Meet Dennis Wolf, my mom’s only maternal cousin, who was born on July 9, 1945. My mother was 13 at the time of his birth so definitely old enough to understand just how much this new baby boy meant to everyone, especially his parents. The story of his birth and the happiness it brought to everyone was constantly talked about in our family.Dennis was the only child of Aunt Frances, my grandmother’s sister, and her second husband, Henry “Bear” Wolf. Frances had lost her first husband when he passed away only a few years after their marriage – they had no children. Bear had also been married before and also lost a spouse, but being about 18 years older than Aunt Frances, had two adult sons from his first marriage. Because of the deep love and regard everyone had for him, Dennis was a constant and regular presence in our lives. Mom regularly commented on how sweet Dennis was – how loved he was. Of course she didn’t have to tell me. I heard others speaking of him in the same manner every time we visited my Aunt’s home. His photo, the one at the start of this post, was everywhere. No visit was complete without my Aunt Sophie – Frances’ sister – picking up his photo and kissing it and saying “and here is little Dennis.”
My brother and I were welcomed into the family about 20 years after Dennis was born. I wish I could share with you the times Dennis played with us when we visited. I wish I could tell you about the time he took us for ice cream or to a ball game. And I wish I could share all the fun times we had with him when we all got together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I can’t because Dennis didn’t make it past age 6. He came down with the measles, and before he could recover, he caught another illness from someone and ended up with pneumonia. Within a week of getting the measles and after five days of being treated in the hospital, he passed away. My mom always said the same thing about his death, “his little body just couldn’t fight both diseases.”Although physically gone, Dennis lives on through the expressions of love and through, what I now understand to be, sorrow. As much as the love for him brought a smile and wistful look, his loss brought sadness and tears to the eyes of every family member. And I am sure his death is one of the main reasons my mother made sure we were vaccinated as babies even scrapbooking the proof of it in our baby books. Unfortunately for me, the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was not yet available when I was a child. According to my mom, I contracted them all over the years, fortunately not all at once. The only one I remember is the mumps which due to the severity of the case I had caused my little head to swell to grotesque proportions. My experience was horrific enough that when I had my own children twenty years later, I made sure my babies were all vaccinated so they would never have to go through that. All of Dennis’ relatives are gone now except for me, my brother, and Uncle Louis – my mom’s brother. We all carry on the story of “little Dennis” and so far those of my children who have their own kids are definitely choosing to protect them by ensuring they are vaccinated. Today I decided to share the story with all of you because I fear people are forgetting the losses, the ever present sorrow, and the sadness of a life lost too soon. People no longer remember the family stories of how a sweet and loveable child who means everything to a family slips away while those who love him look on helplessly. Except today we are not helpless, and perhaps by sharing stories of #whyivax can help others understand its importance, spare the loss of loved ones before their time, and give a little boy or girl a fighting chance.