Archive for December, 2016

Bannon’s Smile

December 18, 2016

bannonBannon and Susie – my nephew and my sister.

Hello – My name is Michael Bannon Smith and I’m one of Bannon’s uncles.

I remember when he was born proudly thinking he was named for me. It didn’t occur to me – as a self absorbed twenty something – that we really just shared a family name. We are not that tight family – that one spends every holiday with each other and vacations together; we’re Irish, not Italian. But what a family.

Bannon is my sister Susie’s son and I know him mostly through her – from her stories and many of these pictures – so I know him as a little kid with amazing outfits and curly blond hair, as a high school jazz hipster yearbook model and as a ready, steady dad behind, under or near Ella and Ronan.

In every picture, at every age, one thing always stood out – Bannon’s eyes. There is a depth to them. His are proof that those cliched deep pools from romance novels really exist. I’m sure Bannon would hate that idea. I can see him quietly taking in the action at some family function and then the corners of his eyes turn up as he catches something that he finds funny. That smile not only takes over his face, but the faces of those around him.

So when my sister called to say Bannon was in an accident, it was those pictures that came to mind as I’m texting my kids to tell we are heading to the hospital. On my way from Worcester to Boston so many things are going through my head:

– that day Bannon walked through the door of Tate’s to join Susie for her birthday. It had been a while – too long – but talk about a smile taking over a room – On both their faces! I’m so happy Susie got that day.

– that my son, Zach, got to hang out with his cousin. That they got to run together… Bannon could easily beat Zach and somehow that makes me smile. I suggested to Zach that maybe they should run with their saxophones and stop to play from time to time – thinking it would appeal to their mutual appreciation of the absurd.

We found our way to the hospital. Zach had gotten there before us and texted directions out to various family members – a small thing on the face of it, but so important to have one less thing to think about when there is a lot to think about. Susie. Steve. Amy. Carroll. Family.

Just in case you are unaware, some families have some pretty deep rifts and grudges. I mentioned we’re Irish, right? – We weren’t just walking into Beth Israel, we were taking an elevator up five flights to a floor soon to be filled with unresolved past transgressions.

Stepping off the elevator though it’s all a blur. I solemnly shake Jeffrey’s hand – hug Hilary – get the lowdown from Zach – find out no one actually got ahold of my brother, Peter… and Bannon is just on the other side of the doors to the trauma unit with his nurses quietly going about their job.

And that’s what we began to do, too, as a family; our job consoling each other, sharing updates, getting donuts, giving hugs, swapping stories – we all show off our licenses, confirming our status as organ donors – everyone begins to do what needs to be done.

Life has a way of sometimes keeping us apart while death sometimes pulls us all together. I put an arm around Steve, a coat over Susie, made sure I checked in with Amy. I saw Carroll and Kate quietly confer with a doctor and, when the reality of it all overwhelmed us, I saw the staff feel it, too, and they shared small boxes of Kleenex and large boxes of coffee.

I commented to a nurse that one of the staff looked remarkably like Bannon. To prove it, I pulled up some pictures on my phone and, in the process, I ran across some pictures from Ireland, the Aran Islands specifically, and she told me her daughter was named for a priest from there. She was from near Galway – Oh, my niece Hilary just spent a semester there… And my Dad’s family is from Tuam – I think she said she had family there… Small world stuff. We made a connection. We shared stories, I found some pictures – Zoe and Mikee’s wedding – and she saw the resemblance. She told me they liked to know what their patients looked like before… She said it could be worse – I can’t imagine, but I think I knew what she meant…

I watched my daughter, Addy, a nursing student check monitors and gently wipe Bannon’s mouth. Later, I saw my wife head back to Boston to spend the night with him. She brought her knitting and read him the texts from all of us trying to make plans. I called my sister. I messaged Hilary and Amy.

Back at school – I’m a middle school teacher – I told each of my classes why they need to wear their helmets. I told them about Bannon. I told them I wore mine because my wife makes me, but now I have a better reason – no one should ever feel like this. Middle schoolers are better people than they get credit for – the next day some left cards on my desk and a few even handed them directly to me – I wish I could say the same for their homework…  and some must have told their parents because I received a few emails from them.

One in particular stood out; from a family who had lost their son, Josh,  to a soccer ball in the chest, stopping his heart. Since that horrific accident, I’ve had two of Josh’s siblings in class so the parents and I have shared emails before, but this was different – not only was it from a different address, but it was from a different place – a much more private place. Theirs was not a polite condolence; theirs was a heart-felt “we really know how much this hurts and truly we’re sorry that you have to feel it.” They understood that we now share a very personal connection.

I can’t make sense of this. I have tried to console myself with the measure of all of our sorrow being countered by the joy of all the families reprieved from their own sorrow by Bannon’s organs. That isn’t much consolation to me yet, but I know it will come. I see all these amazing pictures of Bannon and hear the stories and his music – I see what a rich life he led –  and I go back to his eyes looking around a room and smiling… Maybe it was life as jazz and the smile was his solo.

I think of all the connections and reconnections he made with so many people here – the efforts he made to hang out with his Boston based cousins, that he was making plans with Steve and Susie, that the shock of his accident made family disagreements move to the back burner so that we could pull together for each other. These things console me.

And maybe that is what the nurse meant when she said it could have been worse. She knew Bannon had family and friends that loved him, that we were there for him and for each other. In that way we are all very lucky. We all have a new, deeper connection that we all could have done without, but now that we have it we need to honor and cherish it.

I thought about how I could show that connection with Bannon today. I seriously considered wearing a cape or a pirate outfit – some people here know my penchant for costumes. But just being here with all of you makes it clear we have that connection – that because of Bannon we are all part of a special family.

So how do we all get to meet each other? My Irish Catholic upbringing reminds me about the part of Mass I disliked the most – that forced hand shake called “the sign of peace” – always made me squirm. So I’m not going to go there…

So what can we do?

Here is an idea and there is no touching required! So first think of something Bannon loved doing or something you did together. Now hold that thought – put on your best poker face. Look around the room, lock eyes with somebody – anybody – and realize they too have an awesome Bannon moment! – OK, now look at somebody else… You’re not looking! Look! Are you trying to guess the story? You know you are – and they’re trying to guess your’s too, right? Whatever they’re thinking you know it was a good time. And you start to smile… It starts with the eyes – you can’t help it when see all the stories waiting to be told, stories that we are all the better for, that connect us to Bannon. Now later today, find the people you stared down and tell that tale; then maybe shake their hand or share a hug.

And welcome to the family…