Today is my brother Rodney's 46th birthday. I don't know if I've ever used some one's real name on my blog before, not even my own. I do have a brother whose real name is Rodney and this post is for him.
Forty-six years ago today my mom was on bed rest in the hospital, due to complications in her pregnancy. She had miscarried before and she was doing her best to carry this baby to term. Married a week shy of her 18th birthday, she turned 22 during her hospital stay. She had a three year old and a twenty-two month old at home waiting to welcome their new sibling.
The doctor came in that day to tell her the baby in her womb had died. They couldn't get a heartbeat so they were going to start labour. My mom protested because she could still feel her baby's movements but no one would listen. By the time they did, it was too late. Rodney was born weighing between two and three pounds. He graced this earth with his life for two short days.
At that time there were no grief support groups, nothing to help a young mother deal with her loss ....I am sure my mom was told in one way or another to 'get over it'. As if getting over losing a child can ever be so . The waters of birth and grief take time to cross. My mom was so distraught during this time that years later during a drunk, she confessed to me she had no idea what day Rodney had been born or died or even where he was buried.
The doctors told her that the best thing she could do to get over Rodney's death was get pregnant again. So she did, with me. Eighteen months after Rodney's birth I was born at the same gestation as he had reached. She almost gave birth to me in a bedpan and I am sure she could hardly believe she was giving birth prematurely twice in a row.
My siblings and I have no idea if Rodney's short life contributed to my mom becoming an abusive mother or if it contributed to her alcoholism. It's hard not to wonder what life might have been like had he lived. It's difficult not to memorialize him as a would be superhero, saviour of us all.
Growing up we knew to mention Rodney's name to mom would bring instant tears so his name was seldom spoken. I think I had been prodding my mom about her feelings about Rodney the night she blurted out to me that she didn't know Rodney's birthday or where he was buried. I remember feeling afterwards like I had kicked her in the gut by prodding such a pain filled place of her heart. She had never told anyone before that she didn't know these things. She said my dad knew where Rodney was.
Through reading my grandma's diaries after her passing, I found out that my Grandad stood beside my dad the day they lowered Rodney's little white casket into the ground. The only other people present were the minister and the grave digger. I did ask my dad for the name of the cemetery and then dearest one and I (and our young family) went for a drive. At the cemetery I found a little building filled with natural light where the living could ask for records of their dead. A gentle man looked up Rodney's name and found the dates of his being and wrote them down for me. When he extended his hand towards me with that little slip of paper I felt like it was a holy offering.
Because there was no headstone on Rodney's grave I was given a number to look for in a certain section of the cemetery. Faced with a mass of green grass with circular cement markers hidden underneath, each one stamped with a number, I felt like I was looking for a needle in a haystack. After much searching I smoothed away the right patch of grass and matched the number on the paper with the number on the marker. "Have you been waiting for someone to come find you Rodney?" I wondered. As I knelt down and traced the numbers with my fingers it was as if the waters of birth and grief rose up and I was overcome with big gulping sobs. I felt like I was crying a generation's worth of pent up tears.
Seventeen summers have come and gone since that day. Shortly afterwards I phoned my mom and read her the dates from the slip of paper. I don't know if it helped ease her misplaced guilt or her grief but hopefully it helped the years become a little less blurry. In the past few years I've started telling people I have three brothers, not two, that Rodney, whose name has hardly been said aloud these past 46 years, is indeed my brother. Since learning about the communion of saints, acknowledging his presence in our family has even greater meaning.
Happy Birthday Rodney. Pray for me.