In Memoriam: Reflections on Loss and Life

In the NICU

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Have you ever had that nagging feeling when marking your calendar that you have forgotten something? It could be that you have already made plans, but forgot to mark it, or in the deep recesses of your mind, you know something important happened on that day, but it hasn’t quite surfaced?

This happened to me last week. The date in question is January 15th. I had scheduled a medical appointment for my older son.

I kept wondering why I felt like I was forgetting something….what was it already?! Whenever this happens, I think to myself, yeah, I so need to buy a planner, but can’t get my mind made up yet re going paper or digital. Like that U2 song lyric goes, ‘I still haven’t found what’ I’m lookin’ for‘ — in the wonderful world of planners, ha! (If you have any recommendations, please drop it in the comments below–thanks!)

Then this morning it finally dawned on me. Eighteen years ago, my son tried to make his grand entrance in this world on….you guessed it…January 15th.

In the NICU
In the NICU with Cousin Bob

Oh, the drama! He was my firstborn.  When I woke up on January 15, 2000, still somewhat numb from the ‘we didn’t party like it’s 1999‘ and ‘we survived the new millenium’ media hype and noticed that my bed was damp, I thought, ok, maybe this just comes with the territory and perhaps I wet the bed (I was due March 8th).

Since it was the weekend, I half-heartedly called the doctor on call to report it and was told cheerfully, it’s probably nothing, but please stop in to be checked…you don’t need to rush, but please do come in today.

Thankfully, I did drive almost an hour from Montgomery Village, Maryland into Washington, DC. Quickly things went south–from an embarrassed ‘I think I wet my bed because my belly is getting so big from late pregnancy’ to an emergency room nurse telling me ‘we need to administer shots to stop premature labor stat.’

Yeah, you must be wondering….no one has ever heard of a women who was in labor and didn’t know it, right? Well, actually, I have, but that’s another woman’s story not to be told by me, lol!

Hospital Bedrest & Blizzards

I was placed on hospital bedrest for two weeks. Oh, the timing could not have been better. In DC, in 2000, we had a massive blizzard. The federal government shut down for several days, but my employer at the time, The Bureau of National Affairs, never closed, so I would have had to drive in that mess if I hadn’t been hospitalized.

The blizzard was so bad that I had to call a coworker (thanks, George) to ask if he could move my car because the city was enforcing emergency snow removal parking restrictions and I did not want my car to get towed. I had literally just traded in our Saturn coupe for the more tame and family-oriented Saturn wagon the night before.

To this day, I still attribute my son’s attempt to arrive 8 weeks early to his sensing that we were ready for him. Case in point: we finally had a car that could easily fit a baby car seat, lol!

What I remember most about my two weeks’ hospital stay was how upset my mom was that I was in the hospital on bedrest. I couldn’t really understand why she was so upset.

After all, I was admitted to The George Washington University hospital in DC. where many US presidents have been treated. Mom was a nervous wreck even after I reassured her that I was ok and that the baby was just fine, just trying to make his appearance sooner than expected.

Birth of the Millenial (or Gen Z?) Baby

Fast forward, two weeks later I gave birth to a lovely baby boy who was placed in the NICU for 10 days due to low birth weight. Maybe they thought they were doing me a favor because I had had a c-section. I didn’t appreciate it at the time since I had to commute from Maryland into DC to see my firstborn son because the hospital kicked me out after two days. (Yeah, brilliant medical/health insurance system we have here in the US.)

It wasn’t until almost two years later that I figured out why my mom had been such a nervous wreck. We had purchased a home from my (great-grand) uncle Joe and aunt Freda after they moved into assisted living. One day, I stumbled upon some forgotten or left behind items in the laundry room — notably, a calendar.

When I saw the calendar’s year, 1973, my heart skipped a few beats and my chest tightened. That was the year my older brother Billy died. I perused the calendar and broke out in a cold sweat when I saw the simple notation ‘Billy died’ marked by my Aunt Freda on January 15th.

All these years later, I have to admit, I never knew the exact date of my brother’s death. I just knew that he died in the winter of 1973 and that his tragic passing was a pivotal moment in my life.

Geez, no wonder my mom must have been such a nervous wreck!

As I reflect back on the strange coincidence of my son trying to escape the womb on the same day as my brother died, I am somehow comforted by the fact that my son’s medical appointment coincides with that date. I know that somehow Billy will be watching over us as he must have 18 years ago on January 15.

In honor of my brother, I checked with my mom if she would be open to sharing the story, A Song of Loss,  she wrote about the day my brother Billy died at age 7. She agreed and gave me permission to publish it. Her story speaks not only to the loss of my brother, but helped me also better understand her crumbling marriage.

I fully appreciate how my mom somehow managed to pull herself together and raise me and my younger sister as a single parent. She could have reacted to the tragic loss of my brother by keeping a tight rein on me and my sister, but she did not. My mom encouraged us to be strong, independent women instead.

So you might wonder why my parenting style isn’t one of hyper vigilance. I opted to follow my mom’s example and not let fear rule my life (or my children’s). Having worked in Washington, DC, this decision became even more critical in the aftermath of 9/11 and then after that, the sniper attacks in 2002.

My older son recently complained that his dad and I gave him too much independence too quickly. I explained that this was because he was responsible and we trusted him, that we refused to be helicopter parents. We both have worked with millennials who were the by-products of helicopter parenting and sorry, but it ain’t always pretty.

Deep in my heart, I know that having lost my brother so young has shaped my parenting style. Losing Billy at such an early age made me determined not to overcompensate and overprotect my boys — instead, I am determined to raise strong, self-sufficient, and independent children. 


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