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'My mum was always guarded and emotionless. On her death bed, she told me why.'

As told to Ann DeGrey

When my mum was dying of cancer, I spent three weeks beside her bed, holding her hand, talking to her, and trying my best to make her feel at peace with the world. It was a heart-breaking time but during these intimate moments she chose to reveal a deeply buried secret from her past—a revelation that totally changed my understanding of her and the life she'd led.

There were days when she had a fair amount of energy and other days when her voice was just above a whisper. It was on one of the days when she was feeling as though she was running out of time that she told a story of her youth, a time I had never known about.

She began her story quietly, telling me she had a secret to share with me, so long as I promised to keep it to myself. Once I promised her, she started with, "It was a very different time and I hope you don't think badly of me or your grandparents."

I had no idea what she was going to say and then when she told me; I was absolutely gobsmacked.

Her secret? She'd spent much of her youth in a religious cult her parents had joined, that she had long since escaped but never spoken of. I couldn't believe she was opening up to me, and I was absolutely fascinated by her story. 

Watch: The history behind the religious cult, 'The Children of God;. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

It all started when her parents had moved the family to a country town and befriended a seemingly kind church leader who invited them to join his 'alternative church'. Mum explained that this was during a time when her parents were searching for spiritual awareness, so they decided to visit the secluded church and they very much enjoyed what they saw. The church group presented itself as a haven for spiritual renewal and societal reform, appealing to young, impressionable people who were looking for a purpose. My mum was only six years old at that time and it was several years before she realised that the church was actually a cult, with doctrines that were strict and manipulative, cleverly disguised as "pathways to enlightenment". For example, the cult members were not allowed to have money of their own, it was all shared income. And people had to receive permission from the cult leader to marry and have children. The rules of the cult were strict but my mum was still able to attend the local school until the age of 12; kids over that age were expected to be home-schooled

It wasn't until she was almost an adult that my mum felt a jarring realisation: something wasn't right. This church wasn't about enlightenment; it was control. For example, she wasn't allowed to choose her own reading material, nor was she allowed to shower on her own (her mother had to be in the bathroom with her) and she wasn't allowed to use any store-bought sanitary products when she had her period. She wasn't allowed to wear clothes with buttons, because that was considered to be "vain". And she was also taught not to obey her parents but to obey the "church leader" at all times.

There were two turning points in my mum's life – firstly, the cult leader died suddenly, which led to arguments within the church about who was supposed to take his place. Then, my mother started dating a young man in the church who confided in her that he was on the verge of leaving; the majority of his family had already left.  

Mum and her boyfriend came up with an escape plan. They secretly gathered small amounts of money by doing odd jobs for non-cult members living in the local town. A friend in town offered to help the couple leave, giving them free accommodation for a while. But my mum knew it would break her parents' hearts if she disappeared without an explanation. She preferred to be honest, telling them she wanted a different life; thankfully they didn't try to stop her.  

While you're here, listen to this episode of True Crime Conversations where we deep dive into one of Australia's most secretive cults called 'The Truth'. Post continues after video.

Mum eventually moved to Melbourne where she met my father and it wasn't long before her parents left the church as well. The turning point for my grandparents came when the church leader instructed them to recruit new members from nearby towns. My grandmother went on one of these recruitment trips and met people who told her the so-called church was a dangerous cult and encouraged her to leave. These interactions planted seeds of doubt, and my grandparents began to see the manipulation and control they were under. Mum said that once her parents decided to leave, they fled early in the morning and never really spoke about it again.

Hearing my mum's story explained a lot about why she was always very guarded emotionally, trusting very few people. And while her story shocked me, I realised she was telling me her secret not to burden me with the information, but to release the burden from herself, that she’d been carrying for too long.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature image: Canva.

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