May is the month of warm breezes, blue skies, and fragrant lilacs. It is also the month Timmy was born. My big brother was seven and I was four when Tim burst into our lives, a blond bouncing wonder of a boy. Seventeen months later our baby sister appeared and our small house was filled. Just as my older brother and I were inseparable, so too were Tim and our baby sister.
From the beginning, Tim exuded a teasing, electric energy. It was readily apparent in how he laughed and in how he played. His laughs were wholehearted belly laughs. He loved grown-up things, donning dad’s work helmet and boots, racing his fire engine, riding his tricycle. For him, life was an exhilarating adventure filled with ever new possibilities. He never walked when he could run, as if he knew he had to reach and gather every ounce of enjoyment from each day.
Family stories are almost legend…how he once climbed out on the porch roof when he was three…how he raced his tricycle into and up a sloping tree. If he liked something, he wanted to touch and play with it whether it was playful puppies or swimming goldfish.
The morning of July 2nd was hot and promised to get hotter. We had no air conditioning so doors and windows were open, in hopes of a catching an errant breeze. Mom was working in the kitchen. My older brother was eating a bowl of cereal when he happened to glance outside. Mom later told us that his face drained of color. “The car,” he said. It was rolling down the hill. They raced outside to see our twenty-one month old sister standing alone in the car’s front seat.
The driver’s door was open. Timmy lay on the street. He’d fallen, or jumped…no one knows exactly. The car rolled over him. Mom found him and lifted his crushed body. A passing motorist raced them to the hospital. Our four-year old brother Tim died on the operating table.
Death changes life. The death of a child changes life forever.
All people experience grief. It is part of being human, part of the price we pay for being sentient, for having a soul.
But we also live through true joy, such as my nephew Tim, my sister’s son, experienced three days ago when his son was born. A new generation. As he held his newborn son, I have to think that his Uncle Tim was looking down on both his namesake and on his newborn grand-nephew with a huge grin.
As writers we need to draw on life’s grief and on life’s joy and feed these raw emotions to our characters. We need to make them a part of their lives. It is how our fictional characters become real. In this way, our stories become a gift we can pass to others. ∞