My father died on the 23rd of February. He was 62.
He passed from end stage cirrhosis, sepsis, and liver cancer. I had been already planning to drive to Delaware to see him and my mother the 25th. His death was very sudden and unexpected.
He was an EXJW, he left around the same time I did in 2015. He had his own reasons, namely his struggles as an elder and the moral judgement he was constantly faced with regarding disfellowshipping someone over a cigarette while waiting for a secondary witness on a case of child abuse.
He was a troubled man for most of my life. The truth is my whole family was troubled after what happened. It was always like an open wound and we tried to cover it over by staying busy. Mom and Dad would work round the clock with phone calls to Asia, Dad was leaving at least once a month to go out of the country, Mom was constantly helping brothers and sisters in the hall, working on the business, helping me with schoolwork.
We never took time to process what had happened to our family. We pushed through it but we never came out of it. Therapy wasn’t an option for us, talking about it only made us slow down, so we just kept spinning our wheels and hoping things would turn out.
We all developed our own coping mechanisms. Some healthy, most not. My father ended up being consumed by his. There is no shoulder for an elder, only judgement. Only removal. Only shunning and disapproval.
So our family bottled it up inside like everyone else in our congregation did theirs. The silence was toxic and brimming. People hurt people. People turned their heads. This cycle continues every single day, and anyone and everyone I’ve spoken to who is honest about their upbringing in the congregation tells a similar tale. For my parents, to function was to survive. Just keep swimming. We drowned.
He didn’t start showing signs physically of his disease until late in his life, but we saw the signs early on and battled it for decades together. My father joined in the fight sometimes, but he was all consumed at others. Such is the nature of addiction. The same went for my battle with mental illness and the trauma I was never able to process. We all battled our demons together, and well all suffered the consequences.
I knew his death was coming for years, and truthfully I’ve been grieving him (sometimes with him) for over a decade. It still never prepares you for the actual loss. You always hope for a turn about. To wake up one morning and see them, “the true them” smiling back at you. Now that he’s gone I lean on the one thing I’ve always trusted. My coping mechanism. My “just keep swimming.” When I was a witness it was pioneering.
Now it’s activism.
Memorial on Memorial was originally created for people going through what I’m going through. People reached out to me after I came out publicly about my rape and possible cover up, many survivors like me were haunted just the same, and many have lost their lives from the trauma of coping with that in the society we were raised in.
In truth, I had my father in mind from the beginning. This tragedy and our shunning, our race to perfection, our refusal of therapy, keeping our heads down, pushing past our limit had driven my father into unfamiliar and deadly territory. I had even talked to him about it. He was even talking about coming with me… now his name has been added to a list of others that have passed. Of course, as all the other names on this list were, it was too soon. When I was cleaning up his apartment to store his things in Kentucky I came across his briefcase. In it he carried a copy of our article, vinyl’d, with notes attached. He communicated with those like Barbara often, and watched Kim and Mikey and Cedars every day. He had his own feelings as we all do, and his own beliefs. He still believed in the original message of the Watchtower, he still believed in God, he just didn’t believe the organization anymore. He felt lost.
The stigma of being “mentally diseased” usually attached to EXJW’s will be attached to my father by those inside the organization who hear of his passing. However the truth is none of us have these battles as a result of LEAVING the organization, we leave when we begin to search for help. When we’re drowning. For some of us, like my father, it was too late.
I want to encourage everyone who is battling like my father and I have to be open. Be accepting of help. Look for those who will build you up. Look for those who will cheer you on in your recovery. Be with those who advocate for you. Who support you. Who love you unconditionally.
Seek therapy, find healing. Forgive yourself. Rest. Believe that you can be something greater than you see, that your perspective of yourself is valid, but also flawed, and you have beauty and strength in you that you haven’t even began to explore. There is another side to your pain, and your path doesn’t have to end. We are here to help you along the way. We’re all in this fight together.
With that in mind, I will be holding a vigil for my father and others on the East Coast near the Delaware area. Others are planning Memorial on Memorials in various areas of the country (Nashville, Oregon, California, Ohio, etc). I would love it if any would be interested in joining me and others in remembering the beautiful, troubled souls that have passed, the beauty they shined on our lives, and the strength they give us to keep going.
We will also be making a compilation video naming those that have passed and sharing their stories. If you would like to record a reading of the names, add your loved ones to the list, or otherwise join us on Memorial on Memorial please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via our Facebook account.
My fathers death is a tragedy, but I know what he would want me to do. He would want me to move forward. He would want me to put our families demons to rest. He would want me to find the truth about my past, and find fulfillment in helping others conquer theirs. He was proud of me for using my voice. For ending the silence.
I’m proud of him too. He was a polymer scientist, a world traveler, a badass musician, a record collector, a good elder, a great husband, and a wonderful father. I’m going to remember him for the man he was instead of the disease that took him.
In memory of Timothy Manion, Vivian Medina Kenyon (no blood), Donna Lynn Sawyer (suicide), Seth Isaac Eckert (suicide), Criag Eckert (no blood), Kyle Tarrant (no blood), Tracey Remple (suicide), Phil Rush (suicide), Sara Trevin Fleming Swartz (no blood), Harold Milum (no blood), Julie-Ann (suicide), Yvonne Leighton (no blood), Peninna Risgaard (suicide), Eileen Sumrall (no blood), Daniel (suicide), Melanie Middleton (suicide), Joshua Walker (no blood), Vladislav Roslyakov (suicide), Whyit Heckler (suicide), Laura Gracey (suicide), Luke Conroy (suicide), Zack Harrell (suicide), Eddie Fuller (suicide), Rosalie Opp (suicide), Marilyn Almond (suicide), Mary Jane Pelly (suicide), Anthony Akers (suicide), Trevor Bargas (suicide), Adrien Webb (suicide), Carolyn Nielson (suicide), Craig Button (suicide), Christopher Sherril (suicide), Ian Houle (suicide), Eric Reeder (suicide), Madison Horton (suicide), Nathan Lewis (suicide), Juan Marin (suicide), Jacob Reames (suicide), Randy Follis (suicide), Omar Medaro (suicide), Steve French (suicide), Ronnie Sissie Purtee (suicide), Richard Niel (suicide), Tamara Jefferson (suicide), Ash Redford (suicide), Pascal Smeets (suicide), Richard Wheelock (suicide), Kathryn Brackett (suicide), Robert Follis (suicide), Nathan Savarie (suicide), Lacey Crawford (suicide), Paul Hand (suicide), Amy Grier (suicide), Danny Tyson (suicide), Dianne Ruttan (no blood), Paul Holmes, Sara Fleming, Trevor Trevino, Michelle Trevino, Cory Trevino, Marisela Trevino, Sandy Grier, Stephanie Winger, Samuel Ewalt, Daniel Dorsey Dowen, Kelly Scott Kjersem, David Doiron, Taylor Estrada, Darren Dudson, Zack Kozeleski, Rachel Adams, Rick Robinson, Angela Jean Shipperley, Leatta Pilar, Debbie Hayhurst, Cameron Barbaree, and others.
Gone but never forgotten.