Winner. A death once denied is celebrated
Co-winner, Writer's Cramp, 2021-07-18
Today is my birthday. I am thirty-seven years old. Today is also David's birthday. He'd be thirty-seven too. If he had lived.
I had always been a melancholy boy, sad and introspective, uninterested in school, lost in books and daydreams. When I was about eight or nine, my concerned parents took me to a child psychologist, a Dr. Tilmann. Along with the usual Rorschach and IQ test, he had asked about my dreams. I had stopped telling my parents about my dreams because their reaction made me suspect I was nuts (as did the visit to the psychologist). Still, Dr. Tilmann was easy to talk to, so I blurted them out. Standing before a mirror and not seeing my reflection. Ordering a pizza and opening the box to find only half of it there. Opening a book with every second page blank. Wandering through the house, looking for someone or something, not knowing what I sought. That's not how I described the dreams then, of course, but from time to time I have them still.
After my session, Dr. Tilmann had left me engaged with toys in the playroom and had called my parents into his office. As I learned later, he had asked them bluntly, "Did Randy have a twin?" My startled mother had burst into tears. Yes, my father explained, Randy was the elder of identical twins born minutes apart. The second twin did not survive. He was healthy; he was not deformed; he had no damaging defect. David Conrad Gillespie simply did not draw breath, and died. The medical diagnosis was "failure to thrive".
My parents, I think, used me as a bandage to cover the bleeding wound of their loss. David was gone, he was buried, he was never mentioned or discussed; it was as though he had never existed.
We started family counselling, and it was then that I learned of my lost womb-mate. Dr. Tilmann explained to my parents that such a loss cannot be ignored or hidden: it must be faced, and dealt with, and accepted. Grieving can be deferred but not denied. My dreams showed that even I was aware of the loss, the missing part of my life. I had shared nine months of probably the most intimate human relationship possible; unconsciously, I knew of the loss.
Even back then, I wondered who decided that one baby should live and one should die? How could it be that a healthy newborn should die? Our family was not particularly religious, and attended no church, so I had no answers of that sort.
After we had admitted David's existence and it was safe to talk about him, My Aunt Greta gushed that "God loved him so much that he took David to heaven early." That only confused me. God loves you, so he kills you? And I was second best, a reject from day one? I was just not good enough for God? I wondered if God loved Mom, or Dad, and would kill them early too. I decided that if being good made God love me, I'd better be at least a little bad as a survival tactic.
Mom and dad didn't understand my acting out, but Dr. Tilmann did. He helped me to see that I bore no cause for guilt or blame, that perhaps some questions have no answers, and that sometimes the best solution is to just accept what is and move on.
Even today, after the death of a friend's wife, a good and Godly woman who died far too young, I wonder how it is that life or god or fate will strike here and miss there. My friend found succour in his faith, but I could find no such answer. In the end, his explanation and mine amounted to the same thing. There is no answer that we mortals can understand. We can only accept and move on.
Gradually, my parents and I came to accept David's death, and although he faded again into the background of our lives, at least he was no longer denied, and was not forgotten. On my (our) birthday, we chose to also celebrate David's memory. On that day, we wonder for a few moments what he might have been like, what he might have done in life. We remember. Briefly, we grieve. We wonder why and find no answer. We accept and move on.
Happy birthday, David.