My Hero, My Brother
Who was this stranger? I peaked out from behind my Mother’s legs to see. I was five years old and the youngest of seven children. Standing there was the tallest person I’d ever seen. He was smiling with the same smile as my Mothers. His dark eyes were so much like mine. I took a step to get a closer look and he said, “Come here princess. My aren’t you just the sweetest thing.” Even at five years old, I melted. This soft-spoken, gentle, man captured my heart. I ran to him and he lifted me into his arms and I felt like a princess. This was my oldest brother, Tom. He is nineteen years older than I am. This was the first time I can remember seeing him.
I will never forget how I felt that day. It still brings sweet memories back to me. Tom had that way about him and everyone who knew him liked him. He’d go out of his way to help anyone who was less fortunate than he was and rarely did I ever hear him speak badly to anyone. I know he wasn’t perfect, he had made mistakes during his life, but he accomplished so much despite his weaknesses.
When I had grown and had a family of my own I lived in a different State than the rest of my family. That made it difficult to keep close relationships with them. It never seemed to matter how much time or how many miles separated us though. Whenever I was able to be around, Tom still made me feel like a “Special Princess”.
The years always seem to get away from you, before you know it they’ve passed by and you wonder where they could have gone. Then one day I received a phone call, Tom had cancer, he was dying. My emotions were so jumbled up. My brother, the man he had become, the things he had yet to do, why was this happening. Like so many times in our life there were questions, questions that we never get the answers to.
Tom asked me to promise him that I would go and be with him when his time on this earth was close to an end. It was the hardest promise I’ve ever had to make. When I got the call from his wife that it wouldn’t be long before Tom would die, I made the trip to be with him. It still amazes me how beautiful our time together was. I ended up staying with my family for eight weeks before Tom died.
During those days Tom and I shared so much. All of our fears, joys, disappointments, and our accomplishments. Everyday, people would continuously call or stop in to visit with Tom. I became aware of just how many lives he had touched. So many people truly respected and admired him. I came to realize that he was able to make so many people feel special, the same way he made me feel like a special princess.
I watched as he and his wife and children continuously expressed their love and support for one another. I saw the same awe and love in his daughter’s eyes that I felt for him. His biggest concern was not for himself, but for the ones he would be leaving behind. He had such a strong belief and faith in God. We shared our views and opinions about our faith. We laughed and we cried, but most important of all we were both able to say all the things that we wanted to say before his time here was done.
Five days before Tom died, he was in excruciating pain. He turned to me, with eyes so full of pain it ripped at my heart. He asked me to get him one of his guns so he could end it once and for all. I cried, and I prayed for God to give me the wisdom and words that I needed for Tom. Well, as always God was faithful and I explained to Tom why I couldn’t do what he had asked. How it is not our choice to make, but God’s as to when our time is over.
We prayed together and then Tom told me how it would be after he died. What his funeral would be like, how many people would be there, that there would be a big parade, fireworks, a picnic and even what the weather was going to be like. I didn’t think much about what he said at the time as I just kind of pushed it to the back of my mind. That was the last time I saw Tom alive. He went to be with Jesus five days later. He quietly passed away during the early morning hours.
When the day of his funeral arrived, we gathered for the visitation. I was shocked and amazed at the number of people who came to pay their respects. Outside the chapel people were lined up all the way down a city block just waiting to enter the building. I had never seen so many people at a funeral before that day nor have I since then either. I could not believe the magnitude of people that Tom had touched during his life here or how he had affected so many lives. He was loved and respected by everyone who had come to truly know him.
During the funeral procession to the cemetery, God reminded me of what Tom had told me on that last night I had with him. I looked behind us to see hundreds of cars following us; they stretched out over three miles behind us. This was Tom’s parade. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing, through my grief, God was giving me comfort. Tom had said it would be a beautiful sunny day, and while we gathered around his graveside I realized we were not wearing any jackets. It was November 14,1999, in central Illinois and it was a beautiful warm sunny day.
Tears were streaming down my face when they began to play taps and presented a 21-gun salute. These were Tom’s fireworks. Afterwards we left the cemetery and went to a luncheon. All of Tom’s favorite foods were prepared. I looked around at the hundreds of people who had gathered and I realized his dearest loved ones were having his picnic.
I am so thankful and so blessed to have had him in my life. I thank God for giving me my “Hero”, my big brother Tom. He will always remain in my heart and thoughts and I will rejoice with him again one day. On the day when it is my turn to cross that river of death and join him at the feet of Jesus.
Author/Written by—Carol Jo Smith