March 23, 2012


Today is the tenth anniversary of my brother's death. Ten years. It seems like some kind of accounting error, but then I do the math: Moe is almost 5, Jeff and I are coming up on 7 years of marriage. It all adds up.

I haven't been very emotional about this anniversary in the past: three years, six years, eight--I didn't think too much of it. I thought more about his birthday than about the day he died. But ten years is a long time. It's not that I miss him any more or less today. But he has missed so much.

I realized the other day that Jeff and I met exactly 22 days after my brother died. I don't know why I never thought to count before. In my mind, Bill's death is a clear transition point from the first part of my life to the second. The first part included growing up, going to school, and starting life in general. It started on March 2, 1973 and ended on March 24, 2002. I think of this time as my childhood, even though I was 29 when Bill died and had been fully employed or in graduate school and living on my own since college.

The second part of my life started on April 15, 2002, the day I started my new job at a startup called Danger. I was sitting on the floor on a conference call, my first meeting, and Jeff walked in and the second part of my life began. I'm not sure if the timing is coincidental. It's not that I think I needed my brother to die to move on with life. It's not like he died and suddenly I knew what was important in life. I had already planned to start this job, and I had always wanted to get married and have a family. But I was certainly in a different frame of mind when I returned home after the funeral.

Moe (whose real name starts with a W and I'm sure everyone already knows) is named after my brother, William, though he always went by Billy, and later, Bill. When I was pregnant with Moe, I really wanted a girl, in part because I wanted to avoid the issue of naming my child after my brother. When I found out I was having a boy, I never wanted to name him William, even though the name has become popular again, though these days it is usually shortened to Will or Liam.

I just couldn't imagine calling another child Billy. How could I be angry at Billy? "Billy, you are in time out!" How could I put my dead brother in time out? And I certainly didn't want to be reminded of my brother every time I said my child's name, or worse, stop associating the name with my brother because someone else now inhabited it.

There was another reason I didn't want to have a boy or name him William. I was worried about the expectations that would be put on this new baby, the proverbial shoes he would have to fill. I was worried that people, especially my parents, would put too much significance on the fact that my first child was a boy. Moe's uncle died, but he deserved a clean start, just like any baby. I was thankful that when Moe was born, he looked just like his father. I didn't want there to be any doubt that my son was not sent here not to be a replacement for my brother.

It doesn't take a psychology degree to figure out that although I thought I was worried about my parents' expectations, I was actually worried about my own. I don't know why I'm only just figuring this out. Now that I have almost 5 years of parenting under my belt, I can see that no parent, mine included, would ever think that one child could take the place of another. Even if we tried our hardest to fit a child into a certain mold or set of expectations, kids have a way of being whoever they are going to be. Of course, we have some influence, but in the end, if you kid is going to be shy, or gay, or even (here it comes) autistic, it is ultimately up to them. Or at the very least not up to us.

Moe may be Jeff's little clone, but sometimes I look at him and see a little bit of my brother. My parents say they don't see it. But there is something in his smile, in his small teeth with tiny gaps, that reminds me of my brother. I see it especially when Moe is in the bath, and his curls have temporarily become straight. His fair skin and pink cheeks are exactly like Bill's when he was a little boy. Despite my initial fears, I am thankful for this resemblance, however slight. It's nice to think that something of my brother is still here in a genetic connection that means that, no matter what, we are still family.


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