We 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