“Today would have been your brother’s (fill in the blank) birthday.”
I resented hearing Mom’s words every January 17th. Stillborn? Died at birth? I wasn’t sure. But there had been an older brother who died eight years before I was born. When he died, he left me an only child. A part of me went missing forever.
I remember when my parents told me at a restaurant, dinner-time dark. “You had a brother, but he died.” My five-year-old eyes gazed out the window past the red-white-and blue neon sign. They fixed on the Interstate, counting cars, blinking back hot tears.
In the first grade, my teacher asked, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” “I have one brother,” a classmate offered. “Two sisters.” “Three.” She wrote the numbers on the chalkboard. When my turn came, I answered, “I had a brother, but he died.” I recognized then that this dead brother validated me. He lifted me up from that “only” category that I despised. I wasn’t an only, and I wasn’t alone.
I knew little about him. His name would have been Dennis. My mother had almost died in childbirth. Dad’s mother, so full of grief, smashed his oak cradle into a million pieces. They buried him in the grave with my dad’s infant sister with a simple marker: Infant Son of Betty and Charles Fischer. Still, this brother existed in my heart in the present, and he grew older every January 17th.
Other than the annual birth announcement, my parents never mentioned him. There was much that I wanted to ask, but I never did. As an adult, I could imagine the stinging pain of losing a child. I stopped resenting when they counted the years.
Three months after what would have been his 55th birthday, my mother spoke of him as she lay dying in her hospital bed.
“I’m going to see your brother.”
I held her hand. “You’ve been the best mom to me. Now, go. Take care of your little boy.” I gave her to him, and she went willingly.
January 17th comes and goes without the words, “Today your brother would have been . . .” Still, every day, he lives in my heart. I feel him growing old with me, always present, my guardian angel.
1 Corinthians 13:12 says: “Now we see as if we are looking into a dark mirror. But at that time, in the future, we shall see clearly. Now I know only a part. But at that time I will know fully.”
Some day, my brother, Dennis, and I will be together in heaven. But until then, I go on doing what I always have—living for him and with him, enjoying every minute of my life here on earth, never feeling like an “only”. My brother is and always has been a part of me, a treasured gift from God.
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