On October 10, my brother went to the hospital suffering from severe pain in his abdomen. The medical staff diagnosed him with Severe Acute Pancreatitis. Early Sabbath morning, my mom called me with the news that my brother was critically ill.
Thanks to the help of a close friend, I was able to book a flight home using his personal air miles. Timing was crucial. When I arrived at the ICU where my brother was being cared for, I was greeted by a doctor who informed me immediately that my brother was critically ill and that according to medical tests used to measure his condition, Juan faced a 100% chance of death.
Immediately, I was able to visit with my brother, speak to him about his walk with God, and hear what was on his heart. Other members of our immediate family also spoke with him. These moments have come to be some of our most cherished memories with him — moments that we will treasure for the rest of our lives. Moments that will surely carry us through difficult times ahead.
The doctors of the Riverside County Regional Medical Center cared for my brother with diligent humanitarian care. Dr. Benjamin Tabibian was his first attending physician and aggressively took steps to keep my brother alive. My brother took small steps forward, but the journey ahead of him was very long. And many times, forward progress was offset by challenging declines.
Although surgery was determined to be the last resort, the time came for Juan to undergo surgery in order to keep him alive. His internal body pressure had become dangerously high. At this point in Juan’s condition, it was uncertain that he would survive the procedure. But he did. With the pressure released from his abdomen, his lungs began to slowly work on their own.
Thanks to the thoughtful care of Dr. Walter Klein, a pulmonary specialist, Juan began to make slow, but steady progress.
The doctors were not the only ones providing the best kind of care for my brother. Many nurses attended Juan, giving him dialysis, graciously caring for him, and cheering him on.
Every day that Juan lived during his severe illness was itself a miracle.
The time came when Juan’s progress was steady and sure. Although a long road was expected for Juan’s recovery, he seemed to be coming out of the most critical stages of his illness. His kidneys began to work, his blood pressure held its own, and he was beginning to respond after months of sedation.
However, in the last moments of last week, he took a turn for the worse. Perhaps, due to an infection, Juan’s Pancreatitis returned and within a few days, ended my brother’s life.
On December 14, 2014 at 12:18 local time, my brother ended his battle with this vicious illness.
My brother did not lose the battle. The Bible gives the assurance that death is a defeated foe. If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even those whom also sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him (I Thessalonians 4:14).
My brother’s life ended with a fight to the very end. Dr. Aaron DePew and others did everything humanly possible to keep him alive and together with Juan wrestled with all of their might towards this end. But Juan’s body needed rest. Rest from the struggles, pain, and sin in this life. Rest from sickness and disease. And although Juan’s life has come to an end, in the eyes of God, he is only asleep. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them…and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:18).
We are assured of the blessed hope and soon return of Jesus Christ when “death is swallowed up in victory” and God’s children will declare with Him: “O Death, where is your sting? O Death, where is your victory?” (I Corinthians 15:54-55). The promise of God is certain and true: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
In the meantime, we hold on to the words of Jesus Christ when He overheard the sorrowful news of the death of a young woman. To the remaining father and to Juan’s loved ones the words of comfort and hope are: “Don’t be afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:36). Don’t be afraid because even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we can fear no evil — for He is with us.
God never promised a life without death and sorrow. Instead he promised freedom from the fear that makes these experiences too hard to bear. He promises that the valley of death is a valley that we pass through, not dwell in. And he promises that He will be with us.
So I take comfort in the thought that God is with us. The Emmanuel remembered during the Christmas season is the same God with us in times of death and loss.
I have lost my only brother. But God gave His only Son. The love of God is incredible!
My brother’s life was one of constant giving. He was intuitively attuned to other people’s suffering because he deeply understood pain. For 34 years of my life, I was a beneficiary of his constant selflessness. And I am forever grateful for him. He is my hero.
My brother has taught me that:
A life is never lost when it has been lived for others.
I will see him again.