I began writing this 34 days since we lost Brian Ehrhart, my only biological brother and the man who I considered my best friend second only to my bride. So much to learn from this horrific situation, and yet the process is muddier now than the clear plastic bag labeled “Personal Items” with which I left the hospital thirty-four days ago. Thirty-four days since thirty-four years were cut way too short.
This journal/blog has been my attempt to process on my own, not necessarily with clarity, but with thoughts. These thoughts have no order of importance or anything like that, either. I just thought it best to narrow and give structure to these words with a thought that represents each year Brian lived. At least that was the catalyst for this post, and it was easy to come up with 34. It could have been considerably longer.
Just when things seem they could not get any weirder, it seems they do. I keep saying, “this is unbelievable,” or I hear that from others when I share even just a little bit of this story. What is more, it’s unbelievable in any culture. It’s not unbelievable from a strictly Western world or American perspective. This would be unbelievable in the middle of the jungle. Granted, it would be more likely all this would have happened there, but it would still be as shocking there as here. There are a handful of underlying issues that are still pending which can’t be shared publicly yet, and may never be, frankly. Always underlying drama will remain (some of which we know and probably some we aren’t as privy), but hope and trust in God despite those variables remains.
2. Thankful to be there.
I flew up from Sacramento the evening of Thursday, February 23 thinking I would just be there with Brian while he recovered over the weekend. However, I became a representative for many who would have given much to be there with him. I’m thankful someone was there. And I’m thankful I was the one (in addition to Pete, Sandra’s dad, and Rod, who took Brian to urgent care that morning). I’m thankful I could call my mom and cry with her. Thankful I could cry with my dad in the most surreal moment of each of our lives. I’m thankful I got to hold my phone to Brian’s ear while his bride Sandra loved on him with all she could in that moment. Machines prevented me from hearing her, but I sensed that Brian and she were connected one last time in a way that was as beautiful as she looked on the day they were married.
This may sound peculiar, but I smiled when they stopped doing CPR. I knew where Brian was going and I was joyful for him. And there was brotherly love echoing the city from which us transplanted Pacific boys both considered ourselves natives. Standing at the side of his bed I held his right hand and his right calf. I did that strategically because it enabled me to be out of the way of nurses and symbolized the nickname Brian gave me. He called me “Long-Ankles.” He did this because he said I had no calf muscle. Still don’t. He jested that my ankles were connected to my knees because there was nothing there in between them (thus my ankles very long). He could dunk a basketball and I couldn’t, so I held on to the calf because I know he would have said something like, “That’s right, what you are holding is a muscle you don’t have.” So I smiled as his heart no longer beat.
The greater reason I smiled was because I could be there when he crossed a significant line in the eternal life he lives. Thirty minutes after I told my wife that I didn’t want to go into the room because it was too disturbing, I stood there and held him as a representative for many, which may include you reading this. It was 3:43 when I was holding him; the time that was our two basketball numbers: mine the former and his the latter. At the time of death, 3:44 I walked around the bed and kissed his forehead on behalf of those my bride said I needed to be there for–gosh, that memory hurts despite the gratitude I have for it.
I mean, seriously! What are the odds that one’s spouse would be in another country on a family vacation when this freak virus would take hold of their life? Again, it was more likely that he would have contracted a lethal virus there than in his own home. I recall Sandra’s dad Pete saying a few times in the hospital and the week that followed that it was a blessing Brian was where he was instead of in a locale that may not have been equipped to care for him in a way that would minimize the suffering. He’s right, and that does help to consider. It’s good to know that in an excellent hospital in the states he died instead a lesser equipped hospital below the border that would always have left us wondering, “What if?” And the autopsy … would it have even been done there? Or would more have died because of the unknown cause of death.
Brian had them. Sandra has them. That was overwhelming to me. So many felt close to Brian–he had that ability to make you feel like you were close to him even though you don’t know if he saw you the same way. I mean, you feel like he did, but that’s what even I began to wonder myself these days. He was my best friend but I ponder if he saw me as one of his. I suppose many saw him in a similar way and are just as curious.
I couldn’t be more glad that Brian invested in relationships to where he set his family up with support better than any money or material possessions could. It’s made me ask who my friends are and I’ve both discovered and questioned that as #32 hints. Friends matter. Community is invaluable. And Brian had that, whether he even knew it or not. I think it stemmed more from who he was than any intentional effort to make that a reality for two extremely introverted people in he and Sandra.
I must say that I was overwhelmingly encouraged when I came home to flowers planted on our front porch, our jungle (lawn) mowed, my backyard cleaned better than it has been in years, my bathroom faucet fixed, and my new garage heater/a/c unit cords covered. We had a house appraisal scheduled before I was to come home and three families stepped up to bless me with that help! Two of the three families I haven’t even spoken a word with since that time (other than a text here or there). If they had not done this, I would not have any of it done to the degree in which they were able to accomplish it. That, too, was a testimony to having friends who love.
This is one of the best and most difficult aspects of this whole experience. Our emotions are heightened. We all want to do something, but there’s not a ton that can be done. We all hurt, but do so in different ways and certain dynamics unearth previous pains that we assumed we were beyond. The reality is that you don’t know how to support one another and you wonder if you’re making things worse for others somehow. There’s more eggshell-walking with family, it seems, than with others. Yet family will always be there as #28 states below.
6. Viral Caring.
More specifically, youcaring.com. What I thought was a bit greedy to ask for to help with funeral costs, $15,000, was raised in like 12 hours. Most of that was done while I was asleep, in fact! With over $80,000 raised to this point, to say I’m stunned or overwhelmed would be incomparable to what I feel or think. Much like #1, I shake my head in unbelief.
It’s no accident that as quickly as the virus took Brian, the speed at which the caring went viral was overwhelming. Watching this astronomical number rise with beautiful comments to go with each dollar was an amazing encouragement for our family to track. Looking through the names, the comments, and the amounts, our family would pass one another in the midst of grief with statements or questions like: “Do you know so-and-so? Did you see what this person wrote? Did you see that this person who we’ve haven’t spoken with in over twenty years not only found out, but gave?” That was/is love with hands & feet in the form of dollars. It was a sacrificial expression of love that we don’t know could have manifested in any other way. Less than two weeks ago when the money was transferred into an account for Sandra, I got a text from her that I could tell had an excitement and warmth that demonstrated the encouragement I knew it meant to her. So thank you. From the bottom of our hearts.
Hanted-House is what I call their current land/home, due to the hantavirus. “Isn’t that the virus with like squirrels or something? Or mice?” That’s what I’ve heard from those who are vaguely familiar with it. Most other people are as clueless with Brian’s cause of death as I was. It should be spelled like it is actually pronounced, “haunta,” because of what it does to others who have potentially been exposed: it haunts them. Eight weeks of wondering if it is laying dormant in my being is a bit longer than I’d prefer, frankly. The anxiety of the virus in addition to everything else led me to visit the hospital with fear that I had it, too. The hospital may as well have had a mysterious celebrity for the hours I was there. Initial tests came back all clear, but only led to feeling as simple as the thought that a mouse could somehow take the life of a man 6’6″, 210 lbs.
What is more, to discover that this virus took his life in only 18 hours from the time he sought treatment from a doctor is numbing. When we found out that it was hanta, Sandra recalled having had their vents cleaned out in the fall and that there were mouse droppings at that time. As soon as we arrived at her house after being told the cause of death, I looked in the very first vent I saw in their foyer. Finding mouse droppings there caused an evacuation of one of the only stable things in the life of Sandra and her two cherubs. Truly a hanta’d house was identified, haunted greater than any fee-charging amusement house open in October. I hated rodents before. Now I despise them.
8. Epitome of strength.
Sandra Ehrhart has been the strongest person I have met next to my bride. How the heck did my brother and I marry such amazing women? And yet for as strong and similar they are, they’re just as different! Having been evacuated from her home only 16 hours night prior to a service that would memorialize her late husband, Sandra woke up the morning of the service texting the following message:
The enemy is strong, but our God is stronger. We know spiritual attacks happen when the enemy feels most threatened, and that is what has transpired in the last 24 hours [with the hanta discovery]. So take courage, today is going to be the beginning of a revival … Today our focus is on celebrating the amazing man Brian was and sharing the reason for that, our Savior Jesus Christ. Tomorrow is soon enough for everything else.
Are you serious? What is more, her strength has been beautiful in a way that demonstrates brokenness as much as perseverance. True strength is knowing you need to fall apart while also pressing through that which you have no desire to do for the love of those who depend upon you. To focus in the depth that you are not alone even when you feel like it and even need to be is so admirable. Sandra is my hero. And the little sister I always wanted; I could not be more proud of her. Brian, the quiet, gentle giant I loved married an even greater giant of love and strength I’ve only come to know and love more.
Thank you, Sandra, for being the wife I know Brian is more proud of than ever before, despite the pain he knows has been caused by this tragedy. I love you. And I wish I could be that “adopted dad” that has been mentioned by some. But I think I’ll stay SillyUncleWes.
Sandra and her closest friends, our mom who lived nearby, and others being out of town, in addition to Pastor Jerry not able to do the service, was all terrible timing. For me, I was anticipating one of the busiest weeks at my job in my five-year tenure there. Even more dynamics to all of this were tragic in their timing, to the point where you shake your head and ask dumb things like, “Why not one week later, Lord?” Yet we just don’t know which of these instances were a good or bad thing given the situation. None of these scenarios would have brought Brian back, but the “What if” questions certainly fly in the minds of many.
On the flip-side, our CA family were blessed to some regard. In addition to me being able to fly up to Seattle “in time,” my wife was nearly in between jobs the day Brian passed away (as a children’s therapist). She had only three days remaining. That timing enabled her to avoid impacting any of her clients adversely, and be with Sandra for an extra week. That meant the world to me knowing that an extension of our household could be present in the time that was needed.
Another bit of timing that “just so happened” to be part of our lives occurred less than a year prior to Brian’s death. My family of five had a garage fire last April that put us into a hotel for four months and enabled us to learn more than we wanted about how to navigate working with insurance companies, contractors, hotels, and all else in that challenging world. Granted, this case is way different, especially because it’s unprecedented even for the insurance and cleaning companies, but thankfully we have been able to shed some light on this process and translate for Sandra.
10. Sovereign love.
In 2012 these two words captured my heart and mind, and have resurfaced in this season. How a sovereign God could be loving seemed to me a disturbing paradox. A God who is in control who allows stuff like this to happen and yet loves people seems to be sick and cruel to many minds. How could God allow, or dare I say “invite,” tragedy like this into anyone’s life? And to a 6 year old and 4 year old?
What is more, there’s about 100 people we all know who “deserve” to die before Brian. I walked by a man in a store the other day who served on a board that eventually fired me and twelve of my peers. He doesn’t know I exist as a human being. I confess I thought, “Lord, why has he been able to live to like 80 and Brian couldn’t even get to 35? Brian had so much more to offer!” Beeg, as those of us who knew him before his Pacific Northwest days called him, had a better chance to make this world a better place than most of us reading these words. I know I believe that! So why? That question is so real. But I think that’s what trust and faith is.
See, “control” isn’t mutually exclusive with “love.” God doesn’t only see the end in this story, He functions outside of the thing that restricts us called “time.” Much like I see beyond the minor instances where my children experience hardship, so God sees beyond the tragedies in our lives. Granted, that is about the most trite thing to tell someone grieving, but I do believe it. And I don’t think it’s naive as much as having “faith like a child” (see Matthew 18).
With all that to be said, I do think that this whole situation breaks God’s heart despite his allowance for it. I know He has wept with us and longs to comfort us despite knowing what is to come. 2 Corinthians 1:4 promises that this will give me an opportunity to comfort others in the same way others have comforted me in this time. Part of that comfort is knowing that Jesus weeps with us in these moments. Not for us or at us, but alongside us. Sovereign I’ve often substituted with “in control,” and true love I’m convinced is “sacrificial,” so when I marry those concepts and consider the phrase, “Sovereign Love,” the paradox is what the cross on which Jesus died epitomizes.
11. What the church should be.
Having been a pastor, currently serving pastors, and at times confused by what the church’s role is in society and as the expression of Jesus in the world, through Crossroads Church I have seen the Church be the Bride of Christ that God intended her to be. Crossroads has stepped in with what seems to be healthy boundaries that both respect and respond appropriately. Sculpting a service that included childcare, food, space, programs, and so much more all for free was and is beautiful. Having a counselor come in to teach Brian and Sandra’s Covenant group of parents in similar life stages only two days after his death is unparalleled.
As I’ve thought about this, though, I realize there’s more than just some church blindly blessing this couple. It actually took time to cultivate this relationship. And effort. What is often overlooked by those who criticize churches is that church is a body. And if I learned anything in the hospital that night, it’s that if one part begins to fail, other parts do as well.
Brian and Sandra invested themselves in their local church body in such a way that they are receiving back in ways like they gave: unreciprocatably. Many could never repay Brian and Sandra for how they served them; Sandra nor any of us in our family will ever be able to repay those who are serving us now. Meals, cards, future lawn mowing, financial help, little texts, messages, etc. It’s serving in ways that aren’t with expectations that are the true marks of love. Serving without strings. Serving as grace. Undeserved favor and sacrificing love. Thank you, Crossroads Church. It’s not just a testament to you, but to the body of Christ globally. It both inspires me and revives me in what I know the Church can and should be.
12. The Communication Industry.
God has always existed as the Word (John 1:1). God created the world with a word (Genesis 1). Relationships are built upon words. Communication is often symbolized by words, and mobile devices are a fabric of modern-day communication. It is in such an industry Brian served. The irony of that world, though is that it’s become more about information and speed than connecting with humans.
More than a few in our family were on Brian’s cell phone plan. Four days after he passed away we each woke up with a text message saying that our account was dropped to a “consumer” account because Brian no longer worked there. They warned us, mind you, but it still was a rude “awakening.” From that moment, our data speed dropped off like our emotions did on February 24th. It was comically frustrating for a month as we realized what we took for granted. Our LTE stood for “Long Term Expectancy” instead of “fast,” as most of us consider it to mean.
Finally, yesterday I called T-Mobile to divide our lines and get our speed back up to what we were used to. While we were able to get back our speed, sadly we will not be able to get back our relationship with Brian unless we join him as a result of the relationship we have with God. By no irony the joy we have with God is about the communication we have with Him both in prayer to Him and through Scripture from Him. For these promises and hope, I am grateful. And I’m grateful that Brian helped serve those in the communication world as a model for the need for communication with one another and with God.
13. Suffering well.
The last thing I want to do is to harm my children in any way, but as I tell them frequently, one of my goals is to teach them to “suffer well.” Life is full of pain and things we don’t understand; it’s vital to know how to walk through times like that. Whether it’s not being treated fairly by a teacher, coach, or friend, or if it is an atrocious time like this, we need to learn how to suffer well. Life isn’t fair, and we aren’t entitled to whatever we want. Sometimes we get what we didn’t ask for. Most western-world problems are hardly suffering, and in an age where we all believe we have “rights” to do/be this or that, I think Brian had the right to live. But he didn’t. He suffered, and so we do now as well. In his recent recent book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller writes,
“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”
I am grateful to have this season in which to model such “suffering.” Scripture repeats the joy of such opportunities (though again that sounds kind of sick). James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-8 are two passages I’ve come to cling to in times like this because of the hope which we have in these moments. I don’t get it, but I believe it. And I believe that these moments teach us and give us opportunities in ways that we could never experience without them. Growth happens most often during and after difficulty. And growth hurts. Blessing most often happens after brokenness. And blessing often comes after rain, as the Laura Story song that was a part of Brian’s Memorial Service.
Lord, help us to suffer well. You knew suffering more than any of us and suffered for us so that in the time and place in which Brian is, we will have no more suffering. We can’t wait!
14. A boy.
A young boy without a dad. The impact on how his future will be is in the Lord’s hands, but I feel a deep responsibility to fill in where I can. I think many of us do. Like I said before, I so want to adopt Sandra, Eli and Emma! I know that’s crazy and emotional, but I love them so … and I just want what’s best for them. I know a dad for a boy is so vital, and I know how Brian loved him so. I wish I could walk alongside Brian and watch him create the daddy-issues he’s watched me create in my own kids the last dozen years.
Telling Brian’s son that his daddy died was one of the worst experiences for me that continues to rip at my heart as I think of it. That little man’s quotes pierce me, and create tears of pain and laughter.
(To Sandra the day after Brian passed): “What are we going to do since daddy made all our money? [immediately following mommy’ answer] “Ok, so can I play Mario Kart now?”
I can actually hear Brian say the same thing if he was in Eli’s shoes 28 years ago.
(To his friend): “You know what it feels like when your dad dies? … It really hurts.”
I sure hurt for him. And I hurt for Sandra because I know she would love to fill that void but can’t. So many dads are absent, and so many marriages are broken, which is difficult enough & almost normalized in our society. But for those who aren’t on that trajectory at all and have this sudden disruption, it’s a whole other kind of trauma. I love my buddy “E” …
15. A girl.
One of the most painful things that first rocked my world as I came down from some of the shock was the reality that Emma won’t remember her dad & how he loved her. For her not to know what an amazing man he was still chokes me up. That just isn’t fair for her, and it pains me to think she will miss out on the man God used to create who she is. She’s so special and yet will live with a huge hole in her world.
Uniquely, she manifests quite the mirror of Brian and my Mom in a way that gives me joy to know there’s some genes there, but I also know that can be tricky to navigate for Sandra. I recall discussions with her and Brian with how they were going to parent her unique little personality. I’m thankful my mom is there, but also know that Brian and Sandra were still searching deeply for how to guide Emma, and now Sandra is left wanting. Time will tell with that little girl and it is my desire to shepherd and share the joy of the Lord in her little being. She sure is full of it!
16. Prayers of strength.
Thanks to shock, but most significantly prayer, I had strength the first three weeks in a way that was clearly from on high. There’s no other way to explain it. I was walking in a unique strength and continue to despite longing for weakness often. Am I a crisis junkie? Am I up so as to prove something? I second guess myself well, but attest it all to prayers of the saints. It’s prayer for what I need–not necessarily strength–that I appeal most.
At times they are hard to come by; they function like that word that is on the tip of your tongue. Sometimes it comes to you and other times it it’s stuck inside you frustratingly. They jump out of my ducts most often when listening music. So many songs keep adding to the playlist I have titled “Brian.” Most of them have words like, “Hope, home, what if.” I’ve already put in more than a few hours working on a slideshow of Brian and I to the song that has meant the most.
Combining #16 & the paragraph above would be best summarized by my desire to be a puddle of tears and a mess. The ugly cry has manifested less than half a dozen times, and I can hear my being begging for more. That longing for weakness so Christ’s strength can rest on my like 2 Corinthians 10:9-12 has been rich in my soul. After the strength that God provided, I really just wanted to be a puddle of tears and a mess. Pictures have helped a bit, as have tunes, but I long for just a quiet day to remember and be still to the point where I can just melt.
There’s been more than one moment in which I wanted to text Sandra a picture of our family doing something, or a picture of Sherry and I doing something. I resist because I don’t want her to feel bad seeing us do something as a family. I don’t want to hurt the kids in seeing a picture of me with my kids because I’ve heard one of them say, “It’s not a fair that everyone else has a daddy but I don’t.” How can such a young mind express that just 6 days after their parent unwillingly left them?
I feel guilty that I hadn’t spent more time with him, particularly since my college days. I bolted to the west coast (granted, so did he), and our lives were largely connected through devices: talks to and fro to work on bluetooth, Saturday morning FaceTime moments, and pictures streamed or texted to each other. It leads me to ask questions like #25.
I know I can’t make any rash decisions & moving closer to them is not a reality, but I feel guilty that my world is so embedded in my own community that I can’t foresee moving from it–even though I want to drop everything and move there to be with them. I imagine most folks have had that thought in the past whether with Brian or someone else.
19. Pain. Hurt. Ache.
I mentioned to someone this week, “It’s crazy. But God is good. … and this sucks.” It just hurts. I don’t know how to explain what exactly it is, but it is. And I believe that God somehow hurts, too. He sees beyond the time, as mentioned in #10, yet he aches with us in time. As far as what this pain is, that has been one of the most difficult things to describe. It’s dull and deep, yet occasionally pierces. It comes and goes, yet leaves just enough feeling to let you know continuously that it’s there. Ironically, despite it being pain, it’s a comfort to know that the love for Brian is neither forgotten nor pushed aside. So it’s almost as if you don’t want the pain to go away.
Having read about Henri Nouwen’s work at L’Arche in Canada with leprosy patients in The Wounded Healer, I’m reminded about what life was like for those who could not experience pain. Accidentally leaning on a stove burner did not signal pain for these folks and it caused major burns on these victims whose pain regulators did not work. The pain is good; it’s healthy that it hurts. It just aches.
20. Faith that grows & trust that is inexplicable.
One phrase I’ve repeated over and again is: “I don’t know how people go through times like this without Jesus.” One guy responded, “You’d probably drink a lot of alcohol.” I guess I should feel blessed that the idea he mentioned never entered my head, but there’s probably some truth there for many.
My life is centered on Jesus the Christ. Some might say it’s my “faith” or “spirituality,” but it’s Him, the God-man. This season has been confirmation of that because I’ve not been shaken but comforted and assured. Questions asked have been grounded in trust that God knows more and that Brian is where my constant faith believes/knows he is. These moments are tragic to a follower of Jesus, but they aren’t life-defeating. That is life without #21. Instead, the faith that Jesus paid for my and Brian’s (and your) sins and that by God’s grace alone can I be with him forever is core to not only what I believe but who I am. That faith has only been made stronger because it has brought me through in the worst of times like this. And this is the worst thus far in my young, but too-oft-dramatic-recently life. Previous blogs attest to this. God has seen my family through hard times before and I’d be a fool to all of a sudden throw all that testimony away for this most recent–albeit worst–tragedy. I think I once again resonate with Timothy Keller’s words that I paraphrase,
Christians have the capacity to experience the deepest of sorrows and the greatest of joys.
Pondering that thought over and again has given me a renewed perspective over and again. This world is but a blip in eternity. 2 Corinthians 4:17 I quoted in my driveway after our fire, “Our light and momentary afflicitions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” That same thought–which is faith in perspective–enables me to see beyond now. The reality that we can be healthy one day, under the weather the next, and die the day following is real. The immediacy of our need to have a hope and faith beyond what most of us do is imperative.
That’s what my blog is about: hope. Life without hope is life that is scary because it is considered dead. Hope in our next breath, hope in God’s work in relationships, hope in healing, hope in things working out. It is hope that helps us take one step forward each day. I have hopes that Eli will be ok, and even a better man, dad, and brother in Christ for this. I have hope that Emma will be as amazing a woman as her mom as a result of this tragedy. I think it was the most recent Star Wars movie where I heard something to the effect that, “Hope is the strongest weapon.” It’s so true. Hope keeps us ticking in the times when everything seems against us. Having experienced a few moments in life when I’ve been hopeless, I attest that to be true no matter what. When I’ve asked crowds of people if they’ve ever been hopeless, I can tell the ones who “get it” not by the hands they raise, but by the look in their eyes. Hope is central to so much.
I confess that around 12:10 a.m. on Feb. 24th I shrunk into a puddle of hopelessness in the hallway of the hospital after the first code blue, but Brian came back. I recall more than one nurse touching my shoulder in that minute; probably the worst minute of my life. The battle between hope and resolving myself to the reality that was going on during that night created the most exhausted feeling my body may have ever known. Shaking, labored breathing, not knowing what to do with my mind, feelings, or body. Needing sleep but knowing there was no way that was happening.
I remember around 12:30 that I was praying for what I wanted: Brian to stay alive. I started thinking he was going to get mad at me for praying him back to earth as if he was already at the feet of Jesus and the Lord let him come back. While that thought never changed my prayer of, “Please Lord, save him,” it did allow me also to trust that God knew the situation’s ins and outs and that I do ultimately want to want what he wants.
Hope for Brian’s life never went away, though, because I knew his life wasn’t limited to the numbers outputted from the wires connected to his body. Jesus’ words in John 11:25-26 comfort me even now as I recall that. “He who believes in [Jesus] will live, even though he dies. And if you believe in [Jesus] and live, you will never die.”
22. Stuck. Handcuffed.
I think we all feel that way all the time, but during this season we have felt this the most. I was blessed to have strength to be in the thick of things the first 10 days, but as soon as I touched ground in my home state of California, I suddenly felt worthless in the process because I wasn’t there. I know at this current stage, even those in WA have a rich stuck feeling because of the dependency upon third parties to act in order to get Sandra and the kids back home.
The” what if’s?” won’t bring him back, and the questions both medically and environmentally don’t have answers yet for one reason or another. What is more, in a season when so many people want to act, all we are left with is a feeling of being handcuffed, like waiting in the back of a police car. It’s not that we’ve done anything wrong–and we are in a safe vehicle–we just feel like Job wondering, “now what?” It’s as if Sandra and the kids have been punished or accused for some reason when they’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve this tragedy. So they sit in the car handcuffed. And everyone who wants to help sits in their own vehicle handcuffed. Some of us get to join in Sandra’s car with her, but we can only really talk and process, and that uncomfortably.
Unfortunately, the timing of of some people winding up in the car with Sandra and/or the kids isn’t always the best. Whether this is in a store, sports practice, or somewhere else, we sit in that seat with the metal shackles around our lips that long to bring comfort. Some folks could have benefitted from heavier shackles around their tongues because they have said some phenomenally stupid things. It’s not anyone’s fault, per se, it’s just that the reality of being handcuffed like Sandra and others are leads us to just lie down on the backseat to try and get somewhat comfortable despite the lack of space and awkward position in which we sit. The handcuffed feeling we all share has this, “I-know-it’s-not-normal-and-won’t-be-like-this-always” feeling but realizes a new feeling awaits called, “This-isn’t-normal-either.”
23. Hurry up and wait.
I called insurance maybe three times in the past week. An adjuster was out of the office for three days while an industrial hygienist submitted a report two days after they said they would. I called numerous pest control places who needed to ask technicians whether they would be willing to risk going into the Hanta’d house. Like our family’s recent house fire, it was my goal for no one to be waiting on me for anything. I hurried up on everything that was needed, but felt constantly “in wait” for others to move. Patience is one of the hardest things at this point, whereas the first week was truly a cram–to the point where it was just “Hurry Up.”
I guess that’s part of God’s timing in things. Maybe it was good we were busy during the shock stage of grief so that we were able to accomplish some key things, and now we can let the grieving process take shape in other ways. God knows when we need to hurry up and when we need to wait. Another trite but true statement comes to mind: “God is never late; and He’s never in a hurry.” This process seems to be all about being in hurry and never on time. I call it, “hurry up and wait.”
I think Brian was 17 years old when he wrote on an index card for me something like, “I don’t think the enemy would attack something or someone he didn’t think could be a powerful instrument in the hand of God.” I’m sure there is a quote out there that says that much more eloquently, but it blew me away at the time because I was actually unsure of his faith. I don’t know if that was a turning point for him or not, but it was in how I viewed his maturity.
As Sandra is quoted above, the enemy (Accuser, Satan, Lucifer, Deceiver, Devil, whatever you want to call Him) is a big part of this story. We don’t like to talk about the Devil because it seems super-spiritual and is clearly supernatural. But he is real. And he is at work and has been in this situation. Some may say that it is just people’s weaknesses manifesting themselves due o their lack of social/emotional intelligence, or because of generational issues, but Satan is up to something here.
In going through pictures that Brian had abnoxiously well-organized, I found the video of his baptism. He told me about it when it happened but I didn’t know there was video in it. That was a pivotal point in his life, and when I watched it, it became a pivotal point in mine. When you realize that the life you live impacts those you love the most on an eternal scale, there’s just nothing greater. To know that he is secure from the enemy is like drinking spring water in the desert of the emotions in this season.
Brian was worth having had his life taken to the Enemy. Don’t worry, Brian is way better off now than he ever was on this side of eternity. But many of us left are who Satan is after–or was all along. Recognizing that is half the battle, honestly. The best thing we can do in Satan’s mind is to pretend that he doesn’t exist. C.S. Lewis‘ classic, Screwtape Letters, features letters to a demon Screwtape from his Uncle Wormwood. They are brilliant in giving thought to how Satan may be wanting us to think, feel, and perceive. This situation has brought to the forefront of my mind how there is a spiritual dimension to this world that we aren’t often aware of or give mind to except for an occasional movie or wacky t.v. show, and we know those aren’t real. (Granted, the preacher this past weekend went into that a bit, so it’s on my mind from that, I’m sure.)
Going back to Brian’s quote that began this number 24, I do believe God is up to something here, and I say this personally. A year and a week before Brian was in the hospital, I had neck surgery. Just over 50 days later we had our house fire. Four months later we returned home and four weeks after that I had new back pain. I discovered a torn disc in my lower back. Then, to ensure all the bad was out of my system in 2016, I had hand surgery Dec. 30. Now Brian–worse than all of those combined. There is an enemy. And God is up to something that that’s why the Deceiver is attacking.
This was the fear that hit the hardest this week: wondering if I was being dramatic in this whole process. Am/was I seeking attention for myself somehow in this? Am I trying to be some sort of hero and not delegating enough because of some sort of trust issues? Am I controlling & really shouldn’t be? Am I playing victim more than I ought? I feel close to the situation but it would seem I should be further away, so am I pretending I’m closer than I really am? Here’s the facts:
- We saw each other 2 x’s/yr. maybe and talked 2-8 x’s/month (maybe more, but it depended)
- We lived 777 miles from each other and haven’t lived with each other regularly since he was in 8th grade – that’s 20 years
My wife told me something like, “Blood runs deep.” That comforts me that I’m not overreacting, and I think of co-workers, neighbors, and others who may see me more than their siblings but would never step in as I have, so that tames some of my fears. But they do exist. And I want to be pure in this, not creating more drama than there already is. This is probably combined with #18, “Guilty.”
26. Making sense.
Trying to make sense of all of this, whether medically, financially, practically, familially, occupationally, and even simple justice/fairness is not really possible.
I’m reminded of Oswald Chambers’ quote, “Common sense is the mark of the unspiritual life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life.”
Living in gracious uncertainty is the difficulty we have right now. While that is truly what faith is, faith isn’t easy, and it’s especially difficult because of the known. Hebrews 11:1-2 defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” I like that it references back to previous times. It goes on to recall various faith heroes, but even just that phrase gives comfort and perspective because in 5-10 years when we consider #10, God’s Sovereign Love, we may see why it was right to have faith.
In an age of information when we can become a near-expert on things, this situation can’t be looked up on the internet! I was in the hospital ER about ten days ago and when I told the doctor my concern, he was looking it up on some journal or something and I was telling him about the virus. It was at that moment when he said, “You probably know more about this than I do.” It was true. Making sense of this whole thing is not possible to look up, which is terribly confusing and frustrating. But it is a great opportunity for faith to grow and be expressed. You can’t look it up, it doesn’t make sense, but gracious uncertainty is where the peace somehow resides.
My therapist said something last week to the effect that certain emotions I am experiencing would probably last a few more weeks. It really rubbed me wrong–even if he is right. I don’t want to go through a canned process. This whole situation is unique and given the unprecedented nature of it, I like that its unique. When I’m told I’m just being a typical griever and all this is “textbook,” I don’t like that. I understand the health in normalizing things, but this isn’t normal! And I don’t want my process to be normal because of that and because Brian wasn’t normal–in a great way.
I don’t know anyone else whose sibling died. I don’t know anyone else who felt closer to my sibling than mine did to me. In fact, as I consider when I talked about Brian and Sandra to co-workers or family members prior to his death, it was never in an eye-rolling, critical way (sarcastic at times), but always with great admiration and respect. I held him in high esteem then and do so now. I say this not in a justifying myself way but in a way that emphasizes why this is not normal. I think this is one of the toughest things for me to reconcile because of the many relationships I know others have with their siblings. I think it’s fair to say that our family on my wife’s side could best attest to the admiration I had for him. I don’t know why I feel I have to prove how close we were, or if again I’m dramatizing this like #25.
I don’t know anyone who has died of some peculiar virus in a matter of hours after being healthy. I don’t know anyone who flew to a sibling’s death unbeknownst to them that it was that serious. I don’t know anyone who was on a family vacation in another country when their spouse died. I don’t know anyone who was kicked out of their house as a result of their spouse’s death. And honestly, that’s not even half of it. This is not normal!
28. Blood is thicker than water.
I’ve already mentioned this, but I remain amazed at how quickly the relationships that have always been there but haven’t been face-to-face pick up right where and how-ever they left off–for better or for worse. What I loved most was that my kids got to meet my family–many for the first time!
I think my cousins come to mind the most because the four of us who were in Seattle together seemed to gel like we used to” strategically when we played hide-and-seek in our Irish grandparents’ house over Thanksgiving, and creatively like we made sand castles and cars on the beach along the Jersey Shore. We were missing the broken boys, but there was a unity we shared because we’d been through quite a bit with one another. I just wish the baby among us wasn’t the first to leave this earth. That stings terribly bad.
Part of me was glad that this got the attention of the media, but another part Of me has my yellow flashing antennas up on high alert. I don’t trust many media because I know my own heart and motives more often than not (even when I write this post wondering which [if] folks will read it]). In fact, it’d make sense if I were to link those news outlets that thankfully kept Beegs’s name anonymous. But I won’t because the good part about news media putting the info out there is that it may save others’ lives. That’s already been done.
30. How much do you know?
Regularly now I need to start conversations about this situation with, “How much do you know?” In at least three conversations I began talking about one aspect assuming knowledge was there that wasn’t. The story then backtracked and the conversation almost always ended up longer than anticipated (not a bad thing, just longer). I actually began to carry index cards with youcaring.com/sandraeliemma written on them so folks could get the story there.
This question about what people know functions much like Facebook or other social media things where people assume they’ve told you something because they shared it with the world. They think that because you follow them or are friends with them, you check their posts so they really shouldn’t need to tell you anything. I mean, if they do have to tell you something, it’s obvious you really don’t care about them because you didn’t check their page/tweets/posts before beginning said conversation.
Ok, I realize that is a bit hyperbolic, but it can feel like that sometimes. In fact, after I post this blog, I’m going to have a little bit of that feeling/thought, like, “Did you read it? How far did you get? Do you think I’m crazy because of what I wrote? Or insane because of how much I wrote? Do you even care about what I think?” I’m reminded of various passages of Scripture that highlight not thinking of ourselves too highly than we ought (Phil. 1:21; 2:4; 1 & 2 Corinthians, and plenty more).
31.”I don’t know what to say.”
Sandra and I have agreed that the best thing folks have said to us is, “I don’t know what to say.” It is so true. I don’t know what to say either! For some reason, those 6 1/2 words are the best to be said right now during the process in which we are.
I have also found that those who don’t want to impose–to the point where they are overly cautious and don’t want to help–are the ones we want to step in and help! Uninvited “drop-ins” are not my favorite personally, but the quick check-ins and occasional words of encouragement are amazing. Heck, responding to this post, as some already have to the first draft, means a ton!
32. Who to talk to?
Somewhat related to #31, some people we gel better with than others. I wish I gelled with some people in my past but I didn’t. I wish I connected well to some of the people in my life currently, but I just don’t. Even some of the people who reached out to me initially that I would love to connect with regularly aren’t the best for me. It’s a bummer, but it’s the truth.
Some folks I talk to and I think, “I totally want to connect with them again, this was great!” But they are often non-imposers as mentioned in #31 and don’t really reach out to you so as to keep boundaries. But you don’t want to appear grovely, either, so you don’t ask them to care. It’s weird because I feel like I’m rambling, but I also feel that most of us “get it.”
It seems to sum up many of the numbers above. Communication, Friends, Family, Blood Thicker than water, the Church as the body, etc. All these concepts feed into one another and as you consider their interdependence, there are a whole lot less thoughts than 34. But you have read this far, so you may as well finish it out …
33. Missing him.
I just miss him. It brings up the pain just saying that. It conjures images of him in my brain and little vignettes of his facial expressions, interactions, and ways in which we interacted. Part of me just grieves that: missing him. It’s not unlike missing a loved one when they are away, actually. Missing him focuses on the past and while the knowledge that he isn’t here is somewhat there, the missing is about looking back for me. Maybe for some missing him is the future, but for me, when I think of how I miss him, I think back to the times we’ve had, “the good ol’ days.”
34. Future plans.
I’m told close friends of Brian were really hit by the plans they had to travel with he and Sandra, as well as the idea of their families growing up together. When those things began hitting me, and when they hit me now, that’s where the deepest pain and tears are unearthed. They bounce all over the place, too: coaching Eli, playing with gadgets, him teaching my boy about R/C stuff which I am no good at, walking Emma down the aisle, playing laser tag around the house, fun stop-motion videos waiting to be produced, Christmas trees needing to be cut down, navigating together the process of our parents growing old, just being old together as guys in our sixties hanging out and talking, fun summer vacations in beautiful Emerald city area, having him come see our house all re-done, watching him and Sandra parent so well, being jealous of so much about him, wise-cracks with one another, eventually being able to make fun of his bald head once he was over the sensitivty stage, learning unique things from him, hearing about the cool stuff he was excited about, seeing the crazy shoes he would wear or buy for the kids, laps around the house playing chase, together making our wives roll their eyes at us, our most recent idea of climbing half-dome together and then again with our boys someday, hearing about the plans he had to buy land, knowing how he and Sandra envisioned serving missionaries, helping out with his money-smarts personally and with others, the list keeps going …
That’s probably the most difficult part.
So I conclude, realizing that I just pasted the preceding in a word document and it was exactly … 13 pages. ‘Twas the goalie number Brian had since the young age of 8. I always thought it a weird number for a goalie–or any sport or position–but that was him. But I digress.
If you’ve gotten this far in reading, I trust you are either retired, have no life, are related to me, have insomnia, or really, really loved Brian and this somehow resonated with you. Thanks for reading what I think was more of my heart than my mind. It’s helpful to process it all out. I look forward to reading/hearing how you’ve processed and come up with your own “34.” In processing the impact some of these words possibly could have, I guess I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that folks will live because of Brian’s death and the sacrifice it was for public and hospital awareness. And I’m hopeful that the brokenness our family is enduring would mean helping others in their own mourning, suffering, confusion, and faith. Yes, this sucks. And God is real and present in the midst of it. His Soverign Love has comforted me, captured my heart, and given me confidence that I’ll see Brian relatively soon. I can’t wait!
From Brian’s legacy be God’s glory.