I have a little brother that most of you have never met.
His name is Matthew Angus.
He had beautiful blue eyes and red hair, just like my sister.
I clearly remember Daniel and Sarah waking me up on a Thursday morning, November 2, 1989. “Mom’s in the hospital!” I knew what that meant, baby was coming!
We sat around the phone with Aunt Rose awaiting the news. “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” We danced around the living room with pure joy. Two girls and two boys, the perfect completion of our family. “If you think having three kids is great, have four!” Dad declared at church a while later.
Matthew’s name was going to be Patrick but an inspiration caused Dad and Mom to change their minds. Matthew was a gift from God.
A challenging gift at times. When we moved to Esperanza I got a comfortable ride with Dad in the moving truck with a sleepy cat at my feet. Mom had to maneuver the station wagon with a crying baby, a roaming cat and two other kids.
Matthew loved taking every pot out of the kitchen cupboard and turning them into drums. He delighted in torturing our cats by chasing them on all fours, grabbing a tail and shouting “dat!!!”
He and I both gave evidence as to why walkers were banned by venturing down cement stairs while going for a ride. Also perhaps we gave evidence of angels. We remained upright and unharmed but nearly gave Mom a heart attack.
Matthew’s first steps were epic. Instead of a timid little jaunt, he spanned the whole camp dining hall. We all cheered when he reached the other side and hugged his toddler friend Andrew.
I was so proud to be a big sister.
In every picture with Matthew I look very devoted and “motherly”
Finally I wasn’t the youngest anymore and I had someone on whom I could pour all of my love and take care of.
January 1991 began the first of many years without Matthew. One day he had a nap and didn’t wake up.
I remember running to my bedroom crying and praying, “please don’t let Matthew die!”
I remember hearing good news on the radio from Tahsis. Matthew was breathing!
What I didn’t know was that a machine was breathing for him.
Matthew was gone.
There was a sudden hustle and bustle of busyness. A trip to the city.
I remember my six year old self skipping around at Matthew’s memorial service happy to see my Vancouver friends.
I could not comprehend the season of pain that awaited us.
I remember many awkward moments being asked if I was the youngest or how many siblings I had. I didn’t want to cry and pour out a sad story on an unsuspecting friendly person, nor did I want to deny Matthew’s existence or be ashamed of him. So I went back and forth with different answers but never felt satisfied.
The hole in my big sister heart gave me an aching love for babies. My happiest moments were volunteering at our church nursery or holding a friend’s baby. The ultimate achievement was when a little one fell asleep in my arms. Their warm love brought comfort.
The first time I publicly shared about Matthew was during a creative writing course in college. It felt so good to acknowledge and celebrate my little brother. My classmate told me that while I was reading my story I swayed as if I was rocking a baby.
The more that I celebrated Matthew the more freedom I felt. On his 25th birthday, I sang a song with the lines
I wanna be close, close to your side
So heaven is real and death is a lie
I wanna hear voices of angels above singing as one
Hallelujah holy holy
God Almighty, Great I Am
My favourite memory of Matthew is holding him and dancing around our coffee table.
He loved praise music as much as I did and he would clap and lift his hands to the Creator with joy.
Perhaps our dances together were a rehearsal for eternity.
When my parents recently went through all of their stuff Mom entrusted me with Matthew’s blankets and a couple of his sweaters. I was about to put them all in a bag for storage when I noticed stains on the garments. I didn’t have much confidence in washing out 20+ year old stains but a lot of stain remover spray and gentle scrubbing did the trick!
What a healing moment as the brown water went down the drain and my little brother’s green sweater shone like it was new (I still need to work on the busted zippers)
Finally I had a way to physically serve Matthew and honour him. He would be smiling no doubt.
Oh, I miss him.
When my precious nephew and niece were born I was tempted to believe that they would fill the gap and make everything all right in our family again. But there will never be another Matthew Angus, or Isaiah, or Calliope. Each person leaves a unique, irreplaceable handprint on our hearts.
While I was washing Matthew’s clothes the words of a hymn came to mind.
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
I have 20+ year old stains and scratches and bruises on my heart that spray on chemicals cannot remove.
I cling to my Lord. Whose love brought him all the way down here to die and make me whole again. Death has lost it’s sting because Jesus lives again, and so will Matthew, and so will I.
The sun is shining and the garments are being transformed. The musty odour is gone and they smell like wind and flowers and sunshine.
See you soon little brother.