Saturday, January 7, 2017

Family Photos 1985 Grandma Visits Saskatoon

It is 1985. I lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and my Mom lived in Selkirk, Manitoba. I had been asking Mom to come and visit us ever since we moved to Saskatoon in 1978.

Obviously, she was hesitant to leave her new husband, Alex at home alone because he suffered from a medical condition. Naturally, she wanted to make sure he was in good hands, if she came for a visit.

Our family was very excited when Mom finally accepted our invitation to come and visit us and see our new home. She had arranged for a trustworthy family friend to look in on Alex while she was away.

(click to enlarge.) Heather's journal entry
about Grandma's upcoming visit in July 1985.

While it is true that I returned to Manitoba from time to time for a visit, Mom hadn’t been for a visit to see us yet. Even so, she was as eager to see us as we were to see her. Finally, she booked a train for herself and my youngest brother, Steve to travel to the next province where we lived.

Heather and Grandma
even put on a dress for the occasion!
Heather and I
put on a dress
for the occasion
of Grandma's visit!
The weeks flew by until it was finally time to pick up “Grandma and Uncle Steve” from the train station.

Heather even put on a dress for the occasion.

And so did Grandma!

And so did I!

This was going to be a very special visit. It was my Mom's very first visit to Saskatoon and we wanted it to be memorable.
Heather and her Grandma, Uncle Steve, and brother Shawn.

We went swimming at Riversdale Pool. Heather invited Nicole (our neighbor and friend from Day 1 on Nesbitt Way) along with Nicole’s little sister. (If someone remembers her name, please let me know and I will update this blog.)

We had a picnic at Blackstrap Park.

Sometimes, we did things as a family, but other times Mom and I spent mother-daughter time together.

Shawn, Heather, Nicole's sister, and Nicole
posing at Riversdale Pool
Mom and I went shopping together,
we went for walks along the river,
we had long talks and generally caught up on a lot of missed news,
we breezed through malls together,
we had leisurely lunches together,
we explored antique shops together,
we bought knickknacks,
and rhinestone earrings.

Through Mom, I got to know Alex better and became certain they were very happy together. He loved her—adored her. I thought, what could possibly be wrong with that?

“I can see that life is so much better now than you ever had it, being married to my father!” I exclaimed over lunch.

Mom looked down and smiled contentedly and I was sure my hunch was right.

Shawn, Grandma, Nicole's sister and Heather's friend Nicole,
and Heather had a picnic at Blackstrap Park.
Steve must be off somewhere exploring!


I went to the weekly religious meetings without my mom, because she was disfellowshipped (since 1976) and preferred not to attend. So, Mom stayed at home and visited with Terry. I was sure God would have wanted me to keep attending meetings — set the right example and win her back to the congregation without a word.

I was going to fix everybody who needed fixing in our family!

So, what went wrong? Mom got in trouble with the elders soon after she left my dad in the early 70s. It wasn't long before she met Alex at her job in Selkirk. They began dating very soon after Mom officially divorced my dad. That’s when the elders judged her adversely. According to them, she was not scripturally permitted to date a new man. Not only that, she was not allowed to even divorce her husband (my dad) because he still wanted her back. He wrote her letters, begging her to come back. In other words, according to the elders, separation — or even a legal divorce — didn’t count. She was declared an adulteress, and subsequently disfellowshipped. Once disfellowshipped, everyone in the congregation was obligated to shun her.

"A wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband."—1 Corinthians 7:10, 11  New World Translation (NWT)

However, I believed I did not have to shun my mom, after all she was my mother! I was confident that I was an exception, as I had scriptural obligations to my mom. I felt sure.

The elders completely disregarded all the abuse she had endured during her nearly two decades of marriage to my father. I didn't think too much about it at the time, but deep in my heart I felt the elders didn't make a fair assessment of my Mom's situation.

Well, word of her visit to Saskatchewan traveled fast. About a week after my mom’s visit, I received a disturbing letter from one of the Selkirk elders, considered to be a family friend. The congregation back in Selkirk had gotten wind that my disfellowshipped mother visited with me. The elder wrote to warn me that if I didn’t cut off my association with her at once that I would be severely dealt with.

The body of the letter read as follows, factual errors, typos and all (click on image to enlarge):


What would prompt such a letter from a religious elder in my Mom’s hometown?

I was devastated. No one had a right to interfere with my mom’s relationship with me like this! It was such a violation of my rights. I struggled alone — I could not discuss it with my husband. He was not a religious member, in order to understand the religious reasoning behind this type of heinous treatment.

I could appeal to the elders in Saskatoon, perhaps. Yet, if I dared to verbalize my doubts, I would have been marked. I would have been watched suspiciously by the body of elders. I didn’t want to be known as a “Doubting Thomas” member or I would have been frowned upon. Worse than that, anyone else in the congregation who knew of my doubts would have disassociated themselves from me. I couldn’t risk that punishment, as I wanted to be known as a credible and respected member. I was told from the platform I had no doubts — so I dared not have any.

If I told the elders to leave me alone, who would support me in helping my kids to stay clean and sober and not follow the example of their father? Besides, I really believed what the religion taught. After all, I was in a spiritual paradise and there was nowhere else to go. I must stay at all costs. I can’t be disloyal because this test is from Satan. He’s trying to break my integrity. My integrity means my life. My attachment to the religion was strong. Yet, my decision to yield to the elder’s threat couldn’t stop the unending questions of loyalty and love for my mom or for the Watchtower Society. Both sides of the issue tormented me relentlessly.

I recalled the first time I told mom I loved her. It was when I left Terry in Winnipeg in 1973 during our engagement, after I discovered he used heroin. At that time I vowed I would always tell Mom — show  Mom — how much I loved her. Abandoning her now would mean I was betraying my own promise to love her always.

I reasoned that since Mom lived in Selkirk and I lived in Saskatoon, why couldn't I simply ignore the elder's letter and go about my business, as if nothing happened? No one ever needed to know I had been threatened in this way by a religious elder. Then again, how could I live with this ultimatum? I could leave the religion! But where would I go? How would I explain leaving the religious organization to my kids? This religion has the truth, doesn’t it? This is the way I should  live, isn’t it?

That’s when my ego took over and “spiritualized” the problem. That means I fell into a “spiritual trap” of sorts. The religion taught that when someone leaves, their un-spiritual action cannot be tolerated in the congregation. It is a mortal sin to leave the religion. Leaving the religion was the same as leaving God. If I had enough love, shunning could bring mom back into the religious fold and I’d be “saving” her.

Directly from the Kingdom Hall platform, how many times had I heard the admonition about the spiritual benefits of shunning?

I knew that protesting would be futile. I wouldn’t get very far because the entire organization was tuned against dissent. I was terrified to just quit the religion. I would lose the friendship of Rhonda, Cheryl, and Joyce. My life would be altered forever. I would have no friends and no one would speak to me. My kids would be hurt and disillusioned. Since I believed this was the only true religion, God expected me to do the right thing and obey the elders, who were his representatives on earth. Any disloyalty to the organization was synonymous of disloyalty to God and would certainly come back to haunt me.

Back and forth went my self-accusations.

About a week later, I received a package from my mom. She always sent me little cute things of sentimental value that I loved receiving from her. Little lace doilies, or candy dishes, or little ornaments that she just knew I would love.

This was decision-time!

This was my test!

I gave in to the religious terror that my dad and the elders had instilled in me all my life. I returned the package, unopened, scrawled with one word, “Refused.”

My heart exploded into  into great sobs, as I retreated to the bedroom and the tears spilled out. I muffled my wailing into a large white towel. My face emerged only long enough to gasp for another breath. My heart was breaking wide open. I couldn't ever  let Terry know how my imposition of this strict rule on myself affected me. He would think I'm crazy! Well — crazier!  The shunning was the right thing to do. I was compelled to shun my mom. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, or even what I really thought deep in my own heart. The elders issued the orders, they quoted the scriptures — and I was obligated to shun — or I would be disfellowshipped and shunned just like my mom. This was a test of my trust in God.

Of course my children saw what I did. They watched me shun my mom. They believed that what I was doing was the right thing, because I told them it was the right thing to do. I told them it would help my mom come back to the organization, if she really loved us — and God — enough. She would repent from her sin and tell the elders she was sorry.

Somehow, Terry found out what I had done and was very disappointed with my treatment of Mom. All those years since 1977, when I began my studies with the Jehovah's Witnesses, he hoped I would drop the entire idea of retaining membership in that religious organization, all for nothing. He hoped I was on a tangent, which was only temporary until he got me out of Selkirk onto his home court — Saskatoon — and away from those people.  But such was not to be. Jehovah’s Witnesses turned up everywhere we moved!

I was very naive as far as Terry was concerned. He viewed my behavior as delusional. And, looking back, I know now he was right.

At some point God was going to bless me for being such a faithful wife and mother, under adverse conditions, I was sure.

Looking back, that false belief of future blessings for my faithfulness feels utterly delusional. I was trying so hard to do everything just right by the group standards and beliefs. I hoped this would be the time of blessing, not just for me, but for the whole family. Yet, everything turned out so wrong.

Instead, I fell into a deep depression — or what I call a Dark Night of the Soul.

And it wouldn't be the first time.

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