On March 18, just a little over 4 weeks ago, one of my dearest friends, my brother Francis, called me to say good-bye for now. No, he really didn’t say good-bye; but as I reflect on our conversation, I think we both knew it would be the last time we would speak to each other this side of Heaven. We only talked for about 10 minutes. He once again reminded me to rest, relax and have a great time with Jerry on the cruise we would be taking in a few days. Fran and I typically spoke on the phone every 2 or 3 days, sometimes even twice in one day. Those frequent conversations started several years ago when I was diagnosed with my illness, and he worried about my daily doses of chemo. He once again became my advocate and protector, just as he had when I was his little sister, growing up on the farm in Minnesota. This is the brother who bought me a horse, taught me to drive his big old red Mercury, let me use his car to get to high school when I conveniently missed the bus, and often gave me lunch money when I had squandered my funds on something else. The memories we shared are many, and we often reminisced about the past and all the people we knew when we had those long conversations several times a week. He even helped me solve a mystery that had puzzled me. (Perhaps I will write about that another time). As this final phone call came to a conclusion, we exchanged our usual “I love you” after he said he was feeling tired and needed to rest. Just a few hours later, while Jerry and I were attending a concert, I checked my phone during intermission and saw a text message that Fran had passed away. (suggestion: texting is not a good way to relay this kind of news). Thankfully, there were few people around to witness my meltdown, and Jerry immediately offered to take me home. I said, “No, please let’s stay for the second half. Fran loved music and he knew how much I loved concerts. He would want us to stay.” It’s almost unbelievable the musical choices of Act II. When Bruce Ewing, with his amazing voice, sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, one of my favorite gospel hymns, I sobbed as quietly as I could. The people around me may have wondered what was going on, but I was oblivious to my surroundings because I truly felt the presence of God in that song and it lifted my spirits to the Heavens! Then Bruce sang “Buddy/I’ll Be Seeing You”, yet another affirmation that we were right where we needed to be for such a time as this. Toward the end of program Philip Fortenberry, one of the most amazing pianists in the world, did his renditions of “Cry”, “Bring Him Home” and then the grand finale, “Goodbye Medley” as arranged by The Phat Pack, the group who entertained and encouraged us that evening.
A few days later we left for a 10-day cruise that was like a “balm in Gilead”. Because of my final conversation with Fran, I felt no guilt for missing his memorial service in the frozen tundra of MinneSNOWta. I knew we were where he and God wanted us to be, celebrating his life and sharing in amazing memories in the beautiful Caribbean islands. It was a time to be quiet and reflect about our horses and the trail rides I had been on with Fran and the times he accompanied me on the violin or mandolin when I sang at school or other local events, and then the trip to Cuba in 1995 when I took him to Havana for eye surgery. Fran and I sometimes fought family battles together, and we sometimes had disagreements with each other. But thankfully the good times far outweigh the bad ones. If he were here to read this and add his two cents, I know with all my heart he would agree that our brother/sister bond was more than amazing. Last week at Karaoke gathering in our back yard, I looked to the Heavens and dedicated the song, “Peace in the Valley” to my brother. An amazing sense of peace came over me that evening.
This is an emotional piece and may seem a bit over the top, but it has been therapeutic for me to reflect on and write about my very special brother and friend. Thank you for listening. Whatever you do, take the time to tell your loved ones how much you love them and do it often! Get rid of any grudges, hurts or any sin that stands in the way of a right relationship with those you love and with your God. Whenever possible, please mend those fences. Life truly is so very, very short.