Today would have been my brother Jonathan’s 31st birthday. It’s been 11 years since I last saw him, wearing a birthday hat, blowing out the candles on his cake, and cuddling my little brother Josh. He passed away 6 months later, yet another life laid waste by drug and alcohol addiction.
Jonathan was 16 months younger than me, so there is scarcely a memory from my first two decades of life that does not include him. As I watch my children growing up, I am frequently reminded of my brother. Oliver is 17 months younger than Naomi, and their relationship reminds me so much of my brother’s and mine. When I watch them playing I get to relive the better memories of our childhood together.
Recently Oliver was having trouble falling asleep, so I laid down on his bed beside him to cuddle for a little while. He and Naomi both have “babies” which is what we call the “lovies” that they snuggle as they fall asleep. Oliver held his blue “babies” close, and for the first time I noticed that he rubbed the ribbon-like tags between his fingers as he fell asleep. I immediately felt my throat tighten, and struggled to hold back the tears.
As a child, one of Jonathan’s favorite pastimes was to rub the ribbon-like tags of his toys between his fingers. His favorite green blanket was edged with the same silky material. As he got older, he kept the ribbons he won from awards and rubbed them between his fingers until they had holes in them. We laughed when we found him carrying a pocketful of such ribbons in his pocket as a teenager. For a boy who was so eager to prove himself a man, it seemed funny that he should still be carrying ribbons around in the pockets of his jeans.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the 11 years since I last saw Jonathan, it’s that grief is an on-going process. Sometimes I feel happy remembering all the good times we shared, and sometimes I cry for the brother I miss so much. As I look at my children, I am so glad that God has blessed me with the opportunity to relive my childhood through older eyes.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance….I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11