Wow, it’s hard to know where to even start when talking about my brother, Daniel. He was all I ever knew; he was 13 months old when I was born (bless my mama, we were like twins). One of my favorite pictures is of us in a crib, it captures me screaming at the top of my lungs with Daniel wide-eyed, scared to death. He didn’t know what he was getting when he got me for a little sister! I kind of think he liked me, though, we were like best friends growing up. I looked up to him and loved him unconditionally; I called him Naniel. Probably more like a brother to him in those earlier years, he was my hero and I remember wanting to be just like him. He would always put me up to something and of course I would do it, get caught and we would both get in trouble. He was mischievous with a humor and wit that would make everyone laugh.
I never knew anything was different about him. When we would be in public though, other people would stare at him. I was his protector, as siblings are, and I did not like the looks and stares he got because his legs looked different. I know there were times he held me back because I wanted to hurt someone for looking at him the way they did. I just wanted to protect him. He, however, took it all in stride, I rarely saw it get to him. In hindsight, the children just didn’t know better…maybe the adults didn’t either, but it still hurt me every time…but not my Naniel. He held his head high and I can even remember him making crazy silly/scary faces at people to get them to stop. Ha. Never a dull moment, and if there were, Daniel would make a way to fill it with laughter.
Don’t get me wrong, we were siblings, so would fight, get on each other’s nerves and even hit each other from time to time. As we grew older, Daniel and our little sister, Emily, grew closer, which was neat. They developed a beautiful bond, too.
Mentally, Daniel was fine—sharper than most of us probably, but never did he enjoy school, homework or tests. His greatest loves were cars, airplanes, fishing and computers to name a few. His challenges were strictly physical and other than numerous surgeries and hospital visits, he led a fairly typical life. He played basketball and baseball when he was younger, had a steady job from age 15 on, got his drivers license at 16, but as he grew older, would often prefer his wheelchair or crutches if he had to walk far distances, probably due to the pain or strength it took.
We never discovered exactly what Daniel had, he was just Daniel. My middle child curiosity really wanted to know, but some things are just for God to know and us to trust Him. He doesn’t make mistakes and He certainly didn’t make a mistake when He made my brother.
I hate Daniel lived in pain and went through surgeries and hospital stays, etc…but he was truly amazing and secure in who God made him to be (something I struggled with myself for years). He never tried to be anyone else; he never tried to mask his disabilities, and never did you hear him complain…never. There was such a gentle, sweet meekness about his spirit with a little sneakiness added in there, too. He certainly had times of rebellion as we all do, driving too fast, wrecking cars, missing curfew, etc… But never was he disciplined differently because of his physical limitations. I truly admire my parents for their role in Daniel having no self pity or sense of entitlement because he was different.
One thing Daniel did beautifully was look past the outside of people and into their eyes and hearts. He was one of the most accepting people I have ever met. I learned so much from him and I know I wasn’t the only one.
The morning I received the phone call from my parents is one I will never forget. My housekeeper had to pick me up off the floor. Several friends came over to just sit with me while I cried and cried and cried. My mother-in-law drove me to my hometown where, once there, I sat crying in my mom’s lap for hours, wanting to crawl back into her to make the pain go away. Not believing this was really happening. Wanting to wake up from the nightmare, wanting just to die too. Wanting the pain to stop. Wanting my brother back. Wishing I had said more to him and known him better in those last few years. So much more time I could have spent with him, so much more love I could have given him, so much more I could have learned from him.
I remember our pastor coming over to discuss the funeral with us. Dad had picked “It is Well with My Soul” as one of the songs. I was so not OK with that because it was NOT well with my soul, how could we sing such a song!? But, by the time the funeral came around, I knew the Lord would help me in making it well with my soul, and He has.
We didn’t know how we were going to make it through the visitation and funeral, but my goodness, God carried us in a way we had never experienced. My dad even did the eulogy, amazingly. There was not a dry eye in the packed church because everyone who knew Daniel felt the great loss of not only a friend but an outstanding, brave, unique man.
The weekend before Daniel died, he and my sister came to see me. We had a night to ourselves, just the three of us, and I am forever grateful to God for that night. God knew what was going to take place later that week and He gave me one last night with my brother. I remember during the visit, really studying him, his movements, his features. I sat and watched him do things like I never had before, I even remember Emily and I admiring him while he slept. Those images are etched in my heart forever and I am so thankful. I didn’t know it at the time but wow, was that God preparing us or what? I am so grateful for that night and so grateful for my brother.
We talk of him often and it’s as if our daughter, who was born almost 2 years after Daniel died, has always known who he was. Her sweet little life brought so much joy and healing to our family. Our son has Daniel’s dark brown eyes and I love it; I think he resembles him also. Daniel’s name will be continued in our family by God’s amazing grace and blessing of the baby boy I am now carrying. He is so faithful to give me a second son, one I can name after my brother.
Years ago Daniel gave my mom some roses for Mother’s Day, she planted them and to this day, even surviving a move to a new yard, that rose bush produces the most beautiful, vibrant roses at the most perfect times. It’s a reminder of our Daniel but also of God’s faithfulness.
It took a while not to be sad about losing Daniel, but no longer do I mourn, I smile when I think of him. Of course I miss him and would love one more hug or laugh but I know he is in a better place and I will see him again one day! I feel so blessed to have been his sister and will forever praise God for my Naniel.
“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21b
Thank you, Lord, for my irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind brother, Daniel. Thank you for giving him the soul, perseverance and personality that you did. We know you have a plan and purpose for each and every person you create, no matter what they look like to our human eyes. May we take joy in the beauty of your creations, and may we love ourselves and accept ourselves the way you made us uniquely knit in our mother’s wombs. Thank you for 29 years with Daniel, I don’t know who we would be today if you hadn’t given him to us. I thank you for my parents, the only two people you deemed able to properly care for and raise Daniel. I pray for continued peace and joy in their souls until they are reunited with their firstborn. They are amazing and I’m glad you chose them for me, too! I am so grateful we had Daniel for as long as we did and I am extra grateful He is now walking pain free, no crutches or wheelchair, no scars or stares from others, with You. For all eternity. Thank you for his salvation. In Jesus name, Amen.