Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Well what do you want me to say? It was my fault?

I called my grandmother last night. She's in a nursing home with Alzheimer s. It really sucks to want to have the Big Confrontation, to be at that stage in your therapy and personal growth to really tell someone "You messed me up!" ...and they're senile.

But I'm learning to turn her Alzheimer's to my advantage. If I'm pleasant, and only talk about Little Man, for four or five 10-minute phone calls, then once a month I can really, really push her for information and what memories she has of her cult leader days. And then she forgets we talked about it the next time I call! As long as I'm pleasant again a few times, she doesn't raise up her defenses and I can get to some truth.

I wanted to know whether or not Harrison Johnson's death shook her, if it changed her position on faith healing. It changed mine. I've said before, I was raised in a faith healing cult, to become the next faith healer. I started laying hands on and praying for adults when I was in Kindergarten, and by the time I was seven I had a "miracle" under my belt. So from the time I was 12 till I was 16 I ran the cult's office. I put up the website, updated the blog, maintained the data base, managed the bills and payments, and sent out her newsletter and her books.

I was 14 when Harrison died (he was 2) and my faith in faith healing took a serious toll with his preventable death. I stopped believing in faith at all costs, and at scoffing at the medical system in a time of true emergency. I still thought vaccines were dangerous, that home birth was safer than hospital birth, and that you could pray away any number of ailments. But I thought people should know that they were allowed to go to the doctor if their child was going to die. Surely God didn't really want Harrison to die?

Me: When Harrison died - Kelly and Wylie's son - how did you feel about the whole situation?
Giggy: I was just glad it didn't have anything to do with me. I wasn't there. You know there was a lot of press about it, but I managed to stay out of it, so I was glad about that."
Me: But how did it make you feel about the medical system, and about faith healing?"

(She kept getting confused and thinking I was taking about an infant death or still birth. Then a nurse came in, and she had to take a pill. She called it a "vitamin" and shuddered, but it's the medicine she takes for Alzheimer's and an SSRI for her craziness. I managed to remind her who Harrison was.)

Me: Harrison. His parents were visiting at Van and Nicole's, where the HIZM office was. He fell and got stung by 400-some yellow jackets.

Giggy: That's right. He died from the trauma of all the toxins from, some kind of stinging animal, a bee or a wasp or something.

Me: If he'd been taken to a hospital, he would still be alive today. (He'd be 14.) But his parents stayed out of the medical system, which is what you believed, and he died. Did that change how you felt about praying for healing?

(She starts quoting an incorrect 20-years out of date statistic on home births being safer than hospital births.)

Me: This isn't about home birth vs. hospital birth. Harrison was 2 - he was already born. (exasperated) Do you still believe that going to a doctor is a sin?

Giggy: (shocked) I never said going to a doctor was a sin!

Me: You just told people that the alternative was absolutely evil and unacceptable.

Giggy: Well, what do you want me to say - that I'm sorry? That it was my fault?

Me: Well, yeah. Just a little - don't you think?

Giggy: I never told anyone not to go to a doctor. Now I personally don't go to doctors, but I don't tell anyone else what to do.

Me: Do you think not going to doctors is spiritually superior?

Giggy: I, I, I...

Me: Do you remember the woman in Australia? She hemorrhaged to death over three weeks during a home birth and left five kids without a mother.

Giggy: You seem to be awfully mad at me. I'm not gonna sit here and defend myself for things that happened twenty years ago.

(Defenses up - Further conversation is futile. Wrap up with pleasantries about Little Man.)

It was intense and shocking and hard and weird. I absolutely idolized this woman for years. She was my cult leader. You really can't get bigger in someone's eyes than that. Shoot, she was bigger than God. The grace we used to do at meal times was "Thank you Giggy, thank you God." Kind of sums her up, really.

And as I age and grow and learn, she becomes more and more a monster in my eyes. A woman who cares more about keeping her name out of the papers than she does about the needless death of a young boy. I feel like I was born trapped in vines. As I grew, the vines began to strangle me tighter and tighter. Finally, as I kept learning and growing and becoming more myself, one by one the vines snap and fall off me.

Faith healing in emergencies was the first to go. But my grandmother urged complete reliance on faith for twenty some years, during which time she didn't have so much as a cold. Once she was in pain, however, it all went out the window and she went in for the works - prescription eye glasses, prescription hearing aids, and a prosthetic hip. Hypocrisy, meet your match.