“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.” Wisdom 3:1
My experience is that those who have known the death of a loved one around Christmas may find the holidays not always a joyful time in their memory.
My brother died in December four years ago in 2014 on Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas. He died less than four months after his 70th birthday, almost exactly at the same age as our father died. My brother was born on Labor Day and died on Boxing Day. We will have to work on the significance of all that.
Boxing Day is traditionally the day after Christmas when servants in English households receive a gift from their employer in a “box”, and of course Labor Day honors those who are working and gives them an extra day of rest. I do know Jim loved Christmas. My brother also died on the day our church calendar honors Stephen, the first deacon and martyr. I don’t know about a martyr, but my brother was definitely a survivor. He had open-heart surgery, three cancers and at least three strokes.
I did something I have never done before shortly after my brother died. I prayed asking him what he would like for us to say about him. I have given many funeral homilies but never have prayed that question directly to the person who died. I now wish I had. This is what immediately came to me that my brother said: ”I tried to be a good man, and I loved my family.”
“I tried to be a good man, and I loved my family.” So that was my message from my brother. I know he dearly loved his family and was very proud of his three sons. He loved his community, serving faithfully as a banker, a member of the Boys and Girls Club, and the school board.
I know my brother especially loved his church where he served faithfully.
Since the Episcopal Church is a love we both shared, we talked about it often. Only once did we have the privilege of serving at an altar together. That was at our mother’s funeral where we both were Eucharistic ministers serving the chalice.
My brother was an eight o’clock churchgoer. They are a different breed, a little more private, a little quieter, sometimes a little more reserved. They get the ear of the rector after the service, as there are so few people present that early.
My brother loved serving on the vestry, another rare breed. If an eight o’clocker is a lector or Eucharistic minister, they serve more often than those at the later service as my brother did. I tried to talk my brother into becoming a deacon, which I think could have happened if he had had a little more time. The church is in the genes of our family. It comes out in many different forms, but we cannot escape it.
My brother was a believer and there is no doubt that he now lives in the resurrection, just as he experienced so many resurrections in this life.
So today I am sharing with you some memories of my brother, my only sibling. I daily miss him especially on the holidays. I remember how when we were children we would wake up in the early morning on Christmas, too excited to sleep, and lie together in bed hoping by some miracle that our parents would wake up early. He so loved Christmas. I honor him by sharing Christmas stories about him and celebrating the holiday as he so loved to do. He always brought joy to my life and I hope to keep sharing that joy especially at this time of the year. Sometimes when our family is sharing stories I can hear his distinctive laugh, and I give thanks for our life together.