One of the things I do when I have nothing to do is type names of people I used to know — old classmates, friends, co-workers, etc. — into Google and see what comes up. Most of the time it’s just those “people finders” that ask for an additional fee and promise to give you the person’s address, age, criminal background, work history, etc. I think most people have probably spent time browsing the names of people they know only slightly or that they lost touch with long ago. But sometimes you get lucky and find some actual information about the person, sometimes even photos of the person.
Today I was thinking about the roommate I had in the hospital where my son was born and where we spent the next 5 days, recovering from C-sections. The woman was about a year older than me, and had an older daughter (my son was my first). I remember I was in the room first, and at some unspecified time during my morphine-haze first evening, my new roommate was rolled in, followed by a glass basinette on wheels containing her newborn son, Sam. There we were to spend the next few days recovering, getting to know our newborn sons, and waiting for “bowel sounds” — after major surgery, this is a major milestone. It means you’re ready to start eating real food again, so this is the only time in your life you will actually be praying to fart — because nothing in the world tastes better than your first bland dinner of stewed apple slices, white rice, and chicken nuggets after three days of liquids only.
We visited only once after we both went home. When the boys were about a year old, we got together at my friend’s house. At that age, they played very little with each other but got into everything else. I remember being in a near-panic because her son was already using full words, while mine still just babbled nonsense or even worse, was silent. I decided after that visit to take my son to speech therapy. It wasn’t necessary. He started talking just shy of three years old — quite late according to the child development experts, but when he finally spoke, he did in complete sentences, completely skipping over the one-and two-word stage. The pediatrician told me some kids are perfectionists and play “practice tapes” in their heads, but won’t speak until they are sure what they want to say is perfect. That’s probably true, since my son is a perfectionist and even has an OCD diagnosis. I also remember a time or two when I heard him alone in his room as a young toddler, apparently practicing his words. If he knew you were listening, he’d go silent, so I had to be very quiet and not let him know I knew. Needless to say, when he finally started talking, there was no shutting him up.
I typed the woman’s name and her son’s name in Google. Nothing came up on my friend at all except a few people-search websites which demand a fee before they give you anything, but there was definitely something about her son, Sam. There was a very flattering picture of Sam at about age 19 taken at university, where he was an honors student. He had a great smile. He looked like a nice person, the sort of guy I’d want my daughter to marry.
And there was an obituary. I hoped it was for another person with the same name, but I read over the entire entry, and it was definitely him. All the names, his age, and the location of the funeral home fit.
Funeral home. Funeral. A funeral for a boy born the same day and year as my son, who recovered in the same room as my son. I wanted to cry. I think I did shed a few tears. For a child I had known for just a few days in October of 1991.
The obituary said Sam had died of cancer, which he’d been battling for 15 months. Oh, God, no. No, no. I looked at the smiling college photo of him and tried to imagine him lying in a hospital bed with advanced cancer. I couldn’t.
I wish I could reach out to his parents now, but it would be way too awkward. I’m not even sure they would remember me. Not even sure it would be appropriate. Besides, what do you say to someone whose adult child has died? Losing one of my adult children is my biggest fear. I seriously don’t know how anyone can ever get over something like that or ever live a normal life again or think about normal things again. But somehow when it happens to other people, they do get through it.
I know I would have no idea what to say, or I’d blurt out something really awkward and cringeworthy like, “I would kill myself if my son died so young,” or, “Wow, that could have been MY son.” No, no. I won’t say a word to them or try to contact them. It happened almost a year ago now anyway. But it’s so spooky and sad. May he rest in peace.