Over the last few years, my family has experienced the loss of three siblings. It is not easy, but a normal part of life. Losing a sibling at birth, and not having any experience of knowing, loving, holding, or simply being with him, is something different altogether. One of my brothers died in 1958 on the third day after his birth.
From time to time I find myself mourning the loss of my little brother, though I do not understand why. I think one reason is that my mother talked to me about it after she came home from the hospital. I can remember sitting on her bed, and she gently talking to me about her loss, and how she and the hospital tried to save Michael.
In any case, here is my letter.
My dear Michael,
I am not sure that this letter is necessary, yet for the last few years (maybe ten) there are times when I feel that I really long to see you, or I miss you, I am not sure, so perhaps writing you will help me to clarify this experience.
I can still remember the day mom told me about you. She was still in bed recuperating, she returned from the hospital I think a couple of days before. I was sitting on the bed, she was lying under a sheet, looking weak, but she was smiling sadly at me. She told me about you, how at her 6th month she was told that a cesarean was needed in order to force your birth. She was told that your chances of survival were small, but if this was not done both of you and mom would die. She did not want to do it, but the sisters at the hospital told her that she had nine children at home who needed her. They also said that they would do everything in their power to save you.
Well they did, and you struggled for three days but finally died. Mom seemed peaceful, but looking back I am sure she was racked with inner pain over your loss. Me, I did even know mom was pregnant. I guess at sex months she had not really begun to show.
As we talked I tried to comfort mom, though being nine years old, I am not sure I really understood her loss, or your death, for that matter. I never saw you, held you, kissed you. No memories, none at all, so at the time, it seemed to have no effect on me.
An Inner Longing For You
Then, I guess when I was in my middle or late forties, I started to have some feelings or emotions about your death. I felt an inner longing for you, a lot of “what if’s.” If you lived you would be about sixty now, so what would you be like, would we get along, your job, wife, kids? A whole slew of questions that show a deep hole in the family at this time. At least for me. I can’t speak for anyone else.
The pain comes in varying degrees, and then goes. It is not violent, but the longing seems to grow slowly as I age. I think it will continue to do so. I have talked to you, and at times I think I feel you close, in fact maybe the longing goes both ways? Is this possible?
At times I think I envied you, for you did not have to go through life like the rest of us did, but on reflection as I age, I don’t anymore, envy you. For life is glorious and you did not have that honor of living, suffering, loving, and yes even hating the rest of us have. Perhaps you grow as we do, experience what we do, and grow from that? I know that I feel a connection with my ancestors and I guess you are one of them, aren’t you?
I really wish I could hold and tell you how much I love you, even if I have never seen you. I have no doubt that you are beautiful, glorious, filled with God’s love and light, and hopefully one day I will be able to hold you tight and kiss your forehead, my beloved little brother.
Brother Mark Dohle, now seventy-one, has been a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, since 1971. He runs the monastery’s retreat house. You can find his other articles for Hour of Our Death here.