A year before I was born…

… my parents lost their eldest son because of a tragic accident. I lost an eldest brother I have never known but who has somehow always remained present in our family and whose presence even I have missed. I can’t tell you how often I have wished that I had known him and how often I wondered what it would have been like to have him as my very big brother.

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Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of his passing. We lured my mother to my sister’s house for a surprise little commemoration ceremony with most of my brothers and sisters and my aunt present. My mother had thought to commemorate with my sister as she was visiting my sister anyway but didn’t realize all family members living in The Netherlands would be there as well. She was deeply touched.

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My brother was 7 years and 9 months old when he died in Israel. My sister was 6 and was there with him when the accident happened. Friends of my parents were babysitting the kids at their house in the Old City in Jerusalem. My brother and sister were playing outside and climbing a ladder to get to the roof of the house; my sister went up first, my brother followed. My sister was quite high up when she felt the ladder shake. When she looked down she saw my brother fall to the ground and hit his head. My brother suffered a brain hemorrhage and was unconscious in hospital for 5 days before he passed away. He is buried in the village of Ein Kerem just outside Jerusalem.

Yesterday my aunt spoke of her love for her oldest nephew, whom she liked to read to (as seen in one of the pictures above) and who had been a sensitive little soul; my sister spoke of how close she had been to him, how she can still clearly remember seeing him fall and how well he could draw; my mother spoke of how talkative he was, how cherished he was and how difficult it had been to just continue on with life, taking care of a family whilst at the same time being heartbroken over the loss of her child. My mother had the family bible with her, in which she also keeps our baptism certificates, and she read out a letter that was also tucked in there that my dad had written at the time as a thank you to all who had sent condolences. I had read the letter once before but had virtually forgotten about it. I was struck by how rich and full of feeling it was, formulated in that considered way that was my father’s specialty. My 14 year old niece had drawn a lovely Van Gogh-inspired picture, she seems to be the only one to have inherited my mother’s and my oldest brother’s artistic genes. My sister read the Mourner’s Kaddish and I read Psalm 23, as had been our habit when we used to visit his grave when we lived there.

EKS1010 and a half years ago the whole family visited Israel together (I once blogged about that here) and this is a picture of my parents together with my niece at my brother’s grave.

We lived in Ein Kerem at the time and rented our (very red) house from a convent from the order of the Sisters of Sion.

You could see the convent through the trees from our back garden…

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My parents were friends with the sisters there and when my brother died they offered their cemetery as a burial place. “Don’t you need to ask permission from the mother house for a child who is not part of the convent to be buried here?” my father had asked. The mother superior at the time had apparently answered, “When we are in doubt we need to ask, but we are not in doubt, so we don’t have to ask anything.” And so my brother was buried there. It is the most beautiful, peaceful little cemetery you could imagine.

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Path to the cemetery

So there, between the nuns and a few monks, my brother has his last resting place.

He lives on in my family’s memory. Yes, even in mine, even though I never knew him. Two nephews of mine have his first name as their second name. My son has my brother’s second name (also the name of my father) as his second name. We have been told by the nuns in Ein Kerem that when visitors come to the cemetery they wonder about the little boy buried there and his story is told to those who ask. Yes, my big brother may be gone but he is never forgotten.