David Alfred Stocker, pictured here with his mother and his big brother, Robert Nathan, was the second child of our parents, Mary Lou (Mary Louisa) Taylor Stocker and Bob (Robert Henry, Jr.) Stocker. He was born June 2, 1949, and he died of spinal meningitis at the age of seven months on January 24, 1950.
Our parents were private about their grieving for their son, speaking of him seldom, though with obvious pain, regret, and sadness should the occasion arise. As their recollections would have been the best descriptors of David’s personality and also the trauma of his death, we have little to contribute to fill out this chapter of our family’s life. Robert Nathan was only four when David was born, five when David died. He still possesses some notes our mother wrote to him while she was in the hospital for David’s birth. He remembers liking to play with David, and he remembers being sad and angry when David died.
As very small children, both Eric and I remember opening up the hope chest in the hallway of the Canton house and rifling through its contents. Independently of each other, we found David’s little teddy bear sequestered there, and, with great excitement, ran to show it to our mother. That was how we found out we had an older brother we never knew. (Decades later, we placed that same little bear in our mother’s coffin when she died.)
Other fragments of memory flitter in based on conversations with our parents over the years. We think David had black hair. With two blue-eyed parents, he also had blue eyes, by definition. He was reportedly an even-tempered and easy baby, or at least we have some vague memory of him being described so.
When David took sick, he was hospitalized – we think at Children’s Hospital in Boston – where he died shortly after. He was treated with massive doses of penicillin, the only drug available for such treatment at the time, even though it was largely (and, in David’s case, obviously and completely) ineffective in combating meningitis. David’s funeral service was at the Abington MA Universalist Church, conducted by the Rev. Francis (Frank) Anderson.
Mary Lou expressed her grieving in this poem written about nine months after David died:
Banded, Mary Lou Stocker October 1950 I watch his struggle in the narrow cage As if his wildness can outwit those bars Unyielding still despite the tiny scars From other frantic claws and winged rage; Then comes the keeper with the charted page Of feathered journeys to the southern stars. He bands the bird and frees it, yet he mars The untouched beauty of its pilgrimage. For now the bird must learn to fly again, With added weight to balance by its wings And carry till it seems a part of him. Just as the grief of loved ones lost must pain Until the heart adjusts itself and brings Its quest for good up to life’s farthest rim.
I have occasionally shared that poem with bereaved parishioners during my years serving as a Unitarian Universalist minister. I have witnessed the poem bring comfort, as the bereaved see themselves reflected in its images and message. They feel seen and understood when they read my mother’s words. So, although many of the actual details of David’s life and death are lost to us at this great remove of time, perhaps there is solace knowing our family’s experience has, in some small way, contributed to the comfort and meaning-making for others who face tragic loss.
– Sylvia Stocker