Do not go gentle into that good night
Don’t succumb to the peaceful release of death.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas 1914-1953
Imagine you had nearly died. You were involved in a horrific road traffic accident and you were rushed to hospital with various injuries including internal injuries. You literally nearly died. When you’re in the accident & emergency the medical staff are arguing about whether to x-ray your arm or check for other injuries. Someone overrules everyone and says that they must do an ultrasound immediately. The ultrasound confirms extensive internal injuries that require immediate surgery. It seems like there are dozens of medical staff around you. You are so very, very cold. You are shaking uncontrollably. Suddenly you know you need to be sick, you warn the nurses standing next to you that you need to be sick, they scramble to get a bowl for you but are, unfortunately, too late. One poor nurse gets the brunt of the vomit. You feel so awful that this amazing person who is helping you is now covered in the contents of your stomach. You keep apologising, over and over. You are so very, very cold. The shaking is so terribly bad and almost convulsive.
Someone is explaining to you that they need to operate and that you need to sign a form giving consent. Suddenly, that feeling of doom that you’ve carried round with you your whole childhood is pressing down on your being. It’s suffocating you. This is it, this is where I die. In a panic, you explain to the doctor that you can’t have a blood transfusion. You see the visible frustration in the doctor’s expression. He utters those words that no-one brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness ever wants to hear, “you will die if you don’t have a blood transfusion, there is no other way of doing this.”
I’m sure that it is different for everyone that has been in this situation, but in that moment I didn’t question my faith, I didn’t think about the resurrection, or what Jehovah would think, or if having a blood transfusion was right or not. I just remember thinking that this is a doctor, an expert, he wouldn’t say this unless it was true. I knew I didn’t want to die. Even though at various points in my life up to this point I had struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, it was like a bolt of lightening suddenly realising that I now had a choice whether or not to die and I didn’t want to die. It’s amazing how fast our thoughts can sort through ideas in a moment of crisis. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to be disfellowshipped because I don’t want to lose contact with my family, I don’t want to see the look of betrayal, condemnation and disappointment in their eyes, but I also don’t want to die.”
At this point I made a decision that would affect the rest of my life. I decided to have the blood transfusion, to save my life. I asked the doctor if they needed to tell my parents. He seemed shocked that I would even say this and told me that I was an adult and all of my medical records were completely confidential unless I agreed otherwise. I told him in no uncertain terms that I did not want my parents to know that I had received a blood transfusion. After this everything was a blur, I remember being told not to be concerned if I woke up in intensive care or if there were loads of machines around me when I awoke. They rushed my trolley in the direction of the operating theatre.
When I woke up on the ward after surgery, my parents were by my bedside. I wasn’t aware of how long I’d been unconscious, I was just glad that I was alive. If you were in this situation, what sort of things do you think your parents might say to you? Not only had they been told their child had nearly died, but they hadn’t spoken to their child in a few months. They were looking at me, their child, a young adult in her early twenties, in a hospital bed, hooked up to numerous machines, with various tubes and wires attached to her; their own flesh and blood.
After telling me that they were worried about me, the questions started:
- Did you have a blood transfusion?
- Have you had sex with your boyfriend?
- I read your diary, did the things you write about actually happen or are they all fantasies?
Yes, I kid you not. The Spanish Inquisition had arrived. I had expected to have questions, but not immediately upon waking up. I was in terrible pain and my brain was very fuzzy due to the morphine. I just denied everything. I honestly looked at my parents in that moment and didn’t think that they had any love for me whatsoever. They seemed more concerned with whether or not I’d broken religious rules. It was in that moment that I realised that their love was conditional, their acceptance of me in their life was conditional. I knew that I could never go back to being a Jehovah’s Witness.
After they left, I thought about what I would have to do if I had decided to continue on as a Jehovah’s Witness. Once I had been released from hospital I would have had to meet with the elders in the congregation and I would have had to detail exactly every single sin that I had committed, from fornication, masturbation, smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, receiving a life saving blood transfusion, living with someone before marriage, etc, etc, ad nauseam. There was a small chance that I might have just received a reproof, but I highly doubted it because even if I had been sufficiently “repentant”, I had done so many things wrong that I’m sure they would have viewed any demonstration of repentance as just words. So probably I would have been disfellowshipped and I would have been shunned by all of my friends and family whilst attending all of the meetings without a break, even for illness, for (if I remember correctly) a year, or until such time as they decided I was sufficiently repentant to return to be reinstated.
I didn’t doubt that Jehovah’s Witnesses had “the truth”. I just felt that I wasn’t worthy of it and that I wasn’t good enough or faithful enough for God to want me in his organisation, so I resigned myself to never living forever in the paradise earth. I would never see my grandparents again in the resurrection.
The sad thing was that I had zero self-esteem because of how I had been raised and I went on to make one bad decision after another for years . I felt that the worse the situation was the more I deserved it. I had been taught for so many years that I could expect nothing else from “the world”. I also ended up in an abusive relationship for many years which I didn’t recognise until fairly recently, because abusive relationships was all I had been used to and I thought that was how people were supposed to treat me. The damage done to me by the Watchtower organisation went much further than just during the period that I attended meetings. It damaged my whole life. I have had to learn what healthy human interaction really is. I’ve had to learn so many life skills that I was never taught. Only now, at almost 50 year of age and with the help of my amazing and loving children, am I allowing myself the luxury of healing.
Thank you for reading my blog.