As Easter approaches this year my heart and head are full of headlines of rape, abuse, economic inequality, and war. It seems the world has never hungered more for the twin realities of death and life contained within the Easter story.
For my family, the hunger pangs for eternity are particularly acute every Easter, especially when it falls early in the calendar. On this year’s Palm Sunday my family will remember more than Jesus riding on a donkey.
Bradley, my older brother, died of cancer on March 24, 1978. It was Good Friday.
He was three.
I’m sharing some of my mom’s own words as a way of honoring both his memory and hers:
As I held his little body close to me in bed, his arms wrapped around my neck, I realized that my emotions were divided again. My cherished little boy was had been through so much already–he could hardly breath, he had been suffocating, and now he was vomiting. How could I want to hold him back from that wonderful, painless life he was about ready to enter? How?
Because I was his mommy. I had carried him in my own body, under my heart. He was my son, my treasured, sensitive, very special little boy. How could I ever give him up, even if it was into the loving hands of the very loving God?
When he awoke the next day he was in no visible pain. He did not seem to suffer very much–it was more like he slowed down one final time, ran out of energy… ran out of life. He spent the majority of that day in his own world. Or could he have been between worlds? He could answer and look at me when I talked to him, but he also carried on conversations with unseen, unfelt listeners the rest of the time.
When some people are close to death their breathing may sound like what is called a death rattle. Once you have heard it, you will never forget. I heard it for the first time outside a patient’s door at the hospital where I worked. I never thought it could sound harsher than it did in that dark, sterile hallway.
Yet the sound was infinitely worse coming from my own son.
When I heard the way Bradley was breathing, I knew his death was imminent. I picked him up, carried him in to the family room, and sat down in the rocking chair to rock him one last time. I told him that Jesus had come to take him to heaven–it was time to go along with Him. Bradley opened his little eyes, and through my tears I saw a flicker of a smile as he took one
And then Bradley took flight and soared in the arms of Jesus to a new and perfect life. Now, at last, Bradley had been healed!
My mom said goodbye to my brother 35 years ago. And August will mark the 11th anniversary of their reunion.
I now have my own children. And I tell them, just as my mother told me, about the day Jesus will come to take them to heaven.
But even more, we talk about they day when Jesus will finally bring heaven to earth.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Come, Lord Jesus.