My mom lost a son about 34 years ago. The story, which I’ve never been told, is that it was the mid-70s, “big D” had a fever, and my mom gave him aspirin. This developed into that rare disease / reaction, which for google reasons I won’t mention, and he died.
That’s about all I know. And I know that because, at the age of 29, my wife asked a cousin what happened and then told me later. When she did, it wasn’t easy to hear.
Having gone through losing Malina, and the guilt – the sheer terror of my crimes of omission in somehow not demanding daily ultrasounds – I can only imagine what my mother went through, feeling literally responsible for what happened. Take a second and think about it.
I have always known that I had an older brother, and that he died before I was born. And that my middle name is his name. But I don’t think it was until college before I did the math and realized that he died 11 months before I was born. 11 months. Insane. So, in a very real way, I know what it’s like to be a replacement child (not a good term, but descriptive).
One of my earliest memories, I tell myself now, is climbing the tree in the backyard and thinking about how little boys die at the age of 5, and so I might die this year, too. But it would be good if I didn’t.
At the start, I think big D was around me all the time… I even have some childhood pictures of myself that I was shocked to learn weren’t actually of me, but of him. As a very young child, I heard stories, my parents would talk about him. Then, as I got older, he only came up once a year, when my mom would put me in the car and drive us off to the cemetery to visit his grave. The marker said something along the lines of ‘our little angel’ and then had a carving of an angel, kneeled in prayer. At least, that’s how I remember it. I’m suddenly pulled by a massive urge to go visit his grave, all the graves, back home.
At times my mom would just start crying for no apparent reason (or, even more likely, I would be convinced that it was due to some failure of mine). That’s when I came to entertain, to cuddle, to feel that there’s a problem I can fix. I owe my sense of humour to my father, but my delivery to my mother.
Eventually, maybe when I was around 10 years old, my parents split up. It was painful for everyone. So I stepped in to the breach, once more, to entertain mom, to be happy for dad on those miserable visits, to let him know that he was doing a good job. My parents were both completely supportive and loving of me. And I always felt guilty about it. In hindsight, I felt responsible for their feelings. In reality, I probably did a pretty poor job of making them better. And so it continues today.
My dad would sometimes – not often, but occasionally – look at me square in the eye and tell me that he loved me more that any other child. Which I always thought was a really shitty thing to say because my older sister probably wouldn’t appreciate it. But he was telling me that he loved me more than the son he lost. It’s a sentiment that was completely lost on me. But not anymore.
I wonder if it will take me a decade before I look at little K and say, “I love you more than any of my children”. Because I can’t say that now. I miss Malina terribly, I wish she hadn’t died, and I wish that we hadn’t suffered the massive, total, and still continuing grief that – even today, with such a beautiful reason to move on – threatens to destroy our lives. If I could trade little K for Malina, I think I might. Why not take a pass on 15 months (and counting) of misery? I love my daughter so so much, I am so glad she is here and I am totally devoted to her. But still…
Every parent, I think, loathes the idea of becoming just like their parents. Then, the same songs come out, the same sayings, the same wisdom that was always so irritating when we were young. For me, it’s a little bit more scary. I don’t want what they had, and while I think I turned out okay, I don’t want little K to be responsible for our feelings. So when Melka is upset, I’m very aware of how the baby can become a tool to change the subject. And I try not to do it, I try not to pass this down.
When I was born, we moved into a brand new house. When little K hits three months, we’ll be far from the Lowlands, further east in a place more central. Is this a bad start?
More on my weird legacy concerns in another post. Thanks for following my detour.