Camping in Death Valley, Paxson Woelber

“What do you want?” The thought stuck in my mind and it wouldn’t go away.

There I was, packing my bag for a quick trip to visit my cousins, Janet and Judy, who lived in Arizona. A short hour flight from Denver and I’d be there. A girly getaway with shared McCann laughter—a throaty chuckle that’s a tell-tale sign of our heritage.

Then, that nagging question.

I have a lot of family who transplanted to Arizona from Michigan. From my dad’s Italian clan to my mom’s Irish, they were scattered throughout the outskirts of Phoenix. I had even lived there. In early high school, and again after graduation, I moved there to live with my brother, Pat. I invaded his bachelor pad twice, both ending as extended visits rather than a place to call home. I drove my 1970’s very lime green Ford Pinto back to Michigan to go to college and hopefully find “Mr. Right.”

When my brother Phil retired after 20 years with Ford Motor Company, he also made his way to live in the land of the sun.

My relationships with my brothers were bitter and sweet. They helped me when their lives were full of dating, budding families, and very full plates. Adding an insecure, giggly girl with growing problems into the mix was no easy task. They did everything they could until I was old enough to make my way in the world.

When I finally found “Mr. Right,” you could hear my family breathe a collective sigh. They were so relieved I’d found someone to help build a foundation under my rambling feet.

This trip to Phoenix was his gift to me. A time to reconnect with my beautiful cousins—my Aunt Ada’s girls—who had shared their family home with me for a time during grade school. I guess you could say I got around.

So I zipped my carry-on bag shut and heard the question again. “What do you want?” I had another nagging question that preceded this quiet query.

Should I call my brothers?

It had been years since we’d been in touch. The last time was at my Mom’s funeral—a sweet occasion where we said good-bye to a pretty lady who survived a very rough life that ended surprisingly well.

Once free of maternal ties many siblings drift apart. We did.

I assumed they wouldn’t want to see me. My calls over the years had been ignored. I wasn’t brave enough to risk it. A simple call unanswered had too much potential to ruin my otherwise pleasant plans. I should just leave well enough alone.

“But, what do you want?” came the voice again.

You see, after Mom’s funeral I clung to my brothers, they were all I had left. When our distance grew I was more than sad. I had become bitter. Then my ever-wise husband reminded me of Joseph’s story in Genesis 37.

Joseph was estranged from his brothers and waited many years for a reunion. It came in a way he didn’t expect. It came at a time he couldn’t have known. The important thing was, it came. Chuck encouraged me to wait. That my time would come, too.

The “What do you want?” question was a reminder more than a prompt. This was my long-awaited Joseph story. I finally answered the question honestly. I wanted to see them. So, so much.

I braved the call with trembling hands, first to my brother Phil, who didn’t pick up. Then to Pat, who did.

This call was perfect and ordained. You might think this an overstatement, but it isn’t. God had a plan. I had one prayer over the years and it was, as some are, glazed with selfish intent.

“Please don’t let my brothers die without our Joseph story.” I didn’t want to find out from a relative that my one of my own brothers had died. I wanted to be part of their lives.

When Pat picked up, he was truly excited I was coming to town. I went to visit him and it was a dream come true. Just like Joseph’s. My brother reached over and took my hand more than once, called me “Seester” and threw his handsome Sean Connery grin my way, punctuated with dark eye-browed winks. This time we clung to each other.

I spent an amazing time with Janet and Judy: Strolling along shops in Scottsdale after a coffee and dessert, visiting their homes and hiking the trails before the sun became too hot. We laughed in our deep chortling way, bringing sweet memories of our mothers.

I didn’t get to see Phil on that trip. But that came soon enough. Almost immediately after I returned home, Pat became very ill. We had a few brief phone chats, then he was hospitalized.

I went back to Arizona, and as providence would have it, stayed with my brother, Phil. We had an amazing time reconnecting, sharing stories from childhood, and visiting Pat in the hospital. We were also there together when it was clear Pat’s health would not rebound. Phil and I stood by his bedside, telling stories like the closest of kin. I was able to pray with Pat and kiss him good-bye. Phil and I have stayed in touch with frequent visits back to Arizona since, and phone calls that are met with a “Hello, Sis!”

My Joseph story is a human kind of miracle. It was messy, it took patience, and the ending was bitter and sweet.

As is true of many stories, it’s how they end that count.

In memory of Patrick D. Pratto and in tribute to Phillip A. Pratto. I love you, forever.


  1. Barb

    Tearing up as I read this. My heart grieved for your aching to reconnect with the brothers. Glad you finally did! Lobe you Sis!

    • Jan Fallon

      Thank you, Barb ~ As always you watched with prayer and patience as God did his faithful work in me and for me. XOXO

  2. Chuck Fallon

    A beautifully written story of patience wrestling with longing, and the courage to be honest about what you really wanted! Good on you!

    • Jan Fallon

      You saw it first, and gave me the path to follow – taking steps with me along the way! XO

  3. Cathy Wendte

    This is so beautiful, Jan. You are truly speaking from your heart and it is lovely. I’m so sorry that you lost your brother, Pat, and am also so happy that you and Phil reconnected. What a gift from God for you and your brothers!

    • Jan Fallon

      Thank you, Cathy! Every good and perfect gift comes from above, and it is always worth the wait. I appreciate you reading and commenting, friend!

  4. Colette

    Well said friend, a reminder that now is the time because too late is always a possibility.

    • Jan Fallon

      Hi, Colette! Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for your comment. You are right, be ready in God’s timing to say “Yes!” Love you!


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