There is so much in my heart...the surface of which I find I cannot scratch. The waves are rolling gently above what is a deep, dark, overwhelming expanse of unfathomable power. I want to communicate my thoughts well, but there are so many of them and I'm not quite sure where to start.
The story begins with a young woman who thought she was in love. She married and had three strong boys within six years. But the man she thought would protect her and love her for always, didn't. He turned to another lover...alcohol. And when the time came to choose her and their children or the bottle, he chose liquid over his own flesh and blood. So this young woman gathered up her children and moved home. There, in the home of their grandparents...strict, but loving and kind people...these young men learned the basics of life and watched their mother sacrifice daily in order to give them what they needed. Eventually there was another marriage...and another divorce...another man to choose temporary pleasures over her and her children, now totalling four with the birth of a daughter.
I'm sure I don't know the whole story and I'm sure that my understanding of it is probably incorrect in some ways. But that's ok, because it's mine.
My father is the middle of those three strong boys born to Catherine Trout Lloyd. The older, Bob, became more than just an older brother to my father...he was truly a guide to him, someone he sought wisdom from and looked up to in the absence of a real father. The younger brother, Tom, became someone to guide, protect (though I think he was more than able to hold his own in a fight) and stand up for. L-Lloyd they called each other.
I've always thought of my father and his two brothers as pillars of strength. Certainly my father has been my rock over the years. Many of you know him and see him as a tough man. He usually gets what he wants and in every area of his life he's been the boss. My brother and I laughed yesterday as we talked about how he is usually right, whether we like to admit it or not.
Over the years, Bob, Dave (my dad) and Tom have stood together, fought for each other, walked through devastating life events together, rescued each other and others. Opinionated at best, stubborn to a fault, willing to give what they had to help the others...family men by choice, not because they were taught how.
Each one of them chose something different for his family than they were dealt by their father. And in doing so became something special. Three men determined to do things the right way...determined that their children would not suffer the way they had...determined that their children would not be without a father...determined that their children's lives would be easier than theirs had been...determined that their families would never question whether or not they were loved.
These three men are so different and so the same. Lately I've been pondering the meaning of the word "brother." And I haven't reached a defintion that I like enough to share, partly because I'm not sure I can capture in words how great they have been together throughout the years. Not perfect by any means, harsh at times with each other, but always there. The brothers three.
Now one is gone. Not quite a year ago we lost him on my son's birthday. We lost their mother within one day of my mom's birthday and tomorrow is mine. I remember thinking the man laying in the bed wasn't my uncle. My uncle was strong...strong in mind, strong in body, strong in spirit. Not so was this man clinging to life.
But I will never forget those days that he laid there. One by one, his family began to come to his side. His wife, his daughter, his son, their families, his brothers, their wives, his nieces and nephews, his friends. One by one they entered the waiting room that day because that's what we do. My heart soared that day as my family showed their love and support by being there...to share the burden and grief, to laugh and love and encourage. He would have been proud.
Seeing just two brothers together at the funeral seemed wrong. We all knew the third wheel, the man the rest went to for wisdom, was gone for good and watching the two remaining gave us both a sense of comfort and a sense of terrible loss. It would never be the same.
He was an army man, just like my dad. What pride they took in serving their country together. And so he was saluted by his comrads that sunny, beautiful day. I stood beside my mother who held my father's arm. And when the men presenting the funeral saluted their fallen brother my father lifted his hand as well, saluting his fallen brother one last time. I gasped for breath as I saw him do it and saw his body shake as he fought to maintain the composure I now couldn't. And I sobbed for the greatness that was lost, the end of something special, of something I had benefitted from so much, taken such pride in and found strength in. My cousin's wife put her arms around me to ground me and give me strength. My brother wiped his eyes and looked away, overcome by this show of respect from my father, overtaken by grief and pride.
I've wondered, but never dared to ask whether he'd planned it all along. He must have been anticipating the time to pay this last respect. I imagine it must have taken every ounce of strength he had. But I will never forget that moment. It is etched in my mind forever as one of the most treasured memories of my life. I was deeply touched by it and remain unable to think about it without tears...even as I write.
And so now...less than a year later...the youngest of the three struggles for his life. And my father fights against becoming the last man standing. The only one unaffected by the disease that will eventually take both of his best friends. Losing Uncle Bob was devastating. Losing Uncle Tom will be devastating. But equally devastating is watching my father try to wrap his mind around this pain and loss...trying to be strong for the rest of us while dealing with so much pain...not willing to let go yet...
Everything in me screams "I can't do this! I'm not ready for this stage of life God! No! No! No! No!" But I'm absolutely powerless to stop it...And yet...
I have peace.
Uncle Tom and I have a deal. He fights with everything he has until he can't fight anymore and trusts God with the rest. He knows where his help comes from. He knows Whose hands he rests in. And he knows the joy of salvation. He knows his family loves him and that he has impacted so many people over the years. He knows his brothers would do anything for him, including give up their own lungs to give him breath. He knows he will rest in Heaven one day, whether today or months from today and though the current journey is hard and painful, he's at peace with the only thing that it really matters to have peace about. He is known by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life. One day there will be no more pain and no more tears...only joy. As we talked I reminded him of that old hymn that has become one of my favorite over the years...and because he didn't have enough breath to sing it, he spoke it along with me...
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangly dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
And I made another memory that will forever be etched upon my heart as I held his hand and prayed over him for strength, healing and peace.