<Continued from “Throwing Down the Gauntlet“>
“You know what Nana?” I say after I washed up our few dishes and made us an after-dinner cup of coffee.
Hers decaf and black, mine regular with a good slug of cream.
Wrapping my hands around the warmth of my cup I start talking about why I am here on this day. “I want to stay with you for a bit. I have been hearing you say you are scared about your bathtub. I have looked at it and I am scared too about your bathtub. I am also afraid you are not getting enough to eat. You are at greater risk to fall if you are weak from not eating.”
“Now honey,” She immediately starts back-peddling, “I am fine. I don’t need anything. I don’t want you to worry about me. Besides your family needs you.”
“Yes, they do.” I agree calmly, “This is not a permanent solution. However, they are ok for the moment. You need more help and I am here to make sure you get it.
“I will talk with John-Wayne-Mother and the Uncles.” I conclude firmly.
“Oh your mother,” her face twists into bitter stubbornness, “is just bossy. And your uncles don’t know nothin’ from nothin’.”
I see a flash of what I know my mother faces with her mother. I know why it has been difficult to get appropriate care in here. My grandmother is quite set in her ways. Any hint of bringing actual care in here, even me, and she is all independence and I-Can-Take-Care-of-Myself type of attitude.
My mother is tired of fighting with her.
“I know,” My voice full of gentleness. “Nevertheless, I am going to talk with her.”
She looks mutinous but stops arguing.
“Is your helper coming tomorrow? It is her normal day right?” I decide to shift gears for the moment away from my grandmother’s feelings about her children.
“Yes,” she says slowly. She clearly does not like where this conversation is going. “Why?”
“How do you like her?” I ask avoiding her question for the moment.
“I like her well enough yes.” She is still looking suspicious. “Why?” she asks again, a terrier latched onto the tail of my intention.
I let my breath out long and slow before I start this part of the conversation. I expect she is not going to like it.
“I want to talk with her.” I figure it is time for more directness. “I am worried about you. You are not eating enough which, I am afraid is adding to your increasing physical weakness. I agree, you are in danger using that bathtub, especially if you are by yourself.”
I hold her eyes with my own. I feel my father’s calm clear head-of-the-house attitude in my body.
She looks at me for a long time, green eyes meeting brown. I don’t flinch or break our gaze.
Finally, she says, “Well, I know, but I don’t want to have someone here all the time. I have lived alone a long time.” The mutinous look creeps back across her expression. “I like living alone.”
It is more than a bit of a scandal for a woman in the Organization to admit that she prefers to live without a man, that she prefers to be alone.
I am happy she feels safe enough with me to tell me that. It is not the first time.
She knows I will hold it for her.
“I know. I remember.” My eyes hold hers more softly. “I am afraid you are going to fall and hurt yourself badly.”
I heave a heavy sigh and shake my head gently. Reaching across the table I cover her hand with my own.
“Sweetie, I heard you ask me a couple of times, ‘Don’t you think the scariest thing would be to die in the bathtub?’ Well I have been thinking about it and yes it does scare me to think of you slipping and cracking your head on that tile shelf right behind the tub. I can just see you knocking yourself unconscious and drowning in that bathtub.”
I squeeze her hand a tiny bit in emphasis of my fear.
Then I feel my eyes tighten in Uncle-Apostle-Paul’s laser intense focus, his crow’s feet fill the corners of my gaze. “But that…is…not…my biggest fear.”
I hold her green serious eyes for a long heartbeat.
“Dying in the tub would be quick. People drown in under a minute or two.” I say flatly. “I am most afraid of you having a bad fall somewhere else in the house and no one knowing about it for four or five days until your person comes again. She is only here once a week. That is a long potential time to lie broken on the floor…don’t you think?” I lift a questioning eyebrow in her direction. “Especially given how often you forget to wear that Lifeline beeper mom got you. You can’t call for help if the necklace thing is in the other room.”
“Well I know.” She drops her eyes at last. “I don’t like to wear it. It is ugly.” Her mouth forms a small pout and her voice holds hints of sulky.
Ah, the truth will out.
“I know you don’t like it but if you want to live alone, and not have something scary like that happen, you need to keep it on all the time. It is a safety net, so you can live alone as long as possible. I do know how much you like your privacy.”
“I wish you could take care of me.” She looks back towards me and tears have turned her eyes a crystalline emerald. “I love having you here. I have no secrets from you, we are First-Friends.”
She reaches out and places her trembling fingers on either side of my face. “You know how to take care of me and you are the only one who wants to…your mother moved away. Your uncles have never done a thing to take care of me. I don’t want a stranger in my house. You are not a stranger you are my girl.”
I move from the chair to my knees in front of her. She pulls my head to her breast and pets my long hair. I wrap my arms around her waist as I did when I was a child and she was My-First-Friend.
“I love you darlin’. You are the first friend I ever had and I have been taking care of you one way and another for my whole life. I would take care of you in a heartbeat …but I can’t.” Sadness fills my eyes when I say these words.
I am readying myself to hold the Witness rules clearly, for the first time, with Nana.
I am going to remind her of my official status.
“I know the children need you.” She begins.
I sit back and interrupt swiftly. “The children are not the reason I cannot take care of you.”
“It’s true,” she says immediately, “There is plenty of room for you and the children here in this house with me. Your grandfather and I built it that way on purpose.”
Smiling she launches into a story I know as well as I know The Man with the Golden Arm.
“He always told the kids they could come back home and have the back of the house. They could come and bring their spouses and children.” She laughs remembering how much Unbelieving-Grandfather loved his family. “If he had gotten his way they all would have lived with us.”
“I would say we don’t really have room for all of them and all of their children in this one house. It is big but not that big.”
“And then he would say, ‘That’s ok I will build another one! As many as we need.’”
“That was your grandfather!” She concludes with a tinkling laugh. “He would have done it too.”
Nana and her husband had one thing in common, they both love the children.
“You all could easily fit here with me and I would love to have you.” She is sparkling thinking of the possibility of having my children and I stay with her. Having me take care of her at the end of her life.
I laugh a little with her, but only a little.
I know what I still have to say and it is not funny.
“I know you do.” I look at her with my father’s direct heavy-lidded gaze. “The reason I cannot take care of you is, the family will not allow it.”
“It is not their business!” She flares immediately, “None of them want to do it! It is my house!!” She sounds strong and fierce. “You are welcome here if I say you are.” She declares.
I nod slowly still meeting her eyes, “The family will not allow it because I Disassociated myself. I wrote the letter to the Society saying I am no longer One of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Organization is the one who says I cannot take care of you.”
“No!” She cries, tears swimming again. “Oh honey! You didn’t?!”
“Yes I did.” I remind her firmly. “I don’t talk about it with you very often because my opinions and feelings about your religion are not relevant to our relationship. To me at any rate. I am visiting you to have time with my grandmother. I am willing to agree to disagree with you about the Witness beliefs and practices. However, when it comes to your care needs we have an issue because the Society requires you to shun me. That means I cannot officially take care of you.”
“But, honey!” Tears spilling down her face, “you don’t mean it. Say you don’t mean it!”
“I do mean it.” My eyes don’t flinch. They hold hers with certainty laced sadness.
I knew what my choice to Leave the Truth would cost when I left. Taking care of my Witness family in their dying process, as I was raised to do, was going to be one of those costs.
The Governing Body requires it of them.
Reminding my grandmother of this tears at my heart.
Letting her see the depth of my sadness doesn’t feel likely to help at this moment. Witnesses are trained to see this type of sadness as leverage to get the Strayed Lambs to return. No matter how sad this is for me, or for her, I am not willing to be One of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“But why??” She almost howls the words, “Don’t you love Jehovah!?”
I take her now violently trembling hands between mine.
Very gently meeting her eyes the entire time I say, “No. I do not.”
“OOHHH!” She cries harder and pulls her hands away. “Don’t Say That!” She is shaking her head over and over while she continues to cry. Her voice has threads of her old stregth woven through it now.
I slide back a bit and sit cross-legged in the middle of the Harvest Gold linoleum. The suede of my kneehigh boots pets the floor. Softly resting my hands, palms down on my knees, I exhale one long breath as I watch her cry.
There is no way around this part and she is not going to like it.
“But why?” She finally asks.
“I have a number of issues with the God of the Witnesses and a number of other issues with the Organization. They are such serious issues that I am completely unwilling to follow such men or this God.”
My face stays gentle and my eyes clear. “I am willing to talk with you about my reasons if you want to hear them. However, I am not willing to lie to you. I am never going back to the Organization.”
She goes back to howling.
I keep breathing. I know she needs space for this grief. I have never insisted she hear my point of view about this Truth that she found more than 50 years ago. The Organization she raised her children to believe and follow with absolute loyalty. The religion she brought her sisters and parents into, making my children and their cousins fifth generation Witnesses.
The Jehovah’s Witness path, for our family, undeniably begins with Nana.
While she cries, I sit in the middle of her kitchen floor thinking about how I can best tell her I believe her Truth is a violent and trapping system.
“Why do you say these things?” She finally demands.
My hands still resting quietly on my jean-clad knees and my voice is calm and measured. “I saw the Governing Body and their policies harming people, especially people who are born and raised in the Organization. I saw what happened to the cousins and the kids I grew up with in our Congregation. I saw the results of this belief system on the families our family converted.”
My gaze never wavers as I speak my truth. “I am no longer willing to follow a God who believes killing 7 billion people is the solution to the world’s problems. I am not willing to be Loyal to an Organization that would disfellowship a dying old woman for allowing her granddaughter to care for her in her final days.”
This stops her tears and she looks at me with wide wet eyes.