Talking About What We’re Not Supposed To Know

I need you to read this.

It’s important.  It’s important to me because it’s important to someone I care about, and you might be able to help.

When my friend Patrick asked me if he could borrow my blog, my first thought was “For you?  Anything”, followed immediately by “it’s not like I’m using it!”  Patrick is asking for advice, which we all love to give.  But this is important.  So, please, listen to him first.  Listen.  Hear.  Understand where he’s coming from.  And then… if you can… help.

Greetings all. My name is Hockeymandad and Miss Britt has graciously allowed me to take up some space on her slice of the Internet for this post. I requested the space because I am unable to put this post on my own blog. Hopefully as my tale unfolds you’ll understand why, but until then I will offer a great big hug of thanks to Britt for giving me a place to pour this out.

About two weeks ago, my wife sat me down and told me she had something to tell me that my sister just recently told her. She told me there were specific instructions from the source to not tell me this story for some reason. I wish this was the first time the source of the story told my wife or my sister not to tell me some critical piece of information about my family, but it was not. The source of the story was my mother.

Before I go on, I should tell you my mother and I get along just fine. We just don’t communicate very well. We haven’t for a very long time and that’s not exactly ok, but it’s not exactly horrible either.

My sister and I are 3 years apart in age. I am the oldest and my sister is the youngest. As it turned out, we had a brother. We had a baby brother that never took a breath of air. Based on the pieces I know for fact, I’m guessing my mother detected a lack of movement from the baby shortly before the due date, grew concerned, and went to her doctor. It was then determined that with about 10 days to go before the baby was scheduled to be born, this child had died.

Sadly, for my parents, at 38 and a half weeks, there was only one thing to do. Deliver that baby. So shortly after learning the baby that grew inside my mother for 9 months has died, she went through labor and delivered a baby boy that would have been a great friend to their other little boy at home. Without knowing for sure, I am going to guess I was about 18 months old when all this took place.

Since my parents were devout roman Catholics at the time, they sought the advice of their pastor. I guess 30+ years ago they had a difference of opinions about how to handle such things. It was advised and therefore followed that the child would not be given a name. The child wold be buried in a Catholic cemetery though. The cemetery had a special place set aside for stillborn children.

I was able to find out some generalities about this cemetery and based on that, I now know the exact location of where my brother is buried. During that trip to BlogHer this August, I will be able to pay him a long overdue visit.

It was also advised by my grandmother that my mother keep this to herself. Naturally all her friends and family would know, but not her child and not any future children she had. I have no idea what made her break the silence after over 30 years, but I’m glad it happened. The more I have processed this information, the more I struggle with the grief of the event. I know my parents well enough to know just how excited they would have been anticipating the baby’s arrival. I can only imagine the complete devastation that was felt in that doctors office. I cannot even begin to comprehend the difficulty in trying to hide that from their son at home.

Since I was roughly 18 months old, I imagine that as an inquisitive toddler I asked difficult questions that I do not remember the response to. I would imagine all the photos, letters, and special things purchased for the new baby were destroyed forever as to never tip off to their son he had a brother. The problem with this mentality of the time is it is no longer practiced for a good reason. Kids at the age I was see right through to a parents true and honest emotion. Children do not understand sarcasm or special looks to back off. Toddlers see tears in the eyes and hear sobs in the dark. Toddlers also don’t understand the world does not revolve around them yet and the center of the universe is mom and dad.

When I told my therapist about this story, she put her note pad down, looked at the tears in my eyes, and told me we’ve just uncovered the source of many things in my mental make-up. The reasons for many of my mothers personality traits all finally have an origin. My world as a young toddler had been brutally shaken when my parents suffered through an unbelievable level of grief that an 18 month old child probably interpreted as their fault. Of course, I understand now I was not the source of this grief, but perhaps it explains my need to please everyone around me before I think of myself. As emotional as my mother and even my father truly was, that could not be fully hidden.

For my entire life, I always thought my parents favored my sister. At times, it has definitely created resentment towards her and although I’ve gotten over it, it was there. Now I understand why I may have had that impression. My sister was the baby who didn’t die. As much as my parents tried to be as fair as possible about everything, the extra little things were always noticed and bottled up by me. At least now I understand why that may have been.

So here I sit today knowing that I need to talk to my mother about this event. I also need to talk about the other thing I’m “not supposed to know about” but that’s another story. My dilemma is how. How do I even begin to discuss what has no doubt been the biggest secret of my family? How do I begin to discuss something so deeply emotional and personal with someone I don’t hardly ever have any deep and personal conversations with? I love my mother, I’m not mad at her for not telling me about this. Well, maybe just a little, but I think that’s more disappointment than anger. It breaks my heart to think of the scene when my parents fond out the news. It breaks my heart that they never told my sister and I we had a sibling. I don’t know when a child is officially a child, but my heart tells me I had a brother and I’m going to stick with that.

So here is where you come in. I am seeing advice about having such a conversation. What should I avoid? What should I not say and perhaps what are some things I should say? I just don’t know. I don’t deal well with my own emotions, nor do I deal well with others emotions on this kind of level. My heart is heavy. I cannot imagine my mother’s. I know in today’s world stillborn’s happen quite more often. It is also no longer a feeling of shame in the religious circles my parents were once a part of. Although this was not what drove my parents from this church, it certainly keeps me away from it. Today stillborn children are named and given funerals and a full acceptance of grief is expressed. 30+ years ago, not so much.

Thanks again Britt for giving me a place to tell this story and thank you Britt’s readers for reading it. You can comment here or email me directly at patrick@hockeymandad.com.

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