Prayer was the most insidious part of my religious indoctrination

Last time I shared a prayer that I printed out for a certain someone who doesn’t want me to write about her here. I hope it helps her. You might think sharing that was an odd thing for an atheist to write about, but I don’t. I think it opens the door for me to share what prayer meant to me when I grew up.

First of all, excuse the simplistic format and words… I came up with this when I was around eight or nine years old. This was more or less my standard prayer every night:

God,
Bless Mommy, Daddy, Christopher,
Toby, Honey, Cheeky and Chirpy,
And me, if that’s the way it should be.

Thank you for [this changed every day]
Please can I [this changed every day]

There’s one thing that jumps out at me from those words: I did not believe I deserved to be blessed. And that’s a problem. (But that’s what Christianity teaches. We are born in sin and shame and are unworthy. That’s precisely what makes Christian beliefs harmful and that’s why so many humanists call Christian indoctrination a kind of child abuse.) My format was based on a book I’d heard someone read aloud at school – the name long since forgotten… In the book, a boy prayed in this format where he blessed everybody and left himself for last. Something like, “And lastly, bless little old me”. But I changed it and added the bit about not deserving to be blessed. Also I changed the words slightly over the years, but those are the ones I remember.

Here’s what I take out of this:

  1. If you look at the prayer I printed for my partner, her Christianity must be quite different to my former beliefs. I would never have considered reading a ready-made generic prayer and inserting the subject I wanted in it, like a template. Never. Everything always had to be in my own words, and I’ve been comfortable expressing them in writing since I was seven years old. It would not feel sincere to read out someone else’s words.
  2. I never did get my head around praying to Jesus, let alone infant Jesus.
  3. Toby was the family cat. He was a kitten born to a cat we had when I was five years old and he died when I was sixteen. In fact, I took the day off school because he wasn’t well, and my father was meant to come take him to the vet, but he died, in my hands, before that could happen. Honey was a golden Labrador, obtained from a school friend’s parents who emigrated when I was eight years old. Cheeky and Chirpy were budgies, and I don’t remember exactly what year they lived, but I am guessing at around my ninth year.
  4. Cheeky and Chirpy were the first pets I remember dying. (Cats like Toby’s mother had died before then, but those don’t register as memories for me. Maybe I hadn’t gotten my head around death and mortality until then.) I changed the words of the prayer, but their names stuck in my head because I’d been saying it that way for over a year. Thereafter changing the names in each prayer required conscious effort.

My prayer wasn’t just a religious thing. It was my link to my childhood. It kept those pets alive in my heart and mind. Also, this is a reminder of something else… Christopher became Chris sometime in high school, because other people called him that. If it had been me, and people called me Jay instead of Jerome, the name would not have stuck. My brother was always different to me in certain way related to peer pressure and outside influences. There was a phase where he went to someone else’s church and picked up their ideas, which upset my mother. I, on the other hand, even used her religious belief as an excuse (when I was 12 years old) to avoid going on a school outing to other churches. In truth, I would not have been influenced by other churches. More likely I would have rejected them all sooner. I think I knew that deep down. Catholicism, and prayer, had sentimental value to me. They kept me childlike and helped me not to forget my love for lost pets, and kept Chris as Christopher in my mind.

I didn’t want to let go of my childhood. I didn’t want to grow up. But also, I felt guilty if I didn’t pray at night. Now this might not make sense, but I continued to pray for several years after I stopped believing in god. It’s hard to explain, but the guilt kept me from being able to stop, even if it meant that absurdly I prayed to a god I didn’t believe in. Just like, for whatever unknown psychological reason, it took me over ten years to begin thinking of my brother as Chris, it took even longer for me to let go of prayer.

Maybe it isn’t only about indoctrination and guilt, but also about my own reluctance to change, but I found it especially difficult to let go of prayer. It was the most difficult part of my personal journey into atheism.

My brother is my only link to those days now, since all those pets are long gone and both parents too. Funny how it works… my changes and my journey through the years feel natural to me, so I still feel like the same person – I am the same Jerome who was the child who remembers all these things as an adult. But it’s different now and I don’t perceive others as being the same. My brain has compartmentalized Chris and Christopher almost as if they are two different people. Christopher is my baby brother, the one I would lay down my life protecting. Chris is… someone else. It’s really difficult to explain, but at least we are closer now than we were a few years ago, since I (rightfully) lost his trust in my years of addiction. And then got it back, but it took some time longer than I expected. Maybe that’s a subject for another day… when we stop using drugs, we expect too much of those who know us, we expect them to know that we have changed long before there is any way they can possibly know.

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So now I’m a loner who doesn’t like to be alone

All my life, I’ve been a loner. As a child, I lived in my own imaginary world. Hard to explain what it was – the closest is probably the world from the movie Ready Player One, where the protagonist spends most of his time in a virtual game world, except I didn’t flesh out what the real world looked like in my mind, and my characters were all named Hmmmph or something to that effect because my world was visual in my head and nobody needed names. I only came out of my shell at around 12 years old, and then struggled with relationships with real people. My imaginary ones were so much more friendly. After that, I spent much of my time in every human relationship trying to find ways to get away and be alone.

Ironically today I am alone and I don’t like it at all. Josh is sleeping over at a friend, while Megan and Aishah are at one of Megan’s friends. So here I sit with nothing to do.

Earlier I sat on the balcony, looking down at the half tree that Mervin, my mad downstairs neighbour, has cut down – even though the trees belong to the body corporate in this complex. He was busy with some kind of loud machine in his flat all day. His flat that smells of piss… so I hear. Just for a moment I found myself about to call out, “Mom”, because she was quite fascinated with mad Mervin’s antics. Just for a moment I almost forgot that she died last December.

It’s weird… I’m over her death… mostly. But it still feels like a shock, like she isn’t meant to be gone. I’m fine most of the time and then out of the blue, it all comes back. I suppose it’s worse when I’m alone.

It’s great having Megan back here. There were only two people in the world who ever really got to know me, my mother and Megan. But still… we have grown apart over the years. I think when we had a relationship it was the drug habit that brought us close together. Without that, it’s difficult to relate to her. I don’t think we’ve had one deep conversation. I don’t know if we can. It’s like we are not on the same level at all.

It’s not so bad though… My focus is on Josh and his sister. Except for today, as I sit here and wonder what the fuck to do. I played Diablo most of the day. Having had both my hardcore characters die at around Paragon level 800, I started playing a seasonal character for the first time in January. Today I finished tier 5 of the seasonal journey, but I can only play for so long and I zone out.

I’m writing this while uninstalling Visual Studio 2015, because I have Visual Studio 2019 to install. But I don’t know if I really feel like doing that tonight… I might just go sleep rather.

There was more I intended writing but now I don’t feel like that either. It really is shitty sitting here alone.

I’m not depressed–just sad and I miss my mom

I noticed that my posts about my mother have raised concern for at least one regular reader… So I’m writing this at lunch time at work; something I never normally do.

Don’t worry. I’m not depressed. Overall, I’m feeling pretty good about life. Not having my mother around combined with my laziness and habit of buying precooked meals, rather than eating her home-cooked meals every night as I was, has led to me losing a little weight. Not enough to be able to see it, mind you, but yesterday’s blood test results revealed that my cholesterol has actually gone down. Plus not smoking is going well. I’m actually healthier than I was.

But when I’m feeling down, I write about it. It feels good to let it out, and after a friend mentioned on Facebook that my statuses about my mother’s death help him deal with his feelings, I figured sharing them might be good not only for me. So I write them. This blog has become the outlet for a bunch of different things: my feelings about recovery; serious posts about atheism; serious posts about other humanism-related things like feminism; and sometimes I just pour my personal feelings out here. There’s no rhyme or reason – I just post what’s on my mind.

And with that, here are the two most recent photos of my mother. They were taken way back in 2014, at Josh’s sixth birthday party, and feature my mother pushing his sister Aishah, then 11 months old, on a swing.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I miss my mother.

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I keep thinking of the strange naked man waving at me at the hospital

Today is Sunday, the dreadful day where I smell the ghost of Sunday roast, and miss my mother. Sunday is always the worst.

But another memory haunts me today – the odd image of a naked man sitting up and waving at me in the hospital, a detail I haven’t mentioned to anyone up until now. To put it in context, I have to go back to the day my mother died. And with apologies, I have to refer to one other person by name. Abby, my brother’s ex wife, was my mother’s only other friend at the end.

It was Friday, December 7th 2018 and was always going to be a bad day. The third consecutive day with my mother in hospital, after her bronchoscopy went wrong on the Wednesday, and was also the day of my work’s year end function. So I had to dress up smart for once, and prepare myself for hours of social interaction. I do OK at these things lately – Hell I can even be charming, but it drains me. Just because you can’t see my social anxiety doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Before going to work, I drove to Abby’s house. I’d washed and dried panties and pajamas for my mother, and she had arranged for Abby to bring them to her. This suited me because I thought I’d visit later, during visiting hours. So before going to work, I dropped the bag of underwear at Abby’s house. Then I went to work. The plan was, go to the year end function at 12:00, stay only for two hours, and leave to be able to get to the hospital for visiting hours at 3PM.

At around 10AM my mother called me, and as always apologized for calling me at work. (In retrospect I wish she’d called me more often.) She told me that she’d only just found out the bronchoscopy has gone wrong because she’d had an asthma attack – this was news to both of us because we thought the procedure was done and she was coming home. And she told me that they would try to remove the fluid from her lung by draining it with a needle. (I’m sorry – I have mentioned most of this before but I can’t write it without this context.) I asked if she would be anaesthetized but she didn’t know and she said that they were still going to explain the procedure to her. That part of the conversation is so fresh for me – it’s crazy. I can still hear her voice. When I think of this, it’s like she’s still alive in my head, and it tortures me. I wished her luck and that was that; I had no idea this would be the last time I’d speak to my mother.

I was getting ready to leave for the work year end function at 11:55AM when I got the call from the hospital. All the nursing sister would tell me was, “Her situation has changed and you need to get here as soon as possible”. I feared the worst but did not know. It was better not knowing.

This (and the paragraph about dropping panties off), I have not written before because I didn’t want to mention Abby by name. I drove home as fast as I could. I didn’t want to drive to the hospital but decided to Uber in case the worst happened and I might be too emotional to drive. So I went home and checked on Josh, who was already on school holiday but playing with friends who live in the same complex. Then I walked outside the complex and ordered the Uber. It turned out the nursing sister had tried phoning Abby as well, since my mother had listed her also as next of kin. But they hadn’t gotten through to her because she’d lost signal… after already arriving at the hospital and getting the lift to the floor where my mother was. So Abby was already there. She called me twice; once after I got home to let me know that my mother had gone into respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest but they were trying to resuscitate her, and once again just after I ordered the Uber, she told me my mother had died.

Conversations with Uber drivers can be awkward already, but imagine the talk we had after I found out, in that two minutes while waiting for the Uber to take me to my mother in hospital, that my mother had died. I don’t know why she had to tell me like that. I was on the way, and it would have been better to find out from the hospital staff. But regardless, that’s what happened. She was overcome with emotion too, so I don’t blame her. It was a horrible way to find out though.

After the long walk to the other side of the hospital, the staff asked me to wait in the room with Abby. They were still removing tubes and so on so that I could say goodbye to my mother. Seeing her body was heartbreaking. She was still warm, a reminder that if I’d put her before my work, I might have seen her alive one more time. I will never put work before family again.

Then, I stood at the nurses station with a few forms to sign, and collect her handbag. The surreal moment that gave this post’s title came then. Abby was to my left, facing at an angle towards me and the hospital staff, who were behind a desk to my right, facing half toward me and half toward her. But several meters directly to the front, at such an angle that only I could see, was the door to the ward. As if in a dream, a naked man sat up on his bed at the back of the ward and started waving at me. Frantically he waved and waved, though to me in my daze after seeing my mother’s dead face, looking at her chest hoping for it to rise and fall but of course it did not, the man was moving in slow motion. Hesitantly, sheepishly, I raised my left hand and waved back. “Hi, buddy”.

It was as if I’d gone into one of those cheesy horror movies. The man was a ghost that only I could see. Indeed, in my younger days I might have convinced myself of some supernatural significance. I’d have believed it was no coincidence that only I could see him; that only I could see him. Yet now I wonder stupidly what he wanted… Maybe he was a friend to my mother in those few days and wanted to give his condolences; maybe he had a message for me; maybe he was just a lonely old man who waved at everybody. I’ll never know.

Weird memories, and I wonder why we collect unnecessary stuff

Today is my second day at home, as advised by a doctor. It’s not so bad – it was just a bit of gastro and some other stuff that needed checking out. I just got home from a medical center where they did some blood tests.

My main issue is that I am always tired. As in, I get up early but also fade too early and I can sleep any time. It’s 10:55Am now and I could go sleep for a few hours quite easily. So it worries me – besides it being very annoying and leading me to drink too many cups of coffee at work, I need to know if something is wrong. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

The medical center where they did the tests came with an eerie sense of familiarity, from the crummy waiting room to the dreary office to the nursing sister with her old fashioned hair (in memes her name is Karen and she’s always calling the manager) who took smoke breaks in the parking lot behind the offices. It was only when I made the payment that I realized why…

They already had my name, ID number, and cellphone number. I had been there before, back at the end of 2010, after Megan and I relapsed and my brother insisted on taking us for blood tests. Quite unnecessary of course, as I always told the truth. A year or so after that, I liked dealing with the social worker at child welfare because she understood me – if she asked me to do a test I’d simply tell her there was no need because I’d test positive for meth. Funny how they always took my word then, but would probably not if I said I was clean. Meanwhile in reality, I always tell the truth about this. So if I say I’m clean and have been since September 2013, it’s because that is the truth. I was always open about my meth use, and likewise am open about sobriety. But I digress…

It was interesting to be back there for completely different reasons. I spoke with the nursing sister about the past, about Josh, about my mother’s recent death… It was nice to talk to someone, even a stranger. I don’t have that – with my mother gone there is no adult here to talk to at home. There isn’t even anyone to give me birthday or Christmas presents – she was the only one who still did. Soon it will be 2 months since she died, on the day after my brother’s 45th birthday. I wonder if I should wish him? He didn’t wish me last October (and I think he was angry with me at the time) but now we are talking and getting along again. So I wonder if I should… Ironically he hates birthdays; I’m the one to whom they have always been important.

The point of this post – and sorry it isn’t much to save for the last paragraph or two, is the old woman who had blood tests before me made such a fuss of getting the payment done, getting the document for her medical aid, and getting the piece of paper for her “records at home”, it made me think of my mother again. She had three large boxes of records going back twenty years. I don’t think she even knew how much she had because some of it was never even unpacked when she moved here. But I found them and went through them the other day. I had to throw everything out.

We keep all these things. They seem important. Pieces of paper that mean so much to us. But then we die and those things are left behind. None of it matters. None of it means anything.

I too am a hoarder. But I need to stop collecting rubbish that will one day bring nothing but tears to my son when he sifts through years of crap after I’m dead. It would be better if I got rid of everything that isn’t really important. I’ trying to make things better for him when he grows up, be there for him, but it’s difficult when I am so miserable and so very tired all the time.

Lately I’m struggling

Lately my emotions are all over the place. I randomly remember my mother, a call made to me at work, a conversation at home, the words every night when Josh called out to her… “Goodnight granny”… “Night Josh, sleep tight”… “You too”… and it breaks me. It’s like she’s still alive for a moment, and then the memory of her death last month hits me again. And again. Every time it hurts. I remember her body, still warm, when I eventually made it to the hospital that day – and then the realization that her body was reduced to ashes laying in a box in the lounge cupboard.

Josh isn’t making this any easier. Some days he doesn’t listen to anything I say, anything at all. Some days he flat out refuses to do even the simplest thing. Tonight I sent him to bed without supper after he refused to eat it when I requested. Then I gave in to him and let him get up after half an hour.

In the kitchen stands the blender she bought to make smoothies in October, bought and hardly used. The kitchen cupboards are packed full of her neatly labelled containers. Even the artificial sweetener that only she used. Fat lot of good it did to cut out sugar, huh? Her cake of personal face soap lies under a fine layer of dust on the right hand side of the bathroom basin. I’ve run out of other food and had to shop weekly to replace it, but still have 12 fucking litres of milk because they last forever now, and two days before she died, she bought six that I didn’t know about while I was at work.

Mostly it’s that last phone call she made to me the morning before she died. I was going to visit her in hospital, and would have seen her alive once more if she could just have lived a few hours more. I wonder pointlessly… If the hospital staff realized that her reaction that prevented the bronchoscopy from working was to the medication, then why use similar medication for the procedure that ended up accidentally killing her? But thinking about that changes nothing. Sure, she might have lived longer. But she didn’t.

I torture myself thinking about how things might have been different. A thousand little things, done differently over time have a thousand different effects and each action leads to a slightly different future. So many things could have saved her but none of them did.

It’s after midnight. Lately, if I stay up this late, my thoughts will keep me awake until after four.

Death can bring a new lease on life

Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest place. When I first heard that phrase I loathed it, although I love the song and most everything else by Wayne Hussey, but lately I’ve been thinking that maybe it can be true.

My mother’s recent death devastated me. I’m still not over it, although it is getting better. Just yesterday I found her artificial sweetener used for tea and coffee in the cupboard and remembered how much I miss her curry. She made it differently to everyone else, having learned an old fashioned technique of dissolving curry powder in a little vinegar from her grandmother. The end result is that all other curry tastes powdery to me while hers was stronger, since the spices permeated deep into the meat. All this, I got just from opening the kitchen cupboard. There are so many little things that trigger sad (and sometimes fond) memories for me lately.

But there is one positive thing that has now come out of her death… I realize that I’d lost my way a little, in terms of my priorities – lost sight of what is important. Though I try to be a good parent to my son, lately I didn’t have enough energy left for him after going to work too early, and putting too much of my life into that. Work is a necessary evil. But putting everything into it? Putting your all into a job that enriches others where you get underpaid and a pat on the back for making them millions, but a reprimand for human error, putting in your all to be treated like little more than a slave… that’s no good.

I’ve reached a point where it is clear what is important. And what isn’t.

My son is important. He is the most important part of my life. I’d like to be there for his sister too when I can, but I’m not going further into that today. The point I’m trying to make is that family is important. Our loved ones should be our focus. Our time with them is limited and we need to make the most of the time we have. Treasure every moment because it can end at any time, and don’t waste personal time being a slave to anyone else making their fortune.

I’m not saying work isn’t important. It is. I will redouble my efforts to ensure that my work is the highest quality, and remain as helpful as I can to those with whom I work, but only within certain boundaries. The purpose of work is to earn money to survive, to finance my personal life. If work crosses over that line and interferes with my personal time, it has defeated its purpose.

From now on, my focus is on my family.

The cycle of sadness

Yesterday I apologized for writing another post about my mother on Facebook, and people replied not to apologize… One man even said he loved those posts because it expresses exactly how he feels about his mother who died six years ago. It’s weird how my most personal posts, the ones I at first expected to be ignored, are always the ones that people share the most and identify with. We aren’t that different after all. So maybe reading this can be as therapeutic as writing it.

I just made myself breakfast, and in the process discovered a large container of cereal that only my mother ate. Likewise there is a calcium supplement and some kind of Berocca, a brand name and also a supplement, laying on the kitchen counter. I have not been able to find the will to move or remove them.

Last week I finally arranged for a helper to come clean the flat, which seems weird because I have never in my life had a maid. That’s something my parents would do when I was a child. In the process of cleaning up, she found two cups in the fridge, one filled with leftover gravy and the other cheese sauce, because my mother had cooked a roast for us as usual that Sunday before she died last month. Those two cups are still in the drying up rack a week later. I have not the strength to remove them.

The above sums up how I have felt these last 4 weeks. I remain in shock. She died so quickly… every day I recall that last phone call to me at work when she told me the procedure that would be carried out in the hospital. I was to attend my work’s year end function, and had planned to leave early so that I could be on time for hospital visiting hours. My only worry was that she might go home before that, or be in transit while I left the work function. Her death, only two hours after that call, took me by such surprise, it remains fresh. Every day, I replay that call in my head. Every day I hear her voice telling me that the bronchoscopy had failed because she had an asthma attack, and that they would try to remove the fluid from her lung with a needle. Every day I relive the shock of her sudden death. I expected her to be home soon, and certainly before Christmas, and it’s like I can’t move forward… I’m stuck in December 7th 2018, reliving those hours over and over again.

Tomorrow Josh starts grade 5. I must still iron his clothes and get fresh bread so that I can prepare lunch for him. I’ll be on leave still the rest of this week, and must also call Harold, who runs his lift service, to say I will drive Josh to and from school the rest of the week. I must also find out about aftercare, since my mother no longer being here means I can’t let Josh come home and be alone while I am at work (from next week onwards). I may have to cancel the lift service completely, and then leave early from work every day to collect him from school in future. As with everything else, I think of these things, the practical things to do today. But then later I will remember to be sad again. It’s a cycle I’m repeating… distract myself with everyday life and menial tasks, then my thoughts wonder back to that phone call, or something else, some random object triggers a memory, and the cycle of sadness repeats.

I have more to write, lots more, but will save it for another day.

Josh and I yesterday (02 January 2019)

I was typing another miserable post and I thought to myself… Wait… Why so serious? So here’s yesterday’s photos instead.

Josh asked me to take a new profile picture, and so I took a few photos. Then I discovered Facebook has this new annoying rounded cropped image feature, where the least zoomed version of each image will still crop out details… So then I took some more photos. One of the last few with him in front was usable (without the crop).

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I’m looking old. Wish I could fix that…

I am not coping well with this grief

It’s after 1AM and in my insomnia I just raided the fridge, settling on six tablespoons of double cream Clover strawberries & cream yoghurt. But in my search I stumbled on the plastic container still containing two nectarines my mother left there. A week before she died earlier this month, she’d asked me to bring a nectarine to the hospital. But seeing them still there now nearly broke me down again.

I’m struggling. Sunday is not Sunday anymore, not like it was. Sunday was the day my parents made a roast, until February 13th 2000 when my father died, on his 57th birthday. Then my mother took up that custom. For a time, I wasn’t around, but after she moved into my flat in 2011, having no place else to go, she brought the custom here. I do not have the strength to continue doing so myself, not yet. Somehow preparing meat, potatoes and vegetables myself will defile the day for me.

I used to hate her fucking potted plants. Everywhere. There are seven or eight of them around the edge of my tiny balcony, and more on the corner piece of furniture in the lounge. She used to call that the knick-knack or something – I forget what. I remember only my name for it when I mocked her: the crap-knack. And there are more plants in the kitchen. I have not been able to make myself get rid of a single plant.

Just a short while before she died, she sat beside me as she often did in the evening, half asleep and half watching me play Diablo 3. I’d recently bought the Necromancer pack, and played my new character through story mode and into adventure mode… she asked how I could see what was going on on the screen… because with this character (unlike my demon hunter that just attacks everything in all directions non-stop), I kill enemies and then raise some of them to fight for me and kill others, which I then raise, and so on… So there are always monsters all over the screen, some of which are on my side. She found it confusing. Today this conversation came back to me, as if she were sitting on the chair beside me.

Again, in my mind’s eye I saw her sitting at the dining table, holding her head in her hands as she struggled to breathe. And I heard her voice when she called me on the day she died, called to tell me what procedure they were going to do. I thought she would be home by Christmas.

This grief. This loss. It’s horrible. If I may give any advice to anyone who might listen… don’t let a parent move back into your house in their old age, don’t get too close, and don’t let them become a dependent to you, if you can possibly help it. Because it hurts more than you might expect when they die.