My kids have an uncle we call “Tio Loco”. He is their dad’s brother and, also mine, despite divorce and not sharing any DNA. Harvey was born at 6:02am in Portland, OR. Loco arrived from San Francisco not much later than noon that same day. He met me at the car that evening when I returned from the NICU. He nearly had to carry me up the path and the stairs and I felt embarrassed and ashamed. But he held me tight and got me into the house.
He had come to our house straight from the airport while we were at the NICU and he’d walked into a blood bath. I can only imagine what he saw. A home is often chaotic when a baby is born there but this was even more so as we had all abandoned ship as soon as humanly possible to get to the hospital to be with the baby, born there in the bathroom with no heartbeat and no breathes taken, purple and swollen and basically dead. After the EMTs had taken the baby and my then-husband to the ER, my midwives had somehow gotten meinto the bedroom and I laid back on the bed and birthed the placenta. Blood left my body and a lot of it, spilling down the side of the bed. I don’t remember much of these moments but I do remember being worried about the stains, though none of us were able to do anything but either survive and/or their job and we were laser focused on the hospital, so little care was taken for anything else. I am sure there was stuff everywhere when he walked in: the birthing tub still full but cold, medical instruments, padding and bandages, empty dishes and cups, and God only knows what else. With the baby in the NICU and us with him, it must have felt like a crime scene.
He stayed with us. He came to the NICU with us the next day. He re-explained to me what the organ donation lady had said. He held onto his brother. He smiled down and cried over his nephew. He spoke in whispers to my dearest friends and they quietly coordinated and planned, I imagine. He drew the water for the only bath his nephew would take. The water was lukewarm at best and while I worried Harvey would be cold, he had worried that it not be too hot for him. Both of us considering the physical comfort of this brain dead baby we didn’t know what the fuck we were going to do without.
He left the room with the others after the last machine was unplugged and I wonder if they heard my screams after the baby stopped breathing, for the second and final time in his 2 day lifetime. Loco came back in. I remember him there, helping us pack up. I remember him guiding us out of the room as I took one last look at my dead baby, dressed in his little baseball onesie, a ceramic heart tied around his tiny wrist. We couldn’t bear to watch him being taken away from that little room, we were beyond exhausted, so we left the body of our only son alone. I don’t know that I will ever forgive myself for that.
Loco took us home and he stayed with us for days. He fed us, he planned (and possibly paid for) the funeral with my friends, he arranged for the new bed his mom had bought to be delivered, he brought our sons ashes home to us in a tine black tin and, I’m guessing, made all of the arrangements necessary for that to happen. Once, he left the house for one of the many errands he was doing, leavign the three of us alone for the first time. It was awful. Danny and I weren’t even one whole person combined. He lay on the couch and I sat on a table at the window catatonic while Vesta’s normal 3.5 year old needs completely overwhelmed us. I was so relieved and grateful when he returned.
He flew back to San Francisco for a day, maybe two, to retrieve his wife and baby and return for the funeral. When they all left after that and I knew he wasn’t coming back stay, I didn’t think we would make it without him.
One day, after the funeral, Danny, Loco and Vesta were in the kitchen, cooking and teasing and talking and messing around as they do when they are together. I sat on the couch on the other side of the wall, listening and trying to figure out how to breathe. They broke into song: “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”. I wanted to run into that room and scream “WE ARE NOT SINGING YET!! WE ARE NOT SINGING YET!! THERE IS NOTHING TO SING ABOUT!!” but I didn’t, thank God. Mostly because I could hardly breathe but also because I knew they were in the midst of what would be a very rare moment of joy for them in the coming months as we all began our new lives as a bereaved family.
For Harvey’s first birthday, Loco and his wife, our sister-in-law, went to the San Francisco Library to record a Story Corps about their nephew and us and them and grief and anger and fear and living on and barely surviving. It is perhaps the most beautiful gift I have ever received. One of the worst things that happens to loss parents is that people stop talking about their kid, out of either discomfort or forgetting or him just not being here anymore, so this gift, them talking about how much they loved and missed him, how his life and birth had affected and changed them, meant absolutely everything to me. I was not the only one. They felt it, too.
On his actual first birthday, Loco and his family flew up to have cake and chili with us, to stand outside in the April chill for his birthday ritual, and to hold us up, especially Danny, yet again.
A couple weeks after our marriage ended, they were up again, visiting in-laws down the road from what was now “my” house. They came over on a Sunday while I was cooking meatballs, still high from the miracle healing I had received, and I greeted them at the door with what I imagine was surprisingly warm smiles and embraces. They came in and we sat together and talked. Loco expressed to me that he was angry and sad and disappointed. It meant so much to me, that he saw me, too. That he empathized with me and felt for me and wanted to have been able to protect me or help me in some way. He and Danny have the most awesome sibling relationship ever. I was grateful that there was love and loyalty for me, too. We cried, as this iteration of family that he and I had shared since we were 22 was also changing. Although he will always be my brother, I his sister and of course, the best uncle in the history of the universe to my kids.
I was thinking about him a lot this morning, all of this stuff and missed a call from him. He had tried to go to work today but couldn’t stay. He left and was out driving the streets of his home town and he called me and I’m guessing his brother, too. That little boy. He changed us all. He brought us together in a way we never would have been without him. We all ache and long for and miss and love him, especially on these days in April. Even and especially, Tio Loco.
In the NICU on the day Harvey died, I held him in the rocker and I started to sing to him. as many of the songs I thought I’d sing everyday to him for years, I tried to sing over and over. My two best friends chimed in and we sang songs they sang to their daughters. I asked Loco, “What’s a song you sing to O at bedtime?”. Looking chagrined,he said “I don’t really know any kid songs so…I just sing America the Beautiful…” So, we all burst into a tear-eyed, smiling lips version of America the Beautiful. Our nurse/angel, Carrie, walked in at the final verse and laughed, “I wasn’t expecting that!”, she said. We all laughed together, me holding our little boy, and had a moment, however fleeting, of joy, of reprieve, of family, of humanness, thanks to my kids’ uncle, who doesn’t know one lullaby.