Saturday, November 19, 2011

fathermothergod by Lucia Greenhouse

Lucia grew up in a Christian Science family and this is her memoir of life in a suburb of Minneapolis.
Lucia's book is not a primer on Christian Science but a view of the journey one family took mid-century. Lucia tells of the struggle she had with her parents when, as a teen, the writing on the school bulletin board became fuzzy. She fought for and was allowed to be fitted for glasses. Later in life she noted the irony of her father using reading glasses himself.
The majority of the memoir centers around her mother's illness. Lucia and her siblings discover that their mother is seriously ill in December of 1985. By then they were adults and realized their parents had hidden the fact from their children for some time. Believing that reality is in the spiritual and not the material, her father did not take her ailing mother to a traditional hospital but to Tenacre, a facility for Christian Science healing.
Heff had become a teacher in the church and was adamant that his wife would be, or was, fine. Lucia's parents concentrated on reading The Lesson and confessing health.
Lucia was not a gentle woman (by her own admission) and she details the turbulent relationship she had with her father as her mother deteriorated. When her mother appeared near death, she and her siblings finally convinced Heff to take their mother to a traditional, medical hospital.
The hospital staff began to work on the malnourished woman. They discovered a tumor. There was abdominal blockage and other medical complications. Lucia's mother gained strength after the first operation but the second one showed that the destruction within her body has gone too far for further medical help.
Many of Lucia's relatives were not Christian Science. When word got to them of her mother's condition, there was a great deal of anger and hurt that come out. Her uncle, a doctor, threatened a lawsuit, accusing Lucia and her siblings of intentional neglect of their mother.
While their father initially kept her away, Lucia was able to spend time at her dying mother's bedside. “I know that, according to Christian Science, it isn't the religion that has failed. It is my mother who has, and probably my father.” (205) “Soon, the shunning will be felt.” (206)
Her mother died in September of 1986. A year later her father married Heather, a Christian Science nurse her mother had known in London. Lucia's father became ill with what she thinks might have been ALS. She noticed the decline in his motor ability in 1997, the last time they had lunch together, at a diner. When her father's illness could no longer be hidden, Heather moved him to a country house. The one time Lucia forced a visit, her father stayed in his wheelchair. He never used his hands. Heff was placed in a medical center and the one time Lucia managed to visit him there, she was asked to leave. Hearing nothing for several months, Lucia received a change of address. Heather had taken Heff to Colorado where he died in 2001.
Lucia, married and with four children of her own, decided she needed to write her memoir. She talked to relatives, trying to understand why her parents became Christian Science. “Why, I wonder all over again, did my parents convert to a religion founded in Victorian New England by a thrice-married woman who dabbled in hypnotism and mesmerism (whatever that is, I still don't know) and came to believe her life was prophesied in the Book of Revelation?” (252) She realized that when Mary Baker Eddy founded Christian Science in the late 1860s, there was no penicillin, no aspirin, no X-rays, no chemotherapy. Surgery was dangerous. One probably stood a better chance of of being healed through belief than being entrusted to medical doctors of the day. (252)
Lucia today finds no difficulty living with ambiguity in her spiritual life and attends a nondogmatic style of church.

To find out more about Christian Science: http://christianscience.com/ 

Crown Publishers, 300 pages.

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