Brother Ed

“Brother Ed,” Ensign, Apr. 1987, 60–61

Brother Ed

We first encountered Brother Ed after our home teacher came by one evening and suggested we call on him. He lived nearby and had been ill for many years. My wife cannot resist a call for help, so a short time later we were knocking on Ed’s door.

Through the thin panel, all we could hear was the blast of a television show and then a faint “Come in.” As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we saw a cluttered, crowded, dismal room. There was a huge davenport piled high with old newspapers, magazines, and books. On the old dining-room table were papers of all descriptions. They spilled over onto the chairs, the floor, and under the table.

We saw yellowed newspapers, old phone books, and numerous cardboard boxes tied with binding twine. There were also shelves loaded with knickknacks—souvenirs, ceramic animals, faded photographs, and wilted flowers stuck in vases too small for them. Evidently Brother Ed never threw anything away.

In the center of this jumble was a place cleared for our host’s armchair and a small TV set. Beside his chair was a card table piled high with carelessly opened mail, pill boxes, and food containers.

One of the first things that caught my eye was the high-topped shoe with the heavy iron brace that extended above Brother Ed’s knee.

He was dressed neatly enough, but I could feel the puffiness of his hand when I shook it. His feet and his legs were also swollen and were covered with bright red splotches.

We told him who we were, but I doubt if he heard. He complained about his doctors, the cost of drugs, and how useless both were. He evidently had an illness that no doctor could satisfactorily diagnose.

He complained about his stomach, and when we asked him about his eating habits, he said that he had one hot meal a day but just “snacked” the rest of the time. He pointed to the table beside him, which held cashew nuts, potato chips, cream-filled cookies, and a soft drink.

When we left I could see the concern on my wife’s face. What if he should fall? How would he get up if he was partially paralyzed on one side? Did he get a regular bath? Where were his relatives?

After that day she stopped by his place daily and cleaned up the house as best she could. She washed dishes, did his laundry, and prepared a hot meal for him. Sometimes he seemed happy to see her; other times he was resentful and sullen. One day he slammed the door in her face and refused to let her in. Later that day, I saw him on the street, hobbling along with his stiff leg, and he asked me if my wife was mad at him. He wondered why she never came around to see him any more.

I talked to our home teacher and our bishop about Ed. They told me they knew very little except that he had moved into the ward about four years before so that he could be near a good orthopedic surgeon. He had had a tumor removed from his brain that had left him partially paralyzed, with an irritable and unstable personality. He had been an engineer for one of the large utility companies and had a good income and adequate disability benefits.

I can’t say that Brother Ed was ever friendly to us, but he was less hostile to us than he was to most people. In fact, he would call us on the phone two or three times a day. Whenever the phone rang, we would say, “I wonder what Brother Ed wants now.” My wife, always patient, would usually hear him out. He somehow got the idea that I was a sports fan, and he would talk to me endlessly about various games. Then he complained to the bishop that all I could talk about was baseball.

I called on the bishop one day and told him, “I’m not only worried about Ed, I’m worried about my wife. He is depending on her more and more. She is torn between her obligations to our family and the assistance she wants to give him. She doesn’t know which way to turn.”

The bishop advised me to encourage her to do what she thought was right, and then support her 100 percent. “I’m sorry to say there is rarely a perfect solution to any problem, but the Lord gives strength to bear any burden he asks us to bear,” he said.

A short time later, Brother Ed passed away peacefully in his sleep. Because I knew him better than anyone else in the ward, the bishop asked me to talk at the funeral.

I contacted his friends and relatives and got the usual statistics—date of birth, names of parents, brothers, sisters, and so on. But what was most interesting to me was the story of his church assignments. He had been a deacons quorum president, a Boy Scout, and a missionary in England. He had been married in the temple, had been an elders quorum counselor, elders quorum president, seventies group leader, stake mission leader, counselor in a bishopric, and a bishop. In addition, he had fulfilled stake assignments and had been a high priests group leader.

Who was Brother Ed? Many in our ward would describe him as an ill, cantankerous old man whom the Lord finally chose to call home. Others who knew him in better days had other things to say.

“Ed? He gave me my first discussion in Liverpool, England. I wouldn’t be in the Church today if it weren’t for him.”

“He was a wonderful father and husband. He was so proud of his family, and we were so proud of him.”

“Brother Ed, sure! I remember he used to take us Cub Scouts swimming every Saturday morning! I’ll never forget him.”

“Sure, I remember Ed. He was the finest bishop we ever had. Everyone loved him.”

Brother Ed was many things to many people. To endure those last years of his life must have been his most difficult calling of all, as he tried to cope with a failing body and brain.

In our brief acquaintance with him, we may have helped him a little, but he helped us far more by giving us the opportunity to know him and serve him.