They say tragedy often binds and I wonder if that was true for you. In my search this summer, I discovered your devastating loss: little Freddie, dead at age 4. He left behind two older siblings. Two that seemed to share a closeness throughout the rest of their lives.
So little did your daughter talk of her family, but on the rare occasions when she’d open up, she mentioned her Frank with a smile. Clearly, Mary was proud of him. One can see their connection in this grainy photo. I’m not sure I remember it right, if he was the musician that could play his violin to any tune on her player piano. And if he was the brother whose son was born blind…
Still, I only need close my eyes and imagine that first Christmas when it was just the two of them…
Mary glanced down the hallway to make certain her parents were safely tucked away in their kitchen. She knew each floor board and where they creaked, which ones to step on, which ones to avoid. She should be asleep, but Frankie’s tears had woken her again. Her mum didn’t need any more pain just now.
She opened his door without knocking, somehow knowing it would scare him more if she did.
“Mary?” She heard him sniffling in the dark. “That you?”
The smile was sad and soft as she crossed the room.
“It’s me, silly. Scoot over will ya? It’s freezin…”
Frankie hurried to make room for his big sister.
“You’ve been crying.” She wrapped her arms around him. “Too much, Frankie. It’s too much.”
Her gentle scolding only brought fresh tears.
“I can’t seem to stop. I want him back. We were friends.”
“I know you do, but you need to rest. We can’t give our mum any more reason for worry, right? Imagine if you caught cold…”
Frankie squirreled deeper into his sister’s embrace. She was tiny, ribby, not even an adolescent, yet she always seemed to know the right thing to say.
“Sing it for me, Mary.”
“You know, the one about the old country.”
He nodded into her cotton nightshirt.
Mary picked up the tune she’d heard so many times before. A simple Scottish melody, sweetened by the French. She imagined the old tales it spoke of; the people from long ago and how they survived a great strife during the Clearances. With each passing moment, she felt Frankie slipping off to sleep and if he stirred, she simply continued the wordless song, knowing that sadness had a time and a place. That he needed to heal.
Seven was too young for such raw grief.
When at last she knew he was asleep, Mary carefully slipped off the bed. A quick kiss on his wet cheek and she sought her room, knowing they’d survived another long night; that they would always stick together, her and Frank.
That healing would come to their little family and someday she would throw her arms around him and they would laugh once again.