An open letter on loss…
A loss of a child..
I can’t say I will ever truly understand what it is like to lose a child, and frankly hope I never do. I speak from some sort of place of realness though, having lost my brother when he was ten years old and I was seven.
At that young age I don’t think I fully understood the magnitude of what was happening around me. All I could ever think was, “Why is mom crying so much,” and even worse, “Why is my dad, who I have never even seen sad, so upset?” However, I also have never seen strength and love so much as I did then either. I want to briefly tell this story, and use it as an open letter to my parents and others out there who have gone through the same thing.
My brother, born Michael Vincent, was the first grandchild, and born healthy. Fast forward four years, and a big-headed hairless little brother came along. A middle-class family in a small apartment in Queens, NY, we lived and loved like most other families. Our weeks were spent at the local Catholic school and our weekends were spent playing sports and at the home of one of our grandparents. I say this to show that most families live this normal life that seems directly out of a T.V. show until one day it can all come crashing down.
For us, that day was a visit to the doctor’s office because my brother was not feeling well. The first thought was that it was a case of mono, that illness they now call “The Kissing Cold.” However, after some more time, my older brother, my first friend, was diagnosed with Brain Stemglioma.
At seven, you could imagine I had no idea what the hell that meant, but I just knew something was really wrong. You see, this stupid Stemglioma thing was a tumor on the stem of his brain that they couldn’t do anything about. The sports star went from being a kid running around outside to losing mobility in one half of his body, unable to walk a long distances, let alone play with his little brother.
The little kid in me forced myself to believe that nothing major was really wrong. Everyone did a great job of hiding their fear around me, and painted on a fake smile for the two kids they still had to teach so many things to. Time moved slowly, then quickly as we held tight onto each other. We aligned ourselves with the Make-A-Wish foundation and went to a magical place called Give Kids The World. At seven this was a vacation, but little did I know it would be one of the last vacations with my brother. We went to Disney, where we pushed him all around in a wheelchair, and tried to get him to crack the occasional smile. He even made me ride the “It’s a Small World” ride what felt like 100 times because he knew it drove me nuts.
Now, I would ride that thing a million times if it meant one more day with my brother.
We also go to meet all of his favorite baseball players on this trip. His smile was ear to ear as we made up this little inside joke called “openings,” based on the fact our dad had clogged the toilet. So here we are, making these millionaire baseball players talk about this moment with us. In that moment we all shared a laugh, and time seemed to slow down. We went home and prepared ourselves indirectly for what would be the hardest moment of our lives.
I remember the night before and day after like they were yesterday. I could draw you a picture of this memory, if you asked me. The night before seemed very tense, and there was a weird feeling in the air. I kept myself busy while family members showed up. In the back of my head I wondered why, but I think my young mind forced me to keep all the bad thoughts at bay.
I stayed in the guest area that night with my grandpa and cousin. We fell asleep, and silly me found a dollar hanging out of my grandfather’s pocket, and I used it to buy a late night candy bar. Then my eyes became so heavy I fell asleep until the morning.
The minute I woke up, I ran like I always did into the hospital room. Except this time was different. I wasn’t greeted with a, “Slow down!” or a, “DANNNNNNN!”. I saw my cousin’s red, tear-soaked face holding a vigil candle. I saw my mom clutching my dad’s side as he leaned over my brother, crying like I had never seen before.
My world was spinning. Did this really just happen? Many things go on in a seven-year-old’s head at a moment like this. Is my best friend gone? Will I ever see my brother again? Most of all though, one thought was stuck there — I do not understand what is going on, and why this happening.
To this day, the days that followed are a blur. They were riddled with a lot of “I am sorry”, and, “I know how you feel”.
See, here is where I have to stop, and go on a soap box. You have never, and will never know how it feels. Your dog, or even your grandmother are the not the same as a child not given a chance in life, and that is taken way before his time. So often people do not know how to approach a situation like this so they spout off things they think you want to hear. Let me be the first to tell you if you do not know what to say don’t say anything just hold that person tight, and do not let them go. Most of the time all they need to know is that someone is there to catch them from this fall they will be having for the rest of their lives.
Now back to where I was going with this whole thing. Two days filled with people coming up to you some you know, and some you don’t. It got to a point where I was more interested in the phone booth in the dusty waiting room then who was crying. This wasn’t me not caring this was me not knowing how to process why everyone can’t stop crying. The last day we said goodbye to my first friend, and the person I would grow to admire to this day. I followed the prayers, and placed the rose where I was told to, and just like that we walked away. I think to myself now that’s it you just walk away, and it’s final. How awful is that all those memories , and all that time together, or lack of time, and you just walk away, and go eat some food with a bunch of family members you pay for.
It was in the days, months, and years after that I learned a lot about life, and my family. My parents could have done many things after the death of their oldest child. They could have taken extreme measures which would have had a very bad outcome.They could have went their separate ways, and never spoke of this tragedy again. They even could have well I mean maybe this happened but indulged in an alcoholic beverage or two to get by. However they came together, and knew they still had a young son who so badly needed them, and they formed a bond that has been tested greatly, but has never broken. With that I learned over the years courage, strength to never give up, and how much you hold close the ones you love. There may always be a void in our hearts, as I always say you don’t forget the ones you lose, you just learn to live your life without that person.
Ten years later from the last point of this story along came this little awesome guy, and became an older brother after my parents asked if I wanted a sibling. I was happy as can be, and so was my family. Now this does not fill the void of the loss we suffered, but it sure helped put some pieces back together.
So to end I want to kind of Dear Mom, and Dad this section. Thank you for being so strong, and loving. Thank you for showing me what it means to be courageous. Thank you for the many years of driving me to talk to someone when it finally hit me hard that I lost my brother. (haha) Thank you for my little brother who is my world. Lastly thank you for being the type of parents that I will spend my whole life trying to be like. I might fail a million times, but the example you have set for me can never be repaid. Remember that we always hold the ones we have lost in our hearts, and when we speak about them it isn’t always through tears, but is our little way of living each day with them.