I feel like I've been cast under a dark and fuzzy haze over the past week with shadows and bursts of soft and gloomy light pulsing in and out of focus all around me. The untimely passing of my nephew, Francisco Kitiona Marcelo, has been a heartbreaking ordeal. My family and I are still reeling in its aftermath. I wanted to take the time to tell my nephew's story, as seen from the perspective of a loving uncle. I do this now to preserve my own sweet memories of him and to honor his life . . .
This story, as it relates to me, began back in September. I was getting ready to leave town to do a show in Charlotte, NC one night when my younger sister Lloyda called. After a bit of small talk, she confided in me that she was pregnant. I was surprised and actually a little excited by the news though I honestly was concerned about the struggles that come with impending motherhood. I left it to her to tell the rest of the family in her own time while I bit my lip and shared her growing secret with no one.
According to the math, the baby was to be born some time in April of 2010. I was relieved to have plenty of time to prepare for this new addition. I was looking forward to a baby shower and finding all kinds of baby clothes once we knew the gender. (I LOVE shopping for little babies. Ugh. It just kills me how cute their clothes are!)
These plans, as it happens, were hugely altered when my sister suddenly and unexpectedly gave birth early--on a Saturday morning, October 24, to be exact. I remember this day so vividly. I got the call from my older sister Leth early that morning that Lloyda gave birth. I rushed to pick up my brother-in-law Danny and went straight to the hospital.
Lloyda was at the Centennial Women's Hospital in the West End area of downtown Nashville. I walked through the first floor lobby and passed by the little glass gift shop full of newborn balloons and tchotchkes of all kinds. Ordinarily I would have stopped for a minute and bought some cute baby stuff, but I was too worried about the fact that the baby was born WAY too early.
When Danny and I finally made it to Lloyda's room, I looked straight at her face, and I saw exactly what I was expecting. She had this glow about her. The kind of glow I've only seen on women who have just given birth. She had the face of a new mom, and I was so happy for her.
We all sat together (myself, my two sisters, Danny, and our dear friend Maria), and posted messages on Facebook announcing the birth of the baby, smiling all the while.
Not too long ago, I was nine-years-old when Lloyda came into our family's life. I was old enough to hold her when she was a baby. I changed her diapers and adored her like everyone else did. I was as happy to be an older brother as I was happy to be an uncle.
The baby was a boy who would be named Francisco Kitiona Marcelo--named after a close friend of Lloyda's and our wonderful brother-in-law Danny).
On that same day, we would all head up to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to see him for the first time. My older sister led me in to the secured area where they keep all the pre-mature babies. I had to wash my hands for three full minutes and put on a snazzy little hospital robe over my clothes. We walked to the end of the room, and there he was--with what looked like a gazzillion tubes plugged into him. He was SO TINY!!! I had never seen an actual premie baby in person until that moment. He looked so delicate and frail. (In fact, my first impulse was to look the attending nurse straight in the eye and say, "If anything happens to him, I swear to God I'll kick your ass!!" But then, I thought "Calm down Asian, it's gonna fine.")
He was encased in a glass incubator-thingy-majigy--as I prefer to call it. As I stood there looking at him for the first time, I vowed to him that I would be there to cheer him on and help him get better. I've always believed that you could manifest great things just by imagining and thinking them. I tried to imagine a slightly older version of this tiny baby--a cute, fat, and plump little boy running in a wide open field. He'd be playing football with his cousins and figuring out how to hold his own against them. (His cousins are an assertive, formidable brood. He'd grow tough and strong just like them.) I imagined his laughter and a face that looked just like his Mom's.
As the days wore on, the worrying turned into joy. I took my Mom, his grandmother, to see him in the NICU. She fussed with the glass incubator-thingy-majigy and basically interrogated the attending nurse about EVERYTHING. It was pretty funny actually. My Mom is not someone anyone should ever mess with. I think the nurse sighed with relief when we left.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, I went by myself to visit him again. I just had a blast performing a couple of songs on the radio a few blocks away, and I went straight to the NICU with my happy little self. Up to that point, I still hadn't visited the little glass gift shop in the lobby, and in my rush to see him, I forgot to go there again. I did my 3-minute scrub, and then hovered over him yet again. He was laying on his side. For several moments, he opened his eyes and stared right at me. He gave me this glaring look that said "Why you all up in my grill!!". I gave him back a stare that said "That's right!! I'ma be all up in your grill!!! Better get used to it!". Yeah, this went on for awhile. For a small second, I reached in and touched his hand. It was the softest skin I had ever felt.
Looking back, I wish I had stayed a little longer. I didn't know then that he would pass away two days later.
On the day he died, I responded to a text from my older sister Leth that said "Call Me 911". I called her right back. All she had to say was "He's gone.", and I knew. I heard the sound of my sister Lloyda weeping uncontrollably through the phone, and I could feel the tears well up in my eyes. At that point, I had dissolved into a blithering mess. I went straight to the hospital. I passed by that little glass gift shop and resisted every tearful urge to walk in.
We spent that whole afternoon holding his little body and trying to say goodbye . . .
A few days later, there were a couple of items that needed to be picked up from the NICU--a disc full of halloween photos of the baby that the nurses took, his little ankle band, and the stat sheet that identified him on the glass incubator-thingy-majigy. I went to get all of this stuff, but on my way out, I decided to make one more stop.
The gift shop in the hospital lobby was a small room with walls of glass. Inside, it held a whole universe of little gifts and possibilities. I walked in to behold all of these treasures. I scoured the walls to finally find my nephew the perfect gift--a little bear he could have with him in his resting place. (Because really, every kid should have a little bear or stuffed animal of some sort. I was determined to give him one.) Luckily I found one hanging on a display. It was fluffy and white, and it had a blue sweater on that said "Baby Boy". I bought one for Baby Kit and one for my sister Lloyda. I held these bears in my hand, along with every hope, every dream, and every possibillity that I had for my nephew. I stepped out of the glass and out into the world. I felt like I was holding him and his spirit and letting him go out into a place where nothing would confine him anymore. Somewhere wide, open, and carefee.
As it turned out on the day of the funeral, the casket came with a little bear of its own. It was sitting with Baby Kit when I got there. When I saw this, I said to myself, "Aww, helll NO!!!!". I promptly removed this evil bear and replaced it with the one I got him. My sister gave him a light-blue-colored baby blanket that she knitted. My mom gave him a rosary that she got from her Mom. We all gave him kisses goodbye before the memorial service began.
The memorial service and funeral went very smoothly. My sister Lloyda proudly spoke about her son. My nephew Tyler read a poem and my other nephew Bubba read a bible verse. My brother-in-law Danny gave the eulogy. My sister Leth made this amazing slide show for the service, and several family members and friends shared this day with us. I sang a song and played my keyboard. It was a lullaby called "While You Sleep" that I wrote years ago. I was so proud to sing for him that day.
The kind folks at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home were just so amazing with us. I am grateful to their entire staff for making this whole experpience more bearable, and even quite special actually. I am also thankful to all of the folks who were able to donate towards paying for the funeral.
The day of my nephew's burial was beautiful--a fresh fall November day. I could have taken off my coat and still felt nice and cool. The sky was a clear, dark blue, and the sun was shining bright. A whole family gathered around one sweet and precious gift that day. He was the best gift our family ever could have gotten.
My family and I stand by my sister Lloyda now as we try to move on.
I''ll stand by my nephew always. Cheering him on, just outside the glass, but now in a wide, open, carefree place . . .
I'm so sorry for your loss. I can't even imagine what you must be going through right now. I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.
Don, you were always such an insightful, caring young man. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I cannot tell you how many tears I have cried for your nephew, Lloyda's baby that I never even got to meet. I know as a mom that the very idea of losing one of my children is heartbreaking, and my heart goes out to you all. The strength you all will find in one another will help pull you through and know that I am always here routing you guys on. I know that you will all carry him in your hearts and preserving his memory in this way for the rest of us is a blessing. He may have been on this earth for a short time, but he touched so many lives. I love you guys and am with you in every way that is important.
Gordo OMG! that is so pretiful Im so glad you wrote such a beautiful story that someday will be shared with family to come. YOU are a great uncle..
Gordon, again, I can't express my heartache for your loss! Just having given birth myself, I could not control the tears reading this!
I wish I could hug your entire family, but I know it won't make up for the pain of having this little one taken so early. I am sure that the days he was here were so treasured!!!!
Beautifully expressed, but I wouldn't expect less from you.
It's been a crazy weekend folks. I spent Friday night at Nashville's Belcourt Theater helping a friend perform at a burlesque show. I actually spent most of the time backstage knitting. Most of Saturday was taken up with helping another friend get her house ready for a Halloween party. I was in charge of decorating, and I used mannequin parts and red x-mas lights to decorate the main dance room. I'll have photos soon. It was pretty wicked. The big event of the weekend was when I my younger sister Lloyda gave birth to a baby boy at Centennial Hospital here in Nashville, TN. He actually wasn't due until April, but he arrived early nonetheless. My sister is still deliberating on his name. Here he is, all 2 lbs. and 10 ounces of him (14.5 inches) . . . I got to meet him for the first time yesterday in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU). He has the tiniest hands and the tiniest feet. They're going to keep him there for 10 weeks, and I am going to visit as much as I possibly can. Aside from being born pre-maturely, he's pretty healthy otherwise. I wish I could blog more, but I am off to the hospital for another visit!! More soon. -g
Tonight my parents are celebrating with a glass or two of wine.
Integration went very well. Everyone was happy with the development, and we got answers to some questions we had about the kid's sleep patterns and other habits. Among other things, they told us that his trouble sleeping the first night (and also now and then in the last couple of nights) may be at least in part because he is used to a much warmer climate. In the town he is from, the temperature usually lies around 38 to 40 degrees!
Near the end of the interview my father showed the ICBF people photos from our five days together, and then they asked us if we had had enough time to make up our mind about whether we want to keep the boy or not.
My parents started laughing. The question seemed so absurd. "There's no way you're getting him back now!" my mother said with a big smile, and everybody laughed.