I drove my black VW bug home from school one sunny spring day of my senior year of high school, walked in the front door of my house, and in the living room sat my sister, my mother, and two well meaning ladies. This in itself was unusual, but what they were up to was bizarre. I felt immediately engulfed into the “Twilight Zone”…
My sister was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was about five years old. This is the way I remember it; she and I were watching TV in my parents bedroom alone when she, without a word, simply got up and starting changing the channel…incessantly. I was annoyed and yelled at her to stop. But she didn’t stop. In fact it was like she didn’t even hear me. I tried to stop her physically and when she looked at me it was with blank eyes…like she was gone. I ran into the dining room where my mom was with her best friend, Peggy, and said, “something’s wrong with my sister.” They asked me what was wrong and I explained to them what was happening. They immediately bolted into the bedroom, with anxious and frantic and loud exclamations. They started shouting at my sister and shaking her, trying to bring her back to reality. Before I knew it, they had snatched her up and were gone, my mom, Peggy and my sister. They had rushed off to the hospital emergency room.
I was left alone with my two older brothers at home. I remember wandering listlessly around the house worrying that my sister was going to die, or never come out of her trance. My brothers put up a brave front for me and assured me that she would be okay. I don’t remember how long she was gone, but when she came back home, she was back to normal, and I was hugely relieved. I didn’t want to lose my sister. I loved her.
But life changed that day, not just for my sister, but for our whole family. My sister’s childhood was eaten up by the drugs used to treat her epilepsy. Her doctor was dangerously incompetent and prescribed way too much noxious medication. But still her seizures were not controlled. Some people, then and today, are convinced that this condition, epilepsy, is actually demon possession. And that is what I walked into that spring day in 1971. The middle of a failed exorcism.
I will spare you the frightening details. But I want to tell you that the ladies who came to perform the exorcism had nothing but good motives and were gentle and full of love. And no demons exited my sister, because there were none in her. It was my mother who finally realized this and put a stop to the process. Nonetheless this experience was not without plenty of spine-chilling weirdness. It affected me—all of us really—but I can’t pinpoint exactly how.
This I do know; it might not have happened if we had not been involved with a community where a few thought epilepsy might be caused by the demonic, and maybe my sister and I could have avoided the marring of our psyche a bit longer. I hold no grudges about this event and feel no need to forgive anyone, because no one sinned against us. They just wanted my sister to be healed. So do I.