April 22, 1966 was a day that affected our family in ways we may never fully understand this side of eternity. It started out as a normal school day...I was a junior in high school, and my brother Kenny was a sophomore. There were seven of us kids altogether, the rest all younger. I remember it was a pleasant spring day, and my mother was out in the backyard when I got home from school, swinging my baby sister.
It was mid afternoon, and like any normal teenager, I was relaxing and listening to the radio. A local news flash came on with a report that there had been a drowning at our local YMCA. No name was given on the air, and I wasn't particularly alarmed until, just a few moments later, there was a knock at our front door. When I answered it and saw our high school principal standing there, I thought my heart was going to stop. I immediately connected the dots, suddenly remembering my brother took a swimming class at the Y in the afternoon. Mr. Marshall asked to speak to my mother. The feeling of dread I had when I went to call her from the backyard was overwhelming, and I desperately wished I could spare her the news she was about to receive.
I don't remember much else from that day. As evening came and word got around, some friends of mine stopped by the house. I remember how upset they were, but honestly I was numb and dazed. I don't recall a thing about the rest of my siblings, or my parents. That night I fell asleep and dreamed the whole thing was a mistake and it didn't really happen.
My brother actually did not drown, though he did die in the water about a month before his 16th birthday. He was strong, and a good swimmer, but he had a physical condition that was never officially diagnosed, though it was treated as epilepsy. I can't help but wonder, 43 years later, how different things might be. When Kenny was only 2 years old, he apparently had some kind of seizure, but no other problems until he started to hit puberty.
Then one Sunday night when I was 12 and Kenny was 11, I was babysitting all my siblings while our parents were out for a couple of hours. I found Kenny passed out on the bathroom floor. That was the beginning of almost five years of our family being thrown into a turmoil that we had never known before. Kenny started having frequent seizures, and my parents took him from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what was going on. Many different drugs were tried, but nothing seemed to help and many seemed to cause personality problems, like aggressiveness, or withdrawal.
From a selfish, teenage perspective, this was all an embarrassment. We never knew when our brother was going to pass out, or what kind of mood he was going to be in. Family dynamics definitely changed and, at least from my point of view, I felt unsettled and a lot less secure in my home life.
I can't imagine what it must be like to lose a child. Especially a teenager. When you lose a teenager, you never have a chance to get past the rough years of angst and immaturity and enjoy your children as adults. I'm sure my parents' last memories of Kenny were of frustration, fear, expensive medical bills, and unresolved conflict. That has got to hurt.
My mom wasn't able to talk to me about Kenny for the next 35 years. Then we happened to be together on the anniversary of his death that year and suddenly she said, "It must have been hard on you kids. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you." It's true, as I often wondered why the pictures came down and no words were spoken about him. But now, as a mom and grandma, I can only imagine the pain was just too great.
The years have had a way of softening the pain of the past. Every once in a while, my mom can now tell some cute story that she remembers or something funny Kenny said when he was little. I know my own perspective is totally changed. I've often wished I could talk to him, tell him he was loved, and just be nice to him.
I know he must have loved me too. One terrible incident I'll never forget was the day when we were having some serious sibling rivalry. He was at the bottom of some steps by our side door, and I was working it the kitchen. He said something that must have really made me mad, and I flung the rolling pin I was holding. Unfortunately he ducked and the thing hit him in the head and cracked it open, sending him to the emergency room for stitches. He told our mother he fell down the steps and never implicated me. And I've never been able to 'fess up until now. The incident remained our secret and went to the grave with him.
I've missed Kenny, I really have. I've missed knowing what he would be like as an adult. I've wished he could have known me too, once I got past being a selfish teenage big sister. I've missed my kids not knowing him. Whenever I look at our family pictures I know there is someone missing.
I haven't forgotten you, Kenny. Someday we'll get to catch up and the tears will all be wiped away. In the meantime I know you are safe with the Lord.