Below is a piece by my friend and neighbor, Mark. He tells the story of how his son Grant and my son Austin became close friends in the time after Shawn’s death. He begins his story as Shawn is in the hospital.
Marjorie was surrounded by best friends and family, which was somewhat of a relief. We were just neighbors who mostly found each other in the adjoining alley where our kids played basketball and learned to ride bikes. The last time Marjorie and I spoke was about three weeks before the service. There still was hope that Shawn would survive. I brought meatballs and pasta for the week. After hearing about the latest set-back, I looked at her and said with all I believed to be true, “You’ve got this.” Now we were walking out of the sanctuary where the casket had laid. I wasn’t sure how to face her.
Our then 9-year old son, Grant, grabbed our hands and said, “Let’s find Austin.” We told Grant that the service would be sad; he did not need to attend. “The kids will want me there,” he said. He wasn’t concerned about what to say to them. He just knew he needed to show up.
Austin was tucked to the side of the church hall talking with one of his cousins. When he saw Grant, his entire face illuminated. Austin spoke with what seemed like such relief, and said to Grant, “There you are.” That moment started this extraordinary relationship between the two boys.
Austin would appear at our back door almost every day after school. Even if he already ate dinner, he would join us at the counter for just a “small plate.” He learned to like salmon and broccoli. Each of us talked about our day. Grant and Austin would be much more animated when together than each would be alone. Even our weekends started with Austin. Often still in pajamas, the boys would watch TV on the couch sharing one down comforter.
I don’t think either of them intended to attach to the other so intensely. But Grant gave to Austin an older brother who loved him the most. With Grant, he wasn’t the middle sibling. He was the only sibling. Grant was his.
Marjorie would often thank us for hosting Austin at our house. I think she saw how much Grant meant to Austin. It may have escaped her, but not us, how much Austin meant to Grant. He could be the protector; the mentor. Grant finally had the younger sibling he desperately wanted. They both seemed to fill a void that was only theirs to fill.
Over these past two years, Austin and Grant have grown up, but not apart. A couple days a week, Grant walks “home to Austin’s” after school. When we arrive home from a day out, Grant darts out of the car, heading straight for Austin’s. On our five-hour drive to DC from summer camp, Grant wants to know whether Austin will be home when we arrive.
Our families have merged through our children. I probably see the Brimley kids as much as Grant. And I am sure Marjorie and Grandpa Tom see Grant as much as any one of their own.
Over these past several months, Austin has started to share Grant with his younger brother, Tommy. I think he has all the confidence that Grant will always be his.
We were just neighbors who mostly found each other in the adjoining alley. But Grant showed us the way to care for this family, not only at the moment they needed us the most, but all those moments that followed. We just needed to show up.