I recognized the look on my wife’s face.
That reluctant, “I’d rather not have to say this” look.
My sister-in-law had called. Allen’s breathing was starting to become more labored.
The end was near.
I remembered the day last March when I got a call from my younger brother. In a routine exam to check the possible cause of a persistent cough, the doctor discovered a mass the size of a golf ball between Allen’s esophagus and his stomach. It had been there ‘’for months”.
I was stunned, told him I wish I could take his place and prayed with him. I didn’t make it to the Amen.
“I’ll fight this,” Allen told me.
The CAT-scan later confirmed it: stage-four esophageal cancer. It had spread to Allen’s liver.
When Beth and I visited him at his home in Ohio the first time after his diagnosis, he seemed brave and determined. I hadn’t seen Allen in quite a while. Whenever we were together we were like alter egos – understanding and loving each other in a way that only we knew.
We went fishing on Silver Lake in Allen’s small aluminum boat. It was a beautiful spring day. We spent several hours in the warm sunshine remembering colorful folks from our childhood – family friends and relatives. We took turns imitating them, including visiting preachers and evangelists from our youth.
Some we had nearly forgotten – but they came back with self-knowing laughs.
Mimicking speakers was an entertainment we had long enjoyed.
We swapped stories. We talked life.
We caught two bass and threw them back. This wasn’t about the catch.
Watching Allen launch and take in the boat on the trailer of his pickup reminded me of our dad. The same motions, the same routine.
Allen cooked several great meals during our stay – along with hunting and fishing it was one of his passions. When his wife Marianne’s large family gathered that evening, he regaled us with one of his many Maine stories set to poetry. Then Allen and I sang an old Burl Ives tune, Kentucky Turkey Buzzard. We had learned it as kids from the old family stereo.
The day we flew back to Dallas was Allen’s second round of radiation. Chemo would follow. I hugged him hard and told him I loved him.
I returned to celebrate Allen’s 59th birthday in June.
I gave him a blue-ray collector’s edition of Ken Burn’s Baseball. He loved it. But what Allen really liked was something else I gave him. Beth had found four photos of Allen and me. One was taken at my wedding. Allen was my best man. Another was of Allen and me standing in front of my red ‘65 Sport Fury just before heading for a church youth event. I was 21, Allen was 18. There was a more recent shot of Allen and me sharing a hearty laugh at our parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.
The fourth picture was of two little boys, 7 and 4, side by side, drooping pajamas, dressed as cowboys, complete with hats and holsters, aiming their 45s at the camera.
Beth had placed all four pictures in a black wooden frame. In the center I would put a quote about brothers. I couldn’t find one I liked, so I wrote my own:
“A brother is that one guy you can go back in time with – and together be young again.”
Allen studied the framed collection. Then in typical decisive fashion he took it into the kitchen and nailed it to the wall.
The first round of chemo landed Allen in the hospital for a month. Marianne asked me to fly back to encourage him to eat. When she picked me up at the airport, we went to the hospital to get Allen.
“So he’s better?”
“No, he just wants to go home. He’s done with chemo. He wants hospice care.”
I wept. So did Marianne.
Allen got his wish.
Ten days ago, he sounded weak on the phone. Allen told me he was “about the same”, which I knew was a lie. We chatted for a few minutes and then Allen told me he had been a Christian since he was a child. “Jack, I wish I had lived my faith better than I have. I just feel that God might not accept me now – that he’ll say I’m just doing it because I’m near the end.”
There was a pause.
“I’m looking for reassurance.”
I didn’t try and persuade Allen of his eternal security. Instead, I offered to pray the Sinner’s Prayer with him. As I prayed, Allen whispered, “Yes, Lord, I believe that, I know that, I accept you as my Savior. Thank you.”
He was comforted and reassured. Allen was prepared to meet his Lord.
He thanked me.
That was our last visit. I tried calling later but there was no answer.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, NIV). It was the desperate plea of a man at the end of his life.
Jesus didn’t equivocate or pontificate or denigrate.
“Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (vs. 43, NIV).
I’m glad Allen and I had that last talk. I’m glad we had that last prayer.
I’ll love him and miss him always. But I know that today he’s walking in Paradise.
May God bless you and your family.