Merry Christmas! That's what everyone said on the 25th of December this last year and most people really meant it. I guess I really meant it too but I said it with a heavy heart. Why you might ask, well you see my baby brother went home to be with Christ on the 25th of December of 2011 after, I guess, a lengthy illness.
His name is Kenny and he was 44 years of age. He leaves behind not only the mother who raised us, Dorothy is 80 years young and weighs about 90 pounds (maybe); his wife of 19 years and a son, Braden who is only 12 years old. Kenny was my baby brother. Baby is a loose term when you are grown men. Kenny was a big man weighing in at well over 350 pounds and at times in his life weighed even more than that. BUT before you start thinking it had something to do with his weight, Nada!
Kenny suffered from "polymyositis" a connective tissue disease that slowly kept him from being able to move his legs, shoulders, and even motor control of his arms. He also was diagnosed with an inoperative melanoma tumor in his abdomen around October.
I watched his wife Leanna care for and love her husband in a story book kind of way. She took a leave of absence from her job where she didn't get paid while away to care for her family. I saw her help him get up to a standing position so he could walk months before the only thing he could do was lay there. She cared for him like, well; she demonstrated love like I had never seen before. If you or anyone you know that is married, could have half of what I saw, they will be lucky people.
The last few weeks of Kenny's life I was able to spend many hours with him. I had weeks of vacation so I went to the hospital and sat with her and him for days. Sula, my wife, stayed with us as well. We laughed, we cried, we talked about the elephant in the room: the going home of Kenny. We didn't want to talk about it because it seemed like a dream, a bad dream, but still a dream.
Was it hard? YES! I don't want to try to "spiritualize" it or say that we don't hurt because we know where Kenny is; yes we know where he is BUT we still grieve. I watched him tell his son that he was given only a week to live and then to have his 'little boy' lay across his daddy's chest and all of us cry and wail. Kenny gave the father to son talk about you can be whatever you want to be, you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to, be a good and honest/honorable man.
When I was asked to do his funeral, I agreed to do "whatever you want me to do" and then I asked him if I could cry, and his response was, "certainly." Kenny was my baby brother but he taught me oh so much.
When the doctor gave him the grim news, holding his hand and Leanna's hand, he asked Kenny if he could get anything for him. Kenny thought for a minute and said, "A clean bill of health would be nice!" The doctor laughed and so did everyone in the room because Kenny was thinking about everyone else and how they felt.
I survived the funeral experience with several tears pushed back, frogs in my throat, and times of extra prayer for strength. I used the text Proverbs 18:24 that reads, "A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. It was a fitting verse to use for two reasons, 1. It was the same text used at our father's funeral some 27 years before. 2. Because, although Kenny and I were not biological brothers, he was my baby brother.
Kenny wanted me to share the good news of Jesus Christ at his funeral and I was able to do that without any problem. To tell family and friends that there is one that is closer than a brother and that is Christ.
Selfishly I did not want Kenny to die on Christmas day, but God had other plans. His headstone will always have the Christmas date on it. People will look at it may think how sad because he died on Christmas day. I thought that at first, I prayed it wouldn't happen, but it did. Then I thought about Christmas, the birthday of Jesus and how my baby brother really got the best Christmas present of all; he celebrated Christmas 2011 WITH Jesus himself! How cool was it for him to say to Jesus, "Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas!"