Like Cher, Bono, Madonna or Prince, there are certain people in our lives who are known by one name. You know the kind – people who are so involved as a part of your family that no other additional names are necessary. In my life, and the lives of our children, as well as Janet, that defines Bob…
Bob was my best friend – since the time that we got together after his father died on Christmas Eve, 1962. Bob was the middle child in a wonderful family – two older brothers and two younger sisters. His mother, Audrey, was a wonderful, kind hearted woman who treated me like one of her children. In fact, I called her Mom.
That door swung both ways. Bob was like another son to my mother and father. I loved him like a brother – and Dad was always available to speak with Bob and help him with advice after Bob’s own father passed away. I was blessed to have such as great friend.
What brought all this to the forefront tonight is a photo that surfaced earlier this week. My brother, Doug, was going through the personal effects of our youngest brother, Ken, who passed away two years ago. There, in the middle of a pile of photos, was a great picture of Bob… back when we were in our early twenties. Years before, we had become fast friends – inseparable – initially having been drawn closer by the fact that we were locker partners. Thompson and Toussaint – through grammar school, high school and during our times together in college.
Janet has known Bob almost as long as I have. Needless to say, our three kids grew up with Bob as well. In fact, he is Uncle Bob to them. And whenever we got together, you never knew what would happen – but it would be fun! We both attended local universities where we commuted from home. And when the difficult times of our lives happened, we were always there for one another.
When Janet and I got married, we even named our first dog Bobbie. Bob thought it was great. We used to call each other “bro.” We attended the same church, were confirmed in the same class, received our Bibles at the same time and hung out together almost every day. One year when we were nineteen, I was even invited to go along on their family vacation to northern Michigan. We had a great time and I was treated like one of the family, as I always was.
We attended boy scout camp together back in the mid 1960’s and were groomsmen in each other’s weddings. We had matching tackle boxes and to this day, I still use mine. I wouldn’t think of changing it – ever. Because I smile whenever I use one of the lures that we bought together back in our early teens.
Then one day Bob found a lump under his collar bone. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was in for the fight of his life. I went up to Kalamazoo after the diagnosis and was there when he woke up from surgery to remove his spleen and appendix – the organs most affected (and most likely to cause pain) if the disease spread throughout his body. Thankfully, Bob was cured and beat that battle. Hard fought – and successful.
But this December marks twenty years since I have seen Bob. Because he died… Yes, he survived cancer but years later suffered a severe stroke. That day, I talked with him by phone and was headed to Kalamazoo to see him once again in the hospital – just as I had when he had his prior surgery. He was slurring his speech but asked me to wait until morning when the docs would know more about his recovery. It was not God’s will. His brain swelled that night and he was in heaven by morning. I got the call from his family.
His funeral was a celebration of his life – way too short, passing at the age of 50 – right between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I delivered the eulogy. As difficult as it was, I don’t know that I have ever had such an honor. And as I reflect on that day, I am reminded that Bob and I always looked forward to full lives together with our respective families.
I guess we knew that eventually, some day, one of us would be left, having delivered the other into the arms of Jesus. But we were young and didn’t discuss the finer points of life and death. We were living life to the fullest – never seriously considering life without the other. After Bob survived cancer, we both thought our troubles were behind us – clear sailing ahead. But it was not to be… I miss him more than I can tell you!
I was going to wait until the 20th anniversary of his death in a few months to write about him but the leading of the Holy Spirit was so strong that I had to do it tonight. Our verse tonight is a very short one. The author of Hebrews, whose identity is hotly debated (I think it was the apostle Paul) tells us in Hebrews 13:1, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” The verse really refers to brothers and sisters in Christ, but to me, Bob was that, and more – a true BROTHER in every sense of the word. I have kept that command. I have loved Bob as a brother every day since we were 10 years old.
My encouragement this evening is that God blesses us with deep friendships as we travel through life. I was given a great gift in having my friendship with Bob. My prayer is that each of us may enjoy the company, prayer life and friendship of someone as wonderful as my friend. Well done, Bob. Godspeed until we meet again one day in heaven. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…