“Mourn With Those Who Mourn” – How Jim Brady Blessed My Father-in-Law
By Allison Lynn
My bleary eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness. Why was my husband, Gerald, standing over me with mugs of coffee in his hands? Had I overslept? Why was it so dark?
I struggled to make sense of his words, “Dad called. Mom is in organ failure. She’s not going to make it.”
Two hours later, we arrived at my mother-in-law’s hospital bedside, just in time to witness the minister giving the last rites. “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust…” “Our Father, who art in heaven…” What followed was a surreal series of scenes: my weeping father-in-law, breaking the news to the neighbors, meeting with the funeral home director.
Sandy and Gerry Flemming had been married for over 50 years. Their journey had begun in a small town in New Brunswick, Canada. By the time I joined the family, Sandy and Gerry were close to retirement and living in a quiet suburban neighborhood, just north of Toronto, Ontario. They’d raised two amazing children – my husband, Gerald, and my beautiful sister-in-law, Kristi. Add in Kristi’s husband, Walt, and their sweet son, Connor, and we were a small, close-knit family.
Sandy had three loves in life: her family, cooking, and Southern Gospel music. She loved nothing better than to have everyone gathered around the dining room table, feasting on her mouthwatering lasagna and her legendary apple crumble pudding. We had a deep well of memories created by laughing and teasing and loving on Sandy.
And now, she was missing from the table.
I could hardly imagine what my father-in-law was facing. My in-laws were private people. There wouldn’t be a parade of well-wishers at the funeral. What could I do to honor Sandy and show Gerry how much he’s loved?
I remembered that third love: Southern Gospel.
When Gerald and I were first married, we sold everything we owned and moved to Nashville to pursue our music ministry dreams. One of my great blessings at that time was working as Ben Speer’s assistant. Ben was an absolute legend. We couldn’t go anywhere without people wanting to shake his hand and share how much his music meant to them. Yet, with all that fame, he also became our friend and mentor. With my work at Ben Speer’s Stamps-Baxter School of Music, I’d been able to meet many of the Southern Gospel artists loved by my in-laws. I started to write some of their favorites, sharing Sandy’s loss, and asking if they might reach out to Gerry in his grief.
The most important letter I wrote was to Jim Brady. Sandy and Gerry loved the Booth Brothers and the Jim Brady Trio. And when I say “loved”, I don’t use that word lightly! My in-laws were homebodies, but they thought nothing of driving six hours in the Canadian snow to watch a Jim Brady concert.
Jim and Melissa knew my in-laws by name. Gerry loved to tell “The Legend of the Sweet Tea”. Michael Booth would (jokingly) complain that his only regret about singing in Canada was the lack of sweet tea. Well, on one of their concert trips south of the border, my in-laws filled their trunk with jugs of Cracker Barrel sweet tea. Michael, Ronnie, and Jim almost fell off the stage when Gerry and Sandy gave it to them at their next Canadian concert!
And the relationship only grew stronger over the years. Sandy and Gerry discovered that Melissa had a special love for the iconic Tim Hortons Canadian Maple donut. So, they never showed up for a concert without an entire box of sweet treats for Melissa!
It made sense, then, when Gerry asked Gerald and me to sing a Jim Brady song for Sandy’s funeral. “On My Way Home” sings of the fleeting nature of this world and the glorious true home that awaits us in heaven. Gerald worked out a guitar arrangement and we created our own duo harmonies. I wrote to Jim to let him know that his song would be sung to honor Sandy. I hoped he’d reach out to send a small word of encouragement to Gerry.
The funeral came and went, but no word from Jim. I knew he was busy touring, but still, I was surprised by his silence. It didn’t seem like him not to respond to something like this.
A few months before Sandy’s passing, Gerry had purchased tickets for an upcoming Jim Brady Trio concert. As the date loomed, we all wondered what he would do. None of us were able to attend with him, and we hated the idea of him going alone. But attending Southern Gospel concerts was his and Sandy’s favorite thing to do together, and all Gerry wanted to do was honor his bride.
Now, just ten days after burying the love of his life, my father-in-law sat alone at the concert, empty chair by his side.
The music started, and the Trio entered the stage. Jim stopped, gestured to my father-in-law and said, “Gerry…” Then, they started to sing “On My Way Home,” just like we had sung at the funeral! The Trio had chosen that song for Gerry, and for Sandy.
Gerry’s heart swelled and his tears flowed as he felt the love and the music washing over him.
Just before the intermission, the Trio sang another song about heaven. As they got to the final chorus, they left the stage, stood around Gerry, and sang it directly to him. The track ended, and Jim said, “Let’s sing that chorus again, acapella”. They laid their hands on my father-in-law and sang to him about the hope beyond all hope.
Jim had received my email! He knew Gerry would be at the concert and planned those songs as his special gift of love.
This was ministry, pure and simple. There was no showiness, no exploiting of a widower’s grief. Jim was simply following scripture: “Mourn with those who mourn.” “Encourage each other and build one another up.” “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
Gerry called us the next day. As he shared the story, tears flowed from all of us. Tears of grief for the loss of Sandy, and tears of joy for Jim’s precious act of love.
At that moment, Jim and the Jim Brady Trio reminded all of us of the true power of Gospel music: to lift up the brokenhearted, to love those who are hurting, and to share the promise of our one true home.
By Allison Lynn
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