As a disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness I have had thoughts of suicide and have suffered with extreme loneliness.
Disfellowshipping someone after a dramatic life event and shunning them from their family and friends in a time of need is a common practice in the Jehovah’s Witness faith. I believe this is a contributing factor as to why so many people die from suicide after disassociating themselves, getting disfellowshipped or have not been able to live up to the high standards that Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to do.
The detrimental effects of suicide on family members are normally not discussed. Instead, many focus on the person who died and what got them to the point of suicide. No one, or no organisation is held accountable for what drove a person to do such a thing.
My sister and I were brought up as Jehovah’s Witnesses; I was baptised, from memory my sister was an unbaptised publisher. My solo mum, who still loves the religion more than me, will undoubtably continue her Jehovah’s Witness path until she dies. She loves Jehovah with ALL her might.
Rickie, Linda, Danny and a freaky doll
One day, two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on her door, they left a watchtower publication, which she took out of politeness. The next week when she saw them coming up the drive, she had a cunning plan where she thought she would crouch down so they couldn’t see her. However, they caught her through the window, so she had to open the door and said she had a bad back, she couldn’t stand up and couldn’t talk at the moment! The persistence of the two Jehovah’s Witnesses who initially knocked on our door managed to strike up a Bible study with her and the rest was history. This was something our family thought was quite humorous for years.
My mum was in a terrible state; her ex-husband was an alcoholic, he left us when I was 2 1/2 years of age. While we never went without, there was no doubt we were poor and mum was struggling. When a group of people showed love and compassion and gave my mother a community, she certainly jumped at the chance to become part of the world wide brotherhood.
I have various memories of my real father, Bruce Charlesworth. I remember him walking through the front door and breaking all the glass, this was after coming home drunk from the pub one night. Shortly after, my mum and he divorced. I recall him visiting once and giving me a stuffed Basil Brush toy and pushing it in my face saying, “Boom Boom”. I met my father again when I was 14 years of age when he came down from the North Island to attend my brother’s wedding. Ironically, he had the same sense of humour as myself. When I started travelling New Zealand, I thought I would call-in and see my father at the age of 23, he wanted to give me a gift, it was a piece of paper with a whole lot of usernames and passwords to porn sites. This was the biggest impression my father ever gave me as a dad, other than of having flashbacks of “boom boom”. Bruce Charlesworth smoke and he drunk himself to death, having lung cancer at the age of 53. A week before he died, he sent me an email disowning himself as my father, telling me that my mother had a bastard child, just when you thought it couldn’t get any more loving.
Family holiday with the Jones’ and Martins’ at Okains Bay
Let’s be clear, living life as a Jehovah’s Witness wasn’t all bad. I had a lot of friends. There was a small group of us labelled the “Rat Pack”, consisting of Tony, Jeremy, Paul, Grant and Kyle. We grew up together and we all had crushes on the same girls in the congregation. We all wanted the same things out of life, we experienced drinking alcohol for the first time together and we loved hooning around in our vehicles. I had an Austin 1100, Tony had a Ford Escort and Grant got one of the first Japanese imports with electric windows. Paul was a real rebel as he was into motorbikes. Another Ford Escort lover was my dear friend Jeremy. His father Murray was a mechanic and one of the best elders in the congregation, he would help us when things went wrong with our vehicles and also gave us a lot of fatherly advice.
Being brought up a Jehovah’s Witness and not having a father, meant I could ask the elders for a lot of advice. They certainly took me under their wing and helped me to be the person I am today. I used to say to people, ‘who needs a father when you’ve got five different elders in the congregation you can get advice from’, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were my family. Can you imagine what it’s like losing your virtual family and your real family in a heartbeat?
I was disfellowshipped the first time when I was about 22 years of age. I was devastated, I was lost and alone. I used to attend the meetings and I sat in the back row of the kingdom hall, bawling my eyes out at every meeting. The elders must have felt pity for me, as I was reinstated after only four months.
12 months later I got myself disfellowshipped again, then I spent the next 12 months trying to get back in again and finally gave up. My saviour, or from other people’s perspective, my pitfall, was controlling my sexual urges. Having sexual relations with anyone before you were married was not allowed and this was something I struggled with, hence why I was disfellowshipped and never got reinstated.
WHAT : DE HEK Podcast
I hope you can empathise with me as this is truly one of the most personal experiences to publicly post on my BLOG, broadcast on the WHAT: DE HEK PODCAST and stream on my YOUTUBE channel ‘but what the Hek’. I will let you judge whether the Jehovah’s Witness organisation had an impact on me, or my family members who died from suicide. This is pretty raw information so it’s not for people to read who want to continue living a sheltered life, so if this is you, stop reading now.
The organisation labels people who speak out about them as apostates and I was taught to avoid apostates at all costs. I believe this is one reason a lot of people don’t speak out about the organisation, as we don’t want to be labelled as bad. In the modern day, non JW world, it’s called discrimination. Another reason why it has taken me 30 years to discuss this, is my respect for my mother and for all the sadness she’s had in her life. I don’t want her to have any more pain as she feels she has already lost her son, daughter and husband. However, she just gets stronger in her faith every day as they are taught that they will get persecuted closer to the end of the system of things and need that increased strength.
The more I speak out about the religion and the effects it has had on my life, the bigger the wedge the organisation drives between me and my family. These days my immediate family hate me and the silence towards me is deafening. Their strategy is to shun you, in the hope that you were going to return to the flock, apparently this is done out of love for my welfare. The Jehovah’s Witness religion is one of the most selfish religions in the world, as it really is all about unconditional love for Jehovah at all cost. The hope is that if you are faithful, you will live on a paradise earth and every other wicked person will be destroyed, including family members and friends that have been disfellowshipped or who don’t follow the beliefs of the organisation. So, if you serve Jehovah and do exactly what he says you will get through, everyone else will perish and you will not have any grief to live with in paradise.
Danny de Hek
I’m a bit of a storyteller and I’m a pretty open person. The story I’m about to tell you has been inside my head for quite a few years and it’s time for me to share my story with you.
My stepfather and my sister both died from suicide at the age of 36. I believe they did it because of the pressures the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society puts on people to live up to the high standards. I was born in 1970, and have lived a pretty good life to date, but that wasn’t always the case. I’m not bitter and twisted, it’s just my life experience I’m sharing.
I’m very active on ex Jehovah Witness Facebook groups and comment on YouTube videos far too much. Often, I tell people that I’ve had two people in my immediate family die from suicide and I believe it is from the pressures that the Jehovah’s Witness organisation put on their lives. I believe that they couldn’t live up to the high expectations and this was the reason they died from suicide.
What blows me away is the response I get from Jehovah’s Witnesses. This peace-loving group doesn’t show empathy or any sensitiveness. Instead, they are cruel, unkind and harsh with their words, and they instinctively defend the organisation and dismiss any connection between suicide and the cult.
My story starts with me telling you a little bit about my stepfather, Robert de Hek. The reason I am called Danny de Hek is that I wanted to continue the family name. These are the names of my family: Danny de Hek (that’s me), Rickie Charlesworth (my half-brother) Linda Warfield (my sister) Trish Kidd (my mother) Samantha McConchie (my niece) Ashley Warfield (my nephew) and Robert de Hek (my stepfather) – we are family!
Robert de Hek and Danny de Hek
My stepfather Robert immigrated from Holland sometime around 1970, with his brother Bert, who lived in Auckland with his young family, while we were based in Christchurch.
Robert was the life of every party; he was funny and very witty. He was also one hell of a shopper, never satisfied or content. Looking back. I feel he was trying to find happiness by purchasing items. A typical Saturday morning saw us kids being filed into the HQ Holden station wagon and driving off to New Brighton Mall, often returning with a car full of stuff that we didn’t really need. From a kid’s perspective, it was fun times for us all and from the outside we probably looked like a normal Kiwi family.
A big part of my life was dealing with silent treatment. Robert would go for two or three weeks without talking to the family. However, when someone turned up unexpectedly, he would be perfectly normal, humorous and witty. And I assume when he was working for his clientele as a painter and decorator, he acted exactly the same. I believe he was either bipolar or battled with depression. However, I’m no psychologist!
Trish Kidd and Robert de Hek were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Anyone who didn’t know the situation at home would think they were just two normal Jehovah’s Witnesses who actively preached the word of Jehovah from door-to-door. Hopefully they didn’t look for people hiding in their houses!
The 1979 Mount Erebus disaster really affected Robert, so much so he spiralled down to a new low. One-day shortly after the disaster he decided to end his life. He told my mum he was going to kill himself, so she lay down behind the back of the car, so he couldn’t drive off. However, he said if she didn’t move, he would drag her inside the house. This was the last time my mother saw Robert alive.
He drove to our family camping spot in Coe’s Ford, and drunk whiskey from a glass milk bottle as he gassed himself in his car. Children on a school trip found him in the morning.
My mother was devastated, and the congregation elders quickly got involved. Alan and Dave came around in the evening and told my sister and I that my stepfather had taken his own life. I still remember forcing myself to cry as I didn’t even know what it really meant. I was nine years of age; my sister was eleven.
My mother blamed herself for his death and carried the shame associated with someone who showed disrespect for their life. Even seven years after Robert died, I would still wake to my mother crying. I would say, ‘are you crying about Robert?’, she would say, ‘yes’. I would say, ‘that’s okay as long as I know what you’re crying about’, and I would go back to sleep. This is what my life was like for many years. I do remember my mum locking herself inside the bathroom and we had to call a family friend to talk her out of the bathroom as she wanted to end her life. My mother and myself have a very close bond, even today it continues, even without her not having anything to do with me.
Rickie, Linda and Danny dressed for a JW meeting
After Robert had died, my half-brother Rickie Charlesworth resumed the position as the head of the house. He was just a teenager, more into his own life and very selfish showing little empathy and he was hard-nosed and stubborn. He was nine years older than me. I remember one day Rickie having an argument with my mother after Robert had died. She was complaining about something he was doing as he was washing his car. Nek minute, Rickie got so angry with my mother and he picked up the bucket of soapy water and threw it in her face. Rickie showed little respect for anyone, he employed a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, which was irrelevant, especially when Robert was around.
Anger was something that was hard to control for myself and obviously Rickie. I believe he is also a victim in all of this too. It would be fair to say that I don’t blame my brother for his actions, as it was a hard time for all of us.
Rickie had to move aside for the 18 months that Robert was in our lives, and after Robert had gone Rickie resumed his position as the head of the household. It was clear Rickie resented Robert; looking back Rickie did his best at trying to be a good provider for the family and to this day continues his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness. There’s no doubt Rickie had a major impact on my life; he was a role model, he got married at a young age, had three children (sadly for him all of these children are no longer active Jehovah’s Witnesses) and he also divorced. Recently his daughter got disfellowshipped, and despite living 10 doors down from his daughter, he is now shunning her from his life, hoping she will return to Jehovah and his earthly organisation.
I’ll be totally honest – a lot of my upbringing is actually quite blurry, and I can’t remember many other things from the age of 10 to 15. I still have a lot of flashbacks about things that happened.
However, I have a few more stories to tell. I do remember my sister at the age of 14 sneaking out of her bedroom window and doing what 14-year-old girls probably do, sneaking out to space invader parlours. The answer to this problem was, helping my brother nail her bedroom windows closed to prevent her escaping at night-time. Another time my sister had got a new 12 speed racing bike, which she loved, but as a punishment my brother decided to get it out of the garage and put it on the front lawn and turn the sprinkler on it. He told her that it would rust and be ruined, which was meant to force her to be a good girl, and to stop her from being a rebellious teenager. I didn’t help either, I remember spying on her walking home from school and watching her hide her cigarettes, to prevent my mother finding them. She would get angry with me when she found out her stash was destroyed.
With all the dramas that the family were experiencing, we did not know how to deal with the situation that we had been forced into. This all made my mother stick even closer to the religion, as it was like a crutch that she relied on in her time of need. Mum used to say she was unworthy to be a witness. I was ticking all the boxes as a Jehovah’s Witness, I even started auxiliary pioneering, spending 60 hours a month knocking on people’s doors, which made my mother very happy.
My sister became quite a wild child, she smoked, started doing heavy drugs and got into prostitution. Linda spent the majority of her time living life to the full. She was the life of any party and lived in Sydney for a few years, then finished up getting married. I remember her telling me that she used to tell her husband she was running a catering business and she would go out and prostitute herself at night-time. Once her marriage ended, she returned to New Zealand with Ashley who was only 18 months old at the time. At this time, I was flatting and one of my flatmates took a liking to my sister and they finished up having a relationship and she got pregnant. Andrew was disfellowship from the Jehovah’s Witness organisation for his actions.
Ashley Warfield and Samantha McConchie
My sister ended up having two children. When Samantha was born she got a severe case of postnatal depression. One day the police notified us that a family friend had reported Linda because she was trying to smother Samantha at the age of 2 1/2, which was a horrific thing to hear about for everyone.
Linda was admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital, drugged to her eyeballs and receiving electric shock treatment. She spent the next 2 1/2 years in and out of hospital, trying to get on top of her postnatal depression. She was a frequent visitor to Sunnyside Hospital, which was a mental asylum.
I remember Linda’s multiple suicide attempts. One that I will never forget was when she cut herself so much, she required 47 stitches up one arm and 25 up the other arm. I still shake my head when I read those words.
I received a screaming phone call from her one day. I rushed around to her house to see that her car been driven into the house. Linda and her lesbian lover decided to do a Thelma and Louise. Their plan was drinking a bottle of vodka each to give them enough courage to take their own lives. Somehow, this eventuated into an argument and Linda called me to fix it all. I remember razorblades, physically having to break up the argument, calling for police help, and having to convince the three police cars of police with their sirens blazing, that I wasn’t the aggressor. I told the police to look at their wrists and then we were rushed to the 24-hour surgery in a police car. The icing on the top was my sister telling me on the way, that she had been talking to my dead father all afternoon.
Linda Warfield at 34 years of age
I could tell you stories all day long. I always seem to be the person my sister would call when she got herself in the shit. We were actually very close, even if we did fight like cats and dogs growing up. I spent years supporting her, I lost count of the amount of times I had to move house. I had a relationship with her washing machine that I do not miss, especially the time she decided to live in upstairs apartment, and I had to carry it up the stairs. I would take her to her psychologist, I would even attend some of the sessions with her. I listened as she shared incredibly sad and very personal experiences, I will keep these between me and my sister.
One last freaky story – I decided to return home at 10 o’clock one Friday morning, my sister was then back at home living with the family again. She had the video, Pink Floyd The Wall, playing on TV extremely loud and all the windows of the house were open. I looked through the window and I could see her cutting herself with a razor blade.
I had to take her to the doctors immediately. I had to manhandle her into the car and throw a duvet over her as she was not clothed, she was then taken to the hospital in an ambulance. She had cut her wrist once again and overdosed on all the medication. The doctor said I had saved her life this time. If you looked at the arms of my sister, you would see racing stripes up and down her arms from previous suicide attempts.
Linda Warfield at 14 years of age
On 3 December when my sister was 36 years of age and on 15 minute suicide watch at Sunnyside Hospital, she took her own life by hanging herself off the window ledge with her belt. My stepfather Robert de Hek took his own life on 3 December and he was also 36 years of age!
There’s no doubt in my mind that my stepfather’s suicide and the pressures that the Jehovah’s Witness organisation put on individuals had an major impact on everything that happened in both Linda and Robert’s lives.
I don’t think it takes a psychology degree to know that people suffer with depression when they can’t live up to the expectations that a religious cult puts on people. This is why it is a known fact that many EX and Jehovah’s Witness people died from suicide. I know first-hand what it’s like to be excommunicated from something that you used to support yourself like a crutch. It’s devastating. I was excommunicated in a time of need, and I lost the majority of my family, including my mother, my brother. and all the people that I grew up with when I was trying to deal with all the things that were going on, and this still continues to this day.
I remember at the funeral, that we couldn’t hold at the Kingdom Hall, seeing all the family friends looking at me as I gave a speech about Linda’s day. I remember saying Linda has been planning this day for years, let’s celebrate it with her. Looking directly at those same families who help support us when we were going through terrible times, coming to terms with Robert’s suicide, who were no longer speaking to me because I was disfellowshipped. Yet here I was standing on the stage looking at those very people, I will never forget what I said.
‘If Linda was standing here and talking to you, she would’ve wanted to thank all the people that did those random acts of kindness for our family when we were growing up, including the Jones’, the Martins, and the Fords’. I said ‘this is a sad day for us but a peaceful day for Linda’. It was kind of an interesting experience, being able to look people in the eye and talk to them, while they wouldn’t talk to you, because they were still part of the Jehovah’s Witness cult.
So, I’m disfellowshipped, my mother is still clinging onto the Jehovah’s Witness organisation with all her life and simply loves the organisation more than her own son. My mother and I stepped in to continue bringing up Linda’s son, Ashley. So, she agreed to let me move into the sleepout at the back of the house and I would drop Ashley off at childcare in the morning and she would pick him up in the afternoons. This was probably the most normal my life had been since I was disfellowshipped. Mum was still trying to encourage me to come back to Jehovah, however I’ve had enough and was sick of the religion and I didn’t believe it anymore.
Danny de Hek and Trish Kidd
I have been through a lot with my mother. The Jehovah’s Witnesses disowned us when it came to my father, because at the time it was a shameful thing to show disrespect and take your own life, so they basically left us to it. We were not even allowed to have a memorial service in the Kingdom Hall for him. My mother was so upset at the time that we kids didn’t actually get to go to the funeral. For years, I wouldn’t have been surprised if my father turned up again. I didn’t get an opportunity to even say goodbye to Robert de Hek and I had no closure.
I was disfellowshipped at the age of 23 but moved back to the family home to help bring up my nephew Ashley. Samantha was looked after by her father who had been reinstated as a Jehovah’s Witness and also got married. We used to get the kids together in the weekends so they would have some family association. At this time Linda was still alive and was still battling with addiction and at one point she did move back to the family home as well.
This religion has only caused us anguish. It’s been a crutch for my mother and to be honest it probably was for me at one stage as well. I don’t resent the people in the religion for the way they treated my mother or our family. I simply do not believe it is the true religion and I see the other side of it, the money-making side of it using people to keep the organisation running.
Sure, my stepfather and my sister may have had mental health issues and could’ve listened to the advice from the elders who had no training in this area. The Bible states that you shouldn’t show disrespect for your life, as it is a gift from Jehovah. There’s no such thing as mental health in the Bible. These days the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it’s a sickness, but they still won’t let you have your memorial service in the kingdom hall when you take your own life, so I think they’re just trying to keep it PC.
Ashley, Trish and Sam the day we spread Linda’s ashes
Samantha was brought up by her father, Andrew, and is now married and has started her own family. A lot of what happened with her mother she was sheltered from and doesn’t like me talking about it. Even though her curiosity got the better of her once and she did want to know more, she’s still trying to process it all. In the meantime, she gives me the silent treatment.
Ashley tried living with my brother for a few years, which didn’t last long, eventually moving back to the family home and lived with my mother. The only relationship Ashley has with his family is with my mother. I’ve always treated Ashley like he’s my son, he thinks I should just let my ageing mother push her religion on me. Ashley has stepped up when it comes to looking after the welfare of my mother.
I’m proud of my sister’s children Samantha and Ashley. I’m also proud of my brother’s children, Levi, Jessie and Jasmine, especially as they haven’t let this organisation bog them down and have got on with life. They probably think I am a crazy uncle who has a chip on his shoulder about the Jehovah’s Witness organisation, which is probably not too far from the truth. I honestly feel It’s one of the most selfish religions in the world, but I am no longer a brainwashed, heartless robot that knocks on your door.
The survivors from our Jehovah’s Witness family group – Taken 2019
They used to talk about the elders in the congregation, as shepherds looking after their sheep. If you think about any shepherd that you know, normally he’s trying to keep the flock together so he can take them to the slaughter to make a living. This isn’t far from the truth. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is a man-made religion, and their numbers are declining at a steady rate. They are now sending missionaries out to third world countries, seeking lost sheep. I truly believe they’re doing this to get their numbers up again.
It is saddening to think that if I did die or I took my own life, like I could’ve done, whether any of my family would ever miss me or shed a tear. Imagine contemplating whether you would attend a funeral if someone from your family dies – doesn’t that sound like an unnatural decision to make?
I will never get closure, and I’m certainly no prodigal son. These people that hang onto the “truth” like my dear mother would simply not be able to survive without her belief of a paradise earth she is too far invested in. With the constant repetition of brainwashing techniques that you are continuously bombarded with when attending the meetings, it is too hard to just walk away and start a whole new way of thinking. After all they have your family and friends.
If you get involved with The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and you choose to turn your back on Jehovah, the first thing they will do is strip away your family and friends and they say they do this out of love! This one action alone can push people over the edge, just like they did with my sister Linda and my stepfather Robert.
The aftermath of being part of this organisation, is life changing and it affects people differently. For me watching my nephews and nieces navigate out of the religion cult compels me to speak out. I am a survivor and there are many other survivors. If you are one of them and you feel lonely or depressed you’re welcome to join our Community on our private Facebook group “Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses Family” you can share your experiences with a new family.
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