Today is Ben’s birthday. It’s been just over two years now since my little brother Ben died. And I spent a lot of that time with the guilt of knowing I had caused his death.
Ben had walked to his office to sleep on the couch in the wee hours when he fell down a flight of stairs and suffered a massive head injury. We were texting when it happened.
He had moved to the Chicago area in 1995 and we had fallen out of touch. My New Year’s resolution in 2018 was to reconnect with my family. So I did. We were both grateful to renew our relationship and to again have those long conversations about all kinds of goofy stuff- personal lives, old times, conspiracies, religion.
We were discussing the afterlife when he died.
I sent my last text to him at 2:30 am. After waiting a few minutes, I chuckled and decided he must have passed out on me. At 3 am, a strange feeling came over me. Like all of a sudden everything was different. Everything was wrong. As if someone had clicked down the Contrast button three shades darker on the whole world. On my soul.
I found out the next day that he had died. Immediately I knew it was my fault. I had been texting him and distracted him while he was going down those stairs. My last text to him, and the last thing he read in this world- “What do you think is the literal meaning of the ‘Second Death’?” As he lay dying, he was in agony over the second death. The cloud that had come over was my condemnation. My punishment for causing his death. The police had asked his wife who Darryl was. They told her that he had been having a conversation with me when he fell. They knew I had cursed him.
A couple of months later, my Dad died of complications from heart surgery. I had reconnected with him to. There had been friction in our relationship and one day we yelled and screamed in his front yard and then cried and hugged, finally understanding each other and forgiving each other. I knew he had died of a broken heart from Ben. And now I was responsible for two deaths in my family.
I had reconnected with both of them and they both died. Ben was young and my Dad was healthy. I was some sort of dark force I decided. Somehow, my compulsion to reconnect was a harbinger of Death. Terrified of whom I might kill next, I pulled away. I descended into a very dark place. I built a wall around myself and waited to die.
I pleaded with God many times to turn back the clock and take me and not Ben. I begged Him to take His curse off of me.
And then, one day I didn’t tell God what I wanted Him to do. I didn’t accuse Him of taking the wrong person, or blame Him for cursing me. I simply said “Father, what do you want me to do?”
There are stories in the Good Book about God talking to people in a burning bush, with thunders and lightnings booming out of the clouds. There was nothing like that for me. Suddenly, like the night my world dimmed, the light came back. My thoughts quieted. My anxiety stopped. There was a peace over my whole being, and then in the way the God assures us, understanding came into my mind.
“Ben was very grateful that you had reconnected with him. The late night talks with you were one of the things he enjoyed most. That night he was happy when he left.
You were there with him when he passed, and he was comforted.”
As I cried and felt overwhelmed with this knowledge and the relief of the darkness being lifted, I understood. It was Ben’s time. It was my Dad’s time. And even though someday soon it will be- it is not my time- yet.
With that time we have been given, God expects us to let our light shine, so others can see what God has done for us, and will want it for themselves.
Challenges and pain continue to come in my life, and always will. They are opportunities for growth. They are the time to lean on God and His understanding. God doesn’t curse us, He gives us a chance to show that in every circumstance we will depend on Him, and have faith that hard times, disappointment, and pain are a fire through which we can either come out stronger- or let them consume us. Throw us off course. Blame God and choose our own way.
I didn’t cause Ben or my Dad to die. I am not cursed. What I did do wrong was let these challenges put out my fire. Instead of leaning on God, I wanted to bargain with Him. I wanted to tell Him what He had done wrong, and how He should fix things.
When we are hurt, disappointed, angry- we can either run from our problems and tell God He has made a mistake, or we can put our hand in His and face it together. We ask Him what does He want us to do to solve our problems and overcome them. And when we do that, we find peace and understanding. It is WHY we are here.
I love you Dad and Ben. I am grateful that we healed our relationships. I know in a coming day I will see you both again. I will try to make you both proud of me.
And I will try to make God proud of me. He has given me a wonderful life, and I am very grateful.