I had a brother I never met… but I have known him since I was a child…
I have always had a strong sense of curiosity and as a child I loved to sit on the floor in the attic, looking at my parent’s photo albums. One day I came across a manila envelope that held two pictures of a little baby boy. I had no clue who this baby was, so my curiosity led me to ask my mother who he was and why does he look so sick? She told me that the pictures were of Greg, her son… my brother… who had died when he was 5 1/2 months old. The pictures were taken at the funeral home… the only pictures she had of him.
As a typical child would do, I asked my mother more questions: When did he die?, Why did he die?, What was he like? My mom patiently answered all the questions and it was from that day forward that I held a strong connection to my brother who I never had the chance to meet (because he was six years older than I). The connection was deepened when I realized his birthday was the day before mine. I used to ride my bicycle to the cemetery and stare down at his little gravestone, just looking at the date of his birth… always wondering what it would have been like to have another brother (I am the youngest and only girl in a family of three boys).
When Greg would have turned 60 last year, my mom and I had a long conversation about his death. He had his baby shots one day, became extremely sick the next day and was hospitalized. The doctor sent my mother home to rest and she barely made it into the house when the call came… he had died.
Sixty Years of Grieving
My mother carried around this deep grief for sixty years but never talked about it until last year when we sat down and had a long conversation about that time in her life. She cried over the guilt she felt when she had become frustrated over his constant crying the day he fell ill. She cried over the sorrow of walking into the hospital seeing her baby lying in the hallway on a gurney, unclothed… without even a blanket covering his tiny body…, she cried over the “heartless” nuns who worked in the hospital who didn’t care enough to wrap up her child and put him in a quiet room for when his parents came to see him.
I asked my mom how she and Dad handled the grief… they didn’t. They never talked about the death of their child. Dad went to work and mom tried to focus on raising the other two little boys… Greg’s big brothers who were only three and barely two years old at the time. They just went on with life… had two more kids… grew further apart… and the silence in the home became thicker and thicker as time went on.
I cannot imagine what it was like in those days and months after Greg died. Mom and Dad not talking much… the little boys in the home seeing a baby in the house one day and then gone the next… Mommy shut down emotionally… Daddy not home much…
Greg’s death changed everyone’s lives that day.
I look back and wonder what our home life would have been like if Greg had lived… would there have been laughter in our house? Would my mom have smiled more? Would my dad not have been lost in the depths of alcoholism? What if my grandparents had spent time with my parents and talked about the grief… cried with them… versus never saying a word and pretending like it didn’t happen?
I am a firm believer that to move through grief, one needs to be encircled by the love of family, friends and caring acquaintances. To have someone to cry with… someone to share memories with… to not allow the spirit of the deceased to die even though the physical body is no longer…
We need to remember that when a child dies, it affects not only Mom and Dad but also sister and brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Grief is not prejudice and will affect all who care for the person who died.
It Is Never Too Late…
Is it ever too late to break the limiting chains of grief? My answer is No. My mother was able to move through it sixty years later when she was able to confide in me about her guilt, her sadness and her pain. She can now speak fully of Greg and was able to pull those pictures from that old manila envelope and see the face of the child that she loved and lost. She was also able to move through it when she read the book Heaven is For Real by Todd and Colton Burpo. She believes she will see her baby boy again on the other side and that comforts her…
How have you (or someone you know) move forward through the pain of grief to a place of comfort and hope? I would love to have people share resources that have worked for them.