Wednesday, July 01, 2009

In Memoriam--Douglas Simonds Brehm

In Memoriam--Douglas Simonds Brehm 12/13/1964 to 5/8/2009[1]
It’s very difficult to know how to properly eulogize someone like my brother Douglas. He was born with a mental handicap in a time before we as a people discovered that we should have a “conscience” regarding the mentally handicapped. As a boy, I think I felt what everybody who cared about him felt—grief and compassion for his difficulty, mixed with embarrassment that he was not “normal,” mixed with resentment toward those who made fun of him. I’m not sure I ever really knew him because I was too distracted by my own feelings.
And so it is that I come to this day with a mixture of gratitude and regret. I regret that it took me so long to discover that Douglas was indeed not just “normal”—he was a gift. I am grateful for the gift that God gave to us all in him. In a very real sense, he was one of those special people that God puts on earth to fulfill the promise of making all things new—the promise of making all things into God’s kingdom of mercy and peace. Like the sower in the parable who sows the seeds of the kingdom wherever he goes, those who took the time to see Douglas for who he was went away from that encounter with the seeds of Christ’s compassion growing inside them. Like the proverbial leaven that works its way throughout the dough and forever changes it, all who opened their hearts to Douglas could not help but be more sensitive toward the suffering all around them.
It was not we who sought to care for Douglas who blessed him—it was he who blessed us. (As Henri Nouwen says) People like Douglas are the presence of Christ in this world. (And as Jon Sobrino puts it) In his weakness Douglas was the true saint—simply by being who he was, a vulnerable, needy, frail human being, he pointed us all to the kingdom of God.
I think Douglas—again by his very being—also presented a challenge to all of us who claim to follow Christ. In this society where the weak and the vulnerable—the “abnormal”—are routinely ignored, people like Douglas are the presence of Christ, calling us to cut through all our religious verbiage and do more to show God’s love to “the least of these.” I am also grateful for having had that challenge. In that respect, my brother was one of the most influential people in my life—and I am a much better human being for it. You did your work very well, Doug.
I am grateful—grateful for the privilege of having Douglas for a brother. I am grateful for the time we had together over the last few years. And I am grateful to my wife, Kristi, for helping me rise above the feelings that distracted me from knowing that privilege for so long. And I am grateful to my Aunt and Uncle, David and Zora Simonds, for faithfully accompanying us on our outings with Douglas—whether he was having a bad day, or whether he was having a good day, as he did the last time we were with him just three days before he died. And I’m especially grateful to the wonderful people of Tejas Management who cared for Douglas in ways that we could not—even to the very end of his life. Douglas felt safe and at home with you all, and I will always be grateful to you all for that.
But mostly I’m grateful for Douglas——for the gift that he was, for the presence of Christ that he was, for the blessing he gave to us, and for the challenge he gave us to care for the “least” among us.

[1] A Eulogy delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm at the memorial service for his brother, Douglas Simonds Brehm, on May 18 2009.

1 comment:

gizzy_sean1 said...

I remember Doug well, Alan. I remember him as a sweet, smiling child. I also remember the compassion I felt for him because he was different and well, back then, people seemed to be less accepting of different. You would be surprised how often I still think of him because I have a son with some obstacles that make him different, too. God bless you and thank you for your encouraging words and insight.

Julie Herrington-Guenter