Thirteen years ago this week, my youngest brother passed away from a brain tumor.
He was three and a half years old, almost exactly the same age my older daughter currently is.
I was in high school when he died, and our family continued to talk about him often, remembering his cute habits and funny phrases. But life also moved on. As the immediate days and week and years passed, I still thought of him often, but not as frequently as I had before. Our family missed him, of course, but the vivid pain of his death eased.
And then, nearly a decade after he died, I had a baby of my own. A niece my brother never got to see.
Now, as a parent myself, I find myself thinking of my baby brother almost daily. My heart breaks all over again for my parents, as I see a little bit of how wrenching it must have been for them to lose their baby boy. I couldn’t see that when I was a teenager, but now as a parent myself, I can’t even imagine the heartache.
I feel certain that his death has made me a better mom. At night, as I rock my baby to sleep, I hold her a little tighter than I might otherwise. When my girls want to play round after round of trains, I think of how much Shepard loved his trains, and I play a little more, even if my first inclination is to tell them we’ve played enough. I remember how precious the time is that little children are little, whether their lives are cut short or not, and I am a little more patient, a little more playful, and a little more kind.
And I’m grateful to my little brother for that.