An Open Letter to My Brother
The deputy coroner told me that your neighbor had borrowed a toaster from you, and wanted to return it. He assumed you were home because your car was in the driveway. When you didn’t respond to his repeated knocking, he called law enforcement. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to perform a welfare check. When you did not answer the door, they forcibly entered your house and found you fully clothed, facedown on the living room floor. You had been dead for some time.
I remember your being facedown on another floor many years ago. It was in the spare bedroom of our grandparents’ house on the prairie. I was 4, you were 2, and our sister hadn’t been born yet.
It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon, the kind of weather that precedes a thunderstorm. Distant lightning flickered in the sky as Mom tucked us in bed for a nap. We hadn’t been lying there long, when the heavens opened up and a deluge of biblical proportions poured from the heavens. Lightning that had been miles away only minutes before, now flashed directly overhead. Thunder shook the little white clapboard house like a terrier shaking a rat.
You jumped from the bed, terrified, and started screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!” But rain and hail slammed against the little house and thunder roared so ferociously that she couldn’t hear you. You tried to crawl under the bed, but there wasn’t enough room, so you lay facedown on the bare wood floor, sobbing and crying out, “Mommy! Mommy!”
Protectively, I laid myself down on top of you and whispered in your ear, “It’s all right, it’s all right”—but I doubt you heard me over the roar of the rain and hail pummeling the tin roof. I stayed on top of you until the storm subsided, and I was sure that you were safe.
This morning I read these words from an ancient Hebrew poem: “For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 90:11, RSV). Is it too outlandish to imagine an angel spread protectively over you in your final moments as you lay facedown on the floor? Perhaps you even heard a gentle whisper: “It’s all right, it’s all right.”