The Suddenness of Death

steve gupton

Steve Gupton

Eight years ago, I came in contact with a man by the name of Steve Gupton. Steve had been raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and attended Bob Gray’s IFB college in the 1980s. Steve and I spent countless hours talking about shared past experiences and our attempt to forge a new path in life sans God. Several years ago, Steve went through a divorce and suffered through long periods of depression. I talked him off of the ledge on more than one occasion. Steve deeply loved his children, and had plans to get married this year. Polly and I planned to travel to North Carolina for the wedding, hoping to meet Steve face-to-face for the first time. Sadly, I will never get to meet my friend in the flesh. On Saturday, Steve, a physically fit martial arts instructor, suddenly died from a heart attack. He was fifty-one.

Steve commented hundreds of times on this blog. We traded messages on Facebook hours before he died. We chatted about IFB pastor Donnie Romero being forced to resign over cavorting with prostitutes, smoking weed, and gambling. And now, just like that, the voice of my friend is forever silenced.

Earlier this week, another internet friend of mine, Justin Vollmar, woke up to discover that his three-year old daughter Clarisa had died suddenly in her sleep. Clarisa was deaf and blind, and was loved dearly by her parents. Justin rarely commented on this blog, but he did credit me with helping him on his journey out of Evangelical Christianity. Justin was a pastor of an Evangelical deaf church before he deconverted.

Both of these deaths are a reminder to me of the brevity of life and how suddenly it can end. The Bible is right when it says: Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

My friend Steve will face one final indignity as he is laid to rest: an Evangelical pastor has been asked to hold the funeral service. Steve and I often talked about what we wanted when we died. Having a Bible thumper preside over our funerals was definitely not something either one of us wanted. I suspect Steve’s IFB family is getting the last say on his funeral. Let this serve as reminder of the importance of putting into writing your last wishes.

Christianity offers the delusional hope that if people will just “believe” that they will be reunited someday in Heaven with their saved loved ones. As a Christian, I would have comforted myself with the promise of seeing Steve again. I would have comforted Justin with the promise that one day he would see Clarisa again and she would have a perfect body, one that could see and hear. Such promises are essential to Christian belief. Without the promise of a blessed afterlife, Christianity loses its power. People want to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; they want to believe that death is not the end; they want to believe that the family circle won’t be broken in the sweet by and by.  But life tells us a far different story — that death is certain and often comes when we expect it least; that death rips from us those we love, leaving only our memories. I wish it were different, but alas I must embrace reality, a reality that tells me I shall never see my friend Steve again; that Justin will never hold in his arms again his precious daughter. All we have are the memories of time spent with those we love. These untimely deaths are reminders, at least to me, that I should live life to its fullest and that I shouldn’t put off to another day experiencing life with those I love. Most of all, I am reminded of my own mortality. Steve was physically fit and in good health, yet he’s dead. Here am I with a broken-down, failing body. Dare I think for one moment that long life awaits me? As I helplessly watch, for the first time, my wife of forty years struggle with serious health problems, dare I think that we have forever in our future? No! We have today. We have now.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give on my ABOUT page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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18 Comments

  1. maura

    it’s sad. but he will not know, this cannot hurt him. you’ve lost a good friend and peer. certainly it must be difficult to find many others with your experience. sorry for your loss

    Reply
  2. Michael Mock

    Damn it.

    Reply
  3. mikespeir

    Things like this always shock us. He was only a Facebook friend to me, so I’m getting to know him better in death than in life, by way of people who had more intimate interaction with him. There is an afterlife, but not the one dreamed up by religionists. We live on in the memories of those who knew and loved us. That’s the one we should prepare for. I say let’s live so that our deaths will be as much of a shock as Steve’s is.

    Reply
  4. Becky Wiren

    This is horrible. I liked Steve and exchanged enough comments that I was glad when he got engaged. I know that death can come suddenly and to unexpected people. I’m 59, obese and have numerous health problems, most existing due to my fibromyalgia. To hear that Steve is gone is…disheartening. I will miss chatting with him. Good-bye, Steve.

    Reply
  5. Scott

    I’m sorry to hear about Steve. He will be missed.

    I want to second the comments about loss. One of my brothers died December 27th from complications related to lung cancer. He was 54. He didn’t show symptoms until late October. The human condition can be fragile. Enjoy life to fullest.

    Reply
  6. Zoe

    I know both those names, Steve and Justin just through your blog Bruce. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend Steve and of your friend Justin’s Clarisa.

    Reply
  7. ObstacleChick

    I am sorry to hear of the passing of Steve and Clarisa. When someone is 90 years old, we say, they had a long, good life. It’s shocking when it happens to the young, the fit.

    Reply
  8. Troy

    This has really upset me–one thing about a death, especially something sudden like an accident or massive heart attack, someone about the same age as yourself and your brothers, it makes you think. The ancient Greeks believed that Prometheus, who gave humanity the enlightenment of fire. also filled our hearts with blind hope so we ignore our inevitable doom. The death of a vital man pulls the curtain back and forces a look at it.

    It is unfortunate that his family gets to pick the preacher, but as atheists we are fortunate to have something of a community online.

    Reply
  9. Steve James

    I only knew Steve on Facebook but I considered him a friend. We talked often. I will miss him.

    Reply
  10. GeoffT

    This is so sad, but facing up to reality is surely better than living a constant lie.

    Reply
  11. Chaelres

    Condolences on your losses Bruce. I cheer that you seem to be feeling better and are mostly recovered from your recent illness. I hope Polly’s health problems will get better rather than worse. Hang in there dude. You are welcome to visit my blog anytime. I’m falling in love with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. She speaks her mind!!!

    Reply
  12. Sarah

    I’m sorry Bruce. Life has sorrow and joy.

    Reply
  13. Brian

    Very sad to hear of the loss. I bet he was so thankful to share some his life with you, Bruce. I sure am, whether tomorrow is mine or not. If the woo masters get me in death, know I am laughing cause I am gone, long gone.

    Reply
  14. sally

    Condolences to you on the loss of your friend, Bruce.

    Hail to the Traveler, he will live on in our hearts.

    Reply
  15. Pingback: The Suddenness of Death – FairAndUNbalanced.com

  16. Becky W

    Bruce, I shared this on my timeline. You were Steve’s friend and I thought you wrote well. Apparently there was some fundie/religious nut who spams on Facebook death posts? He posted some idiocy about Steve wanting us to be saved. I deleted and blocked that motherf*cker (sorry but that’s how I felt). And turned around and came right back under a woman’s name, immediately referred to how I’d blocked him/her. Had to delete/block and then took the post private. Very rude and I have zero interest in anything someone that rude has to say.

    Reply
  17. Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Shocked and horrified by this. Was just talking to Steven about the Anderson mess. Great tribute to our mutual friend.

    Reply
  18. Ian for a long time

    Sorry to hear this.

    Reply

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