The brother who never was

Isaac and Toby at the gym

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll have probably heard me talk about my younger brother Peter, who to my children is just ‘cool’ Uncle Pete. Technically, though, I’m not one of two brothers: I’m one of three.

We never talk about Michael.

The brother who never was

Michael was my other brother. The brother I never had the chance to grow up with. The son my parents never had the opportunity to raise.

Born in the spring of 1974, he lived for only a few days. Infant mortality was more common back then.

He would have turned 40 recently. I’m not sure exactly when his birthday was. I know my dad used to have his birth date as one of his regular numbers on his football pools coupon, but otherwise we’ve never marked the day or even spoken openly about it as a family.

Without Michael there would have been no Peter. I know my mother was distraught after Michael’s death – we’ve never spoken about it – and desperate for another child. (Both my parents come from large families.) She was nearly 39 when Peter arrived. Although that’s not especially old to give birth now (Heather was only a couple of months younger when Kara was born), it was rare in those days. My mother has always been a determined woman.

The brother who is

Peter wasn’t the healthiest baby at birth and was subsequently hospitalised on a few occasions with childhood asthma attacks. Mum was, understandably, compulsively protective of him. She still is.

My brother, with two brothers
My brother, with two brothers

I didn’t take the resultant shift in attention to Peter well. I didn’t appreciate why it had to be that way until my late twenties. In truth, it hasn’t been until I became a father myself that I have fully understood how all-consuming the instinct to protect our children is. Being a mother who has suffered the loss of a child – I can only imagine how that feels.

The gap in age – six years – didn’t help our relationship. We weren’t the worst of enemies but neither were we the best of friends, and while we’re not finish-each-other’s-sentences close, we get on well now.

The brother who might have been

With Michael, the difference would have been three-and-a-half years. What kind of bond might I have formed with him?

I see one possible scenario every day. Isaac and Toby are closer together in age (25 months apart) and although, like my brother and I, they are very different personalities, they’re also practically inseparable. They do things apart, of course, but they also do so many things together.

Without getting too maudlin about it, I see in the way Isaac is with Toby how things might have been for me with Michael. What might have been.

So what does the brother who never was mean to me now?

It’s made me acutely conscious of wanting to build good memories for my children. The final example I talked about in my recent post about childhood memories – of walking to the station with my dad on a cold morning – is both one of my earliest memories and also one of my saddest, because it relates to the brief time my mother was in hospital with Michael.

Also, because I never saw Michael – or, if I did, I don’t remember it – I never got the chance to form even a fleeting image of him. To all intents and purposes he never existed: no photos, no keepsakes, just a name, a birth certificate (and presumably a death certificate too) and an empty space that none of us ever acknowledges. No memories to hold on to, only an occasional thought of what might have been.

After years of not really thinking – and certainly never talking – about Michael, I don’t really know what else to say other than that, for a brother I never knew, I miss him very, very much.