A Loss of Innocence: In Memory of "The Mayor"
Today, my nephew "TJ" would have celebrated his seventh birthday, surrounded by his family, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. He would be seven -- a lucky number -- if he had lived.
He died on February 20, 2003, two days before his second birthday.
After several years of uncertainty about how to post a story I'd written in his memory, I finally posted it last June.1
Now, as the anniversary of TJ's death passed two days ago and the anniversary of his birth dawns today, I feel that it is only right and fitting to repost the piece here, on the newly redesigned ePluribus Media community page, to both honor my nephew and to further remind folks just how precious the young ones are in our lives. They are the hope for our future; we are their best, last hope that there will be a future for them to inherit. The legacy we have left so far, within the first decade of a new century, is not exactly promising.
The significance of this was driven home, ironically, by Melody Townsel's scary encounter which she originally posted on DailyKos on February 20th.2 Her 8 year old child, playing in front of their home, was asked by a stranger to help look for his lost dog. The person could have been innocent, might have really been looking for a dog, and the flyers he claimed to have put up -- which were never found by the police checking into the matter -- may have been pulled down. The person may have shown bad judgement. However, the "lost dog" ruse has become popular of late, and it is also quite possible that the man intended harm.
It wasn't up to Melody to decide that -- it was up to her to respond to the situation in a manner that she felt was appropriate. She did, and then posted about it in order to remind parents of a very important lesson that parents should pass along to their children. It wasn't a cry out for a legacy of fear and distrust but a call for parents to ensure that they've instilled an important lesson for their children's safety.
No matter the reason, the loss of a child is as tragic and terrible as the birth of a child is wonderful and miraculous. We have, through our children, the direct potential for imparting our wisdom (such as it is) and hope for the future through sharing of our experiences, informing them about our past and educating them to the best of our ability to provide them with the tools they'll need to navigate through life's challenges successfully.
The story of my nephew's passing is sad, but the hope, love and laughter he still inspires is wonderful.
Please keep that in mind as you read the piece that follows.
The following is a true story. The names of people and places have been changed to protect the privacy of the family, and clipart (some modified) from wpclipart.com was used to replace actual photographs.
"TJ" was born on February 22, 2001. He died on the 20th of February, 2003. He was the eldest child of a small family, and big brother to his infant sister Liz. They all lived on a street we'll call Little Shoes Lane, in a small town in New England. At the funeral mass for TJ, his father spoke briefly about his son. He wanted the people who had never met TJ to get an idea of what he was like, and why he would be so sorely missed.
This text was inspired by those words, and is dedicated to the memory of TJ, penned by a sad uncle in February 2003.
TJ and Lizzy were brother and sister. Their parents were, of course, Momma and Daddy, and they all lived in the big blue house on Little Shoes Lane.
TJ was almost two years old – nearly a big boy, by his standards.
He loved to go for walks with his mother and sister in the afternoons. He’d walk beside the double stroller, which held his little sister, and smile at everything and every one he saw. His neighbors would smile, and watch the little procession as it made it’s way down the street. They would often comment to one another “There goes the Mayor,” referring to how TJ proudly walked along.
There was very little traffic on Little Shoes Lane. It was a dead-end street – ideal for families to raise children, as cars did not go whizzing by the way they often did on “through” streets. TJ loved all his neighbors. They opened their hearts and their homes to him. His endearing smile radiated warmth and wonder, eliciting more smiles in return.
Often, when he would play ball outside with his father Daddy, he would hear the neighborhood kids playing tackle football next door. He’d take off running and disappear under the fence to stand on the sidelines and watch. Daddy would come to him and say “OK, TJ – let’s let the other kids play, and go home now,” but the neighborhood children would object. They’d ask TJ to play, and give him the ball – then they would all pretend to try and tackle him, missing wildly of course.
TJ laughed with delight at the game.
He loved many sports – football and hockey were the best. Daddy took him to hockey games sometimes. If the TV was playing a sports game and bedtime approached, TJ would ask his father to read him a book so that he wouldn’t have to go right to bed. Sometimes he’d get caught peering around the side of the book to continue watching the game, and he’d have to go to bed anyway. Some nights, he got to watch the whole game.
When TJ first learned to crawl and to walk, he began to say “uh oh” whenever something or someone fell over or went “bump” (usually him). As his skills and coordination developed, he was less often the cause of the “uh oh”. His delight in recognizing that “bumps” could be from something or someone other than himself often led to him happily uttering “uh oh” to show that he knew the difference.
TJ and Liz had many cousins: KE, Jed, Kat, and Jay, as well as Kate, Matt, and KiKi. He saw them often, and enjoyed playing with them. He also loved his role as a big brother – he’d kiss Liz’s feet, as he’d watched parents do, to make her laugh. And he often gave her hugs.
He never displayed any jealously whenever another child – neighbor or cousin, or even a stranger’s child – played with one of his toys. He delighted in the fact that someone was playing and having fun, and wanted to share.
TJ used to love to hide when his father would return from work. As Daddy would come into the basement from the car, he’d hear the “thud thud thud thud thud” of TJ’ shoes running across the floor to hide. Daddy would get upstairs, and say “Where’s TJ? Is he under the table?”...Nope. And the couch would laugh. “Where’s TJ? Is he behind the chair?”.... Nope. And the couch laughed again, a bit louder this time. Then TJ would burst out from behind the couch and give his dad many happy hugs.
One day, TJ got sick. His parents took him to the doctor, who checked him all over. It appeared that TJ had a flu-like virus. His parents took him home, and made sure that they followed the doctor’s instructions to help him feel better.
He was sick for several days. One night, he was very, very sick. His parents took him to the emergency room.
The doctors there ran several tests. The tests would allow them to see if anything serious had developed, or if the illness was just a very strong flu. The tests came back negative; that meant that nothing more serious was found. His parents took TJ home.
The next day, he began to look and act a little better. Later that day, however, his illness got worse. He tried to pick up his hockey stick, and couldn’t find the strength. He became very lethargic. His parents became even more worried.
They rushed him to the pediatrician’s office. His doctor told them they needed to take him to the big hospital – he’d become very seriously ill.
The pediatrician called an ambulance. TJ’ mother Momma rode in the ambulance with TJ, holding him tightly. The ambulance hit a bump – TJ said “uh oh”.
On that Thursday night, around eight o’clock, TJ died. It was just two days before his second birthday. His mother had promised that he could have lots of balloons on his birthday.
The weather was rainy over the next few days. It was as though the whole world mourned the loss of TJ. His family, their relatives, their friends and neighbors were all very, very sad.
The Monday after TJ’ death was the saddest day of all. TJ’s family gathered at a funeral home to say goodbye to the Mayor of Little Shoe Lane. Many people, including the doctors and nurses who’d tried to save TJ, came to pay their respects.
TJ’ parents placed several of TJ’ favorite things in the small casket with him. He had his stuffed rabbit, his favorite blanket, his football, two hockey sticks, and his great-grandmother’s rosary beads. The second hockey stick was so that TJ wouldn’t have to play hockey by himself.
The family had a funeral service at their church, then a slow procession to a beautiful little cemetery that would become the final resting place of TJ’s small body.
The family said goodbye to TJ that day, accompanied by many relatives and friends. His mother Momma brought two huge bouquets of balloons. She told the people how she had promised them to TJ for his birthday, and wanted him to have them. Then, together with Daddy and Liz, they released the balloons into the sky. TJ would know they were for him.
In the days following TJ’ funeral, his family began calling the hospital and medical examiner in an effort to learn more about the strange illness that had taken him away from them. Relatives, friends and neighbors continued to stop in and visit, lending their support to the family. And the TJ’ pediatrician, as well as the doctors from the hospital, called to check in on the family as well as to make sure that Liz did not demonstrate any of the symptoms of the mysterious illness. The medical examiner was called in to help determine the cause of death. It was his job to learn what he could about the illness and how it affected TJ. The information he learned would help doctors and parents treat, and hopefully prevent, future deaths from the same illness. He conducted his investigation carefully, and sent some tests out to various labs to await results and findings.
By the end of the first week following TJ’ death, no new information was available regarding the virus. It was known his lymph nodes and small intestine were all swollen – a typical symptom that a person was fighting off a massive viral infection. The “bug” itself had not been identified.
Liz and the rest of the family all remained in good health. The family would now have to wait several weeks for the medical examiner to receive and evaluate results of tests from various laboratories.
Several family members and friends saw a news article the night of TJ’ death. The article mentioned an investigation regarding five children who died in Virginia, a state located to the south, of similar symptoms. One of the family members contacted the hospital, and asked them to check and see if it was related to TJ’ illness. The hospital pediatric emergency nurse said they would not only check on a possible connection, but they would also alert the other ER (emergency room) doctors and nurses to be on the lookout for other cases that could be related to TJ’ illness.
So far, there has been no news. [As of late February, early March of 2003.]
Everybody who knew TJ, or his family, grieved for the loss. The loss of a child is especially upsetting, as it signifies that a life full of potential and promise will never get the opportunity to experience the fullness of a long life and all the challenges and rewards it can bring.
Nearly everyone, however, understands that the grief of loss is more than simply a mourning of lost potential, or lost company of a loved one. It is also a realization of the fact that we must nurture, love, and cherish every moment that we have to share with those around us; when someone dies, we grieve partly because we have no more time to show the person how much we cared. TJ knew he was loved – is loved – by his family and friends. He radiated that knowledge with his own unconditional love. He showed the wonder of a child in love with the world and all the simple discoveries he came across as he made his way through it. His mother stated it best, in the days following his funeral:
“If I had to choose between never having had the two years of joy or knowing that it would end after such a short time, there’s no question that I would choose those two years when TJ was a part of my life. No question.”
It is within that simple statement that we can all learn so very much about life; it’s precious nature isn’t something taken lightly, it is a gift that we all give to one another. While it will be hard for TJ’ family to resume their lives, especially when they often encounter people with small children that will cause them to pause and think of TJ, they will continue on. TJ would have wanted that. And he will be watching, not only from the place his soul has gone to rest, but also from within their own hearts and souls, where that part of him that touched their lives will always live on, sharing and touching their lives.
The life of a person is made up of more than his or her experiences. It reflects the impression that other lives have made upon it as well. Anyone who makes a substantial impression appears to put a permanent piece of him or herself within our souls, just as we leave a small piece of ourselves within his or hers.
Whenever the family sees a hockey game, or a little boy playing, and they think of TJ, he will instantly be there within them. And if they see someone bump into a cabinet or a table, or knock over something, or hit a bump in a car, they will hear TJ’ voice saying “Uh oh”. He is still with them; he will always be with them. And he will share their lives with them, albeit in a manner different than if he had lived, because he loves them still. There is a little window within their souls that he’ll look through, in addition to checking on them from far above, and when they least expect it he will be giving them hugs and kissing their feet, laughing all the time.
TJ doesn’t hide behind the couch anymore. He’s safe and warm in the place his soul has gone, and he’s got a great place to hide within the hearts and souls of his family and friends. Don’t forget to look for him once and while. And send lots of warm hugs to that spot within that radiates with the love a little boy. If the couch giggles and laughs out of the blue, remember that TJ is there, and watching you. Look around, think of him as you see other children, and ask him what he thinks of different places and people. And enjoy the warmth of his love as you feel him hug you for thinking of him and continuing to share your life with him.
My nephew's story is unfortunately not unique; Requiem for an (almost) four year old, by cynic, posted Sunday, March 18, 2007 bears an eerie resemblance to the circumstances. Both stories illustrate just how much there is left unknown in the medical realm, as well as provide us incentive toward exploring and extending healthcare benefits for our children. We should also do more in the area of research, and free up the funding process from the overly political constraints currently derailing it due to flawed ideology over secular science.
- I wrote "The Mayor of Little Shoes Lane" (initially with a slightly different title) in February of 2003. I had thought about posting it online many times, but it wasn't until I read Requiem for an (almost) four year old, by cynic, posted Sunday, March 18, 2007, that I seriously began to consider it. I've read several of the pieces that Jerome a Paris wrote with reference to his own son's battle with a brain tumor, and was especially touched and motivated by his piece It took only two men to carry the casket (updated with thanks). Still, it took another four months before I posted it. The piece by cynic was the final little push that I needed.
- About Melody's piece: I asked for and received permission to crosspost it. It was originally posted on DailyKos.