My youngest brother, Ken, would have been 60 today. That’s right – would have been… but he didn’t quite make it – he died on February 29th of this year – 10 days after my 67th birthday. He was the youngest of three brothers while I am the oldest and Doug is our middle brother. Ken joined our family the day he was born – August 16, 1960.
Ken certainly had a life filled with challenges. During his early years, my mother (and father) were helping others in the family who were growing older and passing away. In fact, from the time he was only seven, Ken experienced the death of our great Auntie Lou, our maternal grandfather several years later, then our maternal grandmother and finally, when Ken was 17, our father died. Other family members passed away as well, but all these people were close to Ken and their deaths affected him greatly.
We moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago when Ken was ready to enter 8th grade, and that’s a horrible time to move a child away from a familiar school and friends to start a new life. Ken also had his health struggles throughout the years. After Mom passed away in 1998, Doug and I did our best to pick up the slack and do everything we could do to assist Ken in every way possible.
As grandparents and parents all passed away, it was just the three brothers who have been left for the past 22 years. In all honesty, I think all of us figured that we would have many more years before we would have to face the mortality of anyone in our generation. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. This past February, Ken’s health drastically declined and he was hospitalized several days after my birthday on February 19th.
While we initially had great hopes that Ken would get strong enough to be released from the hospital, he couldn’t turn the corner. The truth of the matter is that he experienced a serious cardiac event of some kind and there was the possibility that he also had a pulmonary embolism. Regardless of the cause, there was enough damage that it was evident the end was near. Doug and I met in intensive care to discuss options with the doctors, who were wonderful. We discontinued treatment and Ken, who was already unresponsive, passed away several minutes later.
I could go into great detail about the feelings that welled up inside me during those final days. Our youngest brother, the one we were to take care of, was the first one of us to enter heaven. Now Doug and I are all that are left from our nuclear family. I have no doubt whatsoever that Ken was a believer and entered heaven – and I hope that he has been reunited with Mom and even possibly our Dad, who faith was questionable at best. I hope that Dad is there in heaven when I get there myself.
I often wonder why Ken had, in many ways, such a difficult life. It’s something that I may well ask God when I see Him face to face. But I have peace that Doug and I did everything we could to help make Ken’s life as good as we could. Today, I have spent most of my time thinking about Ken’s life, from the day Mom and Dad brought him home from the hospital to the moment that Doug and I witnessed the end of his earthly life.
I know that there are countless people who have experienced the death of a sibling but this is new to Doug and me. We have cleaned out Ken’s apartment and donated his things to worthy recipients. We have closed out bank accounts and made funeral arrangements. And I have spent countless hours dealing with the cemetery where Mom and Dad are interred – but that’s a whole different story for another time.
Our verse for tonight acknowledges that God is in control and that He created each of us. In fact, most people don’t know that God ordained the days of our lives before we were even born. In one of my favorite psalms, we are told in Psalm 139:15-16, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
My encouragement tonight is that God created each of us in His image. And He created a life for each of us that glorifies Him. My prayer is that we will recognize God’s hand in our lives and realize that with Him, nothing goes to waste. Everything that we do prepares us for our next assignment advancing the kingdom of God. Happy Birthday, Ken – we miss you and hope that you are celebrating with Mom and Dad. And to the rest of you – have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…
Happy Birthday dear Kenny, dear cousin.
Very thoughtful and penetrating at the same time.