The one we hardly knew

blogScan_knickersWe received the call one day last week. And even though we knew eventually it would come, we still were a bit surprised.

Papa’s oldest brother had passed away. The brother who was so much older than Papa by about 17 years. The brother who joined the navy as soon as he was old enough and was pretty much absent for most of his baby brother’s life.

The brother who, after facing disappointments and difficult circumstances, removed himself from the family for years with little to no contact.

The brother who finally reunited with his elderly parents and his two younger brothers. The brother who attended Papa’s and my wedding and not long afterwards found his own bride.

The brother who with his new wife had a child just a few months before Papa and I had our first little one.

The brother who would take time to see us when we came back to our home state from living far away to visit family, but who never had much to say.

The brother who never talked about his past or about things of importance with us.

The brother, who along with his new family, joined us for funerals when both his and Papa’s parents died. But afterwards, we didn’t have much contact other than annual Christmas cards sent by his wife.

The brother, who, after over a decade of not seeing one another, agreed to meet us for lunch a couple of years ago as we were passing through the area where he lived.

This brother, this man who shared the same parents as Papa, was very different than my husband and even his other brother. And even though they were never close as brothers and didn’t really share the same life experiences, Papa still cared about his oldest brother.

A few short months ago, we learned this brother, who we never really knew very well, was diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer. Too far advanced for any treatment, this brother spent his last months in a nursing home.

There, after a several hours drive, we visited him a couple of times. We asked him if he needed anything. His answer was no. We asked what we could do for him. His answer was nothing.

We attempted to cheer him with stories. We brought old photographs of him with his parents to help him recall fond memories he might have had with them. He simply looked at them without a word and set them aside.

We hugged him. We told him how much we cared. And we asked him if we could pray for him. He silently nodded, bowed his head, folded his hands, and waited for his younger brother to say the words. To ask God for strength and comfort and peace, for God’s will to be done.

Just before Christmas, we sent this brother a greeting card and told him we would come again to visit him after the holiday was over. But we didn’t make it. He passed away before we arranged to make another trip eastward.

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.” ~ Anthony Brandt

Even though I certainly did not know this brother of my husband’s very well at all, I do know this.  He was a veteran, proud of having served his country. He was a hard worker who provided for his wife and child. He also served his community for many years as a volunteer fireman and rescue worker. And he lived for over 80 years.

Those are the aspects I know about my brother-in-law.  I don’t know if he loved us, but he seemed to like us at least. I don’t know if he had regrets in life or what made him happy because he never shared those stories or the experiences he had that seemed to cause him emotional pain. I don’t know for certain if he had faith in the same Savior we do.

But I know this – my heart is sad. My heart is sad because I don’t know the answer to that last statement, but I know God does.

My heart is sad for my husband because he had this brother that he really didn’t have a bond or connection with. I am very close to my two older sisters and have always been. So it’s foreign to me to have a sibling that you don’t really know.

And it saddens me that my husband didn’t experience a close relationship with this brother and never really had that opportunity as his brother seemed to close off deep, personal relationships.

What does this sorrowful experience tell me? It tells me to hold your loved ones close to you. Talk with them, share your life with them. Don’t ever let circumstances or difficult experiences keep you from reaching out to your family.

We only have one life to live on this earth. Choose to be present with those who care about you. Choose to open your heart to others. Choose to love and be loved in return.

“Think of your family today and every day thereafter, don’t let the busy world of today keep you from showing how much you love and appreciate your family.” ~ Josiah


25 responses

  1. What an honest and loving post you wrote. Your words and actions are filled with grace. I’m sorry for the circumstances and unanswered questions but I am confident this man has been well honored by you and your husband. In every way you were a witness to him. May you feel God’s peace.


  2. Complex family dynamics like these are difficult and confusing. Your brother in law was blessed in that moment of prayer and I’d guess that precious moment remained with him. I’m so sorry for your husband. This was a great post with important depth and meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry to hear this. Prayers for your family! This is such a powerful post. My step sister and I used to be so close. Then we grew up and got married and now we barely speak. Your words made me realize that I need to reach out and keep in touch, even if she doesn’t want to.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We did reach out. They ignored us repeatedly. So we stopped. I’m sorry for your loss, the one where he didn’t communicate and the one where he actually physically passed away. We’ve already mourned our family losses and they’re still alive. Not sure if we will mourn again when they physically pass or not.


    • I understand how families can be torn apart so easily. I’m sorry you’ve had to endure that. For us, there really was no estrangement with this brother, it was just no connection and we don’t really know why. Was it the age difference between oldest and youngest brother? The fact that the oldest was away for so many years? Or something else? We just don’t know and that’s what makes it so sad for us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is sad but I’m so glad you tried and it was between him and God what their relationship might have been. I pray he knew God before he passed and you’ll see him again. Sorry for my grumpy comment. It’s just frustrating and painful but I keep giving it to God (and stealing it back 😉 ) so I’ll just have to trust him to make sense of it all someday.


      • No problem. I can understand how frustrating and painful that family dynamic would be. Why is it that we keep giving God those things we can’t solve, but then we grab it right back? Here’s hoping you can leave it in His powerful and capable hands because He will make sense of it.


  5. Your words are so powerful. Thank you for sharing the raw emotions with us all. Having relationships in our lives similar but not really. Praying for comfort and peace among you all. Hugs..


    • In regards to your husband’s brother’s passing, I just don’t understand that kind of thinking and never will. We’ve experienced that with other family on my hubby’s side – two aunts, who my husband did have great relationships with, passed away and we were never notified. I get that we lived far away, and these aunts had no children, but still? As far as this brother, he and hubby were never estranged. It was just the brother’s way, almost like he didn’t care.


  6. My sympathies to your husband and you. It is difficult
    To mourn a brother, no matter how close or
    distant. Equally hard is the finality of not
    having the opportunity to truly know the
    brother better, and help him bear the burdens
    that seems to have weighed on him. I will pray that
    his wife will be able to help your hubby understand the
    brother he never knew a little deeper as time
    goes by❤️❤️


  7. Oh Cindy. This brought tears to my eyes. I, too, wonder about families where there is discord and estrangement and can’t imagine that happening. I am so glad you and the hubby were able to have contact with him at least and share with him, pray with him and be there for him. That probably meant more to him than you can ever know. I am so sorry for your loss. Holding you in my heart.


  8. Aw….. such a poignant post. My sympathy to you and hubby in your loss. Not all families are close; I’ve learned that, both on my side and my husband’s. There is an old saying: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Perhaps his widow will still keep in touch.


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