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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Safe and Sound

This is Derek Russell Caudill. He is currently serving in the United States Army.

I recently wrote about my brother, David. In that tribute I mentioned his son Derek and the fact that he was serving in Iraq. I am grateful to say that Derek is now back in the United States, safe and sound, and is stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. I am so thankful to God for protecting him and keeping him from harm during his tour overseas.

Derek is the youngest grandchild in our family and never has a child been loved so much as he has been by all of us. I think Derek must have been born with a smile on his face, because that is all he did when he was little. Just like his father, he smiled all the time. Whenever you would speak to him, he would not only smile, but chuckle---just a little giggle that would start out quietly and then, the more you talked to him, the louder it got. Before you knew it, he was laughing and chuckling so loudly that we all found ourselves laughing along. From the time he was a baby, he has always had such a joyful spirit.
Derek at about three months of age. The little outfit he has on was worn by his father in a photo taken when my brother was about the same age.

When Derek was six, I went through a devastating life circumstance. I leaned on my brother, David, quite heavily during that awful time. I needed Dave's strength and his love while I learned how to move forward and, needless to say, it was always there. I was visiting Dave at home one night and, just as I got ready to leave, here came Derek in his little pajamas, carrying a white teddy bear. He looked up at me with great big eyes and said, "Aunt Ree, I know you have been sad lately so I wanted to give you something to make you feel better. This is my favorite teddy bear. His name is Maximillian Snowflake, but you can call him Max. Whenever you are feeling sad, just give him a great big hug and you will feel better.". Do I need to tell you that I cried so hard and hugged Derek even harder? His little heart was so big and so full of compassion, he couldn't stand to see me hurting. I wrote about Max in a former post. I still have him. He sits on my bed and I am reminded everyday of the little boy who brought healing to my hurting heart.
Derek playing T-ball at age six.

Derek was eight when his father died. I don't know how he received the news---I wasn't with my brothers and his mother when they told him. I do recall, however, how Derek came to terms with his father's death in the week that followed. I was taking Derek home to spend the night with me. I missed my brother and I thought having Derek with me would help me. As we were driving home he said to me, "I didn't expect my Dad to die. I thought he would get a liver transplant and everything would be okay.". I replied, "I thought so, too Derek. I'm having a hard time understanding all this.". "Oh, I understand it, Aunt Ree." my little nephew said. "Well, would you please explain it to me , because I need to understand.", I said. This is how Derek explained it to me:

"Well, it's like this. Everyone is born with a job to do.While you are alive, God comes down from Heaven from time to time and helps you do your job. Then, when your job is done, God comes down one last time and takes you home to be with Him---and my Dad's job was done.".

I cannot explain how that ministered to my spirit. I had to stop the car and, looking into Derek's face, I knew what he said was true. His father's job was done and God had taken him home. I have never forgotten these words and have used them many times in comforting patients, their families, and my own loved ones as death has hovered near. It seemed almost too wise a comment to come from a child. But that's Derek.
This is the last family photo of my brother David, his wife , Vanessa, oldest son, David Lee, and Derek. I believe Derek was not quite seven in this photo.

As a teenager, and now as a young adult, Derek is funny, smart, athletic, and kind. He has always had such compassion for others. His love for his mother and his older brother, Dave, and especially Dave's little girl, Annabelle (or Bella as she likes to be called), is touching to see. He is such a selfless young man. He never ends a phone conversation without saying, "I love you", and always tells me how glad he is to hear from me.
Derek (standing in the back) with his mother and brother.

Life has put physical distance between my nephew and I. We don't get to talk too much and we see each other even less. He is in my heart daily, though, and I am so very grateful to God for bringing him home to all of us who love him. I am not certain of Derek's future---I don't know where the armed forces will take him or what will befall him in days ahead. I do know that I will continue to ask God to protect him, watch over him, keep him safe, and let him never forget the teachings of his father. Aside from the presence of God, family is the best thing we have in life for it is the only thing that lasts. I think Derek knows that because that's how he lives his life, living each day to the fullest, and making it all count. At the end of the day, it's the best way to live after all.

In Grace,