My sister died last week. My mom, stepdad, and I traveled (by car) to Spokane from Kansas. The trip was terrible for lots of reasons, but the one I want to talk about is the amount of Mormon guilt.
As followers of this blog know, I have recently de-converted from Mormonism. My mom took it surprisingly well, but my stepdad did not. We have never been close; he told me when I was 13 that no one would ever love me because I was fat. This from the "priesthood holder" in the house. I don't do well with male authority anyway, but especially not those that demand respect based only on their genitalia. I guess what I'm trying to say is my stepdad and I have pretty much hated each other since my mom married him 15 years ago.
Anyway, we're on the road, and mom wonders where my sister is at that moment, cosmically speaking. I pipe up "Well, according to your Mormon doctrine, she is in spirit prison to atone for her sins." (Basically Mormons believe that everyone but temple-recommend holding Mormons have a time to atone for their sins and accept the gospel before Judgement)
Mom didn't like that answer. She felt that my sister had suffered enough hell on Earth that she shouldn't have to suffer more in the afterlife. I pointed out that the very doctrine she believes doesn't make exceptions-and everything my sister did started as a choice. My mom responded that she hoped God would see how rough poor Stef had things, and go easy on her. Once again, me and my big mouth reminded her of her beliefs. "You believe God is fair. Why would he make an exception for her, but not for, say, a murder?"
By this point, my stepdad was upset. "God is fair! God is always fair! And God knows how much pain she was in here!" I said that the God I want to believe in doesn't hold people to a standard of perfection, knowing that they won't reach it. Now my mom starts crying, because she "won't ever see either of her kids in eternity, because [they] have chosen to live contrary to [their] beliefs." Then they started playing hymns.
The next day, mom was musing how Stef ended up where she was: eating disorders, alcoholic, etc. I said she'd been sneaking out to drink and party since High School. (Mom worked 70 miles away 4 days a week, so she wasn't around, and Stepdad never cared-he just did his own thing). Mom didn't believe me, so I told her that when she was gone, my sister would sneak out and not come home until 2-3 in the morning; and I'd know, because I stayed up waiting until she got home. I told her that Stef experimented with pot in High School, and other things she didn't want to know.
Then my stepdad looked at my mom and said "You know, I bet this is why the Church teaches that one parents should stay at home. We should have lived off my salary." ?!?!
First, how can you say that to someone that just lost their kid? It sounded to me like he was saying "If we were a good Mormon family, she would never have been rebellious." There are plenty of "good" Mormon families with kids that rebel. Rebelling is a part of being a teenager and thinking for yourself.
Second, in the past 15 years, he's made an average of 20K a year. Versus my mom's nursing salary. In his mind, poverty and following the prophet is preferable to...I don't know...being able to afford a house and not be on food stamps.
Third, anyone who has ever lost someone close can tell you that there is a tremendous amount of guilt. Survivor's guilt, guilt for things done in the past, guilt for things never done; the list goes on. How can someone throw more guilt onto that? How self-righteous can you be, to insinuate that your child's problems and subsequent death could have been prevented if only you'd lived in poverty and done things "the right way"?
It made me physically sick. The amount of guilt and shame Mormons heap on each other without even realising it is ridiculous. Even people responding on my mom's Facebook made comments similar to stepdad's. It's like people think that if they follow the good Mormon list, their kids will magically turn out to be perfect. It's blatantly not true. And it's so, so harmful to those that ingest these beliefs and judge themselves by it. I wish my mom could open her eyes and realise there is more to life than the to-do list of Mormondom. I wish she could find peace in both of her daughter's choices. I wish...