(Reprinted and verb edited for Heather, because I love her more than I don’t like the phrase “passed away”. and because now that I have sat on my couch and screamed over the loss of the fabulous Madeline, I know even more that the small life mattered so much more than a little phrase. )
I do genealogy work. I’ve seen the phrase “(passed away) in infancy” for years.
I used to have the idea that because so little was said, that it didn’t matter as much. That parents didn’t come to love their kids until they were toddlers.
Since I assumed that the stiff upper lip of my pioneer ancestors protected them from pain, it didn’t bother me to see all the names who “(passed away) in infancy”.
Last year, when I was working on the Nano story that wouldn’t end, I took a good look at just what it might have been like for my great-great-great grandmother
?¢‚Ç¨?ìMary was followed by Felix when I was 18 . . .?Ç¬† had George when I was 22, and James at 24?¢‚Ç¨¬ù She nodded at Belle, ?¢‚Ç¨?ìThat girl came to be when I was 26 . . . Woodson joined the Union Cavalry and left for the war, I didn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t know I was pregnant when he left, Anna was born one week after he mustered out, I was 31. Thomas at 34. George (passed away) just before I had Sheridan at age 36, and he (passed away) before his first birthday. The winter was cold and he was tiny and ?¢‚Ç¨¬¶.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù She stopped here. Waited for the lump in her throat to pass as she thought of her two boys, then gasped, ?¢‚Ç¨?ìThen Mary (passed away) just 1 week before Samuel was born when I was 39. I was so upset over her dying that he wasn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t named until after the 1870 census. If you look at that record he was listed only as ?¢‚Ç¨?ìNo Name?¢‚Ç¨¬ù and the poor boy was already a year old by that time. I had nine children over a span of 23 years. I lost three of them in a span of three years. While still birthing children, while still trying to be a mother and a wife.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù She sat quietly. ?¢‚Ç¨?ìI buried my husband. We were married 63 years. Imagine! 63 years with the same person . . . It was a good long life. I lived it well. It was not easy, and I won?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t say that I wouldn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t have changed a thing, because it is clear that if I could have kept my children with me always, then I would have. Those are my only real regrets. The ones that still linger with me today. Never quite forgotten. No matter how I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve ended up here in this place, I wish I would have had all of my children all of those years.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù
I knew he died young, but I did the math – and none of this was fun anymore. Not for now. Sheridan was 7 months old when he (passed away). Which didn’t seem like anything … I kind of already knew it … he was a baby, he (passed away) … okay … lots of babies died back then. It didn’t hit me … It wasn’t personal … I couldn’t relate …
But … now … Alex is 7 months old. I know what Alex does – I know how he crawls and laughs and smiles at me – I know what his voice sounds like – I know how he eats – How he pulls up, how he wants to see every. thing. I. am. doing. I know how he’s daily more of a little person – his own little person. And now I know that little Sheridan mattered. He wasn’t just another number – he was his own little person too – and …
I have no words. I got what I was looking for – I found the humanity – I’ll do more with the story at some point, but for now I’ve done what I set out to do, and I need to set it aside – I think I got more than I bargained for. And it kind of hurts.
Now I know that “(passed away) in infancy” may be the only thing anyone could bear to write about them.
A great-aunt lost 3 boys in her first 10 years of marriage, and lost 4 boys total. I don’t even know how she survived. Now I’m on this mission to find these boys, to tell their story – just because it’s a short story doesn’t mean it doesn’t get an entry in the family history. This weekend, those 4 boys who “(passed away) in infancy” are getting found, and getting their names back – There’s Weston … and Dow … and the Infant now has a birthday and a resting place. I’m still searching for that last little boy – he’s out there, and I will find him, and he can be remembered – even though his life was a dream short lived, now I am here to document his coming and his going – now he won’t be forgotten.
ps. I found him. His name is Guy.