Here at Glow in the Woods we have so many friends, family and loved ones who have perspectives to share -- people who have been uncommonly generous of spirit. Today's post is from one of them: Marita Dachsel, a poet, mama and friend.
I have no memories of my brother. This pains me incredibly.
My brother Dean died of SIDS on Halloween, just two days before he would have turned two months old, the day before I turned 25 months old. He would be 32 this September.
I was too young to really understand what had happened, but at the time I was aware enough to know that something had happened. For sometime afterwards I would ask "where's the baby?" and my mother would answer the best she could. I can't imagine how hard that would have been to face. I still feel guilty about this.
Both my sister (who was born twenty months after Dean died, with a miscarriage and a vasectomy reversal between them) and I have always known about our brother. He was never a secret within the family and for that I am thankful. He has always been a part of my life despite him being here for such a short time.
I asked my mother how she did that, and she said that she simply talked about Dean when we were little and answered any questions we had as openly and age-appropriately as possible. I don't remember there being any photos of him on display, but I think there may have been one when we were very young. He did have his own photo album, however, and it sat along side the others.
When I was a teenager, there weren't many conversations with my mother about Dean. I don't think I have ever talked about him with my father. I know I had a lot of questions, but I was afraid to bring him up in fear of hurting my parents, as if I was opening old wounds. As if those wounds had healed.
But my sister and I would talk about him occasionally in hushed voices in our bedrooms. Our conversations consisted of the what ifs and whys. We imagined who he would have become. We knew from looking at baby photos, that he and my sister looked eerily alike and so I would often imagine him as the male version of my sister: tall, athletic, gentle. They whys were harder to talk about. We would always end up at the unsatisfying place where "it happened for a reason." Although neither of us are religious and both have a strong aversion to the thought of any god playing with lives like that, we always had to end there. The unfortunate reality is if Dean had lived, my sister—my sweet, best friend of a sister—would never have been born. During times of childhood cruelty, when I was at my most wicked, I'd remind her of this fact.
With people outside of the family, I didn't talk about him much. It wasn't because I felt like I had to keep Dean a secret, but because he was special—so very, incredibly special—and I wasn't going to share him with just anyone. That said, there were a few times when I was younger when I'd bring him up to shock people. I wish I could crawl inside my younger-self's brain to understand because I can't really remember why I would feel the need to do this. I guess I can just chalk it up to the drama of youth.
When I was alone in the house, I would often take his baby album off the shelf and look at the few photos we had of him. I would talk to him. I realize now that my mom probably did the same thing.
A few years ago, I was given a photo album that had belonged to my Nana. In it were some photos of Dean and of the two of us together. I look at those photos all the time now. I am exceedingly grateful to have my own photos of him.
Like all relationships do, mine with Dean has evolved over the years. I no longer imagine him as my guiding spirit, my protector, but I do still feel his presence. The largest shift has happened relatively recently, since becoming a mother myself.
When I was pregnant with my first son, I thought of Dean more often. I carried an edge of fear and uncertainty that I don't think most women do with their first pregnancies. I refused to have a baby shower because the only baby shower my mother had was for Dean. Because the true cause of SIDS is still unknown, I was afraid that perhaps there was a hereditary link. The days leading up to when Atticus turned the same age Dean was when he died, I was obsessive. We were on a day trip to Lake Louise on that day and I wasn't enjoying it at all. I couldn't stop thinking about Dean's death and was overcome with fear that Atticus would die that day, too. Luckily, I was able to talk about it with my wonderful husband and he calmed me down. Afterwards, my fear of Atticus's death had greatly diminished to almost nothing.
With my second pregnancy, I was much more relaxed. I had a feeling I was having another boy, so I asked my mother if she would mind if we gave him Dean as a middle name. I am very thankful that she gave us permission. I had a twinge of superstition, worried that it would be a bad idea, that the name was somehow cursed or that because he was the second born we were tempting fate, but I simply acknowledged the fear, the superstition, and let it go. I am so glad I did.
Since becoming a mother, I've started talking about Dean with my own mother more. I like to think that it has been really good for both of us. I know, thirty-two years later, that there are not many people she can talk with about him.
When Avner, my second son, was born, my mother came out to help us for two weeks. At the time I didn't even think it might be difficult for her to be around him. About two months later, both my parents came for a visit and at some point she said that Avner was a lot like Dean. This made me both very happy and very sad.
I asked her one night over dishes if it was hard for her to be around my boys because of Dean. She said no, not at all, not my boys, and I was relieved. The unsaid, of course, was that it was hard, or at least had been hard, for her to be around other baby boys. We were quiet for a moment, and as she dried a plate of mine with yellow flowers on it, she revealed that small yellow flowers always reminded her of Dean. Her eyes were watery and mine became so, too. It was such a small detail, but it said so much. I've wondered how many people know this, how long she's carried this around. Since then, small yellow flowers remind me of my mother and her lost little boy; I picture them together, full of hope, joy, and possibility.
While I have no memories of my brother, he has greatly impacted my life. For those of you who have lost your own babies, you may find it hard to know how to keep the memory of your child alive amongst your living children. I urge you to try to find a way to do so that feels right to you. I'm sure it will be painful at times, but I can attest how important it is. We love and miss them, too.