Walking away from that weekend I knew I was standing on holy ground. Under the rock lie the ashes of my older brother Willy. Bright with beads of sweat dripping from our brows, next to a metal cross in the Arizona desert. The month leading up to his memorial turned out to remain one of those hard seasons where somehow in the midst of it all, God in his tenderness kept me close to him.
Ben, my dad, and Rick, Willy's friend and pastor of Teen Challenge in New River broke rocks to find enough depth to bury Willy. His cremated remains were in a black box, the one given to us by the funeral home. We lay these in the freshly dug hole, said a few words, and piled dirt upon his earthly body. We sang '10,000 Reasons' & 'Amazing Grace.' Tears replaced the sweat.
Yet, I did not cry then. I saw this act as a job. I was simply burying my brother, releasing him and allowing us to move forward. I was waiting for him to come out of one of the buildings, or find him recording music in the recording studio he created at the Ranch. I could feel his presence there. The taste of dirt and sweat, maybe that's what Jesus tasted in Gethsamane?
The weekend was met with a whirlwind of getting programs printed, going over music, arranging the church to reflect Willy. Sometimes in life you simply take charge like you always have, in order to give your family a gift. You don't do it for accolades; but, merely out of love for a brother who died much too soon.
September 27th marked the day we would celebrate his life. As I got ready for the memorial, I had an angry cry with God, pleading to bring him back. Talking to Willy asking him why he did this? Why didn't he see how much life he had left? And still, I would go to the church to speak, sing and converse with family & friends.
Seeing old friends broke my heart. I saw them and wished Willy could be there. That night after everything was over, and I was getting ready for bed with Ben, he said, "It was a really nice day. Willy would have loved being here."
That's the bit about a funeral or memorial for someone you love so much. You see these pockets of joy interspersed with such grief. Walking down memory lane of old church friends stirred up all these stories and images I have with Willy by my side. Pictures surrounding us of the healthy Willy, his bright smile, his compassionate heart, and his eclectic sense of style.
On that day, I dangled on the edge of heaven on earth. This is what it means, this is what our hearts were created for--to long for something more. It's why we ache when life is taken, and rejoice when life is born. We put to rest my brother with stories, songs, and memories of who God made him to be. I breathed it all in. Every last drop. I didn't want the day to end for fear of losing more of Willy.
Now we sit in this new year. I sit in a new year and many more after it (God willing) awaiting the day to see my brother again. That day in September and this day in January is marked by the words in this hymn,
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
But for now, I reside in making my home in the here but not yet, while preparing my heart for the not yet.