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Disassociation - Who is Shunning Who?

In the wake of Mr. Terrence O'Brien's comments in regards to shunning during the recent Australian Royal Commission Case 54, in which he stated that disassociated ones "shun the congregation" and not the other way around, I present this anecdotal evidence to the court of public opinion:

Nearly a week ago, my wife and I found ourselves in the same doctor's office waiting room as my mother. Despite the fact that we only live ten minutes apart, it was the first time we had seen her or even heard from her in six months.

Six months ago, on a balmy September evening, I went to her house to announce in person our decision to disassociate from the Jehovah's Witnesses religion because we could no longer abide the child sexual abuse scandal.

After a few hours of tearful dialogue, I was satisfied that I had explained our position to her in a way that she would accept it. As I got up to leave however, my mother gave me one last long hug, and then, as if turning off all emotion, stated that it was her wish that we no longer have any communication whatsoever...

Her request came as something of a surprise to me - we have always been very close, as is evidenced by the fact that I would often visit with her several times a week and we exchanged dozens of texts daily. In addition, she depended on my wife and I, as I would help her with yard work (and other physical chores that a seventy-year-old woman finds difficult to carry out) and, because she is on a fixed income and still heavily in debt, we would do our best to support her financially whenever we could, even if it meant giving her a little something for groceries.

Since that day, I have done my best to respect her wishes, despite the pain and sadness it has caused me. I still worry about her and often drive by the house just to make sure her car has changed positions in the driveway on a regular basis.

Now, getting back to the doctor's office: as it turns out, this particular doctor and her staff have known my mother, my wife, and I for decades, and somehow had been made aware of our current situation. As a result, over the past six months they have been keen to ensure that our appointments didn't coincide with one another, in order to avoid any uncomfortable encounters. Well, this time there was a mix-up in scheduling, and I found myself seated across from my mother in the waiting room.

Not noticing her at first, I had sat down and began looking at a travel magazine. Then, my wife whispered to me, "There's your mom." I looked up, and sure enough, there was my mother seated across from me: huddled in the corner of the room, silent and motionless, her body pulled in as if trying to disappear, her smartphone held in front of her face at such a distance and angle so as to hide as much of her face from my view as possible. In that instant, knowing that she hadn't responded to any of my texts since September, I wondered how she would react to us being there in person, face to face. So I thought I'd test it out.

Being so happy to see her, I instinctively flung myself across the room and landed in the empty seat next to her. She pretended not to notice as she continued playing Solitaire on her smartphone. I threw my arms around her, and whispered in her ear: "Hi Momma. I still love you." I gave her a squeeze as I hugged her. She stiffened up quite like a statue, and as I drew her in to me, to my horror, all I could feel were bones. She was so thin! My first thought was, "My God, they're killing her!", and as the anger set in, I started to phase out of reality. I looked at her again, her eyes now clenched shut, her face wincing as if I was hurting her. I felt embarrassed by the immediate thought that the other people in the waiting room who had witnessed the event were probably thinking that I had abused my mother in the past, by the way she was reacting to me. Collecting myself, I loosened my hold on her, and as I did, I whispered again: "Ok Momma, I understand. I'm going back to my seat now." At that statement, her eyes still closed, she half-nodded in approval, which was the only response I was able to evoke from her during the entire exchange. I returned to my magazine, not really looking at it, trying to process what had just happened. Within a minute or two, she was called back to the examination room, and that was the last we saw of her.

Shortly after that my wife and I were called back, and we were funnelled into the same examination room together, which was highly unorthodox. Still wondering what was going on, the receptionist closed the door behind her and embraced me. "I am so sorry", she whispered. "We saw the whole thing. I know she said you weren't talking because you had left the religion, but we never imagined it was anything like that. I can't understand how your own mother would treat you like that. I could never do that to my daughter." Still processing my own emotions, and fighting back tears, I was on some level glad they had witnessed it. "You know," I said to her, "the sad thing is that she is doing all of this for something that isn't real. My wife and I...", as I pointed back and forth between us, "...we're real. We're real." And that was all I could say, as I choked on my words and looked at her pleadingly. She hugged me again - a second time, this time I could tell, as a mother; the way she wanted my mother to hug me in that waiting room. After that, she apologized again, promising that they would never schedule us together again, and assuring me (she has no idea) that things would get better.

Later, my wife said she was proud of me for daring my mother to shun me in public. I hadn't thought of it that way. I just wanted to remind her that I wasn't dead yet, and neither was she. I wanted to show her what unconditional love looked like.

Since that day, I haven't received anything in the way of communication from my mother. It's as if it never even happened. I have, however, been by the house several times, and yes, the car is still in different spots of the driveway every time I've gone by.

So I ask you now, Mr. O'Brien, and you, dear jurists of the court of public opinion, and you, the world at large: Who is shunning whom?

Written March 2017.

Written March 2017.

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