The emptiness weighs heavily. How can nothing have such an intense impact on me? Like the grief that sneaks up to remind us of a loved one who has died, my intense longing for something I’ve never experienced still catches me by surprise. It doesn’t happen as often anymore. I’ve learned the hopes first experienced as a young child are no longer realistic. I wanted a brother a baby brother or an older brother. At first I didn’t think of having a sister but now I be happy for either or both!
Each year, when others mark Sibling Day with photos and verbal tributes, the ache awakens. I don’t have anyone with whom to share my childhood memories of home. I’m glad for those who have siblings, even if they think their relationships aren’t perfect. It just feels that strange all I have is the knowledge my parents had a stillborn child the year before I was born. Badly weathered, the baby’s grave marker has almost lost its message.
July 14, 1950
She didn’t take even one breath.
Daddy promised he’d look for my brother at the local Robinson’s Department Store. Each time though, he came home from the store without my baby brother. Some might think my dad was unwise; I don’t. It was his way of letting me know he cared about my longings, and in, a way, it also seems he was trying to deal with his own. I’m sure my incessant begging was tough on Mom and Dad. They didn’t scold me. They didn’t shut me up. They never let on my longings stirred their own. It was only when I was older that I understood they too had longed for another child.
They had so much love to give. I wonder what it would have been like for another child, maybe even more children, to share that love. What kinds of stories could we tell? We’d complain how hard it was to beat Daddy in a game of checkers and about Mom’s painting the old zinc bathtub with ordinary housepaint. We might confess we heard the comforting sound of our parents kissing good-night. It was I’m sure we’d laugh about some of Daddy’s quirky sayings. “I like any hair colour, as long as it’s red,” became significant years later.
Closely related to my sister’s death is another void. While my mom was still in a fog of pain and grief after trying to deliver a full-term dead baby, the attending doctor offered my parents the chance to adopt a child born at the same time. That little girl’s mother was single, a nurse.
After Daddy and an older man had looked after burying Carol, my parents talked about the possibility of adoption. It was hard for them to move from grief to hope so quickly, but they agreed they would welcome the baby as their own. They informed the doctor of their decision to adopt the next time he came in.
You can’t have it. I’ve changed my mind. It wouldn’t be wise for the child to grow up so close to the birth mother.
Hope sank again.
Did that doctor have any idea how much grief he added to my parent’s already heavy hearts?
My mom was in her late 70s when I realized I needed to broach the subject again. I wanted her to know I cared about her pain, but I wanted more information, too. She didn’t hesitate when I asked.
Is there anything else you remember about the baby you tried to adopt?
The baby had red hair.
Mom! Is that why Daddy always said red was his favourite hair colour?
You know, you’re probably right. I never thought of it that way.
Once again, we saw how Daddy found a way to express his longings without complaining, without casting blame. More than 35 years after the loss that affected all three of us, my mom and I drew closer to each other as we talked about Carol.
Even with further information it took me a long time to realize there is more to the story.
Did her birth mother keep her baby after all or was she adopted? Did that little girl have siblings?
Somewhere, a red-haired woman, my “almost sister” may have questions, too. I didn’t have the siblings I wanted, but I had love. I pray she did, too.