When you died I worried about one person more than anyone else. .
I think it's normal to shield your children from the dark parts of life. I tell myself as much when I lie to your brother about something awful he's heard on the news. I skim over the scary details and I deny and oversimplify. Of course the monsters aren't real and the people in the accident are fine. I make the afterlife sound fun, never acknowledging the fact that the unknown is what people typically fear most. I let him believe that the world is full of good people to whom good things happen; never so much as hinting that very bad things happen to these people all the time, until I had to.
Imagine the horror that is to realize your bubble has not only burst, but with its implosion came the obliteration of a three year old's bubble as well. Your three year old. That night I kept replaying my child psychology professor's voice in my head: "A child's sense of security is the single most significant developmental factor, and the most devastating to lose."
I remember the initial shock giving way to this concern almost immediately. Looking back I'm certain it was my body's way of not allowing me to focus on what lie ahead. The nurse placed her hand on my shoulder and I asked for the phone. They had just sat down for spaghetti dinner when I informed your father that your heart had stopped beating. "Take Frank to my sister's," I'd said.
When he walked in the hospital room thirty two minutes later he hugged me. Between sobs he asked what was going to happen and if they were going to give me medicine and if we were going to see the baby and if I was okay, but I could only focus on your brother. "This can't change him," I insisted. It remains one of the dumbest things I've ever said.
That night we agreed to tell him everything. We would always welcome your presence in his life, however sad and however it manifested. It would be known that in your absence from us, you would remain a part of our family forever. We would never shy of speaking your name and we would never, ever fear you. We did our best to present your death to him as though it were something very sad, but survivable. This proved to be most difficult for me, as I didn't yet believe it myself.
In any case, I was sure we'd done it wrong. And in the early days I envisioned him scarred forever, huddled in the corner of his kindergarten classroom, refusing to partake in carpet time or dodge ball. In my skewed version of the future I saw him crying a lot for trivial things and forever clinging to my leg. Of course he'd grow antisocial and of course he'd be terrified to try anything new. As a young adult he'd become preoccupied with death, bringing it up whenever possible. He'd have trouble making friends and he'd develop a fear of leaving the house. I prepared myself for the calls and inquiries from concerned school teachers and counselors and soccer coaches. "I'm sorry," I would say. "When he was three his baby sister died inside of me. We've done all we can." And they would nod, eluding to an understanding I'd pretend to believe they possessed, and then later they'd talk about me in the teachers' lounge. "So awful," they'd whisper. "He could have been such a nice boy."
I often wonder why I ever worried about him at all. Your brother, the most social, most compassionate, most enthusiastic lover of life on this planet. Your brother, who holds me together and who pulls me from corners onto carpets, just bursting to share you with the world. The tiny three year old who taught me that life is worth fighting for, even when it isn't and the strong, knowing six year old who hugs his brother fiercely, as though he knows he was never a guarantee. Most days I just stare in awe of who he's become; how much better and well adjusted and emotionally mature he is, having known you. This knowledge that most kids his age don't possess; this experience most adults run from, giving way to something that should never be feared, only celebrated.
The day your baby brother was born your father left the room to spread the news: a beautiful, healthy, baby boy had come screaming into our lives.
He told your brother first, whispering to him in the doorway of the waiting room. I'm told that he beamed, and that he turned to the small crowd and exclaimed, "The boys won!"
As they entered the room there was a look of wonderment in his eyes I will never forget. I captured my favorite shot from the hospital bed as their eyes met for the first time. How patiently he'd waited for this moment. How carefully, how lovingly he'd looked him over.
Hours later in our private room I watched them together, not yet fully believing it was happening. The large pillow propped beneath the tiny elbow, the proud big brother smile, and the silent acceptance that my subsequent pregnancy, the second most traumatic thing I have ever endured in my life, was over.
When your brother noticed my tears he handed the baby to your father, joining me on the bed. Gently, he lay his head on my shoulder. Firmly, he grabbed my hand.
"It's okay, Mommy," he said.
"We get to keep this one."