“Ghost Stories: We Don’t Talk About David.”

I was 4 years old when I found out that I had a brother. I found his birth certificate as I was flipping through a photo album that my mom had made. There was no photo of him – just an envelope containing a small lock of hair and, on the very next page, a death certificate.

David Alan Hudson was born on March 16th, 1977 – nearly a year and half before I came into this world. But on March 19th, 1977 – just three days later, he died.

I often wondered what he would have been like? I imagined him being tall and athletic, with brown hair and light eyes, much like our father. I imagined that he’d like basketball and football, riding bikes with me and playing “run-down”. I imagined us talking and laughing, becoming the best of friends and, as my big brother, I just knew he’d be fiercely protective of me.

I often wondered why my mom didn’t talk about him? And anytime I brought it up, my Dad or my sister would “shush” me.

“We don’t talk about David.”, they’d say.

Then Dad would add, “It will only make your mother sad.”

No one wanted Mom to be sad – so we never really talked about David.

Until one day, when we were visiting my Pap at his farm, I overheard my dad and him talking about David. I had been playing in the haystacks inside the barn but, when I overheard this conversation containing my brother’s name, I wandered out by the horses and put my arms around my Pap’s legs. He smiled at me, like he always did, and I asked him what happened to David? Why isn’t he here?

In that moment, my Pap and my Dad did not treat me like the child that I was. They did not “shush” me or shrug me off. They did not push me away or tell me to “Go play”. They spoke to me like I had seen them speak to other adults – like an equal, understanding, human being.

They told me that, in the beginning, mom’s labor with David had gone very slowly. So, after several hours, my Dad left the hospital to take his mother and my sister (who was just 14 months old at the time) home. While he was gone, mom’s contractions increased in frequency and severity. The Staff at the hospital were not very attentive and brushed off mom’s reports of pain, stating that she had several more hours before it was time to push. Unbeknownst to all, the umbilical cord was wrapped around David’s neck several times and he had become distressed. He had a bowel movement during the delivery and had aspirated meconium into his lungs. Mom ended up delivering David in a hospital room all by herself. He was blue and not breathing. She screamed for help and chaos ensued.

“We revived him! He’s alive!”

“We’ve lost him. He has died.”

“We revived him! He’s alive!”

“We’ve lost him. He has died.”

This went on for at least 4 hours, my Pap had said, before he lost his temper and screamed at the hospital workers to stop.

At this point, my Dad looked at me with the deepest sadness in his eyes. He told me that David was “alive”, but only because his heart was still beating. Further tests revealed no functional brain activity. The prognosis was poor. If he were even to survive, he would require a ventilator to continue breathing for him, his entire life. His body would grow, but his brain would never mature. He would never speak, interact, or understand. He would never taste, talk, or touch. He would need a feeding tube to eat, a catheter to pee, and diaper changes his entire life. He would never sit, stand, walk, or play. He would never even get to come home.

My Dad shook his head and rubbed his eyes, “That’s no way to live. That’s not LIFE.”

“So we told ‘em to pull the plug.”, Pap said.

“If he breathes on his own, we keep him.” Dad finished.

As I stood there, looking and back and forth between their solemn faces, I came to realize that these were two of the greatest men I had ever known. To put an end to the suffering of another human being, at the expense of breaking your own heart – if ever there is greater love than this, I simply do not know it.

“Does mom know?”, I asked.

“No.”, and their jaws tightened. “She thinks he died on his own.”

“Then we must never tell her.”, I said as I held on to each of their hands, feeling bonded by this secret between us. And we never did.

We also never talked about David, because it would “make mom sad”. Little did we know, that our “not talking about David” made her even sadder.

It wasn’t until many years later, after she and dad had died, that I came upon this entry in her journal.

*A page from my mom’s journal.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

If we only knew then, what we know right now, we’d say and do everything just a little bit different. It wouldn’t change the outcome, but it could have helped her heal.


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