I wouldn’t take anything for my last day with Rick
“Bill, we received an e-mail from Rick today.”
That fact in itself was significant, for Rick had had only limited contact with any of the family for almost four years. But I could sense there was more. Dad continued, “He informed us that he has esophageal cancer.”
Things began to happen pretty fast after that communication. Dad called Rick and assured him of our love and prayers. He seemed genuinely appreciative. Within weeks my sister Joyce was driving my Dad and Mom up to visit Rick and his wife Karen.
A few weeks later at Christmas, I would speak to him for the first time in many months.
Rick was my older brother by six years. We grew up in a close-knit, church-going family. Not long after high school, Rick announced his intention of serving the Lord as a missionary to Africa. We were all elated. But as he trained for that task, some less-than-biblical teaching disillusioned him, and he dropped his lofty goals and began aimless wandering that would last for decades. His journey would take him through numerous jobs, religious groups, and political philosophies. Through all his searching, his family stood by him, though we made it quite clear that we disagreed with much of what he espoused.
Eventually he settled down to a steady job, a wife and sons, and fairly traditional beliefs. We saw him infrequently, but the visits were always pleasant.
About 10 years ago, however, we learned his lifestyle had drifted into some areas that were decidedly unchristian. We tried to reason with him, but it only upset him to the point that he no longer wanted to communicate with us. Hence, the four years of near silence. Who was more at fault for the estrangement, Rick or us? It’s hard to say.
Nevertheless it all changed with that dreadful diagnosis. The lines of communication were open again. Dad, Mom, and Joyce endured a long journey to visit him—Rick and Karen had since moved to Maine—but the visit was a good one. Privately Dad asked Rick about the behavior that had so bothered us. With a wince he admitted, “That’s gone now.” Karen confirmed it.
As the months progressed, so did the cancer. And I wanted to see Rick again. I was afraid the cancer would cut short any opportunity of a personal visit.
So I asked a dear friend a dear favor. One of my deacons at First Baptist Church in Princess Anne, Maryland, where I was serving as pastor, owned a single engine Cessna and loved to fly. Jim would often invite me on day trips with him to places such as Cape Hatteras or Niagara Falls.
For the first time ever, I approached him with an idea for a trip—Augusta, Maine, to see my brother. He readily agreed.
Rick called me when I e-mailed him about the visit. “I just want you to know that I’m O.K.” he said timidly. “I know Jesus Christ as my Savior.” I suddenly realized he thought I might be coming up to preach at him. I assured him that I believed him and was only making the trip because I wanted to see him again.
“And I want to see you, too,” he assured me.
The flight was nearly four hours one way. It left us only a short afternoon with Rick. He took us to a place on the water for lunch. We bought lobsters there to take back to friends. Rick didn’t eat much. He could hardly swallow.
We spent the rest of the time driving around as he showed us the Maine countryside he loved so much. Jim took pictures of two brothers talking animatedly together. I hugged Rick goodbye when we parted. He sure felt bony.
Four weeks later I returned—to preach his funeral.
“He was a good big brother,” was my conclusion. He’s been gone six years this fall.
“The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9).