Is this really happening? Did my 18-month old son really just die today? Did I really just hold him for the last time? Did Theo really just become an only child? Yesterday, there were two cute little boys under our roof. Tomorrow, there will be one. Our household of four is now a family of three.
Like most rhetorical questions designed to make a point, I’m not really looking for a theological answer explaining “why?” this happened. To me, it doesn’t matter exactly why Vincent Wing Seun Stringer died of liver cancer barely a year and a half after his birth. Perhaps it has something to do with living on a planet ravaged by injustice and disease- where mysterious evils seize thousands of cute little kids every year. But that’s not news. And neither is the fact that I want my son back. Or that planning his funeral will be no fun.
Rather than a cosmic rationale from on high, what I’d really like to know is how I’m going to survive this loss with any semblance of sanity. Who will medicate the gash in my heart or compensate for Vincent’s vacancy each year at the Thanksgiving table or around the Christmas tree? Where are the words to comfort my grieving wife or explain death to our 3-year old? (Don’t answer that.) What will we do with all of Vincent’s many toys, books and blankets? How much of his story will I disclose to well-meaning small talkers when they serve up questions like, “How many kids do you have?” or “Are you planning on having any more?”
Vincent was intelligent, inquisitive and incredibly good-looking (even for a Stringer). With an infectiously inimitable giggle, he was the second grandchild on both sides, a nephew to five and Theo’s only little brother. He was Mommy’s little pumpkin and Daddy’s good baby boy, born on Mother’s Day 2009. Back then it was all figured out: Theo and Vincent would be the picture-perfect all-American brothers spaced two years apart complete with Chinese middle names and a Van Gogh connection.
They were supposed to grow up side by side, looking cute together in Facebook photo galleries for years to come. They were supposed to get back-to-back appointments for haircuts and dental checkups. They were supposed to ride bikes and build sand castles together. They were supposed to irritate each other on family road trips and vie for bragging rights during games of one-on-one in the driveway. They were supposed to give each other advice about girls and be best men at each other’s wedding.
But today we lost our precious Vinny. He represented 25% of our family census but it feels like 99% of me has died with him. There are no words for how much I’m going to miss him. You can’t hug a scrapbook or teach a slideshow to play catch.