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Keith Mallett, right, promised his wife before she died in September that he would raise his step-son as his own. Jack, 12, holding a photo of his mom, also lost a brother in December 2011 and his father in 2006.
The Clarion-Ledger
Keith Mallett, right, promised his wife before she died in September that he would raise his step-son as his own. Jack, 12, holding a photo of his mom, also lost a brother in December 2011 and his father in 2006.

A promise to Beth

Amy Writing Awards | Widower, stepson find bond in loss. Our third prize award winner

Billy Watkins won third prize and $4,000 in the 2013 Amy Writing Awards, which recognizes Bible-based articles that appear in secular publications. (Read a selection of this year’s winning articles, which will be posted online through Tuesday, May 13.) For more information about entering this year’s competition, please visit the Amy Writing Awards section of the WORLD website.

The following article originally appeared in The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger on Dec. 22, 2013.

Jack Daylon Brown has questions that have no clear answers.

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He usually asks them with dark, brooding eyes instead of his mouth.

At the challenging age of 12, when kids’ most dreaded fears should be getting a mouthful of braces or figuring out how to communicate with the opposite sex, Jack Daylon is dealing with grown-up pain.

Over the past seven years, he has watched death claim his mother, father and brother.

“And now he’s stuck with me, someone he’s known for three years,” says his stepfather Keith Mallett, a 52-year-old operations coordinator with Entergy in Natchez.

But there is a clear bond between them.

“I love you,” Keith will say.

“You better,” Jack Daylon will respond.

Considering the cards life has dealt him, it would only be human for Jack Daylon to wonder when, where and how Keith will be taken from him, too.

And then what?

“The only thing I can do—and I do this a lot—is tell him that God always knew what was going to happen, and that he led me here to be with him. To love him, raise him, teach him and support him in every way possible,” Keith says. “He is a really smart kid. And he had a great person show him how to handle some really, really tough challenges. Anyone who knew his mother, Beth, will tell you what a person of faith she was. She talked it, she breathed it, she lived it. Every single day. One of the people who saw it was Jack Daylon.”

He watched his mother continue to find good in God while devastated by the loss of her husband and Jack Daylon’s dad, Barr Brown, who died in a private plane crash while on a business trip to Waco, Texas, on Dec. 10, 2006.

He watched her do the same while trying to cope with the death of her 24-year-old son, Preston Parish, who was killed in an automobile accident Dec. 3, 2011.

And he witnessed her battle cancer armed with a don’t-pity-me smile and a barrage of Bible verses.

Among them, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

After being diagnosed in May 2012, doctors at M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas, gave her six months to live. She nearly tripled it, passing away this year on Sept. 4.

Just four years ago, Keith says, he wouldn’t have been worthy of raising Jack Daylon.

He survived Stage 4 throat cancer in 2004 and went through a divorce in 2007.

“I was living in Russellville, Ark., working for Entergy,” he says. “Going through the cancer and the divorce rocked my world. I was lost. I was doing everything that I shouldn’t have been doing.

“One day I looked in the mirror and said out loud, ‘I can’t stand you.’ And I fell on my knees. I said, ‘Lord, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Use me. Change me.’ “

A few weeks later, in July 2010, he noticed a Facebook post by a woman who lived in Natchez, his hometown.

“She wrote about how much she missed Barr,” says Keith, 52, who has two children—Chris, 31, of Houston, Texas, and Julie, 28, of San Francisco. “It really touched me. I sent her a message and told her that. I didn’t think anything else about it. But then she wrote back, then I wrote back. We started chatting, calling.”

In August, they agreed to meet for lunch in Jackson.

“I told her about my past. We got along great,” he says. “But she seriously considered not seeing me again. My bout with cancer scared her. She said the last thing she wanted to do was bring somebody into Jack Daylon’s life and have them taken away, too.

“She prayed about it.”

Keith and Beth married in a small chapel in Natchez on Christmas Eve 2010.

“Barr had died in December, and that had been a tough month for Beth every year since,” Keith says. “So we decided to marry in December and try and make it a happy time again.”

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