Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weathering the Ides of March...

Yesterday was March 15, or the Ides of March for you Roman fans out there. While the Ides of March proved particularly cruel for Julius Caesar, it never passes without reminding me of a day that enacted a tremendously sad toll on my family.

As I've discussed before, I went to summer camp in upstate New York from 1980-1989. In the summer of 1983, my family came up for visiting day like any other year, but they had a bit of a surprise for my sister and me: when my mother got out of the car, you could see that she was pregnant. This was completely unexpected for us—I was nearly 14, my sister was almost 10 and my brother was 6, so we had never thought that my parents would have another baby. But the whole idea of a new baby was really exciting, especially since my parents built a new bedroom and bathroom onto the side of our house for me, so I used to joke I had my own wing.

My brother Garrett was born on January 30, 1984. It had been a while since an infant had been in our house for any prolonged period of time, but apart from some sleepless nights (moreso for those with bedrooms upstairs), it was a pretty great experience.

The morning of March 15, 1984, I was getting ready to go to school when I heard screaming from upstairs. Apparently the baby nurse had fed Garrett, changed him and put him to sleep, and then went to take a quick shower, and when she came back into the room, he was no longer breathing. We called the first aid squad, but they were unable to revive the baby. At six weeks old, he fell victim to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

I had barely even heard of SIDS at that point. I couldn't understand how something like this could happen without warning—it wasn't an accident or a disease he suffered from, it just took his life. And as hard as it was for me to understand, I know that comprehending this loss was quite difficult for my younger siblings, and of course, the loss of the baby was utterly incomprehensible for my parents. Although this isn't something you ever can completely move beyond, we were lucky to have the support of our family and friends, who helped make this tragedy slightly easier to handle on a daily basis.

A little less than a year later came a new surprise: one evening in early February my mother told us that she and my father were going to adopt a baby that had just been born in Vermont. This news was a huge shock for us and something we had to keep secret for a few days, until my parents came home with the baby that weekend. And this new baby, who became my brother Justin, was absolutely funny and happy, so his personality helped alleviate some of the anxiety we all felt about having another baby in the house given what had happened to Garrett.

Twenty-seven years later, I can't help but wonder what kind of a person Garrett might have been, and in what direction his life might have taken him. But without that tragedy we might never have had Justin, and I can't imagine life without him. This is truly an example of one door closing and another one opening.

March 15 doesn't pass by without reflecting on what happened. For a few moments, I'm 14 again, caught in an unfathomable moment.

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