My Big Brother Changed My Life…And We’ve Never Even Met

How can a person you’ve never met change your life so drastically?

My older brother, Nathan, passed away when he was three-and-a-half years old. I was born about 11 months later. Today, on June 8th, he would have turned 34.

big-brotherWe never met, but…

. . . that didn’t stop me and my Big Sis from imagining what sort of brother he would have been. (Perfect, of course.) All growing up I would write stories in my journal of big-brother Nathan and how he would have stood up for me, been nice to me, never argued with me, and he’d give me advice.

Big Sis and I talked about how handsome he’d be and what sort of girls he’d date (our best friend, of course!) I kept pictures of him in my room and little trinkets that used to belong to him in a special Hello Kitty tin box. My mom would share stories about him while showing me old photo albums.

Nathan unknowingly sent me to college.

I watched videos of him doing speech therapy so he could learn to communicate. Then I went to college for speech therapy. I spent six years of schooling thinking about Nathan and studying the things that might have helped him communicate. Always, my mind was creating stories and thinking about my older brother. In a way, he was one of my top-teachers in storytelling. (Tweet this)

Then one day somehow all those stories gave me a wake up call. I’d spent so much of my life thinking about what a great older sibling he would have been, only I didn’t think about what sort of older sibling I was being. I have a  younger brother and a younger sister. When I left for college, they were ages 14 and 9.

Suddenly my perspective changed. I wanted to be to them, what I’d wished Nathan could have been to me. So when I visited home on breaks, I took every opportunity to apply this new revelation. I played video games with them, read them Harry Potter, taught them how to travel to Imaginary Land (which eventually got overrun by the green gremlins.) We rode (and crashed) 4-wheelers and raced through the snow in bare feet. We created our own Butterbeer recipes and decorated entire sections of the house in theme for Lord of the Rings marathons.

We still fought — physically and verbally — and slammed doors or drew blood. We’d tattle on each other, frame each other, say “I hate you!” and then somehow end up laughing and apologizing. Now it’s years later. We’re all grown up. And . . . we’re friends. We have our own friends and we hear about how they don’t talk to their siblings, or how they were never friends, or how they never did anything together. I thank the Lord that we can’t relate.

“Do you ever wonder?”

Sometimes I tell others about Nathan and they might say, “Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to have an older brother?”

Yes, sometimes I still do. But mostly I realize how much not having Nathan shaped me to be something more. I didn’t ever want my three surviving siblings to wonder what it would have been like to have a nice sister, or an invested sister, or a sister who cared about them all. I hoped they’d never ask those questions and that I could, instead, be the example.

I don’t know why God decided to take Nathan up to golden streets before the rest of us, but I know it changed my life and shaped a lot of who I am. So now I’ve told my story . . . and you know why my second book, A Time to Speak, was in memory of someone I never actually met.

Happy birthday, Nathan.



Your turn!


Who is one person from your childhood that helped shaped who you are today? (Tweet this)



About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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  1. Wow. That was a really beautiful story and revelation. Who would have thought a sibling would passed away before you were born could have affected your life in such a positive manner?
    And I liked what you said, about that spurring you on to be a better sister, even after you left for College. I need to remember that.
    Thank you for sharing this!
    Jeneca @ Jeniqua Writes

  2. Wow. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this story. 🙂 Happy birthday, Nathan!

    One person from my childhood who helped shape who I am today would be my first grade Sunday School teacher. She was the sort of person who made Bible stories come alive, and I’m convinced she had as much energy as all of us six-year-olds! She was the one who really instilled in me the excitement of learning about God and helping others learn about him, too. 🙂

  3. We have a choice as to how we allow happenings in our lives to mold and shape us, and you chose “for the better.” God’s Word says that He causes all things to work for the good for those who are called according to His purpose. That means the perceived bad things will happen. That means ALL is for our good, even losing those for whom we love! That means God allows that which will transform us into the vessel HE needs us to be.

    I love this, my friend! Love!

  4. Two of my older brothers died before I was born. It’s weird to have siblings you’ve never met. How did Nathan die? My oldest brother, Dennis, was killed in a boating accident, and my other brother died at the hospital from an overdose of medication after an tonsillectomy. My living brother went from being the middle child to an only child within a year-and-a-half. I feel bad for him and my mom. That’s must have been a really tough time for them.

    • Wow, I’m sorry Lisa. 🙁 That must have been incredibly hard for your mom and brother. I’m sure your arrival was a great joy for them.

      Doctors think Nathan had a type of leukodystrophy (but they were never able to confirm.) With that came a lot of disabilities, including swallowing problems. He got sick, which put him in the hospital and because of an eating accident ended up passing away.

  5. Wow. Thanks for sharing this! Lately I’ve been thinking more about how I should be abetter older sibling. I just realized that my youngest sibling will probably be only 8 years old or younger when I move away and get married someday. I need to make the most out of what might be only a few years more at home with my seven wonderful siblings!
    If you don’tmind me asking, how did Nathan die?

    • I don’t mind you asking. 🙂
      Doctors think Nathan had a type of leukodystrophy (but they were never able to confirm.) With that came a lot of disabilities, including swallowing problems. He got sick, which put him in the hospital and because of an eating accident ended up passing away.

      My youngest sibling is 9 years younger than me, so I missed many of her formative growing up years. We have a very strong relationship now that we’re both adults because we were really intentional about keeping in touch. I think you have a great heart behind being a big sister! 🙂

  6. Jill M. Fortriede

    This is why I share about my son who passed away with my girls. And why I will also share about my other losses. I want my girls to know about their siblings and that they are in heaven waiting for us. I want them to know about Alex’s strength and the impact he had in his 10 short months. I want them to know how much each and every one of my babies were wanted and loved, even if we didn’t get to love them here on the earthly plane. And that despite what the medical community says about my early losses (7 weeks gestation and 5 weeks gestation), that they were babies…God’s creation and wholly loved by Him.

  7. A few months before I was born, my aunt had a stillborn daughter who they named Jean. My mom made that my middle name as an “in memory of”.

    I’ve never lost a sibling, but as the oldest in my family, I have always been very protective of my younger siblings and tried to a good friend as well. It always upset me growing up to hear my friends say they wished their siblings would go away or were never born. I once chewed a boy out because he was encouraging one of his friends to make both his sister and mine cry.

    The love between siblings is the main theme in one of my current WIPs, one that I hope will remind people that our siblings should be some of the most important people in our lives.

  8. I love hearing about your family! My sisters and I often imagine what having a big brother would be like… infact we have an imaginary one….. But now we also have two little (very) brothers. But us three older girls are best of friends, and hopefully good big sisters to the little three.

    • I hear you there! Big brothers are always a dream of young girls, I think. But now that I’m older I realize what a precious relationship I have with my other three siblings, especially my sisters. Irreplaceable. 🙂

  9. My friends mother died from cancer after four years of fighting. She was like a,second mother to me. So caring, so inspiring. I was maybe 9. Too going to fully comprehend death. Yet her funeral was beautiful. So, so many people came to Christ after hearing her testimony. And though she died she still speaks courage to me. My uncle also

  10. Wow, I had no idea. It’s so amazing that God can do just as much with a person’s death as He can with their life. (Seriously, this made me cry.) I think some of the most influential people in my childhood were my aunts. They were teens and young adults as I grew up and it meant so much to me that they wanted to spend time with me and all my siblings. They are the ones who encourage me to be interested and considerate to all the little kiddos around me. Because hanging out with a big person was always SO much fun! 😀

  11. So precious, Nadine! Sorry you lost your big brother! <3

I love hearing from you!