Have you ever had the experience of learning that someone whom you first met when that person was a baby is now dead? That is happening to me right now.

My late aunt, who was also my mom’s older sister, was a stay at home mother of four girls. When her youngest daughter started elementary school, her home was pretty quiet during the school week. She decided to earn extra money by taking care of other people’s young children in her home during the week. Most of the kids she babysat were between the ages of 2-5 and they only stayed with her anywhere from a few months to about a year or two until they either started elementary school or their parents moved elsewhere. So she had frequent turnover of kids.

Then she started to take care of three young brothers. The oldest had just started elementary school while the youngest, Ben, was just a baby (he might have been at least six months old) at the time. I think the boys’ mother wanted to go back to work after being a stay at home mom for the last several years so that was why my aunt started to care for them.

I think there may have been marital tensions between the parents as well but I don’t have all the details. (I was a kid myself when all this was going on.) I remember that Ben’s father shot himself to death soon after my aunt started to care for the brothers. I still remember when my aunt called my mom telling her about the distressing news. Ben’s mother ended up becoming a single parent and she frequently leaned on my aunt to help out with the childcare, especially if the mother had to go on some errand without having any of the kids in tow. I heard that the two older brothers were deeply affected by their father’s death. Ben was the least affected because he was so young when his father died so he grew up without ever knowing him.

Eventually my aunt stopped caring for Ben’s older brothers when they started middle school so it was just her and Ben at home during the weekday afternoon (when Ben’s school closed for the day) for a few years. Occasionally there were periods when they would be joined by another preschool child whom my aunt happened to babysit at the time. But the rest of the time it was just my aunt and Ben.

I used to sometimes see Ben when I visited my aunt and uncle with my parents. Sometimes his brothers would be there as well but there were times when Ben was the only one there because his brothers and their mother were elsewhere. I remember Ben being this really cute little kid with the big impish grin. He always had this mischievous look about him. As he learned to talk he started to call my uncle “Dad” (he saw my uncle as a father figure since his own father was gone) while he called my aunt “Mom Lipp” to distinguish her from his own mother (Lipp was my aunt’s last name). My cousins used to dote over Ben as the baby brother they never had.

My aunt stopped taking care of Ben when he entered middle school. She would continue to see him at church (his family attended the same Roman Catholic parish that my aunt, uncle, and cousins attended) and he would come by the house to visit every now and then (whenever he wasn’t busy with homework and after-school activities) so he still kept in touch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I think my aunt may have cared for a few more kids after Ben (I don’t remember) but she had to stop offering her child care services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer was in remission when my oldest cousin got married. Ben served as the altar boy at my cousin’s wedding. My aunt’s cancer returned not long after the wedding and she died at the age of 48. I saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral. I think he was in high school by then. It was the last time I saw Ben in person.

Today I learned on Facebook that Ben is dead. One of my cousins had posted a picture on Facebook of her, her three sisters, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I also learned on Facebook that Ben took his own life just like his father did. I don’t know why Ben felt the need to do what he did nor do I know if he actually sought any kind of professional help before he killed himself.

I just feel so weirded out that someone whom I met as a baby and saw from time to time as he grew up is now dead. I’m older than Ben and I’m still alive. Given the natural order of things, I should be the one who dies before Ben but, instead, it’s the opposite. Ben is dead and I’m alive. I just feel so numb about all this (and the fact that it’s cold and rainy outside today isn’t helping).

Last year I wrote about an impromptu memorial that sprang up in my area at the site where a man who committed suicide. At the time I wrote this:

The only lesson I can provide is this: Is there anyone in your life whom you haven’t communicated with in a while? Please take the time to either call, e-mail, or text that person. It doesn’t have to be something that’s too complex or involved. You could just say something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?” This could give that person a chance to admit that he/she is overwhelmed and start talking to you instead of concluding that suicide is the only option.

I also provided a link to the National Suicide Prevention Line (which can also be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255). I can’t say whether Ben would still be alive had someone reached out to him asking if he was okay or if he had contacted the National Suicide Prevention Line. Yes, I know that it’s too late to help Ben but I would urge everyone reading this to just reach out to someone whom they haven’t spoken with in a while just to see how he or she is doing.

Now I have to deal with the sad fact that someone whom I met as a baby is now dead and I’m outliving him.

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