When Your Brother Dies


I feel like I’ve been in a two week time warp. My oldest son called me on a Thursday. My sister had just found my brother, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. My parents were enroute from the San Francisco Bay Area to his house in Fair Oaks. I called my other son in Fresno. Sam and I started making our arrangements for California.

That’s how grief begins. Calls. Arrangements. People. A service.

I wish I could also share the the heartfelt outpouring of love and remembrances from the hundreds of people who came to celebrate his life. Instead, I’ll share my message.

In Celebration of Vic Peterson

I don’t think any of us ever expected to gather together under these circumstances. We are never prepared for death, even when we know there’s been a long illness. But when someone’s life is tragically cut short – especially when it’s of their own hand – we’re thrown into a quagmire of emotion and questions.

That’s why it is good that we are here today. Even under these awful circumstances, we want to celebrate Vic and comfort one another.

Where to start. It’s impossible to sum up someone’s life and especially Vic’s. Vic lived life to the fullest and then some. His family, especially his daughters – McKenna, Cassidy, and Riley – were his most precious relationships. But as evidenced by the sharing of memories today and the outpouring through social media, we know he connected with people far and wide throughout his life.

Vic’s life wasn’t about his accomplishments. Nor was he a one dimensional person. He had a different and unique relationship with each one of us that doesn’t fit into any concrete category or period of his life. So I’m not going to recount his life. But I do want to share a few qualities he possessed for us to take as his parting gifts to us.

Vic collected people. No one was a stranger to Vic and it didn’t take long before he knew your name and all sorts of interesting tidbits he extracted from you. He could work a room like no one else. He was the one telling the epic stories and instigating the mischief. He’d forego the polite conversation and just say what he thought, which was most often never politically correct. And he could get away with it! Differences in opinion and viewpoint never interfered with his relationship with you. In fact, he was notorious for calling you up out of the blue, after many years since the last contact, picking up right where he left off with you.

People were important to Vic. It didn’t matter whether you were family or a friend or a co-worker. He was not going to forget you and he did not end relationships. Once you were in his circle, you remained in his circle.

Vic had a remarkable memory. Vic was certainly brilliant intellectually, but he had a phenomenal memory about everything. He could recall all the words to songs, as well as the artist and album recorded. He’d burst into song for whatever was appropriate – or not – for the moment.

Vic was the institutional memory of family stories and lore. It didn’t matter that some of the stories he remembered were before his time; he had all the details and characters and he was usually right! He remembered all of the houses he lived, including the houses we lived in before he was born. And, not only did he remember the houses, he remembered the addresses and the telephone numbers as well.

Vic got his degree from UC Berkeley in Industrial Psychology, but his professional career was in computer technology. Completely self-taught, he started out repairing video games at Marriott’s Great America when he was in high school. He morphed with the technology industry eventually designing and implementing networks for the government, and major companies and organizations.

I’m sure many of you heard his stories about going in to Napa State Hospital or one of California’s fine penal institutions – no, not as a guest – but as a network engineer. In May he called me from Atascadero State Hospital, where he was working, saying, “Guess where I am? [Of course, I had no idea.] I’m in your old stomping grounds, where you’re on your own if something goes down. [And you just listen because he’s launched into an epic story that he’s woven you into, and you can’t get a word in edgewise.]

He was excited about his latest job. Although he knew networks inside and out, he didn’t have the formal credentials. He told us that he was going to have to dazzle them with his brilliance and charm. He was already talking about how he could improve their operations – something he might just take on.

Vic was generous with his time and talent. He was there to lend a helping hand or help out on a project. He wasn’t haphazard about what he did, but meticulous and thorough. It didn’t matter if it was a neighbor or the local food bank, family or something for the girls. He was there.

He was the Dad who showed up at dance team car washes and fundraisers, as well as games and dance recitals. He was incredibly proud of his daughters for who they are, as well as all of their accomplishments.

He was there for those odds things, like being dropped off at the airport, sitting while someone was having surgery, hauling stuff or building something, or manning the BBQ. You knew when he arrived and could always find him in the middle of whatever was going on.

Vic lived in the present. Well, Vic lived in the present unless it was his annual fishing trip or any other fishing trip. He loved to fish and really looked forward to his fishing trips.

I know Vic worried as most of us do and being a good provider for his family was very important to him. But he never shared that stuff with most of us, instead focusing on what was going on in your life in his usual irreverent and humorous way.

Underneath it all, however, was a sensitive, sentimental soul. He was a proud person who didn’t gossip or talk bad others. He couldn’t be bothered with regrets or missed opportunities, making the best with what he was presented.

He also had his own personal challenges, as we all do. None of us ever really knows what another is going through or the pain they carry within. We only see what we want to see, and that’s often filtered through our own judgment and perceptions. Vic’s life reminds us that we each are much more complex than what is visible to others.

God endows each of us with invaluable and unfathomable worth. We each are a unique, unrepeatable miracle of God. I used to tell Vic that I wasn’t exactly sure what God was thinking when God created him, but it sure made for some interesting experiences!

This side of eternity it’s not about the answers or understanding why … although that’s the place where we want to go to make sense of this tragedy and our loss. I truly believe that nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy. Vic, and his lived-out-loud life, is a touchstone for our shared humanity and our real-life experiences.

The Christmas season is a reminder that God breaks into our lives and meets us in the in between places of life and death. God wants to be part of the conversation of our lives as we move through our grief. God is present to heal our broken hearts and bind up our wounds (Psalm 147:3).

Vic had a special way he always ended our conversations. I used to think he just said it to me, but I’m finding out he said it to a lot of people! He’d say, “Who loves you the most?” And he’d wait until you answered.

He gave until he could give no more. Now we entrust him to God’s eternal and loving care.



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