“He ain’t heavy . . . he’s m’ brother.”
Gone too soon ~ 1974 to 2005 ~ Forget you never
Born and raised in Nebraska, I am familiar with the story of Boys Town. It was originally “founded as a boys’ orphanage in 1917 by Edward J. Flanagan, a Roman Catholic priest working in Omaha.” This non-profit organization “is dedicated to caring for its children and families, with national headquarters in the village of Boys Town, Nebraska.” (Wikipedia)
“In 1943 Boys Town adopted as its image and logo a picture of a boy carrying a younger boy on his back, captioned ‘He ain’t heavy, Father … he’s m’ brother!’ They felt it epitomized the importance of their residents caring for each other and having someone care about them.” (Wikipedia)
I like Neil Diamond’s rendition by the same title. I don’t know what prompted Neil to record this song, but when I listen to him sing it on YouTube, it moves me to tears. The lyrics, combined with the purpose of Boys Town, reminds me of a time when my two boys looked out for one another.
In honor of my sons . . . the younger outliving the older
I was blessed to give birth to two boys of my own, about two years apart. The younger is now alone after the older died by suicide. You know the pain of loss if you, too, have been forced to bury a precious child. Let me say how sorry I am for your pain. The sudden and tragic loss of someone we hold dear leaves a sorrow like no other, does it not? When we factor in that it was a decision they chose, well, that kicks the pain up to the stratosphere. No doubt, we are left to carry the “why” questions that echo and re-echo in the chambers of our broken hearts for the rest of our lives.
Perhaps you know the tight bond that can develop between siblings. Mine referred to each other, not by their first names, but possessively as “my brother.” I heard this phrase often while they were growing up, and it always made me smile. In spite of their boyish tussles and arguments, they loved each other unconditionally.
I can recall a time when my firstborn kept his baby brother from harm. You might say he kept him in “protective custody.” He put a box over him and sat on the box to watch his favorite television program! Naturally, I did not think my firstborn was protecting his baby brother when I finally solved the mystery of his disappearance. When I recall this story now, I can’t help but smile at my firstborn’s childish (but creative) behavior, and long to have them back as children again . . . back to a time when our family was whole.
As my boys grew up, their protective instincts did a flip. Now the younger protected the older. As the younger grew stronger, more athletic, and could easily make friends from among his peers, their roles seemed to reverse. Knowing his older brother desired to be more outgoing and athletic like he was, he seemed to look out for him in many ways. He was, in his own way, carrying him like the boy in the picture. In my memory, he was a living example of the Boys Town logo, “He ain’t heavy, he’s m’ brother.”
Fast forward to a sad memory of mine ~ one you may choose not to read if your loss is very fresh. The picture remains vivid in my mind. It was time for our family to honor son and brother one last time. Again the famous phrase “He ain’t heavy . . .” comes to mind as my memory zooms to a scene just before the graveside service.
We got out of our vehicle just as the mortuary men got out of theirs. One of them carried something square hidden in red velvet. I knew what it was, and a sinking feeling hit my gut. (I had to resist the urge to bolt and throw up somewhere private.)
As the man carrying the box approached us, he asked a simple question, “Would one of you like to carry this?” Immediately, the younger brother spoke up, “Yes, I’ll carry it.”
Years later, I ponder my son’s quick response. These four words “Yes, I’ll carry it” are a priceless expression of love between brothers. In my thinking the younger brother was saying, He’s my brother, so, of course, I’ll carry him, love him, weep uncontrollably over him, hug the box for dear life, and never want to let him go. In his own way, he was still protecting his older brother.
The box covered in red velvet ~ simply a tidied-up closure to the tragic ending of a beautiful life. His beautiful life snuffed out way too soon.
I have a picture in my mind. It’s my family. We are ecstatic with joy as we are reunited once again and this time it will be forever! I can’t wait to see my sons share bear hugs and high fives as they greet each other after being separated for so long. I can see my sons playing golf with their dad at the best courses all over the cosmos. I predict that they will teach their step-brother how to play the game, for he will now have all the time eternity as to offer.
I know that you, dear reader, also long for the day when your family is reunited. The precious child from whom you have long been separated will be gathered in your arms forever. I can only imagine how this reunion will be, and I like to think about it. Plan for it. I pray that it will soon become a reality.
Meanwhile, I know how difficult it is to put one foot in front of the other. Pain and sorrow easily overwhelm us. It is during times of deep grief that I try to visualize God carrying me, just like He carried a hurting soul in the poem, “Footprints in the Sand.” As the poem says, if I see only one set of footprints, it does not mean I have been left to suffer alone. Rather, it means God has reached down and gathered me in His arms. Even if He were to gather many of us in His arms at one time . . . we ain’t heavy.
Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Psalm 68:19
Scripture from New Living Translation (NLT)