Today I am
repeating part of a blog post I wrote seven years ago. As you get older, I
think you more often remember those people that were close to you that are now
gone – both family and friends. And you wonder what life might have been like
if those that died very young were still around or at least had accompanied you
further into old age.
really got to know my brother, but I often find myself missing him.
have been 75 years old today.
These words are from my post, My Brother Jimmy and the Loss of Other
Siblings of Past Ancestors, published here on February 24th, 2015:
James Edwin Shepheard, named for
his two grandfathers, was born on February 23rd, 1948 and passed
away on May 15th, 1950. The clinical cause of death was from a
pulmonary infarction due to Eisenmenger’s
Syndrome, a congenital heart defect. We were just told he had a hole
in his heart, which is true.
We don’t know if surgery could
have saved Jimmy. In any case the first open heart surgery to correct such
defects was not accomplished until 1952. Surgeries involving a heart-lung
machine were not done until much later.
I am reminded of Jimmy often,
particularly around my own birthday and those of my sisters, and I often wonder
how our lives might have been different if he had survived. I also think about
him when I come across the deaths of other infants and children of my
ancestors’ families. And, to my surprise, there have been many!
I only have snippets of memories
of him, playing quietly with him in the back yard or on the living room floor. My
two older sisters remember Jimmy as “a little angel who came to brighten our
family . . . a happy, sweet tempered little boy . . . and so cute.” He never
learned to walk – he was not strong enough – but he did talk and loved to
laugh. His favorite game with our oldest sister was the nursery rhyme, One Two,
Buckle My Shoe. When they got to ten, he would laugh
and shout out, “Big Fot Hen!” in his growly little voice.
my brother Jimmy in 1948
Some of the things that go
through your mind as a surviving sibling are: If he had not been ill and we had
grown up together, would we have shared similar interests? Would we have played
sports or had business interests together? Might he have been my best man when
I got married? There are so many scenarios that can be imagined with stories
My youngest sister came along after Jimmy died. She likes to tell
everyone that she was the only one of us that was planned. Of course, we
disagree about that. She has also commented that she might not be here if Jimmy
had lived. I think she would have, and that we would have been a family of five
children. But her initials would probably not have been J. E.
Psychologists suggest there can be major conflicting emotions when
siblings die, especially at a very young age. Some individuals will be fearful
or anxious; some may feel guilt. Others may feel abandoned especially if there
are no other brothers and sisters to lean on. I think most children will
experience a loss of innocence or, at least, an unwanted welcome into the real
world. In our family, we learned that death is a part of life, that it is not
to be feared nor dwelled upon but, basically, that things often happen that are
beyond our control. While we can and will be sad that someone close was lost,
we do have to move on.
Perhaps because we were ourselves so young, my sisters and I did not
fully appreciate the seriousness of Jimmy’s illness or how his passing would
affect any of us. It’s only as we get older that we really understand death and
the loss of a loved one. The more years we have together the closer we become
and therefore parting with the person, and our interactions together, is so
much harder. We cannot know if Jimmy’s death had any lasting effect on us as
siblings since our lives unfolded in what we have come to believe was the way they
were supposed to. Perhaps there were some scars that accompanied the pleasant
memories. . .
My maternal grandfather was a twin. His brother was still born. I think
he also always wondered what life might have been like had his brother lived,
especially so since they were born on the same day. Edwin Miller was a
sensitive and caring man who, on the day of his 83rd birthday wrote
the following poem. It relates a sentiment that I think all of us feel who have
lost a brother or sister at a very young age.
My Birthday – February 17th, 1870
In a Kansas shanty – in a form more like a toy,
Eighty-three years ago today, was born a baby boy.
A Kansas blizzard raged without; within, a tiny wail
Came from the throat of that little form so frail.
You may believe it or may not; that feeble little cry
Came from that babe, that little babe – the babe that once was I,
At the same time there lay beside me on that bed
A normal child in every way except that child was dead.
And so the little weakling grew up to be a man,
They laid the strong beneath the sod as only parents can.
It seemed to me my greatest loss as I grew up alone
Was my twin baby brother whom I have never known.
Edwin died just seven months after writing this remembrance poem.
I never really knew my brother either, but I do still miss him.
Happy Birthday Jimmy! Wish you were here.