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A Significant Loss for an Ex-JW

Updated on June 30, 2021
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Brenda Thornlow is an author, animal advocate, & certified Reiki Master from NY. Her books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & iTunes.

As anyone who has been raised in the Jehovah’s Witness faith, the Mormon faith, or any other such religious group is aware, walking away from such a tight-knit, (dare I say) controlling community and beginning a new life on your own can be daunting.

Anyone who has read my memoir knows my background: I was raised a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness (JW), married a member with a position of authority within the church who turned out to be abusive, and was disfellowshipped (excommunicated) for leaving my abuser.

I was in no way prepared for the world outside of the JW’s. As any type of relationships outside the organization are forbidden, I hadn’t developed any significant friendships and I barely had a high school education as I was taught throughout my life that Armageddon (aka, the end of the world) was “just around the corner,” therefore the pursuit of higher education and a career were a waste of time. Worst of all, I was taught that any life outside of the JW organization was doomed. When Armageddon finally came, those who turned their backs on Jehovah God would be destroyed. In short: if I didn’t get my act together and work my way back into the good graces of the JW’s after I being disfellowshipped, I was a dead woman when the end of the world finally arrived. (For those not familiar with the teachings: only those who stay faithful to the JW religion will survive Armageddon and rebuild the earth into a paradise.) So, I only had one of two options from which to choose: stay married to my abusive husband and remain in good standing within a religion which never truly seemed right for me who taught that abuse was not grounds for divorce and that I simply must deal with it, or walk away from it all and sign my death warrant.

I took a deep breath and chose the latter.

Following through on this task was terrifying to say the least, but I was as prepared as one without any life experience could be. Though most of my family had turned their backs on me once I was disfellowshipped, my parents still kept the lines of communication open and offered to let me move back home. However, I knew what this meant: going back to the JW’s which, in turn, meant I’d be sending the message that turning me away for walking out on a very damaging and dangerous marriage was the Christian way. We’re talking about an individual who had spit in my face and slammed my head against a car window once, among many other things. The same person who found it funny when, while he was driving, if I bent over to reach for something on the floorboard, would slam on the breaks so I’d bang my head against the glove box and if I didn’t laugh along with him, he’d put me through hell. I was disfellowshipped, losing everyone and everything I had known my entire life, for divorcing this mess. I was not returning to a religion that punished me for that.

Around the time I finally stood up to him and the elders of our congregation, my friend “Katie,” a fellow Witness who had been slowly moving away from the organization for several years, introduced me to a friend of hers named “Robert.” Robert was coming out of a very dysfunctional marriage as well and as he and his ex-wife had children together, his situation was particularly heartbreaking.

Robert and I did date for a very short time but more importantly, we set that relationship aside and built a true friendship. Robert was the first real friend I made following my departure from the Witnesses. He had four children whom he was extremely close with; two boys and two girls. After a couple of years, I became particularly close with his younger daughter “Cara” who was ten years my junior. I was twenty-four-years-old the first time I celebrated Christmas and Robert was there to celebrate with me. When I celebrated my first birthday at twenty-five, he and his kids were there for that occasion. I had briefly met his ex-wife who was nothing but pleasant with me as she had already moved on to another relationship. When celebrating my first Thanksgiving I spent it, not only with Robert and his family, but with the ex-wife’s family as well. Everyone in his life had taken me in as one of their own.

One aspect of Robert’s personality I found fascinating was that he always helped others and never asked for one favor in return. According to the JW religion, no one like this exists outside of their organization.

Robert lived with his parents for a short while when he and his ex separated. Obviously, this was quite challenging for him. When he finally moved into his one-bedroom apartment, living by himself for the very first time, I lost my job and had difficulty finding a new one. Remember, I had no formal education and barely any work experience since most of my life had been dedicated to serving the JW’s. I was doing temp work here and there but was finding it hard to make rent and pay my bills. Despite Robert’s new-found freedom, he offered to let me crash at his tiny apartment until I got back on my feet. Shortly thereafter, Cara, being a typical teenaged girl, began butting heads with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend who had recently moved in. She ended up moving into Robert’s apartment as well. This is how she and I became close. As Robert left for work at the break of dawn, I would drive Cara to school in the morning, she would confide in me about the kids who picked on her at school or other issues she was having.

It took longer than I expected to get back on my feet and many times I berated myself for being so incompetent and Robert would not hear it. He constantly reminded me that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. It was difficult for him to completely understand what I was experiencing as only someone who had grown up in an extremely insulated religious environment could relate, but he did his best.

It wasn’t long before there were about five of us stuffed into this little one-bedroom apartment as there were more people Robert came across that needed help. Was the living arrangement ridiculous at times? Absolutely. But it was fun as well. I now had a new little make-shift family.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t at all easy to live with. I was coming out of a toxic marriage, therefore, my self-esteem was non-existent, plus I was embarking on a life that was completely foreign to me. A life that I grew up believing was dangerous and had no future. I missed my old friends and family and the only way I could have them back is if I bent to the will of the JW organization. A way of life that made me miserable.

Because of these conflicting feelings, along with the guilt and threats my ex was hurling at me, plus the difficulty I experienced attempting to live on my own, I was an emotional wreck. I cried over everything, lost my temper constantly, drank myself into oblivion, you name it. All the while, Robert and the rest of my new-found family never left my side. I’m sure there were times they wanted to kick me to death, but if that’s how they felt, I never knew about it.

Robert and I definitely had some cross words with each other. How could we not? And over the span of many years we’d have spats that led to some falling outs due to my repeating patterns when it came to men. It took me many years to break the abuse cycle and I ignorantly allowed those relationships to come between Robert and me more than once. However, whenever I realized my mistake and reached out to him, he was there for me, reminding me that I was only human. He never allowed me to berate myself which I was wont to do.

As usual, life got in the way and for the past couple years and I hadn’t heard from Robert or seen him much on social media. His kids have all grown and had kids of their own. I’ve stayed in touch with Cara but as she has several children of her own and lives across the country, it can be difficult to keep up with everything. Life can get too busy and time passes too quickly.

Recently, I discovered that Robert passed away, losing his battle with cancer. I knew he’d been diagnosed not long ago but he seemed to have been doing so well with his treatments that I was sure he’d pull through. It never crossed my mind that this generous, thoughtful and empathetic man could be taken from this world in such a painful and ugly way.

There’s so much I wish I could have said to him before he left this world. I know I wasn’t the only person whose life was touched by his unconditional love. Robert was the first significant relationship, first true friend, and extended family member I made after venturing out and starting a brand-new life after having those I once loved turn their backs on me.

Rest in peace Robert.


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