“Though I should walk in the valley of the shadow of death, no evil would I fear for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4
How is it that sometimes, people just know when they are about to die?
In a past column, I shared Al’s remarkable story about his deceased grandparents and how they appeared to his dad, their son, the night before he died. Grandpa and Grandma told their son that it was “his time to go.” And sure enough, the next day doctors said his healthy body “just shut down;” he was dead.
Other times, however, our loved ones know; they tell us that they are about to die, but not how they knew that their “time was up.” Did they receive a message from God or a departed relative come down from heaven?
With Dolores’ brother, Chuck, I am afraid we will never know.
Chuck Najar was the fourth of five children. He was the brother with whom Dolores was closest. She was the only girl and the baby in the family, and he was the youngest of the boys. He was an altar boy and the most religious.
In high school, Chuck was a popular football player. He exercised in the garage and Dolores would sit with him just so she could count his “reps,” the number of times he lifted those barbells.
After graduation, Chuck wanted to serve his country and informed his parents that he was joining the Marines. He had sidetracked a bit from God in high school but after enlisting, the family saw his “spiritual awakening.” Dolores believes God was preparing him, as he seemed more filled with love and peace, closer to the Lord.
He started going to Mass every day and was making sure he went to Confession once a week. He was living more in a state of grace, although he never spoke to anyone about it.
It has been many years, but Dolores still chokes up. She speaks haltingly when recalling the last conversation she had with her beloved brother. It was the day before he shipped out to Vietnam.
“I remember he pulled me aside,” she said. “He called me by my nickname. He said, ‘Dolly, I need you to do something for me.’”
“In our family,” she explained, “we kissed all of the time. You kissed in the morning, you kissed at night, you kissed when you left, and when you returned. Everybody did that no matter what, because you never knew when you might never see them again.”
That day, serenely, with no worries for himself but only about his parents, he told her, “I want you to kiss mom and dad for me.” Then he reaffirmed, “So every night, you are going to kiss them twice. Once for you, and once for me.”
Surprisingly and rather nonchalantly, he concluded, “Because I’m not going to come back.” He had nothing to fear; he was right with God.
“Come on, Chuck,” she said, “don’t say that. You are going to come back. OK, OK, I will kiss them, but only until you get back. Then you will take over again!”
Chuck just smiled his beautiful smile.
What she remembers most was his deep love for his parents and for God. He was not afraid; instead he was really excited about going to war.
“It was tough,” Dolores said. “He had such a zest for life. People just liked him. If you couldn’t get along with him, you couldn’t get along with anybody.”
Dolores was two months shy of her 13th birthday when her brother was killed in action, exactly two months after arriving in Vietnam.
“To you, oh Lord, I lift up my soul.” Psalm 25:1