On November 11, 2014, one year ago today, the world lost someone it barely had time to know: Eddie. He was just 18 months old.
I started writing this post in February. I normally spend about 15 or 20 minutes writing these but this one has been an exception.
I’ve been friends with Eddie’s parents since before they knew each other (according to me), way back when we were all at summer camp together. Eddie’s dad and I have known each other coming up on 30 years, give or take. They live very close to us and our families spend a lot of time together. Eddie’s older sister who is now 5, is one of the most fun and full of life little girls I know, as well as likely being the most aggressive hugger on the planet. If not for her dad’s athletic prowess (wink wink, nudge nudge), she would likely get a chance to become the NFL’s first woman linebacker.
Unfortunately, I’ve spent more blog posts than I’d like writing about death recently and believe me when I say, I’d rather write about other topics. I thought this was important to share. When my Great Aunt Charlotte passed away last year, there were many conversations with Julianna and Chloe about death. Obviously those aren’t easy conversations.
When Eddie passed away, it was a completely different type of thing; something I hadn’t thought about how to handle, because frankly, its so relatively uncommon that it isn’t worth planning for. It is also so difficult to understand, for me, even now, that I couldn’t imagine how to explain it to the girls.
If I compare Aunt Charlotte’s situation with Eddie’s, they are very different. There is a ton of obvious “distance” between how the girls perceive Charlotte and how they perceive Eddie. Charlotte was “old” and not anything like them. She didn’t come over our house and play with their toys with them. The story with Charlotte was fairly clear: Don’t worry about it girls, its a very very very long time before you are Charlotte’s age. With Eddie, not so much.
November 11th was a Tuesday last year. We didn’t tell the girls for 3 days, on Friday while we tried to wrap our heads around it (something I’m not sure I’ve done yet). We still don’t know the cause of death and might never know. My wife and I sat the girls down and told them we had something serious to discuss. Typically, they do “well” in those moments when they can tell we aren’t joking. We explained that Eddie had died and we didn’t know how. We didn’t have the age distance that we had with Charlotte so I think we sort of just held our collective breath and hoped that they didn’t make an immediate connection with his age. Because he was significantly younger than them, relatively, I think they actually had a similar reaction to that of Charlotte’s news: “That’s not us.” As a matter of fact, I think they may have even had some sort of “we’re beyond the point where that might be a problem for us” reaction.
They were both quiet when they heard the news. They had questions but mostly about Eddie’s parents and sister, and all that makes me proud to have thoughtful daughters. Keep in mind, these are questions from a 6 year old and a 5 year old (at the time) who don’t fully grasp the concept of death, but think that they do. Chloe, who is normally very loud (and anyone who has met her can attest) and generally unemotional about emotional things, got very pensive. Julianna, who is extremely emotional about anything, even unemotional things, got quiet as well.
They asked if people were sad (I believe to validate that what they were feeling was correct). They asked if Eddie’s parents would have another baby (I believe this was their gut reaction on how to make people feel better – which is not about replacing Eddie and more about finding a way to be happy). We told them that the thing they could do, that would be most helpful, is that even though we didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Eddie as we wanted, we had a lot of awesome time with him, a lot of laughter, a lot of fun. We explained that it was important to always remember those times and that because they played with him more closely than we (my wife and I) did, they should absolutely share any stories they remember with Eddie’s mom and dad.
Shortly after, the girls went back to their business. For a while it seemed that while they weren’t really talking about Eddie, they were thinking about him. We tried not to push the subject too much but were ready to try and answer questions when asked. We didn’t want to avoid the subject. At one point, Julianna told us about a toy we had in our house that she remembered Eddie loved playing with. I didn’t really know which toy she was talking about and she didn’t remember seeing it recently. A few days later, the girls were playing and she ran over holding a toy: “Daddy, I found the toy that Eddie loved. Can we give it to [his parents]?” She had decided, days later, that she was going to look for this very specific toy and then she found it.
Not too long after, Eddie’s family was over our house. The girls were off playing with Eddie’s sister and the grownups were chatting. Earlier, Chloe had decided she would write a card to Eddie’s parents. We didn’t really coach her on the appropriate thing to say. Who really knows what the appropriate thing to say is? When we read what she wrote, we debated on whether or not to give it to them but ultimately decided that the 5 year old was trying to express a real emotion. It was simple:
“Dear [Eddie’s parents], I’m sorry that Eddie died. Love, Chloe”
Nobody told her that we say things like “sorry for your loss.” I believe it is how she genuinely felt and it was a very simple and basic way that a little kid, who is otherwise generally not overly empathetic, could tell a grownup, “I don’t know how to say anything else but know that I feel for you.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t write a bit about Eddie himself and explain the title of this post. Before Eddie was born, his sister was asked by his parents what she thought he should be named. She said, “Barney Daffodil.” I remember hearing that before he was born and thinking what a wonderfully happy, hopeful, and cool name. When he was born, and did not get that super cool name, he and I didn’t hit it off. His parents liked to call him Fast Eddie. He was fast at everything…everything, that is, except for liking me. I’ve generally considered myself to be good with kids (the whole camp counselor thing) but with Eddie, I couldn’t win. I’m not entirely sure what it was but it became a point of contention between he and I. I was set on getting him to like me and he was set on not liking me. We were at a bit of a standstill. A standstill that ended, I believe, during the spring of 2014, when we brought a puppy home. You see, Eddie loved animals, and dogs in particular. Once the puppy came home, I think Eddie had a moment where he may have decided that I wasn’t so bad. From then on, he seemed to enjoy my company, and the feeling was mutual. We played together and he even went swimming with me at the pool that summer.
I certainly can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a child. I knew Eddie for a relatively short period of time and while he and I never shared a nerd conversation or talked sports or played XBox together, I do genuinely feel like I lost a friend, even if he was just 18 months old.
I wish I had the opportunity to watch him grow up and cause trouble when he certainly would have gone out on a date or two with at least one of my daughters.
I wish I had the opportunity to go swimming with him again this summer or bring him with me when I take the dog for a walk.
He wasn’t of our blood but he was, and forever will be, a part of our family.