This is how 2020 gave me my brother back
The first time I wrote a less-than-flattering blog post about my brother, I tried to hide it. I published it. But I purposely didn’t share it on Facebook where he might see it.
At the time I was involved in Toastmasters. I took a part of my blog post and gave it as a speech to my club. I also was taking an online course called Storytelling For Change. For one of the final modules, I had to record my speech and share it with my classmates all over the world. What speech? The one about my brother.
In other words, I declared to the entire world that “He Is My Brother Still” — despite his errant ways — but I didn’t tell Scott. I wrote and spoke behind his back.
Somehow he found and read the post that detailed his failings but concluded that I loved him anyway. (That first blog, here.)
Scott loved the post. And despite my failings, he loved me anyway.
He died a year ago in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
When I was a teacher at a K-12 school, the seniors gave “thank you” speeches as part of their commencement exercises. When I was relatively new, I had had a conversation with one of my senior English students in which I had said, jokingly, “No one ever mentions me.”
So when this student stood at the podium to give his speech, he paused, looked at me in the audience, said “Mrs. Dagen” (that was all), and then presented his speech.
It was hilarious — to me. Meaningless, most likely, to others. This “honorable” mention.
Several years later, another senior (not prompted by me!), took the podium and with real joy and meaning looked at me and called out “Mrs. Dagen!” with joy and exuberance and endearment. He then expressed his thanks. My heart still melts at the memory.
That is how I want to mention my brother’s name.
While 2020 took so much away from so many, it gave me my brother.
(You can get the back story here.)
God’s perfect timing
While COVID-19 made its way across the United States, I was able to visit my brother daily when nothing less than an act of God moved him from his home three hours from me to a hospital a walkable mile from where I worked.
He was hospitalized here from mid-January to almost the end of February — and while I increased my use of hand sanitizer and exercised caution while visiting him, I didn’t miss a day because of the virus. (He had a host of ailments — an infection in his neck where his hardware protruded, a collapsed lung, an inability to swallow, internal bleeding — but not COVID.)
Had the shutdown happened, my brother might have been less than a mile away but as distant as if he’d been half the state of Florida away. It didn’t happen.
When my brother coded for the first time, he survived because his nurse was at his side when it happened, allowing him to be resuscitated quickly. It bought Scott another stint on the ventilator, which he hated, and gave him an inkling that he might not survive.
A pastor from my childhood church visited Scott shortly afterward and talked with him about salvation. At the funeral service for my brother six months after his death, Pastor Charlie shared about his time with my brother.
We had all watched a slideshow of photographs from Scott’s life. We saw him grow up before our eyes, join the Navy, marry, have children and grandchildren, fish, camp, and live. We remembered his personality, his finer and funnier qualities, his warmth, and his wrath. Charlie got to see it too.
“You know, even though Scott was in terrible shape when I saw him, he was still that man, that character we saw on the video,” Charlie said. “I only saw him once, but even as he struggled to breathe he cut up and joked with me.
“Scott had a lot of questions for me,” Charlie continued. “He mostly wrote them down on paper, and I provided the usual answers about salvation: the wages of sin is death but the gift — the gift — of God is eternal life through Jesus. I told him that if he declared that Jesus is Lord and believed in his heart that God raised him from the dead, he would be saved.”
“‘It can’t be that easy,’ he kept saying,” the pastor said. “‘I’ve done bad things. It can’t be that easy.’ I prayed with him once, then twice. He said, ‘That’s it? It can’t be that easy.’ I told him that if he were that worried about his standing with God, that God knew his heart and he would be OK.
“I prayed with him a third time, and he seemed to find peace,” Charlie said. “He was asleep when I left.”
Shortly after Charlie’s visit, Scott had other complications, ended up in a hospital ICU, and died after coding twice more. God’s timing was perfect.
He is my brother still
Before my brother left the hospital near me, Scott had given me the opportunity to write more less-than-flattering blog posts about him — and posed for photos for them, too. He suffered mostly from injuries self-inflicted, not intentionally, by his lifestyle. After my initial post about him four years before, he’d kept up with my blog posts. He didn’t mind being blog famous.
In one post, “A Matter of Perspective,” I had shared my lament about our family photos taken as adults. I always seemed to get the end spot — me, the tallest of five children. The angle of the photographer inevitably captured me as even taller than I was. I was self-conscious about my height and had no desire for a photo depicting me as even larger than I was in real life.
The next time we took a family photo was at my sister’s celebration of life service. As Scott, Jack, Trish, and I lined up for a photo, without thinking, I took the end spot.
“No-o-o,” Scott said. “Remember? Perspective. Let me look larger than life.”
Gladly. Scott was small in stature but larger than life. He had a big personality. Big problems — usually self-created. Big heart — not always the wisest. Big impact — not always the best. But he was and is my brother.
This week, as I read the Bible in One Year devotional, Nicky Gumbel pointed to Jesus affirming the absolute certainty of the resurrection of the dead. In Mark 12:26-27, Jesus addressed the Sadducees, who did not believe in life after death.
“Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”Mark 12:26-27, NIV
“I am,” God said. Not “I was.”
“In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living now!” Gumbel wrote.
So is my brother.
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