My brother died in May at the age of sixty-five. His death was sudden; a jarring crash into the reality that we all have an expiration date.
Although he was four years older, we were close growing up. Every summer our grandma and grandpa (Nini and Yangie) took us camping for two weeks. My oldest brother stayed back, way too old for such childish activities. One of my earliest camping memories is of Ken and me pinning towels to our shoulders and running through the woods pretending we were Superman. We’d roast marshmallows, tell scary stories, then sleep in the tent-like awning attached to my grandparents’ trailer.
One summer, Yangie took us to a place called Happy Camp. They offered square-dancing lessons to us kids, and Ken and I were automatically paired together. On the final night of camp, all the kids did an exhibition for all the adults. This is one of my favorite memories – dancing with my older brother.
After a heart attack and a miraculous healing (that’s another whole story!), he had a dream. Jesus told him to learn sign language so Ken could teach computer programming to the deaf.
“I don’t know any deaf people,” Ken said. But the next night he had the same dream. He shrugged, enrolled in sign language classes, and had another dream. In it, Jesus came to him and said, “It’s about time you did what I asked you to do.”
Ken founded a nonprofit, Adelante Careers, and started teaching. His life was filled with wonderful deaf people, grateful for the chance to have a meaningful career. Ken and Noelle travelled, and rejoiced over their five grandchildren.
Until tragedy struck. Ken developed sepsis and died within a few hours after being diagnosed. I sat with him and Noelle while he fought for his life. He never woke up enough to respond to my presence. I’m not sure he knows that I told him I loved him, and that I’d see him on the other side.
When someone dies, we struggle to find the right words to say. “There’s a reason for everything,…he’s in a better place…he lived a good life…” These platitudes trivialize the trauma of a loved one’s death. But the awful truth is that I’ll never hear him scold me for sharing photos on Facebook while I’m on vacation. (Someone could see that and rob your house, Sis) I can’t send him a text saying hi. I won’t hear him play the Irish flute and laugh as his greyhound howls in protest.
He won’t arrive by train every six weeks to visit our mom and to help me see with clearer vision Mom’s decline.
I will miss my brother and the life he lived.
Ken lived well. He loved well, and was loved by many. Over a hundred people attended his memorial service. He was funny, super-intelligent (I think his IQ was over 160), and he cared for his family.
Isn’t that what we all want people to say of us? Take a lesson from my brother, Ken. Live well.
Jane S. Daly is the author of two books, Because of Grace (2015) and The Caregiving Season (2016). She is also the treasurer of Inspire Christian Writers and West Coast Christian Writers.