I thought enough time had passed that I could address his death. 53 years later I cried like a baby as I started to write this.
My older brother Taylor was born in 1954 with Cystic Fibrosis. In 1964 life expectancy for a CF child was 10 years old. October 4, 1964, my brother passed. He was 9 and I was 6. Taylor missed turning 10 by a month.
I was playing with my friend Kendall Kern in his backyard. We lived just two doors down from the Kerns. Typically my mother just leaned out the back door to call me home.
That day….. my father came to get me from Kendall’s house and I don’t remember him telling me that Taylor had died but as soon as I saw him, even for my young age I knew something had happened. He picked me up into his arms and walked me home. I remember it feeling as if we were walking underwater, I am sure it was the flood of our tears.
I remember the next few days after my brother’s passing as being surreal. I imagine that’s the way all children feel when they’ve lost a sibling.
I remember a lot of hushed conversations among the adults that started filling the house. I have a memory of wandering through the house and passing by Taylor’s room. My mom was sitting on his bed crying uncontrollably and there was one of my mother’s friends comforting her.
Then there was the visitation. I remember my father, mother and I were led into the room where my brother’s casket was. We stood in front of the open casket and my father held me in his arms so that I could see Taylor. I remember thinking my brother looked like a wax figure or a store mannequin. Such is the mindset of a little boy trying to make sense of death and losing one’s brother.
My next memory was the day we buried my brother. It is such a searing memory that I created a piece of sculpture back in early 2000 about the experience, appropriately called “Grief.”
In the sculpture I’m standing between my grieving parents and my figure is represented by a small figurine in a dark oval void. I remember feeling incredibly small. After the priest performed the graveside, I ran through what seemed like a gauntlet of grieving adults to the safety of the limo that awaited at the curb.
And then the earth turned and turned again, and seemingly I’ve just blinked my eyes and over 50 years have passed and that was the last thing I remembered about my brother’s passing.
After recently writing about my father’s death, I turned my thoughts again to Taylor and realized I had a lot of unresolved questions about my brother’s death.
During this last Thanksgiving the Delabano family gathered at my mother’s house; my mother and I found ourselves alone in the kitchen. “Mom, not today but soon can I come over and can I ask you some questions about the day Taylor died.” My eyes teared up as I asked.
She said of course and then told me about the time when cleaning my room, she found a poem on my desk I had written when I was a teenager. In the poem I had written about not remembering the sound of Taylor’s voice. She said she remembered having those pangs of guilt about if they had been supportive enough of me during that time. She said that she was lost in her own grief and that it was a different times and there wasn’t the type of support that there is today.
Different Times indeed
My mother then told me a story about one of the few times she remembered seeing her own mother cry. It was after my grandmother was in a nursing home. My mother and her were going through some old photos trying to identify the people in the photos.
There was a photo of my grandmother around the age of 9 standing next to an open casket with a little girl lying in it. “Who was the girl who had passed away mom?” my mother asked.
“She was my best friend, she died when her appendix burst.”
My grandmother then told my mother that when her and her best friend were growing up that they would brush each other’s hair. As the family prepare her best friend for burial, her best friend’s mother asked my grandmother to brush her daughter’s hair one last time.
And my grandmother, a mere 9 year old child did indeed brush her best friend’s hair one last time. I can not imagine an adult asking a nine year old child to brush the hair of their dead best friend, but it was indeed a different time.
I was incredibly touched and moved by this story, it is both horrifying and beautiful at the same time.
A gift to me
The night after Christmas, my mother and I sat down in her living room. I had come to ask about the day Taylor died. My mother was so generous and was able to fill in the details and things I did not know or could not remember.
As stated in my opening, in 1964 life expectancy for a CF child was 10 years old. My brother was diagnosed with CF when he was 6. When he was diagnosed, life expectancy was 6 years old. I was always under the impression that my parents labored under the understanding that they would lose Taylor by the age of 10, but in reality they knew that they could lose him at any moment.
“Mom, Taylor was in and out of the hospital all his life……did you know that things were different this time around?” I asked
“Yes, Taylor went in the hospital around September 15 and was in the hospital approximately three weeks. But I remember thinking things were different this time. I sensed Taylor was failing. We called my mother and father and they came up to help knowing things were getting dire.
I spent the night with Taylor and around 5:30 AM became alarmed when Taylor’s labored breathing had stopped. I ran out and got a nurse, they came in and took him to work on him. They came in around 6 to tell me that he had passed,” my mother responded.
I am not sure why this was important for me to know but I can not thank my mother enough for the cry we had together. It is a Christmas gift I will cherish forever.
Just realized that this story is the ending to a story that I posted back in Christmas of 2015, “The gift of letters”. The piece was about a box my mother gave to me, filled with letters Taylor wrote to celebrities. It also contained a letter I had never seen from my aunt concerning Taylor’s death.
Prologue: One time when my wife and I were visiting my grandmother in the nursing home, she told us that after Taylor’s passing, she had told my mother that it was alright to grieve but she also had a husband and another child that she had to look after and that she needed to pull it together because life moves on.
Sounds incredibly brutal, but it is actually profound life advice. Life is fragile and death is part of the cycle of life, but life is also for the living and life moves on and for our own sake and for the sake of others but to also honor those who’ve passed, we must move on as well.
For more information about Cystic Fibrosis
Other Blog post about the Delabano family and Cystic Fibrosis