Eulogy for a Brother…

Guitar Macro 1

Warning: War and Peace was shorter. 

Tomorrow it will have been 2 months since I delivered the eulogy for my brother’s memorial service. Several of my dear readers asked me to share it here. Below is the original version—and there is even an additional story in here that I did not tell at the service. The original version contained my brother’s name, but he and my other brother are rather private people, so I hope you understand me not referencing their real names. Without further adieu…here it is:

On behalf of my brother’s family, thank you for making the effort to be with us as we celebrate his life. My brother designated my eldest brother as the person in charge of his affairs in the event of his death and in that brother’s first official duty in that capacity; he delegated the eulogy to me. I’m learning quickly how one vote really can make a difference… the hard way.

My brothers and I were raised in the church. We were the first kids there on Sunday morning and the last ones to leave.  Why? Because our dad was the minister and he opened and closed the church and we didn’t particularly enjoy walking to church. Yes, we were the infamous preacher’s kids. And we lived up to the infamous reputation of preacher’s kids as often as we could. We considered it our job. Dad and Mom were desperately trying to make us dutiful Christians and we were just intent on finding out how loud one has to be to invoke our mom’s ire enough to require being taken to the parking lot for some serious discipline. Let’s just say that we all eventually became very scared of church parking lots. Bad, bad things happened there.

Probably to my mother’s relief, my brothers decided to avoid churches and their scary parking lots once they grew up. It was the 1960s and that seemed to happen a lot with those who came of age in that era. I, on the other hand, grew up in the decadent 70s. And perhaps because I grew up in a different era or perhaps because I was the only daughter or perhaps because Mom and Dad realized parking lot punishment wasn’t working, I was guided by my parents much more gently about the Christian faith. Even though my church attendance waxed and waned during the teen and college years, I eventually re-embraced the notion of living the rest of my life as a Christian.

As the youngest sibling of two very intelligent, humorous big brothers, I learned one lesson early on—do not argue with people who quite clearly think they are always right. It’s scarier than going to the church parking lot. So, since my opinions about all things Christian tended to be quite different from my brothers’ opinions, I quickly learned to hold my tongue on the subject whenever they were in the room.

Unfortunately, doing just that created a huge dilemma in my soul when my brother was diagnosed with cancer.  And the dilemma wasn’t based on Godly ideas going on in my head. As it became very, very possible that my brother might not overcome the horror that is esophageal cancer, I selfishly hoped and prayed that his relationship with God was of the stuff that Christians believe, so that I could, one day, be reunited with him and that my parents would also get to see him again. It wasn’t about my brother being reunited fully with the God who created Him—it was all about being separated from my brother forever. And even though I thought it might be my job to talk to him about such issues, the part of me that hates conflict with my brothers couldn’t quite spit out the words to him, even when there were opportune moments for such a discussion.

In the mornings I like to read my Bible because it’s my night owl way of procrastinating on my daily to do list. On one particular morning not too long ago, I was sobbing over the dilemma going on in my head about this very issue. In desperation I turned to my Bible. My minister father would probably disapprove, but I usually read 5 Bible passages each day and allow God to choose those passages for me by allowing my Bible to fall open wherever it may. On this day of completely falling apart, these verses were what I encountered:  “I have known you since you were in the womb.”’ As I read that line, God almost audibly whispered quietly, “and I’m talking about your brother!” The next scripture was Isaiah 55:8: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord.” As I read this statement, I found myself remembering that God had parted the Red Sea, protected Noah from the first monsoon, and had sent His Son to heal the sick and lame. Thus, even if I wasn’t sure if my brother knew that that grace concept about Jesus’ death was meant for him if my brother just claimed it, God knew my brother’s heart and had already worked on that with no assistance from little old me.  The last scripture was: “If you have done this for the least of these, you have done it for me.” That’s when I began to sob. Why?

Because there have been so many times in my brother’s life when he most certainly did kind things for the “least of these.” I hope you will allow me to share but a few ways that I know this is true:

1. When I was little, we had a white fence in the front of our yard. Since New York winters can be hard on painted fences, it was my brothers’ duty to paint that fence every blessed summer. I don’t think this was exactly their favorite chore to do, because our dad was absolutely anal about how one should paint anything on, or in, a house. At age 5, I was struggling, like most 5 year olds, to learn how to tie my shoes. Mom had shown me how to do it several times, but I still couldn’t master it. Since it was my younger brother’s turn to paint the stupid fence, I decided to go see my super cool teenage brother and see if he could play with me. Of course, my shoestrings were dangling all over the place, creating quite a danger for me. My brother stopped painting, saw my predicament and proceeded to very patiently teach me how to tie my shoes. Once he showed me, I never struggled with that again. He even showed me how to double knot them just to prevent them from becoming untied ever again. To this day, I still double-knot my sneakers. Looking back now, I’m sure it was my brother’s way of procrastinating from painting the fence again, but at least he chose to procrastinate in a way that helped his little sister forever.

2.  When I was 10 we had moved to West Virginia. By this time my brother was a college student…in the 60s. Think about it…Yes, my brother was, indeed, a hippie during those years and protested the Viet Nam War. This provoked a lot of angry dinnertime conversations with Mom and Dad whenever he was home, since Dad was a veteran of two wars. My brother was even questioning whether or not he believed in God and the moral code of the Bible in our minister father’s home. His long hair and beard didn’t exactly thrill Mom and Dad, either. But, at Christmastime, that same brother brought Mom and Dad 3 large wood block prints depicting various aspects of the New Testament that had been created by one of his college professors. Their sheer size and intricacy surely cost a poverty-stricken college student a lot of money and were probably difficult to get on a plane, but again, my brother’s heart showed that he knew what was important to his parents, despite his doubts about the same subject.

3.  My brother elected to go to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. Eckerd’s dorms were almost literally on the Gulf of Mexico’s beach. While there, an oil spill occurred in the St. Petersburg area. Seagulls fell victim to this spill and were literally covered in black oil so entirely that they could no longer fly and find food on their own. In other words they were doomed to die without some sort of intervention. My brother and his fellow students carefully and methodically worked to wash the oil off of these scared, wild birds with little equipment and guidance from outside organizations. This act of kindness was even covered by the national press and soon, these seagulls began to fly again over the beaches and campus of Eckerd College.

4.  Late in his last semester at Eckerd College, the beard disappeared, but the mustache and long hair still remained. One day St. Petersburg was having a parade and my brother went out with hordes of students and fellow citizens to watch it. My brother heard a child’s voice behind him and turned around. A little boy couldn’t see over the crowd to watch the parade. Without a word, my brother winked at the boy’s mother and lifted the little boy to his shoulders so that he could see the parade from the best vantage point possible. Professional photographer Robert Barnes snapped a picture of this. Why? Because it was the South. Because it was 1972. And because there was one small difference between my brother and this boy other than their obvious height difference. You see…that little boy was African American and my brother was most definitely white with his light brown hair, blonde mustache and blue eyes.

5.  When I finally made it to college and my brother had now abandoned the long hair and moved to Texas, he learned that my university (Purdue), was playing in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston over the Christmas holidays. He called me in an era before cell phones and instructed me to get the best bowl game tickets I could get on Purdue’s side. I was stunned. My parents would never have shelled out the kind of money needed for Bowl tickets, even if I could use my student status to lessen the “sting” to the wallet. I said, “But, I don’t have the money to fly down to Houston.” My brother replied, “That’s okay. It’s my Christmas present to you. I’ll fly you to Dallas and we’ll drive down to Houston for the game.” Again, I was stunned, but dutifully secured some pretty good seats for the game. As promised, I received an airline ticket to Dallas at Christmastime and met my brother at the airport. It was Cotton Bowl weekend so the traffic in and out of the metroplex was terrible. My brother never complained about that or the lousy Houston traffic at the other end of our car trip. We stayed at the Shamrock Hilton and it was absolutely regal in those days and I felt like a princess staying there. My brother even suggested that we find out where the Purdue team was staying and plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve (the evening of the game) by celebrating a sure win by my Boilermakers at that very hotel. We managed to find out and when those Boilers did, indeed, win the game, he and I found our way to a disco party celebration at the Purdue hotel. I had pretty good Saturday Night Fever moves and proceeded to teach my brother the pretzel, a rather complicated disco dance, but all the rage in 1979. It took my brother a while, but he feigned enjoyment as I ineptly taught him the pretzel and he endured non-stop very loud disco music. Eventually, he was as proficient as I and my peers all wondered how I managed to secure such a grown-up, handsome date. It is, to this day, one of my fondest memories with my brother, because I had gotten to be the teacher this time and had gotten my brother all to myself for an entire weekend.

6.  In the early 1990s I learned that Willie Nelson was coming to our tiny town’s country-western honky-tonk. Since I knew my brothers were rather avid Willie fans and that my brother had mastered the two-step, I invited them to come to the concert. They did and my brother got me onto the dance floor to teach me a dance this time. He was incredibly patient yet one more time and spent several hours trying to teach me the two-step. But, I’m afraid my brain interprets a step as a beat to the music, so since you only take three steps in four beats in the two-step, I was hopelessly stepping all over my brother’s toes. I’m sure, that when he pulled off his sox that night, his feet were probably entirely black and blue, but if they were, he never complained about it the next day or any time since then.

Many of you have told me of the generous and kind things my brother has done for you and with you. And while such stories bless my heart, I am not surprised, as you can now see. And it was difficult for me to shorten what I shared with you today to the memories I have just recounted. I could go on and on and on about how my brother has certainly done it “to the least of these” too many times to count. In fact when I look at my brother’s example, I am reminded of a man who died on a cross 2000 years ago. Many of the actions are very similar, showing me that my brother “gets” Jesus and that Jesus “gets” my brother.

On the day when I encountered these scriptures, I also encountered one more: “After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules? But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you, I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules.”

You may find it rather odd that with all of the other beautiful passages of scripture I’ve quoted today, that God would send me to this one. But I think I know why.

Jesus spent a lot of time with the “outcasts” of his time: IRS agents, hookers, those with deadly, contagious illnesses, and blue-collar workers. And He was incredibly patient with these people. But, when it came to the Pharisees, a group that should be in Jesus’ corner, He always seems irritated with them. I did some online research about the Pharisees and here’s what I learned:

  1. A growing sense of superiority to the “heathen” and “idolatrous” nations among whom the Pharisees’ lot was cast came to be one of their main characteristics. The Pharisees were taught insistently to separate themselves from their neighbors. Intermarriage with the “heathen” was strictly forbidden.
  2. A Pharisee is a member of a Jewish sect noted for strict observance of rites and ceremonies of the written law and for insistence on the validity of their own oral traditions concerning the law.
  3. Pharisaic zeal for the Law is obvious, but what is meant by Law? The sanctity of the written Law was never questioned, but Jewish groups differed on how it was to be interpreted and applied. The Pharisees developed their own body of interpretations, expansions, and applications of the Law that they came to regard as of divine origin.

Hmmm…if Jesus were to hang out in my Texas town today, I have a feeling he’d be drinking a beer at the local honky-tonk with some cowboys, some oilfield roughnecks, and a few other groups of people that churchgoers like me sometimes have a tough time understanding or appreciating. In fact I think he might be rather bored out of His gourd at the Sunday night women’s Bible study I regularly attend. And when Jesus is asked, point-blank, by the Pharisees: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Notice that Jesus says absolutely nothing about confessing your sin, claiming Him as the Savior of your life, or anything remotely related to Him. He points us to God and to our neighbors. Sometimes we don’t have the nicest neighbors and Jesus points out that our neighbors may even be people we haven’t met yet in a country we don’t like very much.

The more I thought about it, the more I become convinced my panic over my brother getting into Heaven was just the Pharisee inside me and I was ignoring all the abundant, tangible evidence that my brother believed in God and loved his neighbor, no matter where he encountered that neighbor. In fact I was being downright judgmental about things I have no way to discern, because only God and Jesus can truly see my brother’s heart.

And so, one day when it’s my turn to meet Jesus and Jesus asks me why He should deign to let a Pharisee into His Heaven, I hope a former hippie taps him on the shoulder and says, “I know. She’s a Pharisee and she doesn’t get You, but make just one exception for me. I promise to teach her whatever she doesn’t understand.”

Should my brother convince Jesus to let me into Fantasyland, I hope my brother will want to dance with his baby sister one more time. I suspect that those residing in Fantasyland don’t have any need for shoes, but since I’m a Pharisee, I probably have that all wrong, too. So, when my brother gives me that dance lesson, I hope he’s wearing steel-toed boots. And I also hope he remembered to double-knot his shoelaces.

Friday’s Post: The Anniversary…

You might also like: Why I Stopped Writing; We’re Still Losing This War; Another Kind of WOW; A Real Scare; and 8 Women Who Changed My Life

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 at 10:50 am and is filed under God stuff. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. May 7th, 2014 | Carol McElfresh says:

    Beautifully written…well said. I am sure he was more than pleased at your effort.

  2. May 7th, 2014 | maryann says:

    Thanks, friend! –M.A.

  3. May 8th, 2014 | Joyce Visser says:

    Very impressive Mary Ann, I’m sure your brother would have been very proud of you. Also an eye opener for anyone who struggles with the fact that their loved ones don’t seem to have a relationship with God, while you know they are great human beings and want that for them. Your view is a reassurance things aren’t always what the Pharisee in us thinks. Thanks for that.

  4. May 8th, 2014 | maryann says:

    You’re welcome, Joyce. It was an eye opener for me as well. Others have told me, in light of this eulogy, that they are pretty sure that my brother was, indeed, a Christian and believed in God and a few other things happened in his final days that also gave me a sense of peace about all of this. I look forward to seeing my family again on the “other side”! 🙂

  5. May 18th, 2014 | salmon burger says:

    Your oldest brother apparently knew what he was doing when he delegated the task. Beautifully written and delivered. Thank you.

  6. May 18th, 2014 | maryann says:

    Thank you so much! –MaryAnn

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