It’s Memorial Day and for the second year in a row the pandemic has canceled the parade. My son, Dov, and I have a tradition of attending the hometown parade together. I like this holiday because it is one of the rare times we stop as a nation to remember those who died in war. Well, we used to stop. For many of us, Memorial Day is just a three-day weekend that serves as the unofficial kickoff of summer. I’m admittedly part of that group as I ponder what items I’ll burn on the grill this year. But I try to remember why we have this holiday.
It is important that we remember those we have lost. As a country, we ask (or tell) people to fight in a war that promises nothing but violence to their bodies and minds. Remembering those killed, as we do today, is a form of collective grief. A chance to mourn and heal together. In the wake of all those lost in the pandemic, and those we continue to lose, such a remembrance is essential.
Recently, that little boy I’ve been taking to Memorial Day parades for a long time graduated from college. Oh, he still has a semester of student teaching left, but the classes are done, assignments turned in, and his girlfriend has headed off to graduate school. (I could tell you that Dov made the Dean’s List the last three semesters but that would just be bragging!).
Dov was literally beginning sixth grade when his little brother, Oliver, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer. Dov was just short of finishing eighth grade when Oliver died. Not your normal middle school experience. He went into high school with a grieving and beaten family. At the time, Dov did not talk much about Oliver or how he was feeling. A social worker from the children’s hospital told us that Dov’s age was the toughest in which to lose a sibling. Middle school kids have a lot hitting them emotionally and physically, and adding in something as traumatic as death is just too much. He told us Dov would probably really begin to address the loss of Oliver when he was in his twenties. Of course, he has been dealing with Oliver’s death for years, but lately, he has been more vocal about Oliver, grieving, and the anger over what he lost from being raised in a grief-stricken family.
I’ve always found poetry to be helpful in navigating life, and in the past few years, Dov has as well. He took a poetry writing class and was reluctant to share much of his writing with us. He sought his poet-brother Gray’s input, but not mine or Mary Ann’s. But as his time at Hope ended, he shared with me his final poetry portfolio. It was excellent. And in it, he shared one of the poems he has written about his little brother.
As we remember those we’ve lost on Memorial Day in war, with Dov’s permission I’ll share a poem he wrote in which he remembers his little brother. Dov was, and is, a great big brother. The picture to the right is one of my all-time favorite photos as you can see Oliver’s love and admiration for his big brother in his eyes and face. Dov, Oliver loves you so much. Always has. Always will. Thanks for sharing these words.
By Dov Emerson
My best friend before I had a best friend
My brother before I had a brother
Innocence stripped before he was four
Mentally stronger than many before
Happy being his motto
Through Chemo, Shots, and Transplants
His smile never hollow
Overflowing a room with love and wisdom
What would he look like if he wasn’t in God’s kingdom?
As intricate as a lego set
Each piece of him I carry,
Wondering why he is buried
Vicariously living through his best friend
An architect to my life choices
His giggle gone from my brain,
The years since have brought great pain,
I will never forget my Pokemon master.
As if I was Ash, I loved him like my Pikachu
But he is now Ash kept close to my mother
Buried under a stone, in front of my home.
I wish my tears would bring him back from stone
This would leave me not so alone,
Tattooed to my skin are the words Happy,
A constant reminder of the one who made me so.