A Letter to My Brother

Dear Baby David,

I keep thinking of that time a few years ago when we all were gathered at the Lake House for Memorial Day weekend.

It was the same as every year – too many kids and dogs to count. Card games, and tubing, and Dad threading gooey worms on fishing hooks, and sitting at the long harvest table on the porch in soggy swim suits for lunch.


Memorial Day is notoriously a little early to be swimming in Wisconsin, but still, we launched the boat and plunged into the water as always. We’re a “Choose-life-no-matter-what” kind of family.

It was cool and cloudy and super windy that year, but you kept trying to convince me to go sailing with you on our little Sunfish. “Come on, Laura! It will be great! Me and you!” I can hear you as clear as if you were saying it to me today.


Finally I relented and we took off, you at the rudder (because I don’t actually know how to sail) and me along for the ride. Aunts and Uncles, grandparents and kids and dogs watched from the shallows as the wind immediately whipped up and started speeding us across the lake.

I’d say it was approximately 10 seconds before I watched helplessly as you fell off the back and I was on my own, speeding away.

I can picture you treading water and laughing so hard, like such a brother.

Everyone on shore was yelling instructions as I got further away from land, and some scrambled to jump in the ski boat and rescue me.

David, I keep thinking of this, because I feel like you’re slipping off the back of the boat again. And I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to sail on without you.

I hate it that cancer is eating away at your strong body. I hate it that you’re suffering. Maybe it’s time to let go of life, in order to embrace Life, but oh it’s so sad to watch you slip away.

We know that God can calm the wind and waves as He has before, but so far He’s chosen not to. So far.

And saying “this is hard” is like saying a heart surgery without anesthesia is hard.

We hurl confused, grieving, tearful words at God in our weakest moments these days, but we trust Him too. We don’t understand, but we choose to continue to believe He is good, because we have had a lifetime of sailing with Him.

You’ve held tight to the rudder, Baby David. You’ve fought the wind and waves courageously, but it’s ok. You can let go now if you want.

When you go I will miss you so much. Words can’t express…But even now I can picture Jesus and Grams and Gramps waiting for you on the other side. You and Gramps will talk trains and Mr. Punnymoon. And I know you’ll be waiting for me too, with that mischievous grin and twinkle in your eye, ready to go sailing with me again.

I love you,

Your head cheerleader

I’m sharing this publicly with Susan’s permission because I want readers to know what a difference faith in Jesus Christ makes. He is everything.

We are so, so blessed to have a family and heritage of believers to walk through this dark time together. We don’t have pat answers. We aren’t always happy-clappy. We’re impatient, and selfish and quirky just like all families. But we do not grieve as those without hope. (1 Thes. 4:13)

Tuesday night, David was moved home to hospice care. His wife Susan was on the phone with my mom telling her that the oncologist had said David was the most courageous patient he had ever had, with such a positive attitude. David was awake and overheard her. In a moment of semi-lucidity he said, “Oh, but did we remember to tell him it’s just because of Jesus, Susan?”

“Yes, Dave, we did. We did.” she said.

Breathe deep.Lean hard.God's love holds.



  1. Dearest Laura,

    I wish that I could wrap you in a great big hug. It has not yet been long enough to forget the nuance of the words you describe so eloquently.
    It is beyond painful. And I agree, I cannot imagine going through such trial without The Lord holding firmly to my hand.

    Something that was very helpful to me, and came to mind as I read about your departed loved ones…….and the image of David in the lake as you were separated……..as our precious people move toward the middle of the lake, and away from us, we say “Look! He is leaving”. But! On the other side Jesus, Grams, and Gramps, are jumping up and down with JOY, saying LOOK! He is coming! One day it will be David waving excitedly to you, with that wonderful big smile……..blessed assurance. Precious Lord, who receives His own. We are storming Heaven with petitions for your peace, and David’s gentle release ❤️

  2. Dearest Laura, you have such an open heart, so much room for Jesus to occupy! Thank you for sharing this. Tears. Hugs to you and your family. Profound sorrow matched with eternal hope. We’ll see you at CPC for the Willow conference. Love, Caren

  3. Such a holy tribute to God and to David, an impossible coexistence of exquisite pain and joy. I love you, Laura.

    • How my heart hurts reading your post Laura. Please know that He is keeping us in deepest of prayers for Dave, Susan, Kyle, Chris, Cooper, Don and Jan and all of you. Blessed Lord, firm their faith in you. Oh Comforter and Blessed Redeemer.

  4. Dear Laura,
    What an amazing sister and witness you are for Dave, your family and all of us. When praying for all of you this song comes to mind. “When Peace Like A River… It Is Well With My Soul” What a great gift to know that Dave has the blessed assurance that Jesus is His! Dave has always been a leader and now he is leading in meeting Jesus face to face. May God hold all of you In His Grip.
    Kaaren Oldfield

  5. Beautiful–death doesn’t have the same sting when we hang onto Jesus. While I miss my dad, watching while my dad slipped into the open arms of Jesus is my strength.

  6. Tearing up reading this beautiful pain-filled note. Thank you dear Laura for sharing it to glorify Jesus.

  7. Nancy Farris Gillard

    July 11, 2015 at 6:05 PM

    Laura, My love to you and Susan. It has been many years since out days at TCU but my affection for you, David and Susan has never changed. I always remind myself that God knows neither time nor space so, My love and prayers are with you all right now right here.

  8. Laura:

    Have been following your journey with David through your blog. Beautiful writing and inspiring faith. This morning, I received notice of your latest post just before our Saturday men’s small group at CPC. Read today’s post to the group; we were all very moved. After discussion, we lifted you, David and family up in prayer. Thank you for sharing, for teaching us and for your courage. Blessings to you and your family during this difficult time.
    Chuck Bolton

  9. THANK YOU, Laura, for generously sharing so vividly during this agonizingly intimate time for you and your family. Such a beautiful and apt image…slipping off the boat and leaving you, his sis, to sail on without him. Heart rending.
    And yet, THIS so perfect: “I can picture you treading water and laughing so hard, like such a brother.” Even falling off the boat in frigid water, that David Johansen was laughing. In part, I imagine, because he knew you would be okay, that you were in the hands of all those loved ones on the shore, as well as the Maker of the wind.
    Thank you for all your words on this blog–most of all, these posts allowing us into this wretched, stunning, ordained season. Constant prayers. r

    • Oh yes, Ruth! So hard, but he trusts not only for himself, but that God will care for those of us left behind whenever he goes.

  10. Oh Laura, my heart goes out to you. Such a tough tough time. Allan and I will hold you and your family daily in prayer. And when is time let’s plan a summer break for you and John with us here in Perth, where we could also try convincing you to come out on a boat in the blue blue water on a warm summers day. Lots of love to you and your family, Donna

  11. Dear Laura,
    Your letter was beautiful as is your relationship with your brother. I love that you have such an understanding of Jesus and deep belief in Him.
    I lost my 20 year old son at Christmas. He was a healthy, college athlete and collapsed while playing basketball. He too loved Jesus as my whole family does. Our faith like yours helps so much. The pain and sadness still hovers over us, but Jesus continues to carry us. I praise God for allowing me to be Chad’s mother and I’m sure you’re grateful to be David’s sister.
    Thank you for sharing your inner feelings.
    Many blessings to you and your family. Cling tightly to Jesus. He will carry you.

    • I’m so sorry for your incredible loss, Lori. We find that those who have experienced the deepest loss are the ones most used by God to minister during this time.
      “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5

  12. Barbara Gosselar (formerly Hughes)

    July 12, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    You don’t know me, but I was a member of First Pres Glen Ellyn when John was there, and have known Dave and Susan and their family, including Don and Jan, for years. This is such a wonderful tribute to Dave and to the loving Savior who is waiting to welcome him home. When my own dad died years ago, this song was sung — “Finally Home”. “Just think of stepping on shore, and finding it heaven. Of touching a hand, and finding it God’s. Of breathing pure air and finding it celestial. Of waking up in glory, and finding it home.” And no more suffering. Dave was such a wonderful model for all of our children at First Pres as they were growing up — a man of faith, a man of God.

  13. Dear Laura,

    I so relate to everything you have said. My sister passed away from pancreatic cancer a few years ago at age 52. I am amazed how many times there are loving gestures and people and circumstances that have entered my life since she’s been gone, that I know without a doubt she was part of. Maybe inching me along in some way with God’s help. These moment are precious and I know they will happen to you too and hope they will give you the strength to take that next step, the next hour, the next day. We move forward in honor of them, it’s the most loving gesture we can give to them and also move forward giving ourselves the patience to grieve however feels right to us. I look at the world differently now, as the only living child of my parents and as someone who lost a precious part of my world. And I’m glad as I always thought I knew what being a good Mom and friend and daughter and sister meant. But now, I really know and have grown in that regard. Sending my best to you and grateful for your sharing.

  14. Thanks for sharing this personal journey, which is a source of such encouragement. My prayers are with you at this time.

  15. Dianne Dannhaus

    July 15, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    Laura, what a beautiful, heartfelt letter to your brother David. As I type with tear-filled eyes I find it unthinkable to lose a sibling, or parent or child, but that is the cycle of life it seems. My heart is so heavy for your family during this time and know that we are praying daily for peace and comfort. Know that you all are loved and being covered in prayer.

  16. Judith DeShong Hall

    July 17, 2015 at 4:11 PM

    Laura, this seems like the “wrong” time to get in touch–but what is ever the right time, if not Now. I have such great memories of your family. Dave, my team partner for the first Navajo Mission, shared much by way of responsibility, laughs and good times. It all came out right because we were “prayed up”, from the beginning. My family walked this path last year. I am with you in love, spirit and prayer. Dave is, and always will be to those who know him, a great, fun, kind, thoughtful, faithful man. Love to all y’all, from Texas.

  17. I love this image of Dave at the rudder and leading a great life guiding others to join him on life’s journey. Working with Dave in business has been the same experience, we had some great conversations about where we were, where we wanted to be and how we were going to work to get there. Like so many others, I miss Dave already and I take some comfort knowing he is in a great place with those who left before him. Your KW Family is with you in this time of loss.

    • Thank you Ron! David loved being part of the KW organization because of the values they held and the reputation for integrity that meant so much to him. So glad you connected there.

  18. Laura and family,

    I am just now reading these posts.
    My heart is full and I ache for your loss.
    Thank you for expressing so beautifully in words what it feels like to “let go of life to embrace Life”.
    with much love,
    Karen and Coop (Steve)

    • Karen, So good to hear from you! This has been a hard but holy time that has brought together many faithful friends. We are so thankful for the Body of Christ.

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