Appropriately, I began this post in the same location where I first wrote the following facebook post just 2 hours after my brother died on February 24, 2017. I meant to post it after the New Year began as “17 thoughts from 2017,” but it will serve well as a reflection on this the one year anniversary of losing Brian. I’ve certainly shared my thoughts at length in previous posts (particularly the “34 Days” one), but these have been going over in my head repeatedly and sum up the first year (in no particular order).
1. Suffer Well
It was years ago my Sherry and I sat in a video-based parenting class that featured the teaching of Chip Ingram. His words then have never rang so true as they have in the last two years. He said, that in addition to following Jesus as their Lord, he wanted to teach his kids two things: 1. Be Thankful; 2. Suffer Well.
I’ve had the opportunity to share this same message to many, but most importantly have had the chance to ask my own kids this year, “Am I suffering well?” They get it. Suffering is something you can never escape. In a world of helicopter parenting, many do a disservice to their children by trying to steer them away from suffering. Characteristically of my peculiar self–especially this year–when the teacher asked at Back-to-School night what we as parents wanted our kids to understand as they go into high school, while the other parents shared more traditional goals, I said loud and clear, “Suffer Well.”
Thankfully, I’ve been able to live and teach our kiddos these two words. In fact, if you ask them two words Daddy would leave them with if he knew he was going to die, they would most likely say, “Suffer Well.”
Who would have thought that neck surgery, a house fire, a(nother) discovered ripped disc in my lower back, hand surgery, and losing my brother would grant such an opportunity, or–dare I say–privilege to “suffer well.” For all that to happen within a span of 53 weeks is a head-shaker.
The significance, however, takes on a new meaning when you consider how Brian proposed to Sandra. Sandra had written Brian 52 miracles as a gift; one miracle about their relationship for each week of the year. He followed up that gift by one-upping her on Christmas Day, 2004, having her journey along a path of rose petals through her childhood neighborhood reading nicely wrapped cards that listed out fifty-three miracles. At the 53rd, he proposed to her, having already created the wedding website miracle53.com. I watched her read through all 53 miracles December 30, 2017 on their bedroom floor as we went through a box of memories.
Fifty-three days after surgery, my house caught fire. Fifty-three weeks after my surgery I found myself standing in a hospital over my brother just hours before he would go to be with Jesus. Being a numbers-guy, it has held rich significance and always will.
3. But You, O Lord
I’m so thankful that “But You, O Lord” changes the tone of so many Psalms and stories of life. I have clung to this phrase more closely since February 24.
4. Hope from Him
This Psalm has perplexed me all year long.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,for my hope is from him.Psalm 62:5
My hope from him. I have hope (a noun), I choose to hope (verb), and yet my hope is from God. It’s His hope. I can only hope because God allows me to, and even gives me the ability to.
This gets so philosophical and theologically perplexing. Bottom line: this site is On Hope, but I’ve often seen hope only as something I do or have. Ultimately, we are only able to do what God grants us to, which is oddly comforting, confusing, mysterious, and hopeful in and of itself. While this idea causes many to lose hope or faith, it hasn’t put me in that spot, and actually been a healthy notion to ponder.
5. It Hurts
I just miss him. I’m happy for him, and I have faith and trust that Brian is with Jesus (see below), but there are these inexplicable moments when the only thing I can say is that “it hurts.” My sobbing is somehow stuck in the back of my throat refusing to come out while muscles around my eyes tense while I run this emotional marathon … and only on mile 13.
6. Rhetorical Questions that begin with “Why” and “How”?
… Him? … Not X person? … Not 7 days later? … By such a rare virus? … Did Sandra and the kids have to get kicked out of their home for so long?
… did this happen? can such a healthy guy die from this and others survive? is this possible? And … “is this real?”
I’m sure you’ve asked so many as well – I’d love to hear them in the comments below. They seem to multiply in my mind at the weirdest of times.
7. Hold things loosely
More times than I can count I’ve sat in my office across from someone with canvas pictures of Brian hanging on the wall adjacent to the table at which we sit. The conversation turns to a point where it is appropriate to say, “Hold things loosely …,” while I point to the large canvas and say, “This is my brother who died X months ago.” I’ve learned you just don’t know what to expect and need to hold things loosely.
Such conversations in my office sometimes turn morbid, sometimes turn to tears in one party or another, but the conversation always turns. For that reason I need to pick my timing as when to share this reality. Often I’ll hear the other party’s story and my compassion and interest kick into high gear. I’m amazed by what people suffer and how they persevere. My story, for as dramatic as it is, has caused me to realize other stories’ impact on people’s lives–regardless of the depth of tragedy one suffers.
Granted … I do have some impatience with my kids and others who complain about seemingly inane things.
This is the weirdest and most confusing part of all. When there’s only two boys in the family (Brian and I, sort of), once one is suddenly gone, the dynamics change drastically. Add to that mental health issues, a divorce, geographical dynamics, and kids … let’s just say Brian was the glue. I’ve reflected on Younger Brothers, but in addition to the above, there’s those with my own “new” family and its extension, and a whole other dimension in my deepened friendship with Sandra. We became closer than Brian and I have been over the last eighteen years, but fear has begun to creep in that I might lose her, too. And how does she handle all those dynamics with me and the other Ehrharts? Part of me wants her enveloped in our family and another part wants her to find a new family, but I echo my fear in losing her like Brian. It’s what I anticipate, largely because of #7.
9. He gets it
Having preached through Hebrews over the past few years, one of the most impactful phrases I took from the book was, “He gets it.” Jesus gets it. That was again my reflection this Christmas: He gets it. He came to this earth to live and experience what we do. He gets life (incarnation), He gets pain (the Cross); he gets loss (his friend Lazarus died); he gets temptation (Hebrews 2:18).
The best therapy in which I’ve sat this year was being in a grief group. Being around others who get it. They understood and there was a profound comfort to be able to share with others who sit in the same mire I do/did. I’m longing to be in another group like it.
10. It’s Your Breath in Our Lungs
This is just a song but so much more. I was singing this song at a pastor’s luncheon the moment when Sandra called me from Mexico to tell me of Brian’s hospitalization. She wasn’t concerned on the message, so I didn’t act that way either, but after seeing him in the hospital and then praying with Elders Gary & Trisha from their church, the song became my prayer … and it hasn’t really stopped. Take a listen.
For as much as I prayed for Brian to breathe that night, I dwell on the fact that it’s God’s breath in our lungs, ultimately. And even when Brian didn’t receive the needed oxygen, God is (still) Great. It doesn’t feel like it, and it certainly doesn’t make sense, but if I sing a song like this when things are hunky-dory, I only really mean it when I sing these words when things aren’t the way I desire or think they should be.
11. With Jesus and Jesus With: Absence or Presence?
My perspective on earth and heaven has been enhanced. It’s summed up simply with the phrase, “With Jesus.” My conclusive thoughts about Brian’s reality: he is with Jesus. Three times in the New Testament it is mentioned that after we die we are “with Jesus.” That’s about all we know. The man next to Jesus on the cross was told he will be with Jesus in Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Paul says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), and later he describes departing from the world being better because he will be with Jesus (Phil. 1:23).
Yes, there are many interpretations about apocalyptic events and end times, but I like to sit on what I know instead of what some theorize. The reality is that heaven is real and Brian is with Jesus.
The more I dwelt on the idea of Brian with Jesus, the more I reflected on the reality that Jesus is with us. I realized recently that for as much as I’ve dwelt on Brian’s absence, I need/want to dwell on God’s presence.
Here’s some vids on heaven, earth, and kingdom that I have found helpful:
thebibleproject.com is worth the visit.
12. Mice (hanta)
I have told the story of Brian’s death to the point where I mention hantavirus and I hear, “Yeah, I’ve heard of it.” … then that look of “huh?” after I mention the word “mice.” If I had a dollar for every time I experienced that, you and I could go out to a nice lunch.
I hate mice. I wasn’t a fan of rodents previously (we think rat bait killed our beloved dog Random). But to think that a tiny mouse and its miniscule droppings could kill a man of Brian’s stature … unbelievable. My bride had a encounter with a young child who actually knew of hanta and it was one of the most surreal experiences of the year in how that weaved into our story.
A few people we know have gone to Disneyland over the year and I’ve asked them all to kick Mickey in the shins. They look at me bizarrely and I say, “a mouse killed my brother.” They get it despite thinking I’m weird to even think that. No one has kicked him for me yet. (Nor do I hope anyone does.)
Our family has planned a trip over Brian’s birthday this year to go to that happiest place on earth with Sandra and the kids (they don’t know it yet … shhhh!). The main catalyst was to fulfill the promise Brian made to Eli when he couldn’t go to Mexico on vacation this time last year. I have Brian’s texts, still, that tell of his promise and Eli’s excitement of Legoland. We begin our trip to SoCal there in a few months the week of Brian’s birthday.
13. Trauma of that night and more memories
The week leading up to the night. The phone calls and text messages. The plane ride listening to “Souvenirs.” Getting to the hospital and seeing the medical staff’s faces. Telling Sandra they just resuscitated her love. Telling Eli that his Daddy died just three hours prior to our conversation.
I’ve journaled this out as part of my own healing. Currently I’m 5 single-spaced pages into the story, and in it I haven’t left the hospital room. I’ve shared some parts of it with Sandra but am fearful to share the whole thing. One sentence in particular speaks of the type of detail I’m trying to capture from that nightmare:
The tick of the metronome app coming from the phone lying on Brian’s stomach while CPR was performed became the soundtrack for the traumatic nightmare whose images continue to plague me daily.
About a month after he died, Sandra, the kids and I were having breakfast at the hotel. The staff knew what Sandra had gone through and why they were in the hotel, so their sensitivity was high, and they were super respectful, going out of their way to make the stay as best as it could be. A gal came with books for the kids that were written specifically for children. They were stories of vacation spots where I suppose that hotel has resorts. Eli got a book and came back to me at the breakfast table, while Emma remained at a distance with her mom while the gal gave her a book. Emma flipped out. The location spot: Mexico.
I can’t say I haven’t cried when I see things associated with Mexico, particularly vacation destinations like Cabo. But what strikes me more than anything is the presence Sandra had with Jeff and Sarah in that spot with her. Regardless of their choice, they had a ministry of presence of ministry unlike anything they could have imagined.
I have no desire to go to Mexico anytime soon, but unlike Sandra, I’ve not written it off forever.
Seriously? 53 again? My bride literally bought the first while I was in the shower fifty-three days after Brian’s passing, all because I made the mistake the night before of searching for some puppies and showing her their cuteness (she had been begging for about a week that we should get a puppy for my “therapy”). 73 days after Brian died, we welcomed two new living beings to live in our home: puggles. A pug and beagle hybrid breed.
While I continue to call purchasing them a mistake, they are certainly cute and great snugglers. Naming them in Brian’s memory, T-Mo and Gadget, also serves as a joyful reminder of his love and great memories with him.
16. “I won’t say no” … and his last three words to me
I said it at the memorial service: Brian left me with a choice to come visit him in the hospital in the phrase, “I won’t say no.” It’s a phrase I’ll forever hold on to, and one that will shocks me that he said it. Who says that in a situation where someone offers to be with you? Especially him. He would never ask anyone to impose. Maybe it was for Eli’s sake, but it blessed me that he left that door open, and made a great invitation at the service for others to follow Jesus in response to Brian’s life and legacy. I think I closed with something like, “none of us got to say goodbye to him, but I’m looking forward to being with him again soon, because I’d much rather say, ‘Hi,’ than, ‘Bye.'”
What I didn’t share was Brian’s last text. After our back and forth conversation, I concluded by saying I didn’t want to pester or call Sandra in Mexico because I knew rates to contact her had to be crazy expensive. His last three words to me ever were simply, “I bought international.”
I can’t help but continue the parallel I began with at the service comparing his text messages to me as messages from Jesus to us all. Brian lived the gospel, the good news of Jesus (albeit not perfectly), and left us with an invitation to follow Jesus (and him, is with our Lord, recall #7.) But there’s more to this last text, particularly when I consider the most identity-shaping Bible verse of my life.
You are not your own. You were bought with a price.
-1 Corinthians 6:19
My texts to Brian demonstrated that I was worried about cost. His cost. Yet, he had already paid for it. In fact, I was on his plan, so he actually paid for it for me, too!
It’s just like Jesus. I can come to Him if I want. And He already bought eternal for us. He paid the price. Eternal coverage. Not just international.
17. Restoration and Fault
Dealing with various third party agencies is tough because for as sympathetic as they may be (or not), there’s a subjectivity to the decisions that had to be made going back to months before Brian’s death. Moreover, dealing with a clearly fatal but unprecedented situation where the virus was found to be lethal presumably at someone’s home made things ever more chaotic. Go conservative in the approach (e.g. get rid of both cars)? Trust that mice couldn’t have gotten in there (e.g. Sandra having 5 months of abatement and cleaning done only to find dropping in the house the first time she walked in)? Agencies accepting fault? Wanting to blame but knowing it won’t bring him back, yet wanting to hold people and agencies accountable. The tensions go back and forth.
18. Money: YouCaring. And more.
YouCaring.com continues to amaze me (you can see the tally on this page–almost $100k)! It’s an enormous blessing but it doesn’t touch what I know will be needed for Sandra and the kids and the setup Brian planned to leave behind.
I’ve actually had a few people question whether Sandra has what she needs given the way in which insurance, youcaring, and friends have or will have contributed financially. Having had a house fire and knowing what I know of the costs and losses involved, those gifts will cover less than 20% of what was planned. It’s hard to give too many details with more dynamics still outstanding, but for those of you who have trusted us and the use of funds, thank you.
More tangibly, thank you for your gifts, whether monetary, food, household needs, gifts for the kids, time, and more. I can speak for Sandra that it has been hard to receive, and will continue to be, but thank you.
So here I sit, once again, in the same place I made public Brian’s passing. And I do so in the same moments one year ago almost to the minute after his heart stopped beating for the first time.
Some say the first year anniversary of loss brings with it a whole new dynamic of grief. I can’t imagine it being more. I feel tremendously for my mom, who has had this the worst next to Sandra, and without the support that come to a young widow. However, we are all ready to step forward by the grace and strength of the Lord.
I’m grateful for a helpful book “Grace Disguised” that my dad gave me in September. I’m grateful for the group in which I listened and shared. I’m grateful to my co-workers, clearly the best community that has supported me. I’m thankful for the Amazing Sandra. And I’m most thankful to the Lord for my wife and kids who’ve dealt with a different husband and Daddy.
By grace and the preparation I’ve had, I am anticipating and ready to suffer well. I’m ready to love my ALL family. I am ready because of the grace and faith God has given me through the cross of Jesus, knowing that “He gets it” and that I’ll not only be with Brian, but with Jesus some day.
And I’m ready for Disneyland–whether or not we see Mickey (no, I won’t kick him).