Fifteen years ago last month, my brother was killed.
A drunken driver cut short his life as he pulled a late-night shift for a fellow police officer in Hawaii. Jay took every opportunity he could to earn enough money to move his wife and two young children from their apartment into a real home. He died as he lived, serving and sacrificing for others.
God had prepared Jay and his family for his departure in a way that, to this day, defies explanation. Months before his death, Jay met with a life insurance agent and with his pastor (who was also the department chaplain) to plan for his funeral. There was no reason for him to suspect that his life might be in danger. In fact, he and I used to joke on the phone about some of the “hazardous” assignments he had as a policeman on Maui, like when he answered the call about a bowl of soup that was allegedly stolen off a kitchen table.
For whatever reason, Jay felt impressed to increase his insurance to an amount probably several times higher than any honest insurance agent would recommend. And the solidly evangelistic funeral service that he planned would end up ministering powerfully to his fellow officers, who knew him to be a man of integrity who lived out his faith and loved his family more than anything else.
A final gift
But probably the most amazing story of my brother’s death was a sympathy card he had penned years earlier. Jay shared a birthday with our aunt Harriet, who had lost her own beloved husband, Phil, to a massive heart attack.
Jay wasn’t able to attend Phil’s funeral, but his sensitive thoughts and words of hope ministered to Harriet in a deep way. Jay spoke to the heart of this grieving wife by describing how her husband lived his life in the grace and love of Christ and how he reflected that godly care to everyone he came in contact with. His words reminded her that her husband was spending eternity with the Savior, free of the pain that is so much a part of this world we know, and that one day they would be reunited in heaven.
Now, years later, Jay’s own wife, Dee, was experiencing the same inexpressible grief. When Aunt Harriet heard of Jay’s death, she reminisced about the nephew who had comforted her. After some effort, she managed to locate the sympathy card, which was tucked away in a book. She read his words again, this time thinking about Dee’s grief at losing her husband. And she decided to send the card to Dee.
It was weeks after the funeral. All the family was gone, and Dee was left to take care of their two young children—who reminded her so much of Jay—and grieve on her own.
Until the card came. As Dee opened it, she could hardly believe what she was seeing—the handwriting she knew like her own heart. The tender words of consolation wrapped themselves around her soul as they had in the days when she and Jay were dating. But now, instead of words of his undying devotion, Dee was reading his words of deepest consolation in his own death. And the wife who didn’t get to tell her husband goodbye would end up reading his own words of comfort to her in her time of greatest grief. It was his final gift to her, words of promise and hope that they would be reunited forever in God’s timing.
Jay was inexplicable in life, and inexplicable in death. But his heart lives on, because the One who held his heart lives eternally. And the love of Christ that ruled Jay’s life is the same love that has conquered death for all.