'We can't afford to lose any more Brendas'

Jon Koonsman

I cried when I got the message.

It’s not that I couldn’t feel my phone vibrate. In fact, that was about the tenth time it had vibrated. But I was on the tractor, my phone was under two or three layers of clothes and I didn’t want to take my gloves off. I was feeding heifers in the wind and mud - and more snow and ice was on the way. I was tired and cranky, cold and windblown, and too damned busy to stop and answer the phone.

When I finally stepped off of the tractor, I hunkered downwind of it and begrudgingly dug through the layers until I found the culprit. Sorting through the messages, I settled on one from my good friend David Brown.  It said simply: “Brenda’s terminal. Just thought you should know.”

It got colder.

I wasn’t a crybaby when I was younger. Having worked in emergency services for most of my adult life, I’ve always had a pretty practical grasp of life and death. I’ve never been one to dwell on it or second guess it, and I’ve wasted little time concerning myself with its fairness or equitability.  But I just can’t seem to reconcile this one.

So I stood there in the mud and cried like a baby. A big, cold, blubbering, snot-slinging baby.

A half hour later I received a message from Brenda. If you know Brenda, you won’t be surprised to learn that even as she dealt with this devastating news, she took a moment to try and comfort the rest of us. Always gracious, she sent me this simple message:

“Love you guys forever … If there are angels on earth, that would be you all. Thank you for all you have done.”

David and I have a lot in common, most conspicuously that we married up … way up. Brenda and Jenni have a lot in common as well – and not just the fact that they married down. They are both nurturers. They radiate love and kindness and grace. And each has been tasked with running interference for a man who has never quite resigned himself to dealing with the world on any terms other than his own. I’m not sure whether they are protecting David and me, or just everybody else. But either way, we are lesser men without them.

Not only is Brenda kind and gracious and beautiful; she is among the best people I have ever known. She and David transcended the ‘friendship’ label long ago and became part of our family – very possibly against their will. It is not uncommon for us to spend holidays together and they even spent most of the night in the waiting room when Brazos was born. 

“Aunt Beba” was among the first to ever hold Brazos, and I’m not sure how to explain to her something that I am thus far unable to reconcile myself.

I stopped by to see her yesterday. I expect it should be awkward, but it’s not. For an hour or more she leaned against me with her head on my shoulder, holding my hand and talking while we watched David pick at a piece of chicken in the kitchen. Still quick to laugh, we prodded David about his domestic abilities and retold stories of misguided youth. As I stood to leave I was reminded of a simple truth common to everyone who knows Brenda: The anguish in watching her die will be but a footnote to the honor in watching her live.

Never do we part company that Brenda doesn’t give me big hug and tell me that she loves me. It is never just a formality with her, when she says it you know she means it. I don’t go by and see her because we have unsettled business or things we’ve left unsaid. I go see her because too soon there will be less joy in our world, and I will miss her terribly when she’s gone.

I expect that I’m too old to waste time on anger or bitterness, and no longer naïve enough to hold justice and karma to their word. Because our world has been profoundly greater with Brenda in it, we run the danger of it being sadly lesser after she’s gone. We can’t afford to lose any more Brendas, so if there is a message in this for the rest of us I expect it would be this: We’re going to have to step up our game.

Those of you who follow me online know that I frequently sign off with four simple words. I always mean them … but today maybe more than ever: Ya’ll love each other.

Jon Koonsman is a rancher and 6th generation Erath County resident. He is married with two sons and one daughter and resides on his family's ranch near Duffau. He can be reached at jonkoonsman@yahoo.com.