I dreamt about my little brother last night. I don’t remember much about the dream but he looked as he was when I last saw him, a year ago- working on something, swinging his lanky arms around and smiling with his whole face. I haven’t felt like crying about him for a while now but just that awareness reminded me the waves of grief would come, and soon.
There’s a cousin I was good friends with through my childhood. I loved our friendship. There were few peers with whom I felt safe as a child and he was my favorite. We chased crawdads, explored creeks, and spent what felt like whole summers together. For a few years when I thought of a best friend, I thought of him.
I now often think of these two boys together. Boys… men. For some reason they’re always boys in my memory. Both so sweet, heartbroken and giving. In fact, nearly any thought beyond a brief glimpse includes them both. One is dead and one is living. The living one is in jail for the rest of his life. The other, my brother, stepped in front of a train one miserable and intoxicated November night.
In less than a year’s time one boy had committed murder, the other suicide. Often different sides of the same coin- one attacking their problem, the other running.
I think of them together often as I consider my two young children, both boys. I contemplate how to teach my children to be brave, to work out their emotions and problems with others and to squarely accept the consequences for their decisions. I look at the world around me where a disproportionate number of murders and suicides are committed by young men. I then look back at these boys who occupied large portions of my childhood. Both very kind and sensitive.
I contemplate the year leading up to my brother’s death. His unwillingness to make different choices and his unwillingness to accept the consequences of his choices. Like us all at one time or another, he wanted what he wanted- when he wanted it. He also wanted it to work out as imagined, not as it logically would. Warnings and pleas wouldn’t dissuade him, he was convinced he could make things work.
I hear my beautiful grandmother, with a smile, say words I hate, “It’s just the men in our family- they can’t seem to get it together before they turn forty.”
We look like a normal family but underneath: drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, murder, a long line of men who can’t seem to handle internal or external conflict and the consequences of their choices.
And then I see my two boys. Dear reader, what do I want you to know about what it’s like when murder enters your narrative? You see that it isn’t “pure evil” who do these acts. It’s people. People who you love, who you long to make choices for. Who are kind, giving, gifted, wounded, and floundering like the rest of us. Who choice after choice stopped thinking rationally until they could not see straight. And you see very clearly: It could be your child too. It could even be you. And we wonder, what do we do? So we tell and live God’s redemptive story through Jesus, we sing and pray over them. We coach and give a safe spaces. And we pray some more…