Those who read my column know that I get a lot of hate mail from liberals. But few know that I get plenty from conservatives, too. Most come from conservative atheists and agnostics tired of the religious references that permeate some of my columns. Because I’m simply not open to the suggestion that I should "keep my religious views to myself," I have never responded publicly to such critics.
Today, I’m making an exception.
Recently, a conservative atheist wrote a very angry yet moving letter about the passing of his wife. She suffered from cancer for a prolonged period of time. Apparently, she was in terrible pain for months before she finally passed. After decades of marriage, he found himself alone in a house full of memories. That’s when he wrote me insisting there isn’t a God and urging me to "get off of religion" and stick to my "bread and butter" topic of campus censorship.
The conservative atheist’s letter reminds me of another great woman who died of cancer. The year was 1962. The woman’s name was Nell Myers Rester. She was my maternal grandmother.
Nell’s death at the age of 48 was probably the result of an error by the physician who removed a cancerous organ during a prior surgery. Later, when another organ was consumed by cancer, the doctor was consumed by guilt. He concluded that he could have also removed the other organ and, thus, saved her life. After it was too late, he tearfully apologized to her at her bedside. That was back in the days when doctors spoke honestly to their patients instead of worrying about future litigation.
When my grandmother passed, that doctor hopped into his car and drove from New Orleans to Gulfport to attend her funeral. There, he told my mother that for years he had to console patients but that Nell Myers was the only patient he ever had who tried to console him. That story was corroborated by several black nurses who had asked to come along to Nell’s funeral. That was rare in the segregated Mississippi of 1962.
The consensus was that Nell didn’t care that the doctor probably made a mistake that prematurely ended her life. She only wanted to make sure that he was all right and that he knew he was forgiven. During the advanced stages of her illness, she even wrote him an uplifting letter that he kept in his office desk for the rest of his career.