The Brave Family of Zopher
Reflections on property, loss, and the kindness of strangers when you need it most
Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,
When my daughter’s hamsters died, we buried them along a path in a public park just on the outside of our fence, so that we might return to their gravesites even after we sold the house. The grave markers – little signs made by Geneva herself – were positioned on our side of the fence. People visiting our home back then would conclude (correctly) that we were not accomplished gardeners, for no herbs grew under the tiny placards named for “Parsley” and “Sage.”
No such placards mark the back yard graves of two of my childhood animals: “Hubcap” and “Boxhead.” Hubcap was a wounded juvenile squirrel that lived briefly in an open box in my basement bedroom. Boxhead was a box turtle that we “rescued” from the middle of Reservoir Road in Beavertown, Pennsylvania. My proficiency raising unusual pets in the 1970s was about equal to my gardening prowess.
That said, when back in DC, I return to 2454 Tunlaw Road to gaze upon the house where I lived from age 1 to 22. I also venture to the back alley to pay my respects to the final resting place of Boxhead and Hubcap, knowing that I was the only person who was present for both their funerals. I loved that house, for, quoting Philip Larkin, I found it was a home “proper to grow wise in, / If only that so many dead lie round.”
I knew the turtle and the squirrel for such a short time that my repeated remembrances of them can be attributed to a poet’s sentimentality. By contrast, today I am thinking of the back yard of a friend of mine who has suffered an incalculable loss, one that likely shades her every interaction and reflection.
Because of my wife’s board position with the Smith-Lemli-Opitz Foundation, we have become friends with many parents of children with the rare syndrome that challenges the life of our son Jukie. While Jukie is physically healthy, we know from the shared stories of our friends that the Syndrome has taken the lives of many in our SLO community.
Our friends Bonny and Shane once had a beautiful son named Zopher. Born with developmental and metabolic challenges and a silly sense of humor, Zopher smiled, and laughed, and loved his parents like crazy. Shane and his father built a beautiful garden in their large back yard for Zopher to explore, to delight in, and to enjoy the company of his parents and their visitors.
Children born after a miscarriage or death of a child are called “rainbow babies.” As I write this, I am reminded that each of our three children is a rainbow baby, and this makes Kate and me all the more thankful for them. From their earliest days all the way to this morning, we see each moment as a treasure.
Years after Zopher’s death from Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome, Bonny and Shane told stories to their own rainbow baby, an angelic curly-haired daughter named Wren, now age two. In their home, Wren has seen pictures and video of Zopher, and in response she smiles at the infectious smile of a brother she will never meet in person.
When it came time to sell their house, Bonny and Shane told the new owners about Zopher, about the difficulty of leaving a property that is home to all their favorite Zopher memories, and about the garden that had been built for him to enjoy for many more years than he got to experience. The deed for the property would pass from one family to another, and that would be a necessary loss, but the thought of losing the place of those precious few memories was almost too much to bear. When it comes to my favorite memories of places I have spent with friends, I am reminded of what the Confucian philosopher Mencius said: “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the least.”
As they prepared to say goodbye to their home with Zopher, Bonny and Shane recognized the wisdom of these words about “the spirits of the land,” and, as they soon found out, so did the new owners. As you can see in the photograph above, a new bench was erected in the garden where Zopher used to play, and on it the new owners of the garden had placed a plaque.
It reads, “Rest and Enjoy Zopher’s Garden. You made them Brave.”
May Zopher’s memory be a blessing to his family and to all who knew him.
If you would like to make a donation to the Smith-Lemli-Opitz Foundation to support medical research into this rare syndrome, do so knowing that none of the leadership or board members are paid for their work on behalf of the affected children and families. I would be moved if you were to make your donation in honor of our son Jukie, or in memory of Zopher (10/06/2015—02/06/18).
P.S. Here are three questions from a 2018 Pub Quiz:
Four for Four. Which two of the following four of the best-selling authors of all time was or is a parent to twins? Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, William Shakespeare, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Voting Trends in Yolo County, California. What was the last year in which the Republican candidate for U.S. President earned more votes than the Democrat candidate in Yolo County? Was it 2016, 1992, 1976, or 1952?
Pop Culture – Music. Aretha Franklin’s first number one hit was originally an Otis Redding track. Name this song that won Aretha her first two Grammy Awards.
P.P.S. “You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau