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Bruce and Polly, My Final Wish is That You Come Back to the Lord

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

For Bruce and Polly Gerencser, 2020 has gushed into 2021, washing over virtually every aspect of our lives. Now that an adult is president, we are confident better days lie ahead. We watched the White House press briefing today. Oh my, what a refreshing difference from the insanity of the Trump years. Dr. Tony Fauci spoke about the Coronavirus Pandemic and how the Biden Administration plans to address a virus that will likely kill over 500,000 Americans by the first of March. So refreshing (and sobering), to say the least.

While it is nice to see a glimmer of hope here and there, I can’t help but be physically reminded that I am very sick and there seems to be no end in sight for my struggles. I saw a gastroenterologist yesterday, hoping that he might have some sort of magical cure. Alas, none is forthcoming. The bile reflux problem I am having is the direct result of having my gallbladder removed last August. Bile reflux is a known complication of the surgery — which was never explained to me by my surgeon — and all that can be done now is to treat and manage the symptoms: bowel pain, weight loss, lack of appetite, intermittent constipation/loose stools. Currently, I am on three medications. The doctor wanted to add one more drug, but the cost was so prohibitive I couldn’t fill the prescription. Our insurance doesn’t have a drug plan, per se (outside of life maintenance drugs). Thus, we have to pay the full cost for prescriptions until we reach our $3,400 deductible. Then we pay 80/20 until we reach our maximum out of pocket, $6,700. In 2020, our total medical costs were almost $10,000.

If these drugs don’t work as expected, then the next step is having a procedure where the doctor injects the pylori sphincter muscle in the stomach with Botox, paralyzing the muscle. This treatment typically lasts 3-4 months. When the doctor was explaining this procedure to me, I couldn’t help but make a joke about getting Botox injections for the wrinkles on my face. When I want to cry, I try to look for a joke — somewhere, anywhere — to take my mind off my afflictions. Some days, nothing stems the flow of tears. To use a worn-out cliche, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

And if that was not enough to deal with, Polly’s 85-year-old mom had a heart attack on Tuesday and was rushed to the hospital. You might remember, Polly’s dad suddenly died several months ago. We also found out that Mom has stage three/four kidney failure — something she has known for a year but ignored because she “felt” fine. Mom has had congestive heart failure for years, and while in the hospital this time, the doctor put in a stent. This made a big difference for Mom, but the long-term prospects for her don’t look good.

Polly called her mom just before she went in for her heart catheterization procedure. Mom, short of breath and having difficulty speaking, told her only daughter, “my wish for you is that you come back to the Lord.” I suspect Mom knows the end is near and she wants to be sure she makes her dying wish known to us. Polly thanked her mom, changed the subject, and told her that she loved her. This is the second time in twelve years that Mom has said anything to Polly (or me) about our loss of faith. Outside of telling us that she is praying for us, our unbelief has remained THE elephant in the room. We have not had one meaningful discussion with Polly’s mom (or dad when he was alive) about why we left the ministry and later walked away from Christianity.

We certainly want Mom to have her every need met as she nears the end of her life. We have no desire to cause her unnecessary pain or disappointment. However, her wish is one we cannot fulfill. Had she taken the time to understand why we deconverted, she would have known that mere wishing will not bring us back to the faith. If only wishing would change our lives, right? In a humorous moment last night, I told Polly, “I wish for strippers and millions of dollars!” We both had a good laugh, not at Mom, but the idea that wishing can make anything happen.

Mom is a lifelong Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). Her late husband was an IFB preacher for many years. I pastored several IFB churches, and Polly was right there beside me every step of the way. I am sure Mom sincerely thinks that if we would just return to those days, that all would be well. She could die happy, knowing that we would someday join her in the IFB version of Valhalla. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen — ever.

As much as we want Mom to leave this mortal life with a smile on her face, we can’t dismiss our beliefs and come back to Jesus just to make her (and other family members) happy. As with many atheists and agnostics, the only thing that will possibly change our minds is evidence; evidence for the existence of the Bible God; evidence that the central claims of Christianity are true; evidence that Jesus is who Evangelicals claim he is. We cannot and will not just “faith-it until we make it.”

I fear that after Mom dies, we will face one last effort by IFB family members and Mom’s pastor to reel us in for Jesus. “Don’t you want to join your mom in Heaven?” “Don’t you want the family circle to be unbroken?” Maybe we will hear one last warning about God’s judgment and the Lake of Fire or Pascal’s Wager will be trotted out for the 10,000th time. None of these tactics will work. As confirmed as IFB family are in their beliefs, so are we in our unbelief. Trying to guilt us into believing will not work.

As Polly and I prepared for bed last night, I told her of my concerns about settling Mom’s affairs after she is gone. It’s going to be a mess, but as the only daughter, it falls on Polly to take care of everything. We live almost 4 hours from Mom’s home, so, in the midst of a pandemic, we will have to risk our health to take care of everything from the funeral to paying bills to clearing out her apartment. This is certainly not something that we are looking forward to. But, when you are an only child, the burden is yours. And as the dutiful child she has always been, my dear wife will take care of things.

I reminded Polly that once all these things are done, we will get in our car and drive home, never to return to Newark, Ohio — a place of so much heartache. We will lament Mom’s passing, but seeing Newark in the rear view mirror? We will rejoice, knowing that we no longer have to deal with a church and (some) IFB believers who have caused us harm. I am sure it will be a sad, but liberating, moment.


Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    I’m so sorry, Bruce. So hard to have so many physical problems. Adding a very sick MIL who also wants the impossible is no fun.

    Hey, Bob was able to get a first vaccination for Covid-19. He is over 65 but you might want to start checking Defiance County Health website regularly. The change to over 65 was quite sudden,.

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    Bruce, sorry to hear of your additional health problems. That must be tough to deal with. And also sorry about your mother-in-law. I have a stubborn mother-in-law who doesn’t tell us about all of her issues either. It’s frustrating.

    It must be tremendously hard dealing with the “come back to Jesus” crowd. This is why I never told my family I am atheist. My husband told his parents, and both have tried to work on their grandkids who are polite young adults who know enough skills to change the subject.

    It’s hard dealing with the estate when your parents pass. My biological father passed away back in May. He was a miserable person who hasn’t had any sort of relationship with any of his 7 children in years. He passed and no one cared except his former boss, and he only cared to get whatever he could to sell from the “estate” if you call a broken down house straight from an episode of hoarders with feral cats living there. My sister was the only one living nearby, and she said looking at the house raised her anxiety so much she let the boss remove everything and deal with it. The only thing we children got was a portion of the sale of the house. But that’s fine with all of us because he didn’t contribute anything positive to our lives except some genes (and some of those aren’t great).

    I have fond memories of other loved ones who have passed, and I am at a point in life where those mean more to me than objects.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Good to see you are online again, Bruce😀. Been worried about you two. That’s too bad about your mother-in-law. Agonizing over stuff. I’ve had to research amyloidosis, which does mimic fibromyalgia in some ways. A blood test would tell me if this is the case. It’s inherited, and my late, unlamented runaround grandmother kept us in the dark about my mother’s baby-daddy. I’ll get a DNA test when I can. I feel for you, with all this health stuff going on. It sure consumes our time, doesn’t it ! Just imagine being homeless and trying to cope with such things. I wish Polly’s mother wasn’t IFB ,as, there’d be less stress than with a regular Baptist Church. That IFB cult is so bizarre and damaging !

  4. Avatar
    Burr Deming

    I read your thoughts often, and I am always in awe.
    You are younger than am I, but you often remind me of my late father.

    Had you known him, you might be pleased at the comparison.
    I have known perhaps five truly great men in my life.
    He was three of them.

    I wish the best for you, of course, and for those you love.
    (Maybe I’ll even offer a prayer or two, in secret behind your back)

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    I have thought for a long time that that is what this blog is. Bruce is still the best kind of preacher/teacher/advisor; and we, the readers, congregate whenever there’s a new post up to discuss, analyze, and perhaps learn from what he writes. Bruce’s teaching from his experience has been helpful to a great many people. Thanks, Bruce!

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    Brian Vanderlip

    I have some trouble responding to this post because it uncovers layers of long pain for me. I find myself wondering over my parents’ fairly recent deaths and how the word ‘final’ feels now, the last of chances, the end of trying, the coffin nails for fantasy-endings. How very sad it is that parental love is made into suffering under the yoke of a Saviour who divides human love and does not heal it, whose two-edged sword harms those it ‘heals’. What healing is a mom lamenting over a child’s wish to be human and whole? What gift of love is this statement of worry about eternity, about punishment? What commitment is this that cleaves to a book of old tales instead of cleaving to their own child with deepest love? What sort of religious faith turns a parent from a child, a child of any age?
    I know my parents loved me with all their hearts and I know that they could never really remove the Baptist Church from between us, not even at the end of it all. How sad, this steadfast faith unto death… We shared an absence, my mom, my dad, I… We had the light and darkness both, in our heart of hearts for one another.
    One certainty: We are born and we die. Why is it not enough to live and love, to joy and suffer the long blink of breath that life is, the one breath of it, the human being. Go home, not-God. I do not want your presence. I want my mom, my dad. I want to hold them in this new absence that has completed itself, closed the door with a final little click of the universe, the last one. See not-God going, like a dream from which I wake. I knew it was coming and I was ready and I knew I could never be ready. ‘Never’ is defined anew when love is transformed by death. Life is spent. Let those who must, say they are saved but they are born with us and will die with us, spent.
    Humankind, to be fully human, to be not-God is the highest calling of the beating heart. All the rest is Kool-aid.
    I’m sorry for your troubles, Bruce and Polly. Thank-you, Bruce, for uncovering your heart here.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    The closest I have ever come to telling off an acquaintance was when my mother was a few weeks from death, in a coma from which she would never wake, in the ICU. My father couldn’t endure staying long at the hospital, and so our visits seldom lasted longer than half an hour, but we went faithfully twice a day, occasionally in some pretty dangerous weather. One morning we went in, and a friend of my mother’s, an equally devout Catholic but without a shred of self-awareness, charged in and announced she had come to pray for my mother. Dad and I made a graceful exit, and I did not share that I considered her intrusion, without asking us if it would be helpful, was rude and unkind to my dad. (It was rude and unkind to me, too, but I lived those weeks in warrior mode, taking care of Dad and running interference for him. Would there were deities to save us from pushy, nosy neighbors.) Anyhow, she proceeded, in a loud voice, to exhort my mother to wake up and pray with her, that God needed to hear her (my mother’s) voice!

    This began when I call my mom the end of the week after Thanksgiving, and my father answered. He said that Mama had fallen earlier in the day, they’d had to call a neighbor to help her get up, and she wasn’t feeling well. That had happened a few months previously, but Mama then had been all too eager to tell me about it. Something was seriously wrong, and Dad either didn’t know or didn’t want to worry me. I hung up the phone, told my husband what was happening, threw some clothes in my duffel, and made the 1.5 hour drive to my parents’ house. There, I found Mama in pain and not quite lucid, her nightgown smelling of urine. I called her doc, and he told me to call 911 (US emergency number) for an ambulance and he’d meet us at the hospital. What was happening was, one organ after another was shutting down. Over the next days, there was crisis after crisis. A couple of days after they admitted her, she became permanently unconscious. I think she suffered relatively little. My parents’ 60th wedding anniversary was a couple of months away, and my Dad endured stoically, but I knew him well enough to see his suffering.

    I was struggling, not just with losing my mother, but with all kinds of difficult feelings. I’d failed her in three ways. I’d never given her grandchildren, and she knew that was a choice. I’d abandoned even giving lip service to her ideal of womanhood, which required one to be meek and submissive. Worst of all, I’d abandoned Catholicism right after college, and later abandoned religion altogether. And so, by being true to myself, I’d been her version of a bad daughter. Not that she didn’t love me, or appreciate me working 3/4 time for the last couple of years of her life, so that I could spend 3 days a week with my parents, driving them to appointments and shopping and basically taking care of them. (And if you all have read previous comments, yes, this was the mother I swore I’d never again share the same roof with. But needs must, and our relationship did improve somewhat in the intervening few decades.) She sort of made peace with the first two issues, but the fate of my immortal soul worried her terribly. And there was nothing I could do about that short of lying, and I wasn’t willing to do that.

    Religion might not poison everything, but it can do a number on relationships.

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Bruce Gerencser