Tommy: Reflections On My Brother’s Life

A cat has nine lives, it is said. I suppose that’s because this naturally curious creature has a propensity for getting into dangerous situations and somehow living to tell about it. My brother Tommy was a lot like that.

As a boy, Tommy was full of energy and curiosity. He had an extraordinary knack for falling into any body of water that happened to be nearby, to my parents’ great consternation. It didn’t matter if it was a creek, a lake, a pond, or a puddle. If Tommy was anywhere in the vicinity of water, he would find it and end up soaking wet. Tommy was also the most vocal of us siblings about any calamity that befell him. No matter how slight the injury, he would scream bloody murder. “You would think he was being decapitated,” Mother would say. I remember sitting around the dinner table while my parents told him about the boy who cried wolf: “One day you’re going to be screaming about something really serious and no one will believe you and come to help.” Their warning didn’t phase him. Tommy was always very vocal and very emotional about everything throughout his entire life.

Tommy had a strong sense of right and wrong as a young boy. Once, on a summer visit to our cousins in Roanoke, Virginia, he found a man’s wallet at an ice cream counter. It was loaded with bills. I joked around about keeping the cash, but he immediately wanted to do the right thing and turned in the wallet. Tommy earned a cash reward for his honesty from the very grateful owner of that wallet. It was a proud moment for our whole family. I just wished he hadn’t ratted me out about wanting to keep the money.

Tommy unwittingly became the central character in one of the funniest moments in my childhood. On Saturday evenings, Tommy and I took turns getting baths around the same time that Billy Graham was on television preaching. (btw, we took baths every night, not just Saturdays!) This particular night, Tommy took his turn in the bathroom first. While I waited, I listened to Rev. Graham tell the story of how Jesus delivered a demon-possessed man. He said with great dramatic effect, “Jesus commanded the demons, ‘Come out of him!’” At that very moment, my brother Tommy threw open the bathroom door and loudly announced, “I’M OUT!” It was hilarious and the timing was incredible! Sadly, no one else was around to corroborate my story. It still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Tommy was always a very tenderhearted and compassionate soul. He once sewed up a wounded rabbit, using fishing line to do the job. He loved animals, but he was allergic, unfortunately, to most of them. He teared up easily to any music that moved him. He expressed how proud he was of me more than a time or two, and loved many of my songs. He once told me that my music helped him through some really dark times in his life. What an honor that is for me, as I reflect on his life today.

My brother Tommy had the distinction of accumulating more scars on his body than the rest of our family put together. He collected them through childhood misadventures and later in life while on the job working with heavy equipment and automobiles, and chainsaws. One impressive scar came the day he managed to fall on someone’s bronze lawn sprinkler during a Boy Scout troop activity. The metal head tore a hole in his leg that my father said “looked like a war wound.” Throughout his life he was always banging into things, bruising, lacerating, or scraping the skin off of one body part or another.

Tommy also collected a number of scars from his love of riding motorcycles. He had a few minor wrecks along the way, but in 2010 he had a really bad one. Tommy’s back tire spun out while taking a curve entirely too fast. He lost control of his Honda bike and suffered severe injuries to his back and spine that would plague him with chronic pain for the rest of his life. As a result of his accident, he came home to live with Mom and Dad while he recovered. It was tough for him to be living at home again after so many years on his own. It was tough for Mom and Dad to have him there, but they did it willingly for Tommy and with much love and forbearance. The truth is, Tommy was not easy to live with. But he was a contributing member of the household while he was there. “He’s a lot of help!” Mom often said of him. In fact, Mom became his best confidant while he lived at home. Tommy really appreciate her listening ear. Mom, he loved you so much for that. Tommy knew you were always in his corner, no matter what.

Another near-death experience for Tommy arrived with the diagnosis of his lung cancer. No one could never get through to him about quitting his decades-long habit until this terrible news. So he picked up another scar when the surgeon opened him up to remove part of his lung. Thankfully, and to his credit, he never smoked again. But years of smoking had done their damage. He had COPD even before the cancer diagnosis.

Over the last year, I noticed that Tommy was losing a lot of weight. I pointed out my concerns, but he’d cut me off. I’d say, “You need to see your doctor.” He’d growl at me. I thought the problem was his COPD. He often said it took all his energy just to get himself showered and dressed anymore. But his health issues turned out to be a lot more than the COPD. His cancer came back with a vengeance, and that is what ultimately took his life.

There were inner scars in Tommy’s life, as well. He had periods where he actively sought God’s help about healing them. Sometimes he would talk to me about them, but it was usually a one-way conversation, especially this past year. Honestly, Tommy was not very good about taking advice. His moods became darker the sicker he became. He didn’t want two-way conversation, he just wanted to get things off his chest. Tommy started ranting more than talking. He withdrew from us. He slept a lot and we worried about him, but he wouldn’t receive our help. He resented our questions. I hated that about the last few months, and it frustrated all of us. We missed being with him at the last few family gatherings because he was in so much pain that he felt he just couldn’t be civil around us. I understood, but I hated that, too.

At the same time Tommy was pushing us away, however, he was so good about telling us how much he loved us and how proud he was of us through birthday cards and personal notes that he often texted. As bad as he felt this year, he made sure Jeff and I each got a birthday card from him with a thoughtful note. I think he knew he was dying and he wanted to say “goodbye and I love you” in his own way.

I wished my brother Tommy had taken better care of himself; he’d be with us today. He would still be a royal pain in the patootie a lot of the time, but at least he’d be here. I miss him. Who am I going to ask now about my #3 spark plug, or if my engine sounds funny, or where Mother keeps her such and such, or what in the world is Dad working on in the attic?

My whole family misses him so much already. We’re so grateful that his suffering is over and that he did not have to endure a lingering death. We are so comforted to know that Tommy is with the Lord Jesus! Personally, I think he may be enrolled in remedial classes for his social skills, but my brother is now a free and joyful man in Christ. Tommy is smiling again!

During His Shiloh years, Tommy told me how much he identified with the Bible story of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan who was shown so much kindness by King David. He came up from Lo-Debar, “a place of nothing,” to live in Jerusalem, the city of the great king. I know with certainty today that my brother is safely home with His Savior in heaven, and eating at the King’s table. I’ll be looking for him when I get there.

Thomas D. “Tommy” De Shazo, Jr., September 26, 1958 to March 13, 2024

Read his obituary here: