and Wendy and Dee and my brother. I think of those I knew who have died but I haven’t learned of their deaths. And then I think of those of us who are limping along and those that are fighting intense emotional and physical pain. I feel filled with sadness.

My Brother’s Birthday

I have been down and discouraged all week, only yesterday realizing that today is my brother’s birthday. He has been dead six years now after having been totally disabled by a massive stoke for eight years. Those fourteen years feel like an eternity and an instant at the same time. I can’t seem to come to terms with this: I cry every time I think of him. I’m crying as I write this.

I realize that strokes occur to those who were not born into cults, as well as those that were, but I cannot help but feel that there was a connection.  I resonate with the factors that led to it — self-neglect, shame, and guilt, all-encompassing guilt. He was told he had high blood pressure, but that he could lower it by losing weight. I’m sure he said to himself that he would go back to the doctor when he lost weight, and then never did, until he was forced to by a medium-sized stroke. A couple of years later, a second stroke left him unable to communicate, unable to eat except through a feeding tube, and able to move only one arm. The ER, intensive care unit, and nursing home gave him very good care for eight years and kept him alive in total dependence. It was heart-breaking.

I was close to my brother as a child in both the “day life” and the “night life,” although we never spoke of the cult — it was buried under impenetrable layers of amnesia. He was the only person in my family that I liked and trusted. But slowly, we grew apart. In high school he appeared increasingly shy and by the time he graduated college he had what these days we call “social phobia.” People made him so uncomfortable that he withdrew as far as he could.

It wasn’t just strangers — everybody made him anxious, including me. First he stopped calling me, then he stopped answering his phone when I called. If I did reach him and invited him to something, he found an excuse. My sweet brother had become a ghost. We managed to see each other every few years, more so after my husband died. He sensed I needed him, and rose to the occasion. He painted rooms, changed tires, fixed my fence. We connected over tasks, but couldn’t talk personally.

When I discovered I had been molested, and later, when my cult background came to light, I disclosed to him without hesitation. I was hoping that he, too, would remember and would have a chance for a happier life. He said a few things that indicated he had been cult-abused, like “I cannot look people in the eye because I see a knife in their eye or a beating heart.” But that was all.

I couldn’t protect him when we were children and I couldn’t help him heal when we were adults. As I became more connected to my past, he became more disconnected from me. And then the strokes came.

I see that the way I handle my grief is to reach out to others. Although I could never help him, I can at least try to make a difference in the lives of some people I do not know. Every word I have written is in his memory.