Cult superstition: I thought my dad was possessed
Recently as I edited a client’s thesis on dementia, a memory of my own re-surfaced. One I am not proud of, but it gives an insight into cultish or religious superstition. The thesis spoke of the superstition of some cultures around dementia, where people can believe that those who have dementia are possessed by demons and are to be feared. Sufferers are then ostracised, bullied, prayed over with rituals, or even killed.
In 1995, in my early 30s, I returned home from the UK where I was still an active member of the Unification Church, and only in the first year of living with my husband from my arranged marriage. My father had a heart attack not long before and was still having serious health issues. He had been ill for decades actually. When I arrived, I was shocked at how old and thin he looked since I’d seen him just a few years before. He was only 56 but to me he looked like he was 70. I burst into tears.
“Why is she crying?” Dad asked Mum.
I quickly said, “I’m just happy to see you, Dad.” I didn't want to say, "You look bloody awful!"
I was a bit fragile as I’d had emergency surgery for a suspected ectopic pregnancy on my arrival in Australia a few weeks before, delaying the final stage of my travel to my parents in Bundaberg from Brisbane, Qld.
Late one night soon after my arrival home, Dad was roaming around the house, mumbling to himself. The sounds of him going from room to room all throughout the night scared me. This wasn’t the dad I knew.
We found out later that his blood was too thin from Warfarin, and he was hallucinating. His liver and heart were also failing. But instead of getting up at first to help him, I was scared. I stayed in my room behind the door. Why was I scared? This was my dad who had an enormous, beautiful personality and heart. Well, I thought he must be possessed by evil spirits! That’s where my mind naturally went (or unnaturally!). My immediate explanation for his behaviour was that he was being possessed or influenced by an evil spirit. OMG! I think I even prayed for him and for protection – from behind my bedroom door. It was when I finally heard a thump that I got up. He had collapsed on the bathroom floor. I am full of shame as I write this. It’s hard. My heart hurts.
You see, evil spirits were often blamed for many things in the Church: spiritual struggles, laziness, so-called evil thoughts, thoughts to leave the Church, even sickness and disunity between leaders and members.
Dad asked me to help get him up, but he was too heavy for me, so I told him to wait while Mum and I called an ambulance. All I could think to do was to pat him. “Stop patting me,” he said. (Ah, now I realise why I sometimes can’t stand my current husband patting me. That’s his love language. Clearly not my dad’s and not mine.)
A few weeks after this episode with Dad, he passed away. The night of his passing in hospital, we were at home sleeping. I had a dream early that morning that he came to me in a morning suit (he never wore suits except at funerals and weddings) and he was beaming at me with a wide smile. Not only that, but he also looked so young, like in his thirties. When I woke up the phone rang; it was the hospital letting us know he had passed away. I truly believe Dad visited me in spirit to say goodbye and to reassure me that he was okay.
Now, is that a superstitious thought too? Some will say, ‘Yep. There you go again!’ But I don’t think so. That’s a spiritual reality. At least in my current Wendy-mind. That’s my reassurance of his love and care for me.
Now that reminds me of the time the church leaders said I was possessed too and locked me up in a Melbourne apartment for weeks. But that’s another story…
Oh meet my dad Bob. x