“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.”
I never understood how that phrase, or its derivatives, brought peace to the shattered remnants of hearts broken by the untimely death of a loved one. Then, in late August, my wife’s older brother, Scott, died.
Yesterday was his 54th birthday.
“He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.”
From mid-April through May, Scott survived a nightmarish struggle with COVID-19, including more than a month in the ICU and three weeks on a ventilator. But he survived, tested negative and transferred out of the hospital. Beginning in June he worked to make steady, but significant progress in his rehabilitation.
Then in late August he aspirated on some food. His swallow reflex, weakened by a prolonged period on a ventilator, did not properly clear his throat before he drew a breath. Scott did not die from COVID-19, but it certainly contributed to his death.
“Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread”
Scott’s death was not just unexpected but struck like lightning from the clear blue sky after the storm had already passed. It seemed like the sport of an indifferent Greek god rather than the act of the benevolent Christian deity in which our family believes.
“Are big with mercy, and shall break, In blessings on your head.”
In time, between bouts grief, anger and despair, memories of happy moments forced smiles and laughter to bubble through tar-thick sadness. Retelling humorous anecdotes and cherished stories gradually began to heal the abscess his loss left.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust him for his grace.”
Scott grew up in the idyllic settings of small-town Iowa. For three years he played starting catcher for his high school varsity team. He could pick up a guitar and play by ear. He played the tuba, but it frequently ended up on the floor as a makeshift laundry basket.
He studied the sports page so closely he became a walking almanac of stats and figures. Once a close friend randomly asked him to explain the revenue formula for a host school in the college basketball post-season NIT – and knew Scott could answer off the top of his head.
“Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”
He would have loved to watch Bronco Brett Rypien lead Denver to victory on Thursday night. Scott didn’t care much about the Mile High team (he was a Philly guy for years), but always rooted for players from his alma mater, the Boise State Broncos. Scott wrote a regular sports column for the university in the years when they installed the now famous Smurf Turf.
Scott’s talent for covering sports took him courtside to multiple Final Four tournaments. He met and grilled Bobby Knight. He saw generational players. He wrote about championship upsets.
And even after he moved on from a career covering sports, he still wrote about his local teams.
“His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding ev’ry hour.”
When health challenges collided last summer, my wife flew to Philadelphia to help him move closer to us. He found a home here where caregivers not only provided the assistance he needed but took him to baseball games and on camping trips. They helped him buy a new baseball mitt and played catch with him in the yard outside.
They became his friends and cheerleaders. And when we told them he had died, several openly broke into uncontrolled sobs.
“The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.”
Living so close to family brought its own gifts. For the first time in more than 20 years he spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas with family who loved him. He saw his mother on a weekly basis, not the bi-annual norm of the previous two decades. He spent time with his niece whom he had met only once before.
And when Scott was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in April, his proximity helped combat helplessness as we waited each day for early afternoon reports from his doctors.
“Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain.”
Before the end, Scott Coffman beat COVID and lived long enough for the care center where he returned for rehab to reopen for family visits. My wife got to see him one more time and their mother visited twice.
And they were blessed with one last goodbye.
“God is his own interpreter, And he will make it plain.”
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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