Walker Myrick wanted to tell his twin brother all about his first day of kindergarten. “I want to see Willis,” he told his mom.
They parked at the cemetery in Greenhill, Alabama, and Walker ran ahead while Brooke Myrick was still unstrapping her youngest son from his car seat.
“All I had with me was my iPhone. I wasn’t anticipating taking a photograph,” Brooke said. “But when I walked up and saw him like that, it was just one of those moments where you think: ‘This is really special.’”
Walker, who was 5 years old at the time, was sitting with his back against Willis’ gravestone with his head bowed.
“He just wanted to sit there and, I think, feel that connection,” Brooke said. “He told us that he just wanted to tell his brother about school.”
After spending a couple minutes of privacy with his twin, Walker “was all smiles,” said Brooke.
These moments between Walker and Willis are not uncommon for the family.
When Brooke was 24 weeks pregnant, doctors found a problem. She had developed a condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, or TTTS. This rare disease only occurs in identical twins and prevents the fetuses from receiving an equal amount of nutrients. Often one baby dies from starvation; sometimes both.
Doctors told Brooke and her husband, Michael, that it had been at least a week since Willis passed away, but they weren’t sure when exactly it happened.
“That was the thing with being pregnant with twins—I was still feeling movement, so I didn’t know that I had lost a baby,” Brooke said.
The syndrome is not hereditary or genetic, nor is it caused by any sort of negligence. It could happen to anyone.
Brooke had to stay strong until Walker’s delivery eight weeks later, but she was physically and mentally exhausted by the news. She wasn’t able to visit Willis’ body at the Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children until two days after the delivery.
“I just wanted to see my baby,” she said.
“Even [when Walker was] an infant I would always talk to him about Willis and he would smile,” Brooke said. “At 1 or 2 years old, he would run up to the grave. We would say, ‘That’s your brother. That’s where your twin brother is.’ Because I always wanted him to know where he was going. I always wanted him to know that was an open area of his life and not to grow up ever thinking, ‘I can’t talk about my brother.’”
One day Walker asked if the family could hold a fundraiser walk. Brooke sort of brushed it off.
“Then he said, ‘I want to do it for my birthday.’ So of course I couldn’t say no. He was like, ‘I want to raise some money for my brother.’”
That’s when the family created the Walker and Willis Birthday Walk. Each year the event raises $2,500, which is donated to the TTTS Foundation.
“It’s probably about a mile and a half, and Walker talks to everybody,” Brooke said. “He laughs. He talks about his brother. It is a very healthy thing.”
Walker, now 9, has what his mother calls a special connection with Willis.
“If something good happens—like when he won the spelling bee a few weeks ago—he’ll always say, ‘I talked to Willis.’ Or sometimes he will say, ‘I had a dream about Willis.’ He says that he feels really close with him when he does.”