Even as a very small child, I always wanted a brother. He would have been wise and strong and would have stood up to the bullies on the playground for me. When I was in my twenties I discovered that I do indeed have a brother. It was the first I had ever heard of my invisible brother Michael.
In 1969 my mother gave birth to my brother Michael. He died at birth. I don't know if I have words to describe how I felt but I will try. Finding Michael made sense to me of the 'something missing' feeling I had grown up with. Finding Michael also made sense of my gut feeling that there was something going on in my family that I didn't know about. The details of Michael's birth and death made sense of my mother's wild grief, and the frailty mixed with anger that I sensed in her and didn't understand.
As was the custom, my grandfather and my father took Michael from my mother and buried him against the walls of the ruined church in the old graveyard in Churchill. Michael had died before baptism so he was excluded from a Catholic burial in the family grave. My mother was not told where Michael was buried. Custom forbade her from speaking of him. It was as though the waters closed, leaving no trace of my brother. My mother gave birth to three more children, only one of whom survived birth. Out of six of us siblings, only three survived birth.
How did my mother not go completely mad? How did she cope with six fear filled pregnancies? How did she deal with all the months of pregnancy and then three times to have empty arms? How did she feel living with my father who never spoke of our dead siblings for nearly thirty years, except once, in anger? How did she live in a community in which speaking of her beloved babies was forbidden? How did she continue to attend a church that would not acknowledge her babies and excluded them, and her, from it's consolation? Sadly I do not know the answer to any of these questions.
A few months before my grandfather died, he told my mother where Michael is buried. Thirty years after Michael's birth and death, my mother was finally able to mark Michael's life and approximate burial place with a small marble plaque. With this simple act, she found a measure of peace.
Sadly, my other two siblings who were born still, were never given names and we do not know where they are buried.
The secrecy around my siblings births, deaths and furtive burials caused untold harm to my parents and our family life. Anguish was always just below the surface. Like a simmering soup, bitterness festered in the background. I grew up feeling their pain but not understanding it.
Today, I remember my brother Michael. I feel close to him and think of him almost every day. His name is written in our family tree. Every future generation of our family will know his name and remember him. Michael is still my brother even though he died. Michael is still my mother's son even though she never held him. No church can ever take that away from us. Michael will never be invisible again.
You are welcome to remember your siblings or babies in the comments section below.
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