My “Little” Brother
On December 19, 1999, the world lost a very special person. His name is Bobby Herman. For a bit, the sun and stars seemed to shine not quite as brightly as before. Bobby is my little brother, the youngest of four children born to George and Shirley Herman. If he was still here, Bobby would say “Sis, why do you keep referring to me as your LITTLE brother? I haven’t been little for a long time now. Just call me your younger brother.” I was eight yrs. old when Bobby was born and one of my most treasured photographs is a small black and white picture on my desk. It is the first picture taken of the two of us. I am holding Bobby after my parents brought him home from the hospital and placed him in my loving arms. It was one of the most special moments of my life. Maybe this is why I have always referred to him as my “little” brother. I was a small child, and he was a tiny baby. I started to help care for Bobby from that moment on.
He was always drawn to cars, in part because our father was a very gifted automobile mechanic. Bobby spent a lot of time in our garage, shadowing his every move. When he was in high school, Bobby decided to learn more about auto body work. He really enjoyed restoring cars that had been wrecked. Bobby moved from Sacramento, California to attend school in Wyoming to learn this trade. Soon he was restoring old cars and doing custom paint jobs for his friends. He won much recognition and many awards for his work. He also earned the nickname “Bondo”, which is one of the compounds used in body work. It surprised no one when Bobby started using this compound to repair other things around the house.
Bobby always had a love for the outdoors, so it seemed quite natural that he chose to stay in Wyoming. When I lived for a time in Idaho, Bobby would spend some summers with me. We had so much fun together that he lived in Idaho with me for about a year. We hiked and camped in many areas of Idaho and Wyoming. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, nestled in the Teton Mountains, was our absolute favorite place to spend time together.
On December 18, 1999, I was working my usual 3-11 shift on a busy ortho-neuro surgical floor in a hospital in San Diego. Louis was in Granite bay visiting his cousin, Greg. When I arrived home from work, a little after midnight, there was a message on my answering machine to call my brother, Daniel, who also lived in San Diego. I knew the news was bad when his first words were: “There is no easy way to say this”. I immediately thought that something must have happened to our mother in Sacramento. Daniel had much different news, however. Bobby was in the Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Casper, Wyoming. He was on life support, not expected to live. We needed to get there as soon as possible. My initial thought was “There must be some mistake. I just talked to Bobby two days ago”. I was saying the words that I have heard patients’ families speak over the years, as if having recently communicated with someone means there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong.
Daniel and I decided that the best course to take would be for me to fly to Salt Lake City the next morning. He would fly to Sacramento so that our mother would not be traveling alone. The three of us would meet at the SLC Airport and catch a small connecting flight to Casper. This was a very poignant portion of the trip for me. Seventeen years earlier, I spent six hours in this very airport, trying to get a flight to Sacramento. My father was in the hospital, in critical condition, being treated for a stroke. I had flown from Pocatello, Idaho to Salt Lake City. The weather was nasty, snowing heavily just prior to landing. The airport cancelled all flights until the weather cleared. I feared that my father would pass away before my arrival. These words in Isaiah 43:5 came to mind. ”Do not fear, for I am with you”. Now, seventeen years later, I was in the same airport, being comforted by the same words, as I waited for my mother and brother to arrive.
The three of us were heartbroken. None of us had slept the night before. The flight that took us into Casper was on a very small plane. The only other passengers were a group of Christian men on their way home from a prayer retreat. They prayed with us and offered to assist in any way they could. One of Bobby’s friends called his uncle, a Lutheran pastor, who agreed to meet us at the hospital. The ICU waiting room was filled with people when we arrived. Most were his close friends, but there were also many law enforcement personnel present. The two detectives in charge of the investigation were there. We also were introduced to a social worker, a lady representing the Victim’s Advocate group, and someone from the District Attorney’s office. We then learned what had happened to our loved one. His friends told us that on the morning of December 18, Bobby had gone next door to check on Bruce, an elderly man he took care of. Kenny, a guy they both knew and were trying to avoid was there. His wife and children were there with him. Kenny was drinking whiskey straight from the bottle. It was barely 10:00 in the morning. Bruce had asked him to leave several times, but he just kept drinking. His wife wanted the car keys so she and the children could leave. He would not comply with this request either. Bobby intervened and said “Give me your keys, Kenny. Your wife and kids want to go home and I can’t let you drive.” Kenny put the bottle down and hit my brother hard enough on the side of his head that he fell to the floor. Kenny’s family ran out of the apartment and down the street, while Kenny got in the car and fled the scene.
Bobby was able to get up and go home, though he had a ferocious headache. He complained of his head hurting throughout that day. His friends kept checking on him and later that night they found him face down on the floor by his bed, unconscious and “gurgling”. His lungs were filling up with fluid. Bobby had developed pulmonary edema. He was barely alive. At the hospital, he was placed on life support until the extent of damage could be assessed by the medical team. The blow that he had received had ruptured several vessels in his head. By the time the bleeding stopped, a 12 ounce clot had formed. The pressure of this large clot (the size of a can of soda) herniated Bobby’s brainstem.
When the doctor told his friends there was nothing else they could do and they were going to discontinue life support, his friends said “You can’t do that. You need to contact his family and give them time to get here”. This was the situation that we had become part of. We formed a circle around Bobby and prayed. We sang several hymns and the pastor prayed. We recited Psalm 23 together. Then my mother signed the permit to have the life support stopped. Everyone left the room except for me. I stayed there with my “little” brother and held him for the last time. I had held him at the beginning of his life. Now I was holding him again, as he took his last breath.
We made arrangements for a small memorial service in Casper. We were blown away by the number of people that attended. Everyone had a story to share about how “Bondo” had touched their lives. I always knew that Bobby was happiest when he was helping others. I shared the story of the time I was with Bobby when he literally gave a stranger the coat off his back. It was winter in Pocatello and he saw a homeless person sitting on the ground. Bobby told me to stop the car and he got out and gave this individual his coat, hat, gloves and $20. We finally had to close the service because there was another funeral scheduled.
My mother, brother, and I flew to Sacramento. Daniel continued on to San Diego. I stayed in Sacramento with Mom, leaving for San Diego on Christmas afternoon. I retrieved my car from the airport and headed home. As I was driving, I asked the Lord for a sign, something to let me know that things were going to be okay. “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights” Isaiah 7:11. When I turned into my driveway, I stopped and starred. The purple irises near the street were in full bloom. My mother had given me these bulbs many years ago. Whenever I moved, I dug up these bulbs and planted them again. The irises by the house had bloomed in May and June. These rebel ones, however, had refused to even form buds…until Bobby passed away.
My mother and I attended both the trial and the sentencing of Bobby’s killer. We sat through hours of testimony and cross examination. We waited with his many friends while the jury deliberated. After 6 hours, he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He served four years of a ten year sentence and was released on parole.
My strength to cope with this tragedy came from my relationship with the Lord. My mother was my example. She buried her youngest child when he was 39, yet she found forgiveness in her heart for the man who killed him. She wrote a poem, “Blessings”, in the midst of all this turmoil. It has been a long journey, a journey on which I was accompanied by the Lord.
On December 19, 1999, the world lost a very special person. His name is Bobby Herman.