Betty J. Slade
It was one of those phone calls where I’d hoped I was still in deep sleep. After sitting up in bed and collecting my thoughts, I heard what I knew I wouldn’t have dreamed. The voice on the other end of the phone was my nephew in Seattle.
“Your brother died sometime in the night. Do you think you can get to Las Cruces?”
That morning was a blur as I rushed around in preparation for my long drive and my quest to find answers.
That day and the one to follow were not too dissimilar to one several years before.
I was living in Las Cruces in 1972. A friend in Albuquerque called. She was watching the news on the television. A man had been shot and was lying on the sidewalk. The women inside the house had also been shot by a crazed gunman.
After a brief pause, the voice on the phone said, “It is your brother and your mother; you need to get here as soon as possible.”
I barely remember leaving my four young children with a sitter or the quick drive to Albuquerque. One thing that was clear in my mind: I had more questions than answers.
My brother was in the ICU. A bullet had grazed his ear while five others were lodged throughout his abdomen. My mother was in the same hospital with six gunshot wounds of her own. I spent much of the next few days riding up and down the elevator between floors, living a nightmare that just wouldn’t end.
The prognosis for my brother was grim, but I refused to let go of him until I heard him profess the name of Jesus. At one point, he gathered the words to say, “Betty, I’m dying, please let me die in peace.”
“Absolutely not, not until I hear you confess the Lord’s name as your Lord and Savior.”
Fortunately, both my brother and my mother survived their ordeal. We even learned to find humor in the moment. I would have grabbed the paddles myself and shocked my brother back to life had there been any reservation as to where he would spend eternity.
It has been almost 50 years since that horrific phone call and here I am again. Unfortunately, the recent call brought a conclusion to the years of fullness that was my older brother’s life.
As I sat and consoled my brother’s widow and son, it was difficult for all of us to wrap our heads around how he died, or even why. While planning for his memorial, I didn’t even know if my brother had a favorite song or passage of scripture.
There is, however, one thing for certain. My brother lived what he believed in a very personal way. Such a beautiful thing to know about a man who once before survived the grip of death, became born again and now lives in the kingdom of God.
God gives us many chances to live in the hope of another day.
Final brushstroke: In those nightmare hours when nothing makes sense, I am thankful for that night in 1972 when death pursued my brother. Pressing him about his faith then allowed me to have a peace that surpasses understanding. Goodbye for now, but I will see you again.