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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 27, 2002

God's there to always hold us fast

By Mary A. Wilkinson

My brother died on Feb. 10. He was found sitting behind the wheel of his ancient, red Ford pickup truck. The autopsy showed a damaged heart, damaged liver and a cracked collarbone. The actual cause of death was hypothermia.

This message was delivered by a dispassionate caller from Wichita, Kan. There seemed no end to the tears I had shed that morning. Despite my frantic search for relevant scripture, the Gideon Bible brought faint comfort. My mind wandered fitfully, evoking fragmented memories of my brother's life.

He'd planned to sail around the world on Kochab, a yawl he bought for a pittance from a British doctor angry about coming in second in a race.

He'd married an adventurous woman with whom he had two children. The marriage eventually dissolved because of my brother's nonconformist lifestyle. He began to drink heavily until his death.

After a time, the yawl and pickup were his only ties to reality. Continuous maintenance required by both substituted for the care of a family.

He lived aboard Kochab, which was berthed at a boat harbor in Florida. One day he decided to sail to San Diego, but encountered a powerful storm off the coast of Cuba. He and a crewmate fought the storm and bailed water for 12 hours. When dawn broke, they knew the yawl was doomed. They launched a raft, radioed for help and later were rescued by a cruise ship.

He returned to Kansas, his boyhood home, intending to develop some commercial property left by an uncle. The dream never materialized. He became morose and withdrawn. Our weekly phone calls became shorter and less personal. Packages I sent to his post office box were not picked up. In his last two months, I worried constantly about him. I called people there to ask about his condition. The responses were disquieting, but I was assured there was nothing anyone could do. He was living on his property and sleeping in the bed of his truck. When I last spoke with him, I suggested coming to visit. He answered with furious expletives. Then, the phone call from the dispassionate voice.

I was to conduct a memorial service after his family arrived. My two sons and daughter-in-law would join in. But what would I say? What words of comfort could be derived from his death?

I lay down and fell into a fitful sleep. When I awoke, the room was dark. Suddenly I felt comforting warmth as though someone had wrapped me in a fleece blanket. I sensed a presence — a soft movement — a slight breath. Somehow I was filled with an incredible peace. I sat up and reached for the Bible.

It opened to Psalm 139 and these verses spoke to me: Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the heavens, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."

My brother was in the presence of God. All has been forgiven. He has found a home for eternity. All will be well.

This, then, is what I would say at his service. God is with us and will always hold us fast.

Mary A. Wilkinson holds a certificate in lay ministry from the Bible Institute of Hawaii and is a deacon at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu.