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What June meant to me: Mourning my brother in a busy month

death
Unsplash/Eyasu Etsub

A few days ago June ended. Today, we turn our calendars to another page. Another month begins. Different themes and memories come with July. Thus, June leaves, just as predictably as it came, and, should the Lord tarry, as predictably as it will come again next year.

If you haven’t noticed, June has gotten a little crowded. For the last few years, it’s become synonymous with “Pride Month,” of course. This had made June an increasingly complicated month for those with a biblical worldview — and increasingly difficult for Christians in the corporate workplace. Many believers feel pressure to “fly the rainbow flag or get fired.” At the start of this month, I wrote about how, since a movement committed to sin has tried to hijack the rainbow colors of God’s grace and His covenant of mercy, perhaps Christians should wear black as a sign of protest.

But the covenant-symbol hijackers have now been hijacked. On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. June isn’t Pride Month anymore, it’s Right-to-Life Month now.

Now in June, we get to celebrate the greatest legal and moral victory in the history of America thus far — the end of the 50 years of darkness that took over 60 million lives under the twisted banner of “choice.” Now in June, Christians and pro-lifers get to party — all month — on behalf of the babies that will be born. I’m already looking forward to June 2023. After all, if a big Supreme Court decision goes your way in June, you get to claim the month going forward. Those are the rules. God has a sense of humor, does He not?

But for me, June will always be about more than the social and spiritual battles that are raging across the political landscape of America (as important as those are).

For me, I dread June not because of Pride Month. For me, June is first and foremost about remembering my brother, Evan, and his untimely and tragic passing on June 21, 2011.

It’s hard (impossible) to put into words all the various and associated emotions that swirl around in my head and my heart during June. Or to communicate how I feel when I see June 21 stalking my way yet again on the calendar. But even though I know my ability to communicate is not what I wish it was, I’m just as confident that I’m not the only one who has lost a loved one in a heartrending and sudden way. I’m certainly not the only one who has one of “those dates” on the calendar that you watch each year, as it sits there like a landmine. You may feel just like me, stuck on the moving walkway of time and seeing that day approaching, knowing that you’re going to step on it, annually, whether you want to or not.

During the first half of every year, since 2011, I watch June approach, knowing it comes with a key. It carries a key that will, whether I want it to or not, begin opening the dark cabinets of grief and pain that I keep locked up for most of the other 364 days of the year.

One of the hardest things about having a loved one die is that you keep living. Their life might not go on, but yours does. To keep living, you must grieve, but you must press on. This means that you can’t always be grieving, you must also be living. The pain and hurt must be managed. I speak bluntly, but of course, this looks different for different people, in terms of time, severity, and moving on. Time truly is the salve that helps heal all wounds — but since time is cyclical, it brings you back to the point of injury again and again.

As a Christian, I don’t grieve without hope. In fact, few physical locations on planet earth fill me with as much hope as my brother’s grave. Maybe that sounds strange. But when I stand at Evan’s grave and then lift my eyes through the overhanging tree and spot the sky, I swell with confidence in the resurrection. That cold headstone, even though it’s etched with Scripture, doesn’t get the final word. The closed casket, six feet under, where Evan was buried in an outfit I picked out for him, won’t stay closed.

Christ conquered death in His work on the cross and His resurrection. He defeated the final enemy, the thief that comes only to kill, steal, and destroy. He’s put a future end to the late-night phone calls saying, “William, your brother has been in an accident … he didn’t make it.” Just as surely His tomb is empty, so too will my brother’s grave be empty one day.

Temporally, June often weighs me down, bringing me back under the crashing waves of loss, leading me through the dark valley of death. Geographically, my brother’s grave helps me find that resurrection hope and brings me back to the land of the living. June might open the floodgates of grief, but there is a deeper joy that runs in those waters. I stand there or envision it, and I know for certain the truth of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57:

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Or, in the words of the song, “See What a Morning” — “Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered.”

This is what June means to me.

Along with being a time to mourn, I fight to make June a time to remember. Or try to remember. It’s been 11 years now since Evan died. Time is not much kinder on your memory than it is on your face. With every wrinkle it etches under your eyes, it seems to steal a bit of the vibrance of your recollections of a former life as well.

But I do remember my brother. In many ways, he was unforgettable. He was a larger-than-life character, with fierce eyes and a contagious smile. He was goofy in all the best ways. Even at 15, he had a confidence about him that eludes most grown adults. He was willing to do whatever it took to get someone to crack a smile.

Evan could light up a room just by walking into it. He was no doubt the funniest of the five Wolfe siblings. But he was compassionate and caring, too. He loved his friends, he loved his school, and he loved his youth group. Like most teenage boys, he loved Taco Bell. He played football and loved to lift weights. He played the piano and sang. He shared the Gospel with others as part of church-planned service weeks around the Charlotte area.

I was (am) seven years older than Evan. College took me away from home during the last few years of his life. But we had begun reconnecting, and our bond was still strong. He had called me “just to say hi” a week before he passed — a providential kindness from the Lord.

Over the last decade, more than a few conversion stories have found their way to my inbox. Young friends of Evan’s who, rocked by his death at 15, had to come to grips with what they really believe about life, death, and eternity. I cherish these stories. They are living testimonies to the verse we have on his gravestone: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

That is my own story. The Lord used Evan’s death in my life to bring me to an end of myself. There, at rock bottom, I found the Gospel. Life out of death.

As with many hard things in life, it is a sweet and bitter providence. As I wrestle with the anniversary of his death every June 21, I can’t help but come back to the fact that God used his passing to bring me to Himself. Scottish pastor Robert Murray M‘Cheyne lost his older brother when he was 18. Reflecting on how his brother’s death impacted him, he once recorded in his diary, on the anniversary of his brother’s death, that “This day eleven years ago I lost my loved and loving brother and began seeking a Brother Who cannot die.”

M’Cheyne, like myself, found the day of his brother’s death a day to remember each year. A day to mourn and a day to find renewed confidence in the “Brother who can never die” — our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Along with Gospel hope, as each June rolls around, I cling to the twin, immovable pillars of God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness. These theological foundations are the bedrock of my ability to stare down death — especially the tragic death of my 15-year-old brother, Evan. If God isn’t good, this world is a nightmare. If God isn’t sovereign, this world is out of control. Thankfully, as Christians, we know that He is both — forever.

So, if you are hurting today, for whatever reason, let me encourage you to find solace in the same refuge that I have: In the Gospel, in God’s goodness, and in God’s sovereignty. Maybe June is your favorite month, and it’s July that is hard. Maybe it’s not a given month, but a grief that comes and goes with no rhyme or reason. Either way, I hope that sharing these reflections encourages you to press on in your faith as well.

June is a busy month these days. Despite it being the start of summer, for me it is a dark month, awash with grief. But it’s a month that comes and goes each year, over the last decade-plus now, leaving me even more committed to contending for the faith and fighting for this country. I want to live a life that honors the memory of my brother — who he was and who he would have been.

As much as politics matters, voting matters, and freedom matters, as Christians, we know there are other truths that matter even more. Eternal truths. Answers, in the Gospel, to the dark nights of the soul that are visited upon us in this world plagued by sin, death, and unexpected tragedy.

Amid the rainbow flags and (now) the celebrations over the end of Roe, June reminds me of the “sharp knife of a short life” that was the 15 years I had with Evan. It also reminds me that Jesus wins. We would all do well to remember that.

I’ll close this column with the close of the entire story of human history — resurrection hope, the death of death, and endless joy. Because even though June hurts, it is only one month. And even though the grave is real, it is not the end. As the songwriters remind us, Christ truly is our hope — in life and death:

“Unto the grave, what will we sing?
‘Christ, he lives; Christ, he lives!’
And what reward will heaven bring?
Everlasting life with him
And we will rise to meet the Lord
Then sin and death will be destroyed
And we will feast in endless joy
When Christ is ours forevermore.”

I hope to see my brother on that day. And I hope to see you there, too. No matter how many more Junes lay in between.


Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center. 

William Wolfe served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe

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