Echoes of Ephraim (Dennis Aubrey)

Some time ago, I wrote a post about King David and his son Absalom called “Death in the Wood of Ephraim.” It has subsequently become one of our favorites, not just for the writing and photography, but from the remarkable comments that followed.

In the writing, I reflected on the origin of song, wondering if it was to be found as an expression of joy or of sorrow. My sister Ann wrote “Both are pure, both stem from the depths of our beings … they simply differ in source. Which came first? The briefest song of innocence, I think. Followed swiftly by lamentation.” My brother John Paul, who is a French horn player in Boston, wrote with another possibility: “Personally, from my experience as a performer, I suspect the origins might lie in our need to express certain emotions (joy, sorrow, lamentation, etc – are they really that different from one another?) in a unified manner. In other words – song allows groups of us to express feelings together – as one.”

Basilique Notre Dame, Paray-le-Monial (Saône-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey
Basilique Notre Dame, Paray-le-Monial (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

I write today because the three of us, along with my brother David, have lost a sibling to a virulent and implacable cancer. Stephen Blaisdell Aubrey was the third of five of the children, and we all mourn him today. His ashes were scattered in his beloved ocean, but it is not our mourning that is the subject today. “Death in the Wood of Ephraim” was an expression of the loss of a child by a parent. David, upon hearing of the death of his rebellious son Absalom, cast himself down and cried out “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).

The night we heard of Steve’s passing, my mother and father, Ann (who had flown in from Brazil), John Paul, PJ and I were together for dinner, just three miles from where he died with his wife Jan and his children Montana and Chance in his presence. Despite our knowing that his end was imminent, we were all shattered by the loss. As we gathered around and held her, my mother could only echo the words of David, “Why couldn’t it have been me? Why didn’t God take me?” How could we tell her what we all felt, that her death would have been just as crushing for us all, and the thought of my father without his beloved wife of 66 years is impossible to contemplate. The loss of a loved one can not be made whole by the loss of another.

Église Notre-Dame de Saint-Saturnin, Saint-Saturnin (Puy-de-Dôme)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Église Notre-Dame de Saint-Saturnin, Saint-Saturnin (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

When brother David heard the news, he came over to join us and the family was together to mourn Steve’s loss. We all stood in awe of the grief of our parents. The blessing that had been bestowed on us to share their lives as they reach the deep winter of their years is tempered by a loss which they should never have experienced.

Stephen Blaisdell Aubrey May 26, 1955 – July 17, 2014  (Photo by Steve O'Malley)
Stephen Blaisdell Aubrey May 26, 1955 – July 17, 2014 (Photo by Steve O’Malley)

In his most moving elegy on the death of his brother Gerard, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, ” It seems to me that I can almost hear my brother saying: “Can a woman forget the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet I will not forget you.” This is how it must be. You know how I am situated, how dejected in spirit, how your departure has affected me; there is none to give me a helping hand.”

We are not alone, and the helping hands of parents, siblings, Steve’s family, and our friends all reach out to help us in our pain. But there is nothing that can be done to touch that kernel of agony deep inside, inside the place where I personally fear I was not a good enough brother to him. I dream of him almost every night, perhaps hoping to hear his words of forgiveness.

Ann wrote an appreciation of Steve on her blog, which might give you a sense of Steve as a man.

36 thoughts on “Echoes of Ephraim (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. To be able to place that last kiss on the forehead of a loved one as he passes (which you all were able to do)brings great comfort as the memories flow in the years to come.

  2. Thank you for sharing this inevitable fact of life in beautiful wording for a fellow-man. This proves that mankind still has a future, and nobody dies in vein. Please accept my condolences.

  3. my husband passed 3/28/14 i am still in grief and don’t undrstand it…i prob wont till we meet again..his illness came too quickly and surprised me…the guilt is awful “why didnt i see it”? “was i a good enough wife and companion”? “did he know how much i loved and needed him”?
    thank you for your thoughts abt yr brother as i thought i was the only one thinking abt.these arrows in my heart. my deepest condolences,kathy

    1. Steve and I had a difficult relationship at times and that makes it even worse. We had just started to patch things up shortly before we heard about his illness. PJ and I were in France when the word came and I got sick myself, so it was like the world had changed when we returned to the US. Much like what happened to you, Kathy, I would imagine. The suddenness is probably a blessing in disguise. Steve’s suffering was intense, but short. That was the hardest thing, watching him suffer. Thanks for writing.

  4. I have never known anyone who felt like they had done enough, but if he realized your love for him, you did your very best for him. I wish you and your family peace.

    1. Thank you, Loretta. This was hard for us because it was the first loss in our immediate family. So many others have lost one or both parents, siblings, and even children. How I underestimated so much grief in others.

    1. Helen, am always amazed at how strong my parents are. Nothing makes up for their loss, but even at the worst times, we are struck by that strength. Steve’s services were on a boat and his ashes were scattered in the Atlantic. My parents were on the upper deck for the services and the seas were fairly rough – which is only appropriate for Steve. When it came time to descend to the main deck to scatter the ashes, my 86 year old mother Lucille was on her feet immediately despite the rocking vessel. Nothing was going to stop her.

    1. JP, miss you and Andrew. Would love to see you before the summer ends. You know, if the ceremony that Jan and Montana put together on the boat had not been so perfect, I don’t know what I would have done. The sense of Steve on the ocean for eternity was the absolute right thing, down to wondering where he is now. Even with this, I find myself weeping for no reason at all.

  5. So sorry. I just listened to the recording you posted above. Achingly beautiful. Good to see that you’re writing despite a difficult few months.

    1. Trish, it has been a difficult summer – the illness from France which lasted four weeks, Steve’s passing, and then surgery. But finally on the other side – can’t believe that I have posted so little during this time. So nice to hear from my Via Lucis family again.

  6. My sincere condolences on the passing of your brother. I am keeping you and yours in my prayers. Our neighbor just this week lost their 42 year old son from a massive heart attiack, no warning at all while he was dressing for work. They too have a long, stable, loving marriage. I know with other family members who have lost adult children that while they weather the storm, they are forever changed. Take care of yourself and PJ.

    1. Thank you, Aquila. We had some warning about the loss of my brother, but it was still shattering. The finality of it. Fortunately his wife and daughter created a ceremony of scattering Steve’s ashes on a boat in the Atlantic (he spent his life working on and under the ocean). The sense of his ashes moving with the great currents, continuing his worldly travels, removed that sense of the great final void and gave us a feeling of his presence. Thank you for your kindness.

    1. Thank you, Covetotop. It is so wonderful to hear from our Via Lucis family, people from around the world that we have met only through our work here. Someday we will meet you in your beloved Catalonia.

  7. Dennis, this is beautiful. My heart aches all over again, and yet I have hope of seeing him again. More, I have certainty that Mom and Dad will see him again. Meanwhile, I feel his presence and sense his joy. I love you.

    1. Ann, last night I sat here weeping for him and for Jan. It seemed to come out of nowhere. And then I think of Mom and Dad and my own pain seems to recede and diminish.

      1. D, I think he visits your dreams to tell you that things are okay. And I thank God every day for Mom and Dad’s strength, and pray for strength for Jan and Montana and Chance. As you say, many have suffered loss. Now, we join them.

    1. Richard, so nice to hear from you, even on this difficult matter. I saw your email address and was delighted. I’ll pass on word to Don and Lucille who will also be delighted.

  8. Dennis, I’m sorry to hear of Steve’s passing. I wish you strength as you navigate the sorrows of loss while being receptive to good memories. You and your family are in my thoughts and heart.

  9. Hi Dennis,

    This was a moving tribute to your brother. I read the one your sister wrote as well–you Aubreys really do get around. I can’t begin to understand your grief because thankfully I’m still young and lucky enough to have not experienced loss within my family.

    At the very least, what I can understand is that someone with the sense of adventure that your brother had does not live a wasted life. I hope you take comfort knowing that he must have experienced many moments of joy–at sea, in Antarctica, perhaps down on the Cape. I wish you serenity, and that that you take comfort in his memory.

    Thinking of you, PJ, and your family. And I hope you’re all doing well otherwise.

    1. Nathan, you really have hit it about Steve’s life. His wife Jan has famously said (after Steve narrowly escaped tribal warfare in Nigeria) “It’s tough being married to Indiana Jones.” Just before his death he was in New Guinea. He has spent time on land in almost every part of the world and under water in just as many places. He was always determined to make his own way and he did just that.

      BTW, my surgery this month corrected the problems that I was having in France. Can’t wait to go back! Nice to hear from you, Nathan. We think of you often, and fondly.

      1. There you go! It’s much better celebrating someone who sucked the marrow from the bones of life 🙂 Being the Indiana Jones that he was, it sounds like your brother didn’t waste a moment. The next time we’re together–in France or on the Cape–I hope you can tell me some stories about Steve.

        On a note of adventure, I’ll be going down to Cornwall soon. Any castles or churches of note that I should be on the lookout for?

      2. Nathan, I don’t know enough about Cornwall to make any recommendations, but depend on Life is a Camino to inform me! Looking forward to an evening telling stories about Steve. You in particular would have appreciated him.

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