Biographical Non-Fiction posted April 22, 2013


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Life's lesson of speaking the truth in love

The Letter

by emjaihammond

The morning began like any other. At least like any other since Dad passed away, just three short months ago. The smell of Mother's coffee brewing wafted through the air and I could hear her pattering around in the bedroom across the hall.

We had moved my mother and dad into the bedrooms of our home six months earlier, to help Mom take care of Dad. He was losing the battle of age and sickness. A bit of a daddy's girl, I was devastated at thought of life on earth without my dad.

When the time came, it was heartbreaking for Mother, who had lived for sixty-nine years as his bride. They weren't just married and together for so many years, but they were still happy. Dad never missed a chance to tell anyone who would listen about his "beautiful wife."

My mother, now at eighty-seven, had begun married life as a bride of seventeen. They began their journey together on an army base in Kingman, Arizona, during World War II. My brother was born eighteen months later, and I followed seven years after that, a post-war baby girl.

It is the sight of my brother saying goodbye to Dad, that is forever etched in my mind. My brother, Bob, was suffering in the last stages of prostate cancer. He had only a few months to live, the doctors having done everything possible to slow the aggressive disease from taking his life at sixty-seven. His son, Brian, had brought him to Dad's bedside, knowing Dad was dying. I stood back watching as my brother took our father's hand in his own, and spoke these words to him.

"It's okay, Dad. It's okay to go. You're going to heaven, Dad. You are going to see Grandpa and Grandma and all of your brothers and sisters. It's going to be alright, you've lived a good life. I'll be there soon, Dad. But I haven't lived as good a life as you, so you've got to reach out, Dad. Reach out and pull me in. I love you, Dad."

Dad answered Bob by telling him how much he loved him. As he had done many times before, Dad let us know that as children, we had not disappointed him.

To be assured, we weren't anything special, but Dad's forte was unconditional love.

Having maintained his emotions as best he could, Bob finally turned away, walked a few steps, and as he faced the hospital wall, he began to cry. I tried to comfort him, but as was his life-long habit he kind of shook me off, got control and then put his hand on my shoulder letting me know he was alright.

Dad passed away two days later.

I worried about my mother, having just lost her husband, and now facing the imminent loss of her only son as well. I thought about my brother constantly, several miles away. He was under hospice care. It was the last thing I thought about when I went to bed each night. It was the first thing I thought of as I woke up each morning.

Another day was beginning. My thoughts were with my Mother across the hall, and with my dad in heaven. But, most of all that morning, my heart and soul were with my brother. My heart was aching, my soul was troubled and I missed my dad.

I felt completely inadequate to handle the things that were on my plate. I am a follower. The lead role had always belonged to my brother. Now, the things that had to be done, would be my responsibility. Dad would have told me I could meet this, and do it well. He would have told me he expected it of me. Thankfully, I have a husband by my side, who loves my family and stands beside us; a great support. And my mother, while grieving deeply, is a pillar of strength, always the "Mom," still thinks of her children first, even as we are trying to be hers to lean on.

I knew I would have to gather new strength and resolve to be strong. But for now, it was all a little too much. The smell of coffee, the comfort of the presence of my Mother in my home, was not enough to bring me out of my bedroom that morning. I climbed back into bed, and I wept. I wept for my mother, for my father, for my brother, and for me.

My brother, Bob was the first best friend I ever had. As we grew up, he entertained me, gave me a helping hand and brotherly advice. As an adult he often did the same. Bob and I grew up in a loving home with parents who were responsible and who disciplined us with love but expectation. At the same time, Mom and Dad were fun-loving, good-natured and provided us with the security and stability that children need.

My brother, Bob, was one of the people in my life that I simply loved with all of my heart.

As a small boy, Bob, was full of mischief. As I walked outside into our yard, I often would hear him call out my name from high above my head in the tree tops, where he loved to climb. He shook the limbs above my head and grinned down at me as he called out to me. He was a happy boy, full of life and laughter. He loved climbing, riding his bike, and among the things he loved to do most, he loved training our dogs. He always had a dog. He was an expert trainer throughout his life, with many bird dogs trained to the admiration of other hunters.

Through life, he had good friends. From a young age on, he chose his friends from the heart. He didn't care about being popular, though he was, it was not part of his agenda. He cared about people from the inside out, as a child and as an adult, if he valued your friendship, you were golden.

As kids, I am pretty sure, he enjoyed his position as my teacher in life. He taught me a lot of things along the way. He taught me how to spit through my teeth and drink milk right from the bottle, though Mom put an immediate halt to that. He taught me to always root for the underdog, and to be fair. He also taught me not to take myself too seriously. He taught me how to laugh at myself, usually along with him. He could be serious though, and he proved himself many times through the years to be a good listener, counselor and confidante.

Bob was always a little bit ornery. He loved to tease. It was never mean spirited, though. Whether it was throwing a live firecracker under our Dad's bed while he was sleeping, calling a mean neighbor who refused to give out Halloween candy, "Old Banana Nose," or something as small as almost putting his finger in my ear and laughing as I went hysterical about it, he was a bit of a stinker. He had a familiar gleam in his eye. I see it now in the eyes of his children and grandchildren, and yes, in the eyes of our mother too.

He had told me recently that he thought we had a wonderful childhood. I agreed. Our Mother, an angel, our Father too, well, they had crooked wings and shifty halos, but that made us love them even more.

Bob and I had been close in our younger days. After we both married, he became best buddies with my husband, hunting and fishing, along with Dad, they shared a lot of laughter and good times as the men in our family. My husband considers him his brother. After Bob went through a difficult divorce, he struggled. After a few years, time and distance had found us together less often, and we drifted apart a bit.

As we watched our dad's health slip away, and as he struggled with his own illness, Bob was a rock to lean on through all of that. He showed a great deal of courage in the face of adversity. All of us were heartbroken at the changes and decisions that we were forced to confront on Dad's behalf. I often called my brother to get a little advice, or for reassurance that we were doing the right things for our parents sake. He always gave me confidence, new ideas, or a new way to look at things. His input was so important to me, and I know it was not easy for him. I hung up the phone many times after those conversations feeling better, but knowing I had just given him more to carry. He'd laugh and say, "Well, sis, I'm completely depressed now, so glad you called." But, he assured me he wouldn't want it any other way. He regretted not being present more often, and he knew he was leaving our Mother, now without her husband or her only son.



All of these years I took so much for granted. I thought Bob would always be here. I never thought I would be hiding under my covers, wondering if my brother had received my letter.

Three days before, I felt a strong need to write a letter to my brother. I am better at writing my feelings on paper than speaking them out loud. Many times in the past months I tried to tell Bob what was in my heart, but there were always other people around, or I just couldn't bring myself to speak the words that were just beneath the surface. So, I had written everything I felt in a letter and mailed it to him. He should have received it the day before, but I hadn't heard from him. Afraid he might not understand, I thought I might not hear from him at all.

My fears only brought on a fresh batch of tears, as I so desperately wanted him to know what was on my heart, and not to have him be offended at my need to share all that was on my mind. We had talked a little about God and life after death, but I was left with the impression that he was unsure. Not one to believe in the organized church, Bob had his own kind of faith. My husband assured me that Bob believed, but I needed to hear it from him.

I hoped he knew all of the things I had written about, but I wanted to be sure he knew how much I loved him. I knew he felt bad that he was unable to be here with Mom and Dad during these past weeks, even though I told him it was okay. It was important he understand, he had helped me through one of the hardest times in our lives, just by talking me through it. He reminded me that I needed to think and act on Dad's behalf, all the time remembering what Dad would have wanted me to do, before he was so ill. I realized my Dad would have wanted me to consider Mom carefully. That really led me through the toughest moments. It always seemed to be in my head, as I thought through what to do next.

I had asked a lot of Bob, at a time when he needed my support for his own illness and the difficult decisions he was forced to make during the same time he was dealing with the death of our dad.

I wanted him to know, though we had been separated by time, distance and circumstance, he was one of the people I love most in the world. I wanted to tell him that though I had never faced death in the way he had, I had watched the final hours of a child I loved, placing her in God's care, knowing she would not make it through the next hour. Now I've watched our Dad through the same final hours. Even so, I don't know what it is like to be in my brother's shoes. But, one thing is for certain, I will face it someday.

I had written all of this in the letter I wrote. I told him that I thank God there is a plan for us. As a father sets the rules and decides what's best for the children in his household, God did that for us. Like our own kids, we question why, and sometimes we think we would have done things differently, but He is God. He understands this about us. He knows we question and wonder if we might have done it better, just as our own children often do. The difference is that He really does know all. He has made a provision for our short comings, a safety net, in the form of Jesus. I don't fully understand it, I can't. We may have doubts about some things or not understand parts of the bible, or even have read it all, but John 3;16 is enough. It's really so simple that we often miss it. None of us deserve it more than another, certainly not me, but it's a free gift from God. All that is needed is to ask Christ to stand before God in your place, by asking Him to come into your heart with forgiveness. It's a simple prayer, with eternal consequences. People have different ways of expressing their belief, and theirs may be stronger than mine. But this has been on my heart, I just need him to understand how much I love him and that God loves him enough to have died for him, risen from the grave and made a place for him in eternity.

I wrote, "You have only to receive it with an open heart and a word to God's ear."

I ended my letter with an assurance that I would always take care of our dear mother. I told him I didn't mean for this letter to be a drain to him but only to lift him up. I hoped it brought him peace. I added another "I love you," and I closed my letter.

As I sealed the envelope and added a stamp, I thought to myself, "there's no hurry. I can mail it tomorrow," always the procrastinator.

But somehow the nudge was there to mail it now, today. So I went to the post office and mailed it, along with a prayer that my brother would be blessed by my words. Three days had gone by, as I waited to hear from him.

I wiped away the last tear, resolving to get myself together. I couldn't afford such mornings in bed, as there was too much to do.

Then the phone rang. Knowing that I would sound like I'd been crying, I hesitated to answer, but afraid to miss his call, I answered. It was my brother. I hoped he wouldn't notice I'd been crying, and I said "hello."

I had managed a fairly upbeat normal tone, and we said the usual things, how are you, what's going on, and then Bob turned to the reason he had called.

"I got your letter, today and I am calling to tell you I'm mad at you."

"Why, I answered?" I was stunned.

He laughed and said, "I didn't know you were that deep. I really didn't know that you had all of that in you."

I didn't know how to feel about his statement, but I knew I was not good at expressing myself in the past few years. I probably had kept him more at arm's length than I knew. I was very thankful that I had written my feelings on paper, so he would know how I felt.

He went on to tell me, "I couldn't believe how your feelings came out on a piece of paper. It was beautiful," he told me. "I would have written something back, but I didn't think I could do so, and I picked up the phone to say what I wanted to say."

I tried to explain, "Bob, I've tried so many times to tell you my feelings and my concerns for you, but there are always so many people around, and my words are so personal. It's hard for me to talk to you about these things in front of everyone. I'm sorry, I just have a hard time expressing myself openly."

"I know," he said. "Believe me, I get it. And, I appreciate your letter more than you will ever know. It made me very emotional reading what you wrote about. I treasure your words. I just had to pick up the phone and tell you so."

How I wished I had done the same over the past years, when I let so many other things come first.

I explained that I knew we were raised believing the same things, in the same house and with the same parents, but that we hadn't shared much about our faith until recent conversations. I said I needed to know we had spoken about it at this time.

He said he understood and he thought we shared the same beliefs. He said he knew he would soon reach out for the same hand that drew Dad into heaven. He commented that our Dad had left a big footprint in this world. He implied it would be hard to match.

I told him, "Dad did leave a big footprint, but you have left your own as well.

We continued our conversation with thoughts about our childhood. We laughed at memories that were dear to both of us, and we talked about our children.

Our phone call ended with Bob's words, "I don't like to get mushy, and I want to keep this short, but I want you to know your letter was a beautiful gift. I cherish all that you said in it. I love you very much and your big brother is still here for you."

Fighting the return of the tears I had just wiped away, I answered him, "You will always be with me, and I love you too."

We said goodbye and hung up the phone. I thanked the Lord for blessing us both, and I knew something special had just happened.

I had no way of knowing it would be the last conversation we would have. According to Bob's doctors at the time, he might live as long as two months. But, as it happened, it was only three days later, that my brother joined my dad, in heaven.

As I walk outside my door, I look high up in the tree tops above my head, and I remember the warm summer days of our childhood. If I listen carefully I can hear a little boy's voice calling down to me. "Hey, I'm up here!" And so he is, there with our Dad.









Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

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This is the true story of the loss of my Dad and brother. It is a bit painful to write, but it is never the less a story from within my heart. I tell it partly in hopes that anyone who reads it may realize that life is short, and those we think will always be here, may be gone tomorrow. Never take those we love for granted. Their presence in our lives a blessing.
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