A former Jehovah’s Witness who says she was shunned by her family after leaving the religion has spoken of the loss she feels.
Victoria Summers, 40, was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses but struggled to cope with being a follower of the faith.
A ‘lifetime of unhappiness’ culminated in her decision to leave five years ago, but she says her parents still refuse to speak to her and have never met their toddler granddaughter.
On Saturday, she laid a bouquet of flowers and hung a poster outside the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ashbourne End, Aylesbury in ‘a quiet memorial to the family she has lost’.
For the first time this year, support group the Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses organised the Watchtower Victims Memorial Day – which will be on July 26 every year – to give former Witnesses a chance to commemorate the family that they have lost by leaving the faith.
The Bucks Herald contacted the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in London for a comment, but a spokesperson said they were unaware of the day and did not want to comment.
Victoria, of Rivets Close, Aylesbury, said: “It is devastating, but I have tried to move on. This isn’t a loud protest, it’s a memorial.
“The way I see it, if my family had died I would be able to visit a grave. It is a normal and healthy way to grieve. It’s a day of remembrance for me and my family.”
Victoria, who moved to Aylesbury in 2009, said growing up under such devout parents was tough.
She said: “It didn’t make me happy at all from a very young age. It alienated me from all my peers. I never had a birthday party and I was always the one saying ‘no’.
“I remember when I was about seven years old, a little girl came up to me and asked if I wanted to be her friend. I had to say no, because she didn’t love Jehovah.”
Despite doing well at school and being encouraged by teachers to enroll at university, Victoria said she was controlled by fear and drifted through her 20s and 30s door-knocking for 90 hours each month.
She said: “The message was implicit – if you want to make us proud, you will not pursue higher education.
“You will devote your time to door knocking. I did it because I wanted to make people happy, but I wasn’t happy.
“I should have been carefree and figuring out who I wanted to be. I did it because I thought that if I didn’t, I would lose everybody.”
She said she buried her feelings and entered into an unhappy marriage with a fellow Witness, moving to the island of Malta where she lived for five years before reaching ‘breaking point’.
Victoria, who works as an audio typist from home, said: “One day I thought: I just can’t do this anymore. If I don’t get out, I’m going to kill myself.”
After packing her life up into just five bags, she moved to London where she received a phone call from her father asking if she had lost her mind.
Victoria, who says she is now very ‘apathetic’ towards religion, said: “They were considering having me sectioned. I was shunned from that stage really – I had no one.”
Though she had hit rock bottom, Victoria forced herself to attend social clubs in the city to meet new friends and got talking to a man who is now her husband.
She said: “I immediately told him what had happened and he just understood. He became my everything – my social life, my family.
“We married after 18 months and I wrote a letter to my parents to tell them that I didn’t recognise their authority.
“From that moment on, I heard nothing.”
That was five years ago, and 19 months ago the happy couple welcomed their first daughter who is doted on by her paternal grandparents.
The family are able to celebrate Christmas and birthdays together – something Victoria never experienced for more than three decades.
The mum-of-one said: “I now have the life I always wanted. I’m at peace and settled, without this cloud hanging over me. My husband’s parents have been wonderful.
“Celebrating Christmas and birthdays for the first time aged 35 was a little strange at first. I had to get my head around it and came to the conclusion that these celebrations have little, if nothing, to do with religion.
“They are an opportunity to celebrate and spend time with the people you love, and my husband and his family really made a fuss of me on my ‘first’ birthday and Christmas, which made me feel so welcomed and loved.
“We still write to my family every couple of months to tell them about their granddaughter and have done since she was born, but my letters have never been acknowledged.
“At least I will be able to tell my daughter that I tried, and I will always tell her where her grandparents are.”