by Zoe Curylo
Nicholas Che Dehr was born on May 24, 1992. Nicholas Che Dehr died on September 24, 1992 just one day sort of his fourth month of life. Nicholas was my brother’s first son, my first nephew, my mother’s first grandchild. His mother put a healthy, happy infant to bed one night and in the morning he was dead from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Sorrow, like a beast with fiery breath, tore through our family. With every turn of its head something dear to me ignited and was turned to ash. My brother’s marriage ended, his wife became ill with anorexia, a cascade of painful migraines struck my mother, and I was left with a loss that singed my heart.
After Nicholas was formally buried in California, our family in Canada decided to have a memorial service of our own in an attempt to ease the loss we felt. My brother’s friends, my mother and I gathered all the shovels we could find and went to one of Vancouver’s many quiet beaches.
The tide was very low that afternoon, and we walked out to the edge of the water and on the soft tidal wash we began to build a very large sand castle. Strangers came by and asked what we were doing. They joined us, and soon a mote was fabricated around the sand castle. As more people joined us, we began to write words on the wet sand: “Nicholas Goodbye.” “You were loved.” “Nicholas have a wonderful flight.” “Give my love to my grandmother Nicholas.” “We will always love you.” Several children joined us and added seashells and smooth rocks to the castle walls.
When it was completed, we stood in silence in a large circle around the sand castle holding hands with friends, and family and strangers. My mother thanked Nicholas for his brief visit. I wished him blessings and peace. When a little girl nobody knew said “You won’t need to learn arithmetic Nicholas,” tears of sorrow fell on smiling cheeks.
We went home and left the castle and the mote, and the words, and the seashells and smooth rocks to the tide. And, as the tide claimed them, it seemed to extinguish the fiery breath and our family began to heal.
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