Friday, 25 June 2010

Remembering Mark


On this day in 1963, the accidental death occurred of my youngest brother Mark, aged 5.


Here he is, a chubby smiling baby, well swaddled against the cold, his big brother K, 3 years older, looking over the pram wearing the brown cap of which he was inordinately proud.


And again, in a rather frayed terry nappy, toddling sturdily with his little wheeled horse.


At about 3, on his tricycle on a quiet German road, wearing one of the striped tops favoured by my mother. A cheerful, lively, loving child, fair-haired and brown-eyed, often getting into scrapes, requiring rather more of a watchful eye than his brother or his two sisters had ever needed.

Mark's sudden death was to change all our lives for ever. No family really 'gets over' the loss of a child; coping day by day and going forward cautiously, as though walking on splintered glass, trying to bring the remaining children safely through their childhood years, was to take every ounce of strength and commitment that our fragile parents could muster, for a very long time.  

Three weeks later, my sister and I, who had been away in England at boarding school, our attendance at Mark's funeral never an option, stepped into a family we could barely recognise, and which was never to be the same again. Overlaying everything was a fog of grief and loss, of unspoken guilt and terrible self-doubt. Our 7-year-old brother's entirely erroneous conviction that, somehow, he could have prevented the accident, was already buried deep and silent within him, not to emerge for 40 years or more. Kind friends and neighbours had removed Mark's larger toys, unwittingly emphasising the loss of a younger playmate and generating a sense that this loss was best not acknowledged too openly.

We learned very quickly not to mention Mark, for fear of adding to parental distress already overwhelming; people were kind, but no one, as was common in that era, seemed to understand much about the grief, fears and fantasies of bereaved children. We three were quiet, tiptoeing, shadowy children throughout those long, tormented summer holidays, and some months later, my father was posted back to Britain. A shipwreck of a family, washed up in winter on the shores of a cold, grim, uncomprehending Edinburgh, a city that even now I cannot return to without a shudder. 

                                              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In 2003, after my mother's death, we found two little striped t-shirts, one of which Mark had been wearing when he died, and a silk scarf (his bedtime 'shawl' without which he could not, would not, sleep) carefully wrapped up and tucked away in the back of her wardrobe. She had never mentioned them, although sometimes, with sorrow as raw as it had been in 1963, she would talk about Mark himself; we ourselves had learned all those years ago not to mention his name except with extreme sensitivity and caution, and in fact rarely did so. Unresolved grief was the background music of our family life.

My sister and I re-wrapped the 3 small items, adding an extra beautiful layer of tissue paper and ribbon, and put them inside my mother's coffin. They had been hers for all these years, and were not ours to keep.

Little Mark, such a small child, such a large personality, such a grievous loss. Not forgotten.


27 comments:

Marie said...

I cannot imagine the grief. ((((hugs))))

Isabelle said...

Oh, how terrible. You told me this story on our walk round Berwick and it had remained with me. What a difference a few moments can make.

How good that you remember him and now we all think of him too. And you. And the rest of your family.

I apologise on Edinburgh's behalf. It has turned, over the last few weeks, into a balmy, sunny place, by the way. (Cue rain and wind.)

elizabethm said...

What a beautifully written post. It resonated so strongly with me although it was father, not a brother, I lost as a child. Like yours, my family was deeply loving but like you I learned not to talk of my father. We all did the best we could. Thank you for writing this.

the veg artist said...

I am so sorry. I do know how you feel.
My brother, sister and I have taken 40 years to be able to talk about our childhood, and then, only the good bits.

jinksy said...

What a shame you couldn't have talked openly as a family about your loss, and afforded each other some small comfort through all the later years...

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. But what a wonderful memorial you have made for him in what you've written.

We never really know what's happened in other people's lives, do we? Or what hidden burdens they may be carrying.

Jan x

Val said...

I wept for you when I read your poignant account of the loss of your little brother. The wounds of childhood change who we are forever and I'm so sorry that you and your siblings (and your mother) had to carry this unspoken grief for so long. I hope that writing about it now has bought you some small measure of comfort.

Lucille said...

Dear Rachel, it changes things forever, I know this too. Twice for my parents. Twice for us, the remaining children. I have deleted screeds from this comment box because I know it's not about me, so I wish you a beautiful day and will go off to answer the builder's questions (again) about waste pipes and grommets!

jabblog said...

What a very poignant post. Time passes, the grief lessens but is never forgotten.

Anonymous said...

One day my children will find, in their father's chest of drawers, a small hand knitted sweater thst belonged to their brother. In my drawer they will find his ashes, and a book that would have been his first christmas present.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

How desperately sad for all of you . Nowadays , more space is given for a family to grieve and a bereaved child's bewilderment and anger at the loss is more accepted . But the loss , for every member of the family remains .
Watching you , your brother and sister grow and build good lives will have comforted your mother enormously .

Mac n' Janet said...

So sad, but so beautifully written.

BumbleVee said...

some days words just don't cut it ..... I cried when I read about the little stripey shirts... and thought it was something Vikki and I would have done... putting it in with Mom... that made me cry even more... a little brother is so special...

big hugs

Vee

xxx

Diane said...

What a beautiful piece of writing about your brother. I was very moved by it; thank you for sharing such poignant memories.

"Sunshine" said...

There is shear beauty in your writing.. The words, the memories are so touching and beauty like this lies deep within the heart.
I was just sharing with someone else that I lost my father at the age of ten and to this day I wish I had a father..What is lost is not gone and your memories shows us the impact Mark still has on your life. Blessings.

Sue said...

I can't imagine what it was like but I hope that sharing this has helped a bit.

Paddy Paws said...

What a terrible thing for you all to have to cope with, especially your poor mother. What a lovely idea to include the tokens she held so dear when you said your goodbyes to her. You've made me cry.

It's stories like this that make us love those around us a little bit more, so thank you. I'm going to ring my mum and brother right now. Sincerest best wishes on this sad day.

Penny said...

So poignant, and so sad that these things are not talked about within the family. Memories like this always remain so clear. I hope sharing then has helped. P x

Von said...

Loss in childhood is a terrible thing, so often we do not have the words to describe how we feel and the loss remains with us, indescribable into our adult years..

judy in ky said...

I can't find words, but I want to say something. This is so touching and I am so sorry for your family's sadness. It was right that you put those precious items in your mother's resting place. We put my father's library card and a ticket stub from the opera in his pocket. My husband, his sister and brother put a deck of cards and a putter in their father's coffin. Sometimes those things are all we can do for our loved ones, and we always wish we could do more.

Deborah said...

You have written something beautiful. It made me cry - for what you all lost in losing him, and in losing the happiness that you should have had.

Despite the terrible sadness of this post, I am very conscious of how well it's written. Truly. And I'm so sorry for what you endured.

Kitty said...

So beautifully written, and so poignant.
I don't think the grief ever lessens. It changes shape somewhat but is always there.
My son is named after my mother's brother who died aged 9. A little boy who wasn't long here, but who is remembered after all these years too.

The Accidental Bus Driver said...

I was recommended your blog by a mutual friend who said how good it was. How right she was. Very movingly written from an obviously very good heart.

Annie (Lady M) x said...

That story was so sad and poignant.. especially the bit about finding his stripey jumper. Awww.

Fran said...

That's really sad. You tell the story without sentimentality but with great passion, which is a skill.

mountainear said...

What a poignant memorial to your little brother whose life was sadly so short that these little snap shots are precious artefacts.

You know - and it is probably not my place to say - but I weep mostly for a generation - my mother's and probably yours, who kept their grief and emotions so tightly bottled. How sad and lonely that must have been fo all.

Marcheline said...

Reading this post was like catching a whiff of perfume from a gossamer lace handkerchief. Seeing it drift to the floor, having slipped unnoticed from the hand of a silver-haired woman.

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