July 22, 1952 a new life entered the world. It was over three years before I would make my appearance. He was named Scott Leslie. Like all of us, he was many things. He was loved. He was treasured. He was handsome. He was popular, he was insecure. He was smart. He was passionate. He was complicated. He was successful, he experienced failures. He was funny. He was logical. He was a pest, he was my friend. He was my hero. He was talented. He was my tormentor, he was protector. He was my beloved big brother. And, I loved him.
We grew up together in suburban Detroit. We had an average childhood, an expansive list of neighborhood friends, and some people who were close enough to us to be thought of as almost family. He was Mom’s favorite child, I was Dad’s favorite. We had good times, we had bad times. Our parents got along, our parents fought with each other, and eventually they divorced. We got through a lot of things together. We loved each other, with a sibling bond that became stronger once we were no longer living under the same roof.
We were estranged over a series of unfortunate circumstances. I waited patiently for him to feel like we could be family again. It was a six year wait. We reconciled. In 2009 I got to spend Christmas with him. He was limping at the time, and chalked it up to twisting his ankle. That was the start.
The following March he suspected that something was wrong, something serious, when his coordination began to suffer. He was supposed to go back overseas to work. He was unable. In May, 2010 he was officially diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a very rare nervous system disease that deteriorates the body’s muscles. The cause of ALS is unknown. As Scott’s condition deteriorated, he progressively became unable to do those things that we take for granted. He became somewhat depressed, and that depression followed him on and off for the progression of the disease. Eventually, I gave up my work and moved to Florida to take care of him. Day by day it was a struggle for him to walk, to turn on a light, to eat by himself, to shower. And, day by day, my level of care of him increased. For those of you who know me, you know that mercy is not one of my spiritual gifts, so much so that caring for the last remaining member of my immediate family was extremely challenging. I was constantly exhausted, and he was fairly demanding. He was trying to hold onto the last vestige of control that he had, and I was struggling to keep up with the emotional and physical demands of his care. I needed breaks, but I felt guilty every time I was away from him for more than a matter of one-half hour. When he entered into the hospital for pneumonia, he knew that he would never be able to come home again. I, however, was hopeful.
We spent his final two weeks in the hospital. I was pretty much there almost around the clock, advocating for him. Machines were doing his breathing for him, and with every approaching day, I watched as his body began to shut down. I hoped upon hope that he could recover from the pneumonia and come back home. That hope would never materialize. Those prayers were not answered. God had another plan for my dear brother. Communication became difficult between the two of us because of his inability to speak. He began to request comfort via Proproval, an anesthetic that brought on immediate sleep. And, he was scared. He didn’t want to die.
Throughout it all, he knew of my faith in my Lord and Savior Jesus. One day he told me that he had been talking to Jesus. I asked him what he said to Jesus, and he told me that he told Jesus that he was scared. The next day we had pretty much the exact same conversation. The following day, he told me that Jesus spoke to him. Jesus told him that he (Jesus) loved him, and that Jesus wanted Scott to be with him forever. I asked my brother if he believed in Jesus, yes was the answer. I asked my brother if he believed that Jesus was Lord and Savior, yes was the answer. I asked my brother if he believed that Jesus died for his sins, yes was the answer. I asked my brother if he wanted Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of his life, yes was the answer. I asked my brother if he wanted me to pray with him, yes was the answer. It was there in that hospital room that my brother accepted Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life.
Three days later, he asked for Hospice care. He was tired of fighting for his life. He was tired. He wanted the struggle to be over. He either wanted to go home, or go and be with Jesus. We transported him via ambulance to the Hospice facility. After he was set up in his hospice room, I still had such high hopes that Scott would be able to breathe on his own, that he could improve, and he could go back home. As they adjusted the down the rate of the machine that was breathing for him, they administered anti-anxiety medication. I stood at the side of the bed and asked Scott if this is what he wanted. He said yes. As the machine kept getting turned down, I was coaching him, willing him to breathe on his own. It was a few minutes into the process of turning down the machine that something clicked in my brain, and I knew that my dear brother was going home, but not with me, he was going home into the arms of my Lord and Savior, Jesus. I had to turn a switch in my brain. I asked him to let me know when the angels were coming for him. He understood. I told him that I loved him, I told him that it was okay to go, I told him that I would be okay, I coached him into his final moments. His eyes were focused on the ceiling, but all at once his eyes locked with mine. He was telling me it was time to go. I was crying uncontrollably. I was losing my dear brother. His pain, frustration, and agony was ending and he was being ushered into the glorious presence of God. And then he took his final breath. He was at peace.
It was a very strange sensation of immense joy and sadness, peace and turmoil at the same time. My life had completely changed in the matter of a moment. He was the last member of my immediate family, and he was taken from me on June 14, 2011. And although I was in my 50’s, I felt like I was an orphan.
I was indeed blessed to have such a wonderful big brother. And today, on what would have been his 66th birthday, I remember. I remember the good times, I remember the struggles. And, most of all, I remember my big brother, whom I dearly loved.
I can see him now, walking, running, smiling, and laughing in the presence of God. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will be reunited with him again when my earthly life is over. Until then, Happy Birthday, big brother! I love you, and I miss you each and every day. Thank you for being the best brother that anyone could ever hope for.