I lost a brother last month.
I’m the oldest sibling in my family and the only sister. Andy, the middle of my three younger brothers, lost his life to COVID-19 on February 10.
A grieving heart wants to review the details of what happened. It wants to relive the memories. It wants to make sense of the story.
But we must accept our frailty even in this. Each human life is a kaliedoscopic gem, intelligible only in part; “we see through a glass darkly.”
My mother loved to say that even children in the same family don’t have the same parents. She meant, of course, that each of her four children had been parented at different stages in her life (and Dad’s) and in ways unique to us and to the family’s circumstances at the time of all our various stages.
When you think about it, this truth applies to every relationship we hold in common with others. Each of my three brothers had a different sister in me, and Andy is beloved to me in very different ways than he is to either of my other two brothers even though we share many of the same stories about him.
What I remember first is the time I slipped out of my bed at age three or four to watch my new brother sleep. I was supposed to be napping when I tiptoed across the room and peered through the bars and into the crib where my baby brother lay. I just wanted to look at him: his fuzzy little head, his tiny, breathing chest, his cubby little fists. What a marvel is the tiny human being, the life all enfolded in promise like a rosebud.
That rosebud would grow up to be larger than life.
He was a musician, a police officer, a private investigator, an athlete, outdoorsman and beloved husband, son, brother and uncle. He was the life of the party and everyone in the family treasured his storytelling, impressions and general hilarity. We’re pretty sure he had every episode of Seinfeld memorized from top to bottom because he could drop a quote appropriate to any situation and deliver it in the character’s voice to boot: “Gold, Jerry. Gold!”
Andy’s band, The High Rollers, was twice named Durango’s best local band. They played at Country Jams in Grand Junction and Montana and toured in France and Spain. On one of those tours the French invited my brother to sing the American National Anthem at a D-Day celebration in Normandy.
I love the social commentary he worked into his song Overlookin’ Telluride. My other favorites from his body of work include I’m Colorado, One Too Many Marshall Tucker Songs and the song that really reveals his heart, That Place.
Country music isn’t quite my cup of tea, but the eclectic country/rock of the High Rollers was just so fun. Over the years Andy and I shared music we liked with each other, he sometimes beginning with “I know you don’t like country music, but” or me sending a mix tape and urging, “give this guy a try.”
He never understood what I saw in Bob Dylan. But after a new friend of his shared an appreciation for singer/songwriter John Stewart (whose music he teased me about when I brought it home from college) my brother called me and admitted he’d never given the Americana balladeer his due.
As the sibling who grew up and moved away from home first, I didn’t have many front row seats in Andy’s life, and I have regrets about that.
I’m a bit of a family outlier, the only girl, the preacher’s kid turned Catholic convert, the English major/counselor who’d rather read than pump iron, hunt or fish. Campsite contemplation in the company of Tolstoy or Sigrid Undset is my way of enjoying the high country. But our common Christian faith, though expressed in different ways, continued to bind us.
Andy was always a marvel in my life. I loved the way he’d steal a moment with me, maybe in a car or in one of the rooms in our parents’ home, to pop in a CD of his own work, tell me the story behind it and ask me what I thought.
In 2019 Andy began pursuing his faith at a higher pitch.
To everyone’s surprise, he closed the High Rollers chapter of his life.
He started singing with the worship team at his church. He went on a mission trip to Nicaragua. He began speaking often of little people and little places and God’s love for them.
When he was invited to become a part-time pastor of a rural church our dad had pastored some 30 years ago, Andy embraced the opportunity with palpable joy. He was still hilarious, but he now he coupled it with a single-minded intensity about his faith in Christ. He confided that he’d heard a call to the ministry when he was a teenager driving tractor in Kansas. He hadn’t taken the mystical moment too seriously at the time, but the desire to preach and pastor had never left him.
Like every other venture he undertook, Andy’s work as a pastor blessed everyone around him as it grew.
Nobody thought my strong, athletic brother would have such a serious battle with COVID-19 when so many others weathered the disease as if it were a bout with a run-of-the-mill strain of the flu.
I was privileged to be the one to get his groceries when he was quarantined, to run things to the local hospital when he was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia.
He couldn’t have visitors. Within a week he was flown to Colorado Springs, struggling for every breath while texting us words of encouragement and finally identifying with the naked, helpless Christ on the cross.
We kept sharing music.
One song was Andrew Peterson’s In the Night (My Hope Lives On) with its grim, determined picking (Andy Gullahorn) and biblical imagery that always reminds me that Peterson, like me and my brothers, is a preacher’s kid.
Andy texted, “I listened to that song three times.”
Another was I’ve Got a Hope, a Pierce Pettis tune I’d shared years earlier, one he told me many times had meant a lot to him.
The lyrics took on new meaning as my brother, who I first watched sleeping as his tiny chest rose and fell, now lay in a hospital bed, battling for breath. They became my prayer day after day as I went to work and came home to wait for news of improvement that never did come.
Trust in God never wavered even so.
Lest I should stumble
I try not to forget
That every hair is numbered
Every footstep, every breath
And this life that I’m living
It will not end in death
I’ve got a hope
That is not in this world.
A few days after Andy’s passing from this world into the next, I encountered 1 John 3:12 in my reading.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be.
My thoughts returned to the wonder my preschool eyes watched in the crib in a Buffalo, New York suburb. He was God’s child then, that rosebud in the crib, and who could have guessed at the larger-than-life man he would become?
“But,” John’s letter continues with the confidence of a disciple who walked with Jesus Christ, the one who laid his head on the chest that would soon gasp for breath on the cross, whose eyes beheld the risen Christ my brother Andy called Savior with his own dying breath:
we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Indeed, it does not appear what Andy or any of us shall be in the many mansions God has prepared for those who love him.
John’s letter is written with eyewitness authority, but Andy witnessed to the resurrection in his life as well. Each of us who know Christ’s living presence must live as witnesses to what we’ve seen and heard.
And when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
We have a hope that is not in this world.
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Andy shared as close a friendship as any brother could with Dan, the oldest of my three brothers. Dan’s tribute to Andy at his memorial service (below) and in the obituary he wrote about him simply shine with that love and with the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”
The service at First Baptist Durango begins about 20 minutes in. Andy’s songs with slides are at about 54 (“When I Was a Boy”) and 1:40 (“That Place).”
Rest in peace, little brother. I’ll see you in “that place.”