In memory of my brother, in anticipation of more

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

last

fighting

breath.

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.

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About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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6 Responses to In memory of my brother, in anticipation of more

  1. Sue Lichtig says:

    Dear Tim, i am very emotional after reading this, but encouraged about the hope we have in Christ. I lost my wonderful sister in law this week, I heard her death rattle as I sat next to her bed. although she is sorely missed, what a blessed assurance to know she breathes free and is relieved of her earthly burdens. Thank you for your beautiful words, Sue Lichtig

    • Tim Owens says:

      Sue, I am so sorry about your sister in law, and part of me is regretful that these words about the death rattle likely brought back hard memories for you.

      yet, like you say, even as we struggle with our memories we understand that we have a blessed assurance. I’m so thankful that my mom’s words were encouraging to you. That’s why she wrote them in the first place, and if she were alive today she’d be so happy to know the she’d helped in even a small way.

  2. Lauren says:

    Great post. I had forgotten about your brother. Your mothers words are perfect. Timeless. Thank you for sharing…

    • Tim Owens says:

      I’m so thankful for those like you who got to know her, if even just a bit. It’s a bit odd, how most of my current friends have never met her–glad that there are still people like you who can not only appreciate the beauty of her words, but also the beauty of her. thanks for the comment!

  3. Lost my mom to cancer nearly a year ago. Woke up that last morning to the sound of rattling, and like your mom says, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Thanks for telling a story that bears the full torment of death so that the true depth of hope is not lost. Great story. So sad that it’s yours, but grateful you shared it.

    • Tim Owens says:

      Greg, thanks for these words. My own mom died about 11 years ago of cancer (which I alluded to in the post). “torment of death and true depth of hope”–i like how you put that. This is the reality we live in, until the return. thanks for being sad with me for the stories we share, it’s encouraging to link arms with like-minded brothers as we look towards the Return.

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