Death Of An Atheist Relative At The Holidays

My uncle died this Thanksgiving.  12:04am to be exact.  It's disheartening when holidays coincide with less than fond memories. Now every year henceforth, turkey will make me sad.

My father called and left a message early in the morning  to inform me that he “passed on.”  I hate that terminology.  It feels like a vacuous attempt to put a pretty spin on death, as if it were a bad cold or an inconvenience.  I would rather sink my teeth into the fatality of the moment.  Dead is just dead…nothing light or fluffy about it.

Sometimes death is accompanied by sweet relief, if pain or suffering is involved.  But not this time.  It was sudden.  A post-surgical infection turned into a fiasco and suddenly poof, death is knocking at the door. Maybe it would be easier if my uncle was close to the Lord, or if I felt confidant in his eternal salvation.  But that's just the thing…I don't, and it's eating me up inside.

My uncle was an avowed atheist, determined to live a life apart from God.  If he passed on, as my dad suggested, then I can't fathom where he went, nor do I really want to consider the implications. The big “H” word seems so extreme.  And ultimately, so final.

My husband reminded me that God is not limited by our boundaries, that even in a comatose state, my uncle  might choose, like the criminal on the cross next to Christ, to turn in a different direction.

This whole idea of someone deliberately choosing an eternal life apart from God has my insides in a tangled turmoil. Free choice notwithstanding, I wish things were different.   I can understand when people run from God, keep a distance and live far from him.  In this paradigm, there is an acknowledgement of God's presence coexisting with a willful defiance.  But the atheist denies God altogether.  It is a much bigger animal than the proverbial prodigal child running from his father.

My uncle was a brilliant man.  A professor of anthropology at an esteemed college, an author, a thinker and a contributor to the world of academia.  Our conversations were thrilling, and even as a child, I remember probing his mind and uncovering a virtual cornucopia of modern discourse.  During my formative years and later as a college student, he challenged me to dive into the greats — Foucault, Nietzsche, Heidegger — to push my brain to maximus exhaustiveness.  To ponder, to ruminate, to brood over thoughts and relentlessly search for truth. 

But my post-modern studies led me down a different path than the road he traveled.  In the absence of absolute truth, in an exhaustive vacuum of subjectivity, my heart longed for something more meaningful than a personal experience to hold onto.  As my studies led me further and further away from God, my heart was conversely drawn to Him.

Something in my spirit cried out for more and strangely enough it was my own personal experience with Christ that filled the void.  Ironically, “witnessing in a post-modern world” has become material for seminary training, when in all reality, Christ's light only shines brighter in the hopelessness that shrouds this train of thought.

I loved my uncle.  I will miss him at Thanksgiving.  I will miss his liberal extremism.  His loud laugh. His passion for life.  His crazy stories about aliens.  And on some level, I can thank him for leading me to Christ in a weird roundabout way.

My eyes leak when I think about him.

The sting of death is this…watching someone you love die apart from Christ.

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  1. NonyaBizness said:

    Too bad you were not strong enough to shirk the shackles of fables and myth. In fact, it looks as if you have fully submerged yourself in your chosen fairy tale. Life is worth living in and of itself, my dear Sammy. No need to give credit to imaginary friends. There is no hell. There is no god(s). Death is exactly like things were before being born. You simply no longer exist. Why does this scare you so?

    November 30, 2010
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  2. gordongoblin said:

    I want to thank you for being (relatively) honest with yourself and asking the question. Even though you shy away from the answer you’ve done more than most in even consideing it. I’ve asked many christians this question: how could you be happy in heaven if even one person you loved was in hell. Andthey all shyed away from answering it, making excuses. I can tell from your article that your answer is that you would not be happy. That is very human and honest of you. Your faith teaches that your uncle and I will go to Hell while Ted Bundy watches us from heaven and you seem to see the huge flaw in that. I’m very sorry for your loss. It seems like your uncle was a great man and you obviously loved each other very much. I too have lost someone on a national holiday and know how hard it is to miss them while others celebrate. If it is of any comfort, your uncle is *not* in Hell, it doesnt exist.

    November 30, 2010
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  3. It doesn’t scare me. I know where I am going and more than likely will be so overwhelmed by the glory of God that I won’t even remember this tempoary pain. I have a hope and a promise of eternal life. It just makes me sad for those that take a different path. Many Blessings to you and thanks for the comment. Sam

    November 30, 2010
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  4. gordongoblin said:

    That’s a shame, you’ve switched from the warm and genuine human response to “I probably wont remember my loved ones so I will not care”. Hopefully you dont genuinely feel that way, and your real felings are closer to what you wrote above.

    November 30, 2010
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  5. Rev. Tim Lehmann said:

    Sister Keller, I am sorry for your loss. I also apologies for using your post. This is the only post I will make about this and I will not respond to posted replies. NonyaBizness- I am shocked that you would choose to use a post about a loved relative’s death, on a Christian newspaper, to spout your atheistic tripe. To even think of chastising Ms. Keller for the content of her post is unconscionable. You should be ashamed and apologize. Rev. Tim Lehmann

    December 1, 2010
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  6. Ed-words said:

    Dear Samantha, Your uncle was an example of a happy, loving,productive atheist.There are millions like him in the world. You are still young.Some day you may come to understand his rationalism. Condolences. Ed in Fl (Aren’t we lucky Rev.Lehmann won’t respond?)

    December 1, 2010
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  7. NonyaBizness said:

    Rev. Tim Lehmann, you are a snake oil salesman dangling the prospect of eternal life before the eyes of folks who are simply seeking answers, all for just a mere 10% of their income… tax free of course. And you have the balls to chastise me? Religion is immoral and you carry the banner.

    December 1, 2010
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  8. Dear Samantha, As a fellow blogger here on Everyday Christian, I too, have had the unhappy experience of ‘not such nice’ review. Wondering why those folks would even bother to show up here…perhaps a bit of curiosity about something not understood? Anyway, I wanted to tell you I enjoyed your post..I too have known wonderful folks who have gone before, without Christ, at least to my knowledge. However, I do agree with your husband, God’s timing and boundaries are not ours, and we do not know if in that split second prior to death if one may say, ‘Yes!’ to Jesus. Keep the faith, and please keep posting. You have a gift! Be blessed!

    December 1, 2010
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  9. To Gordongoblin: God sees the heart at that ‘last split second’. His ways are not our ways. He knows if someone is sincere or just hollering because they are scared. There is a distinct difference. I will not honor your sarcasm with further comment. But I am amazed at your diligence in pursuing this subject. It appears you may be a little scared of it??? Have a good day.

    December 1, 2010
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  10. NonyaBizness said:

    The whole point here is that it is insulting to the life’s work of the Uncle to wish, hope, and or expect him to repute everything he stood for while living in favor of your one particular brand of a myth based fairy tale, on the off chance that he might be rewarded with spending all eternity with a few blind sheep. It is quite obvious that she loved this man, that he was a decent human being, and did his best to make an impact on the world while he was here. Good men like this should be celebrated for who they were, what they did, and the positive influences he has shown while in existence. Placing an asterisk next to his lifetime because he rejected your particular brand of fantasy is highly presumptuous and insulting to his memory.

    December 1, 2010
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  11. gordongoblin said:

    I’ve got nothing to be scared of, and I hope none of my family or friends ever demean my memory after I die by hoping I had a despicable moment of cowardice and decided to “hedge my bets”. Clearly Sam’s uncle was a good man, and well loved by her. You need to make excuses for your god, in the face of what the bible says, so that you dont need to face the fact your dogma says terrible inexcusable things. There is comfort in facing reality. We dont go to a celestial petting zoo. What matters is the people we love and the people who love us.

    December 1, 2010
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  12. Ed-words said:

    If it’s any comfort to Samantha, the largest Christian religion in the world, Roman Catholicism,does not believe those who die with a clear conscience are damned. (It also accepts evolution. Damn liberals!)

    December 2, 2010
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