The Beaver...A Beginning and An End
Some memories are forever etched in our minds. You can close your eyes and almost relive the moment like it just happened. At the time, it might not seem all that significant, yet, it has the substance that memories are made of.
Though my memories of my son Brian reach back to the moment of his conception, some recollections are much more vivid than others. Some of these memories are gentle and sweet and I cherish them. Others are harsh and bitter and still have the power to cause pain.
Brian was not the worlds' most beautiful child, but, there was something so very special about him. His smile, the light in his eyes, even his body language had a way of drawing people to him. His specialness might have also come from the fact that he had been born with a very serious heart condition. It doesn't really matter why, special is how he was perceived.
In the summer of 1979, our entire family was gathered at the family cottage. My immediate family, my parents, siblings and their spouses, and all the grandchildren were enjoying an idyllic summer afternoon. The sun sparkled on the water, the air was fresh and sweet, we were all healthy and happy. All was right with the world.
My brother and his visiting friend were in rare form. (I'm sure the libations helped.) They have a way of sparking off one another to the amusement and entertainment of us all. Brian, thirteen months old at the time, was quite contendly enjoying the afternoon from the confines of his playpen. He had recently become the proud owner of four new teeth. His top front two were very large in such a small face. Because of his ready smile, these teeth dominated. His uncle and his friend took great delight in finding new ways to make Brian laugh and smile. They christened him the Beaver that day. The smile became notorious and the name stuck. For most of the rest of his life Brian was known as the Beaver, Beaver, or just plain Beav, by almost everyone.
Any comparison to the character of the television program "Leave It to Beaver" was purely coincidental. Truth be known, as the years passed, Brian's personality was much more akin to "Dennis the Menace". Engaging, yes, but oh so strong-willed. It is fair to say that he lived his short life to the fullest. It was easy to forget just how fragile he really was because he thrived.
During his lifetime, there were frequent medical checkups interspersed with less frequent hospital stays. Brian endured all with a strenght and maturity that belied his age. Then came the day in June, 1985 when a regular checkup for Brian became the start of a long and hard journey for us all. His condition was deteriorating and surgery was necessary. It was scheduled for the fall.
We moved through that whole summer as if in slow motion. The summer holiday at the cottage took on a mystical quality. Brian fishing from the dock, riding in the canoe, playing with his brother, living life... all became moments to be cherished and remembered in the difficult days to come.
A few days before Brian went into hospital, he came to me as I was preparing supper. He was looking so serious that I stopped what I was doing to address him. "What is it, Beav?" I asked. A look of consternation passed over his face. "Mum, will you, Dad and everyone stop calling me the Beaver?" (An overwhelming sense of dread invaded my soul with his request.)
"Ok, Bri, but why?" I responded. "Well, I think I'm too old for that name now," he answered. I assured him I would let the rest of the family know to call him Brian. He smiled, turned to leave the room and stopped short. "Mum, don't tell Uncle Ray. It's ok if he does," he said. When I asked him why it was ok for my brother and not the rest of us, his reply was "Because it would hurt Uncle Ray's feelings if he thought I didn't like it." How perceptive for one so young but I was not surprised. He was always the diplomat and very sensitive of others feelings.
A Thursday in late November was the scheduled surgery day. The months of waiting were over. We were frightened for him but not overly so. Had he not defied all the odds against him for so long we consoled ourselves. The surgery itself went well. After the initial shock of seeing our beloved child with tubes coming from every orifice of his body, we settled in for his recovery. Every thing looked good. Why then, did I have such feelings of trepidation?
In the early hours of Saturday morning, things started to go very wrong. His heart rate had accelerated to an alarming rate. Nothing the medical team did could get it under control. Early Saturday evening Brian's struggle was over. He died and the person I was died too.
There are no words, for me at least, that can adequately describe the terror, the overwhelming pain and the shock of those first days after his death. Every function was done by rote. My perceptions of those early days are a kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings and emotions. I never knew a human being could cry so many tears or feel so much pain.
Ten years have passed since the world I knew stopped. The journey through grief has been arduous. It was hard work to reestablish my footholds in a life where Brian is no longer a physical presence. I am as reconciled to his death as I am ever going to be. His life and death are now integrated into the very heart and soul of who I am. I am continually amazed that I have survived this "ultimate" loss and even learned from it.
I never did get a chance to tell all the family not to call him Beaver. It's eerie, but since his death, he is always referred to as Brian. I have often wondered over the years why his request not to be called by his nickname anymore filled me with such dread. Was this a forewarning of what lay ahead? I don't know. What I do know is that I spend a lot less time thinking of his death now and more time remembering his life and the joy of being his parent.
Now all the memories, bitter or sweet, are welcome. They are his legacies to us.
Thank-you Brian. I love you.
About Julie Davey
Following the death of her son in 1985, Julie reached out to the community for support. She considers herself very fortunate to have found an organization that offers support to families that have had a child die. The organization was Bereaved Families of Ontario. Through BFO, she entered a group for bereaved mothers, and through her group experiences she began the difficult task of working through her grief.
After the group's completion, she wanted to give back something to the organization that had become her lifeline. For the last nine years she has been a BFO volunteer. She is very active within the BFO affiliate, Hamilton/Wentworth/Burlington. Julie co-ordinates BFO activities for Burlington and is a regular contributor to the chapter's newsletter.
Never in her wildest dreams, or nightmares, did she ever imagine herself in her current role as a caregiver to the bereaved. Yet, on a personal level it has brought Julie a great deal of satisfaction to be able to help people cope with the death of their children.
Julie may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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