I sit on the couch holding the baby. John’s searching hulu.
“What do you feel like?” he asks.
“Something mindless,” I think. “Whatever,” I answer.
My son cries out from his bedroom.
“Mommy, my tummy hurts!”
I glance at the clock. It’s after eleven. I think about the last few weeks: the stress, the travel, the diet, the lack of schedule. Hoping he isn’t coming down with something, I hand the baby to my husband and go check on him.
One look at his contorted face and I know why his tummy hurts. It’s the same look he had when I sent him out of the basement the night of the accident. I check his temperature anyway, but am not surprised to find it normal. I lie down beside him on his narrow bed and pull the covers over him as he burrows into them.
“You miss Tiggy, don’t you.”
The tears start flowing.
“I can’t stop thinking about him.”
During the day, Bear seems to like to talk about his little brother. He likes being reminded of the things Mattias used to do and say. Nothing can bring a smile to his face faster than a sentence starting with, “Remember how Tiggy used to. . .”
I hold him, let him cry and summon the courage for the next question.
“What are you thinking, sweetheart.”
“All the blood, mommy. I can’t stop thinking about all the blood.”
I start crying. My whole body heaves with tears for what my children witnessed. Dear Lord, give me the words he needs to hear, I pray silently. But no words come. I’m not sure I could speak them if they did. So I just hold him until our tears begin to subside.
“You know, all that blood just came from a cut above his nose.”
I don’t know what made me say that, but Bear pokes his head out from under the covers and looks hopeful.
“Yes. He just needed a couple of stitches for that. That’s not why he died.”
“Do you feel things when you are knocked unconscious?”
“No, sweetie. You don’t. He didn’t feel anything. No pain. No fear. The last thing he knew was playing with you and watching a movie.”
For a moment, he seems relieved.
“Would you like me to bring in the picture of him?”
The answer is immediate.
“His little dragon? I could bring in his little dragon for you to snuggle.”
“The only thing I want to snuggle is Tiggy.”
Anger takes over his face and he throws himself back into his pillow with renewed sobs.
“Why couldn’t it have been me? Why?!” he demands.
Though I’ve thought the same myself many times, it shocks me to hear it coming from my seven year old son. I don’t know what to say or do other than hold him closer.
“I know it would have hurt, mommy. I know it. But I’m bigger than he was. I probably would have lived and just needed stitches. I probably would have lived, but he was just too little. Oh why couldn’t it have been me?”
“It wasn’t your fault, sweetheart.”
“I was holding him, mommy. We were sitting in my sleeping bag and I was holding him. Why couldn’t he have stayed? Why couldn’t I just keep holding him?”
“It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just happened.”
“I know. It’s because Adam and Eve sinned.”
I take a deep breath. I don’t really know where to go from here. I just want to take all his hurt away.
“It was a horrible thing that happened. It was a horrible thing to see. We’re going to remember it for a long time. Mommy keeps thinking about that, too, and sometimes it is hard to make those thoughts go away. They scare me and make me sad and angry all over. It’s going to hurt for a long time. But some day, the hurt will start to go away. You’ll think about him and all your good memories and they will make you smile.”
His tears stop, I think from exhaustion. For a moment, I think he might have fallen asleep but then he rubs his nose on the sleeve of his pajamas.
“Can you think of any happy memories?” I ask him.
“I can only think of the last time I held him.”
“And I’m glad you have that memory. Tiggy loved you so much. It is so special that one of your last memories of him is of just snuggling and loving each other.”
He turns his head and looks at me as if this were a new thought. He has spoken often of holding Tiggy that night, always with a hint of sadness. This is the first I realize that the memory is tied so closely to the accident. He smiles just a little.
“What were some of his words, mommy?”
I think for a moment.
“Nanny. Num num. Chickie chickie. Puppy. Hereyougo. Mo. And on his last day with us, he said his name for the first time. ‘I Tiggy,’ he said.”
“Did he say ‘doggie?”
“Yes, sometimes. He pronounced it ‘goggie.’ But mostly he said ‘puppy.'”
He laughed as he added to the memory.
“Everything was a puppy, mommy, except the chickens. He called cows puppies. And goats. And pigs. You could tell him and tell him but he would still call everything else a puppy.”
“Yes. Except horses. He had just started calling horses ‘whoa whoa puppies.”
He laughed and laid back down.
“Tell me more things I remember about him, mommy.”
“Remember how he used to sit on Scrambler and you guys would push him across the floor? His eyes would get so big and he just grinned.”
“Yeah, he loved that. And I would push him on the hill sometimes. But when he got to the bottom, he would sometimes just sit there and I would sometimes pull the car back up for him so he could go down again.”
I don’t say anything for a moment, hoping he can enjoy the memory.
“He had a short little life, but he was so lucky to have you for a big brother.”
“Now the baby gets to be lucky.”
“Yes, the baby is lucky to have you for a big brother, too.”
“I’m going to teach him to say ‘chickie chickie.’ And ‘vroom vroom.’ I miss that.”
I see the sadness coming over him again. He is so afraid he is going to forget his brother. I’ve tried over and over to reassure him that he is old enough to remember. That some memories will fade, but that he will always remember the important things. He will always remember Tiggy.
“You know, when the phone rang, it was a very nice lady in Washington who wants to make a memory quilt for our family. She can put pictures on it or make it out of his clothes. Maybe something to wrap around you when you miss him and want to hug him, or something to hang on the wall to look at. She can even put pockets in it to keep some of his favorite things.”
He smiles. I don’t know where his thoughts are taking him, but it’s a nice smile, a hopeful smile. His night ends on the floor amongst all his siblings who haven’t wanted to sleep apart since it happened, but he is peaceful.
My night ends staring out the kitchen window crying not for my own grief but for that of my children. And once again, I hope and pray that love truly is enough.