Monday, June 26, 2017

MftNE: Oxygen

Memories from the NorthEast (MftNE):  Many things in my life I have chosen not to talk about. My counselor Susan (henceforth The Counselor) says it is time to share.  Hence this series of blogposts. Apologizes to all. 
First the biggie.  There is no easy way to say this; I killed my brother.  No, not my younger brother, the older one.  The one we never talked about.   

I recall this vaguely.  I was a toddler. Sammy was born sick.  I don't know the medical condition nor the prognosis.  I was born three years after him following a fortuitous three-car pile on Interstate 25.  We shared a room.  Me in my crib, he under his oxygen tent. There is a memory of playing alone in our room that day as he slept.  I didn't understand why my mother was crying later that day, because we don't talk about. 

Later I overheard stuff.  Sammy's oxygen had been accidentally turned off.  I asked a few times after that if it was my fault.  Mom said it wasn't my fault and refused to talk about it.  I might have asked my grandmother when I got older or my Aunt Laura now, but we don't talk about.   

I remember the last time I talked about it (before today).  I was on a week-long Boy Scout trip in the Pecos Wilderness.  I shared my worrisome tale to a few guys there. The second time I told that story one of the older guys was shaking his head at me as I began. He pulled me aside later, gruffly assured me it wasn't my fault and added confidently and intently that I shouldn't tell that story.   I had heard this advice before.  I had seen this troubled look on people's' faces.  I tried to get him to explain why, but his tone and stance told me we weren't going to talk about.  So, we didn't, and I haven't since.


  1. Bill,
    I am very sorry for Sammy, you and your entire family.
    It wasn't your fault of course, even if it happened as you are imagining it - you playing and accidentally turning off Sammy's oxygen supply, without understanding.
    However, I find it more likely that it happened otherwise.

    People are not truly able to accept mortality. Death throws them in shock and their brains short-circuit.
    When my mother died and the doctor asked me about her age, I couldn't answer. Really.
    In the little room where the washing machine stayed, the light was on. I thought that my mother had died in the evening or very early in the morning, because she had needed artificial light. But neither I nor my sister in-law figured out to check the washing machine. Days later, my sister in-law remembered this detail, switched the machine off and emptied it - the wet clothes inside had grown beards.
    On another occasion, when I told my husband that our neighbors' grandson had died in a car crash, he took a jar from pickles (they were eaten, just the liquid remained) and smashed it in the bucket with such force that the glass broke. A little later, I asked him why he needed to create such a mess. He absolutely did not remember smashing the jar. And the boy wasn't even from his family.

    Sammy was unwell from birth, he needed supplemental oxygen. These conditions never end well. He was terminally ill.
    Here is what may have happened: Your mother (or another adult family member) went to see him and found him dead. She reflexively turned off the already useless oxygen - but, because of the shock, did not remember doing it. You of course could not be useful to reconstruct the events. So a causation was established that did not really exist. Maybe it helped the adults in the family. For many people, it is easier to accept a fatal accident than a doom that was unchangeable from the beginning.

    1. Maya,

      Thank you for your moving words. Wow! "It is easier to accept a fatal accident than a doom that was unchangeable from the beginning." What a truth!