“My sister’s getting married. Are you surprised?…are you startled? I’m surprised…I’m startled.”
Diane’s only brother Greg, one of the appointed ushers at our wedding, repeated this mantra over and over as he passed out wedding programs on our big day. It was a glorious day, and yet the details of it grow foggier and foggier each passing year. But we can never forget Greg’s repeated greeting to wedding-goers. We love to tell the story of how surprised Greg was that his older sister had actually snared a man.
My brother-in-law, Greg Fenske, died this past Sunday. He was 39.
Diane had two siblings growing up, her brother Greg – nine years her junior, and older sister Laurie – a grade ahead. Greg was 6 weeks premature and was deprived of oxygen just after birth. He grew up with special needs.
He also grew up with a special family.
Of course his sisters were terrific – delighting in their little brother – but I have never met more devoted parents than Barb and Ken Fenske. As a little girl, Diane grew up hearing from her parents that she needed to treat the “special” kids with love and concern. Perhaps it would be a Down’s Syndrome girl at the park, or another student in Special Ed at school.
And then, one day, a “special” one entered their family.
Life was hard for Greg, but also hard for his parents. Barb and Ken had all the same love and hopes and longings for their son that all parents have for their children: good friends, academic or athletic success, perhaps a significant other down the road. And until he entered first grade, they didn’t know their longings would be unfulfilled. But whatever had happened just after birth had taken its toll. Greg would operate at an elementary school level through life.
But it was roughly 10 years ago that a strange illness caused Greg to lose the ability to communicate. He would speak only very infrequently, and then often unintelligibly. Sadly, his ability to walk and move about at all became greatly impeded as well. And then, in the last year, Greg developed painful bed sores which became infected. Any and all antibiotics were ineffective. He moved to a nursing home months back, and then to the lovely Kathy hospice in West Bend just 7 weeks ago.
And through it all, his parents were at his side every day. The hospice workers remarked that they had rarely seen such devotion.
After Diane had come to Christ in the 1980’s, she brought the Good News home to her brother. Greg heard and believed, trusting in the One Who had died and risen for him. When on Thursday of last week, she and I visited him, we talked again of the gospel. In an uncanny development, Greg had begun to speak again in the last few months of his life, and on that day, he was incredibly alert and responding to the verses we were quoting.
“Greg,” we looked into his eyes, “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die.”
“Seriously?” he shot back, starting a new and more sober mantra. “Seriously?” Yes, dear brother, never more so.
And now we must say “goodbye”, or…better, “see you later”. For as Paul said, “We do not grieve like those who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We’ll miss you Greg, but we will see you on the other side.