Last February 29th, Doug and I stood over our youngest brother, Ken, and made the decision to discontinue his life support after he suffered multiple traumatic medical events during the prior week. Unquestionably, it was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do – and I am sure that Doug felt the same way. It’s odd to recall the kinds of things that went through my mind during that final morning with Ken.
I wondered if we were doing the right thing even though I know from the information we received from the doctors that Ken would never come out of the unconscious state that he was in. And, as I looked at this grown man, the youngest of the three of us at 59 years old, I recalled the day that Mom and Dad brought him home from the hospital. How excited the family was to have another boy in the group!
Doug and I are 5 and 7 years older than Ken, so we grew up somewhat responsible for protecting him and making sure that he didn’t get into too much trouble. I also recalled when we were younger, Mom and Dad would periodically have our photos professionally taken. After Mom’s passing back in 1998, I received the three portraits that had graced our childhood home for many years. They are now displayed in our upstairs hallway and guests to our home wonder why Ken is in the middle, rather than last, in chronological order. I think it’s because I have always felt that Doug and I were on his sides and he was in the middle, protected by us.
To be sure, Ken had a tough life at times. He grew up in an era when some of the elder members of our family started to fail and, eventually, died. Our paternal grandfather died in 1966, when Ken was 6 years old. Then, our great aunt died in 1967, our maternal grandfather in 1972, our maternal grandmother in 1976 and, finally, Dad in 1978. With the exception of Grandpa Toussaint, who was the first to pass from this life in 1966, Mom took care of each of the others during their final illnesses. I can’t help but think that this period of Ken’s life, from the age of 7 until he was 18, was filled with sadness, heartache and the loss of many family members. When Mom finally died in 1998, we all once again experienced a huge loss in our lives.
Ken never married and he didn’t have any children. He tended to live with the memories of his youth and Doug and I remained his closest connections. As much as we loved Ken, there were times that, like in any family, it was difficult to get along. Our lives had taken such divergent paths and, let’s not forget, Janet, the kids and I moved to Indiana back in 1982. So while there was that genetic, brotherly connection, our day to days lives were much different from one another.
Yes, when the chips were down, we all pulled together. Doug and I helped Ken with his home and when it finally became too much for him, Doug and his wife, Jill, were very instrumental in finding a great place for Ken to live. Unfortunately, none of us saw the future and Ken didn’t get as much time in his new home as we would have wished for him.
Thankfully, this all happened several weeks before the Covid shutdown and we were very blessed to have been with Ken during his final illness and time in the hospital. It was a blessing, a tremendous blessing, to have been there with all three of us in the room together as I prayed for the angels to escort him into the presence of God.
So the past year has been difficult in many ways. Our celebrations for Memorial Day, the 4th of July, as well as Ken’s birthday in August all came and went – as did Doug’s birthday in November, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and then, on February 19th, my birthday. I know that we had all these events each year before Ken was even born, but it’s different now. And he’s the first child of our tight nuclear family to enter heaven. That part is pretty amazing but hard to accept.
As I look back on the past year, we are still grieving but, sooner or later, things will get easier. In a strange way, it even helped that he passed away on February 29th and not on the 28th or March 1st. Our verse for tonight comes from the book of Genesis and the story of Cain and Abel. As you may recall, Cain killed his brother and then, the Lord approached him and inquired where Abel was. Moses, the author of Genesis tells us, in Genesis 4:9, “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Of course, having brothers, and children, my answer would be “yes” – I am my brother’s keeper! It was the number one thing that we were taught as children – family sticks together – no matter what. Thankfully, many people feel the same way. My encouragement this evening is that God expects us to look out for one another in a spirit of love and understanding. My prayer is that, even in those moments that it is difficult, we will all take responsibility for caring for one another – especially our families! It’s been a year, Ken, and I miss you. I pray that you have enjoyed your time in heaven so far and that you have been reunited with loved ones who preceded you into the presence of God. To all of you, have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…