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An Uncle's Words
It was the summer that I was 9 years old. I remember it like it was just yesterday: The summer my mother died.
It was not a sudden death; she had been in the hospital for many months before, slowly growing weaker and weaker. Wasting away as the potent chemotherapy devoured her health and the cancer spread throughout her body. Needless to say, I was prepared for the day that she breathed her last breath. And even so, the hazy morning the doctor informed me felt like a lie.
So I stood at the funeral. Not weeping, not praying; just staring. I felt sick to my stomach as it was: It was an open-casket funeral. People would go up to my taxidermied mother lying in the coffin to say their final goodbyes… It made me feel sick. It seemed like they were parading my beloved mother around like a cheap rag doll.
What made it worse was when they approached me.
“It’s all right, she’s in heaven right now.” And, “You should be happy, she’s with God now.” Is what they would say.
Even then as I do now, I knew: They were lying to me. They’d come up and tell me that they were sorry for my loss and tell me she was happy and that they’d pray for her. I wanted to puke. I was sick of praying! To me, praying was just another set of hocus-pocus that didn’t work. I had been making deals left and right with God like a junkie with a loan shark while she was in the hospital. And almost as if I expected it, her condition never improved. Why in the world would I be happy!? Why would I be happy about my mom being with the very same god that killed her!? Why would I ever to pray to such a god ever again?
I also remember refusing to go up and look at my mom lying in the oaken box; I never wanted to see my mom in such a pitiful state.
After the last two people said there mumbled goodbyes, the priest approached the podium and began the committal prayer. Before the preacher made it through the first sentence, there was a loud bang of doors slamming open. A middle-aged old man with tan skin, graying hair, and a round face wearing a blue Hawaiian T-shirt and khaki shorts stumbled down the aisle.
“I didn’t miss everything, did I?” He had chuckled with a foolish grin.
The horrified expressions of everyone around me still lingered vividly much to my amusement. I still chuckle at the memory of watching everyone’s jaws hit the floor when the man pranced up to the casket and smiled inside.
“Man, sis.” He smirked. “And I thought you were invincible!” He had said with a laugh.
“S-sir?” The preacher looked so frantic then, like an ant about to be stepped on.
“This place is way too gloomy! My sis would be horrified if she could see how her funeral turned out!” He approached the podium and began a long speech about her.
It was kinda funny. Back then, in just a few short minutes, my uncle had successfully hijacked my mother’s funeral. But thinking back, I was never angry about it because throughout his speech he didn’t lie. He talked about their childhood, what type of person she was, how she was to be remembered, but never once said a word about her being happy, or resting in peace, or being in heaven: Not one lie.
The puking sensation left, feeling had returned to my limbs, and a newfound tranquility washed over me. After my uncle had finished his uplifting speech, I rose from my chair and slowly approached the casket. I had suddenly realized that it wasn’t the thought of her being dead that stopped me. It was the thought that some way, somehow this was all my fault. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough Christian, or I didn’t pray enough, or I prayed too much, but all the fears had melted away with this man’s words.
My mother’s face had looked so solemn, so peaceful. I remember feeling a little confused that death could be so subtle.
“So you’re Brendan.” I jumped at the man’s voice that resounded behind me, breaking me out of my deep state of thought. “I’m your Uncle Jim. Do you want to come live with me?” The man’s smile was so warm, so sincere; I didn’t even hesitate with my answer.
And here I am: A 17-year-old atheist. I haven’t spoken to God since the day my uncle’s heartfelt words had liberated me from my worries those 8 years ago. And I couldn’t be happier.