From time to time, I take a quieter country route to my Mum’s place. It avoids the town and busy roads but leads me to a graveyard.
This graveyard is a special place. My Dad is there, one set of grandparents and a brother I never knew.
A concrete path snakes around the site taking me to each grave. I often speak to all of my family who might not hear me.
The little church on the hill has hidden my brother for many years. His grave is unmarked, to the regret of my mother. But I roughly know the spot.
I feel strange walking past a small piece of lawn knowing that under the ground remains bones or a remnant of my DNA, resting under the whispering trees.
Grief For a Stranger
Grief for the loss of my Dad made me sentimental about human nature. I feel for other people’s loss more now than in the past. I empathise for people worse off than myself. Grief has made me open my eyes and my heart to the world.
Occasionally I grieve the loss for a brother I never knew. A brother I could have loved, shared laughs with and been there as a friend. After decades of occasionally wondering, I know his name.
My brother was called Neil.
Neil was stillborn. Neil came into this world already dead, but he would have had a face, hands and feet. If like me, he would have had a healthy crop of dark hair.
What would he have been like as a person?
Would he have looked or sounded like me?
Would he have been that best mate I never had?
What kind of man would he have become?
Who in the world today would have been in love with him but now have a different life because Neil didn’t make it?
Happy Birthday Neil
On 13th January 2020, Neil would have been 48 years old.
I’m sorry I never got to know him, but I can acknowledge him - by talking to him and through this article.
My Mum’s favourite TV soap, Coronation Street, had a storyline involving a lead character losing her baby. Mum said the story brought it all back to her. That’s when she told me Neil’s name and birthday.
Then out came the suitcase of memories.
I love the old square suitcase. A present to my Dad in the 1960s, it has dark brown leather and tarnished metal locks. Now it’s a treasure trove of memorabilia.
- A Charles Atlas correspondence course to perfect your body;
- Pictures of my Dad in his early 20s;
- My parent’s wedding receipts;
- A lock of my hair from when I was a child.
And the receipt for the burial of baby Neil.
Mum hadn’t felt well after eating some potatoes. Whether it was the potatoes or not, Mum became violently sick.
“If the baby survives this it’ll be a miracle”, Mum recalled saying.
Hospital staff kept saying everything was OK and the baby had changed position. But Mum suspected something wasn’t quite right. After all, this was her second baby.
Back in those days, there were no ultrasound scans and, although bad enough today, doctors back then told you absolutely nothing. Through December until January, the obstetric staff allowed Mum to go the full term.
Although Neil never had a chance to breathe in this world, I still feel a sense of loss. A loss for the person who could have been.
His life, as part of our family, could have changed our lives in unknown ways.
I might have experienced less bullying because I had a brother to help me fend off my tormentors.
I might have had less time with Dad because he would have divided his attention between two sons.
Mum would not have hidden the hurt all these years (but undoubtedly would have had one more person to worry about).
But it’s not 1972 or any other year. Life is now, and I need to appreciate what I already have. A sister.
Born a couple of years after Neil, my sister and I have memories to share. The excitement of visits from Father Christmas, playing games in the garden and of course, a few childhood fights.
I don’t want to be like Neil, a missing brother.
I could create more memories with my younger sister and her children.
I’m sorry, Neil, I never got to know you or see your little face and hands.
But I do think about you, wonder about you and love you—my dear little brother.