Almost thirty years ago, my mother turned a Ruger .357 handgun towards her heart, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger. Mom died moments later, slumping to an ignoble end in her bathroom. Mom had tried to kill herself numerous times over her fifty-three years of life before finally succeeding. (Please see Barbara.) I have written about some of these attempts before, so there’s no need to rehash them here.
Mom and I had a complicated relationship. My Fundamentalist religious beliefs kept me having the relationship I should have had with her. While Mom professed to be a Christian, I didn’t believe her. I genuinely thought that if she would just repent of her sins, get saved, and start following the teachings of the Bible, all would be well. No mental illness, no drug ddiction, just love, peace, and joy. It would be years later before I truly “understood” my mom. It would be years before I understood how being sexually abused by her father affected every aspect of her life. Mom’s life was a trainwreck, but once I understood that abusive, violent men often drove her train, I could then love her as she was. Or try to, anyway.
In early 1976, I decided to study for the ministry. At first, I planned to attend Briercrest Bible Institute — an non-denominational Evangelical college in Canada. But, unable to meet the non-resident financial requirements for crossing the border, I chose to attend Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan instead. This singular choice, of course, changed my life, later affecting who I would marry, where I would live, and how I would spend most of my adult life. There’s a new show on TV called Ordinary Joe. The show details how the choices we make affect the trajectory of our lives. What if I had gone to Briercrest instead of Midwestern? How different would my life be today? Better? Worse? Who can say? Alas, life is what it is.
Mom was quite proud of me. I would be the first person in our family to go to college. While Mom never heard me preach, I know she was delighted that I was a preacher. A few months before I left for college, I asked Mom if she wanted to go to a Christian concert with me at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This would be the first and last time Mom and I did something together. Just Barbara and her oldest son, Bruce.
Mom said yes, so on the appointed day, we drove to Fort Wayne to hear the Bill Gaither Trio — Bill and Gloria Gaither and Gary McSpadden. Also performing were Henry and Hazel Slaughter. Before heading over to the concert, we ate dinner at a restaurant — its name long forgotten. Mom and I would eat dinner together one more time in the spring of 1978, introducing her to Polly, my beautiful bride-to-be.
A perfect night, forty-five years ago. A night when a mother and her son could be just that without Jesus, the Bible, or mental illness getting in the way.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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