Sadness… melancholy… no apparent reason, yet suspicions come to mind; the gray sky, the stillness after the snow fall, the chill. Possibly staring out my office window, waiting for the sharp edged icicles to drip, is the cause. More likely, it’s the time of year. The expectant looking back, so we can move forward… out with the old, in with the new. Grief
Like that sappy old haunting song, Auld Lang Syne, I miss the people who are no longer here. Around this time last year, I wrote about my dad, and the year before that, my mom. It’s true, I’m sad they’re gone, but forever grateful for God’s plan for them. With that said, watching them transition from this world, is difficult. grief
For me, the most painful bon voyage of all is my brother, Danny, taken by cancer, at age 52. Dark, sad, painful, and yet, a blessed time of completion, spiritual healing and deep love. Talking, or writing, about how it feels, is not easy. Even so, I’m driven to share, because the hurt is merely a speck in comparison to the bounty of peace and comfort that showered down from heaven, like a glorious refreshing rain. grief Grief
My Gehenna arrived, with a phone call.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Driving to work. What’s up?”
“I have cancer, and it’s really bad.”
Certain he’s playing one of his boundless practical jokes, I respond in anger. Mourning
“That’s not funny… I’m hanging up!”
“Debbie, it’s true,” he said, voice cracking.
Was it outlandish to think he was joking? No. This is the guy who carries a tube of Oragel in his pocket, ready to swipe the rim of a loved one’s coffee mug, then sit back and laugh while they gasp through numb lips, “call 911 I’m having a stroke!” The guy with an array of voices, who calls from random friends’ phones, pretending to be one of his unlimited annoying characters. grief
His favorite? grief
A man with a really bad Asian accent, wanting to buy your cat for his upcoming dinner party. I’m sorry. I didn’t say he’s always politically correct, or sensitive. So, I ask, who wouldn’t have thought he was playing the cancer card as just another poor taste joke? grief
Lifestyle changes, like my sobriety, and proclaiming new found Christianity, (admittedly not always with grace), had distanced our relationship. But with the passing of our mom, six years prior, forgiveness washed away our petty bickering. Any lingering resentments hiding in the corner of our hearts, were flushed away with the news of cancer. grief
Budding health concerns set Danny’s life in turbo, as if someone yelled “fire!” An appointment to drain liquid collected around his heart, turned into major surgery to remove the sack surrounding it. That’s when the alarms went off with the news of cancer invading his lymph nodes. Change ran amok. His ex-wife, Astrida, forever and always best friend, and only person trusted to liquidate his car lot business, moved from Florida to Seattle to help.
Before long Hospice called and paid him a visit.
“You should have seen the woman they sent,” he said during one of our daily phone conversations. “She has zero sense of humor. She just sits there, asking questions… if she smiled, her face would crack. ”
“Did you get out your Orajel?”
“Hmpf! Why bother? Anyway, I told Hospice on the phone, I don’t need someone taking care of me. The thing is… I need you to sign papers saying you’ll be my caretaker. But, I don’t need or want you here. They act like it’s over and done. I’m not!”
Looking back at the whirlwind, I can see the perfection in God’s timing. I’m reminded of God’s steady hand through it all. He used my baby Christian status to not only minister to my little brother, but also to heal the broken pieces in my own heart. I knew, the world knew, certainly God knew, I was ill-equipped to fix Danny. But God knew my lack of skill, absence of wisdom and zilch experience, qualified me for the job He had in mind.
I was left with one choice: Cling to Jesus, trust He has a plan. And, He did. His plan, way beyond human imaginings, incorporated our history, our personalities. He used what he knows like no one else, our DNA, our snowflake differences.
We were the younger two, of the four McFarland children. Even back then, four children were a tall order for a truck driving dad and a stay at home mom. Five years my junior, Danny perfected the art of pesky little brotherhood. Even so, he was my brat brother, and I loved him. With busy parents and older siblings failing to see our cool side, we entertained each other. Mostly, we played cards. Not fluffy games of Fish or Old Maid, we self-weaned off those, pre-kindergarten. We dealt pinochle, poker, gin rummy, war, blackjack, spades, hearts and quadruple deck Canasta. Hours on end, we bonded between shuffles, promising before kings, queens and jacks, to take care of each other, no matter what.
At age 16 Danny fell into the popular sport of drugs and alcohol, and lost. Newly married, and an official adult, at age 21, I was the best choice to parent a troubled teen. What I lacked in experience I made up for in “know-it-all-ness.” So, I convinced my parents and new husband, to move Danny across the state and live with me. Shortly after, we drank and drugged together, keeping mayhem at bay, since I signed the notes for teachers and principals.
After graduation, he got a job, and moved out, but, he hung out at our house, whenever he could. That’s when the gambling began. Even at the start, the stakes were sweaty palm high– lose three hands, wash dishes for three minutes. Eventually, the ante escalated, reaching high roller status…
“I’ll raise your 15 minutes of washing dishes for 15 minutes of vacuuming…” to “I’m all in for the toilet scrubbing, with a flush.”
I’m telling you this so you’ll truly understand the breadth and depth of God’s sweetness. The absolute intimacy of: “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Luke 12:7). The assurance of: Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31). The realization of: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). Yes, God had a plan. Not a cookie cutter plan he whipped out for whomever, but a specifically designed plan for Danny and me.
Before the morphine took over, we were given a last season together. Of course he played his stupid jokes. His new favorite? Pretending to be dead when I checked on him in the morning. ERRRRR! He thought that was really funny. Instead of cards, we played lots of scrabble. But here’s the sweet spot: Sitting side by side, we read the Bible and prayed together. Danny trusted me, asking me questions because he knew I didn’t have all the answers. God, trusted me, maybe for the same reason. We taped his favorite scriptures on the wall by the hospital bed Hospice had delivered. We laughed a bunch and cried even more. It felt familiar, brother and sister, hanging out. Instead of making promises we could not keep, we reminded each other of God’s promises. God used many people over the years and especially during this end time of Danny’s life, to bring him into His kingdom. My task was more a maintenance or hand holding position.
His last months on earth, were emotionally brutal, but he remained, miraculously, pain free. One minute he talked about being ready, the next he cried out in fear. One day up, one day down. A day of faith, a day of fear, a day of anger, a day of peace. The daily increase of morphine, blurred reality, tainted truths and wreaked havoc on safety. He chain smoked while using his oxygen tank. He stopped eating. And, I became the bad guy, along with the rest of the family he had shut the door on. Then, he sent me away. I’m thankful he could still trust and count on Astrida, who took over care taking, until he was placed in a care facility. God
God could have healed my brother. But he did not. I trust His decision. He knows the big picture. He knows the right time. It’s not as if God was sitting on His hands doing nothing. He was at work, changing hearts, healing hurts, increasing faith, proving His love and securing salvation.
I miss my brother. Yes, even the off color jokes and practical stunts. I have no doubt, where he is. I thank God for His patience and willingness to let us take care of each other before he took him. Danny’s death is beyond sad. Yet, I’m left with a smile and a warm heart whenever I think of him. I will be forever grateful for those times, side by side… two children, talking and getting to know their Father.