Last Spring (2016), my wife Natalie and I were overcome with joy when we found out that we would be bringing our second child into this world. Our first son Geno was going to be a big brother. It was perfect. We always talked of having kids somewhat close together so that they would be close to each other, maybe compete in the same activities or have the same friends. We were even more overjoyed when we found out it was a boy (although I’m sure Natalie was envisioning the destruction that can come with having two boys running around the house). Brothers together, getting in trouble together, sticking up for one another, all the good stuff (and bad) that comes with a sibling so close in age.
The pregnancy was going amazingly well. I say this because when Natalie was pregnant with Geno, it was a train wreck. Swelling, pain, tiredness, nausea, you name it, she felt it. But her pregnancy with this child was a piece of cake compared to the first one. We had reached the final two weeks without a hitch. On Friday October 7th, we went to the University of Pennsylvania for her weekly check-up and everything was fine. We even brought Geno to the Camden Aquarium prior to the visit to make a day out of it.
Thursday October 13th rolled around. It was a normal Thursday. I came home for lunch like I normally do. Natalie had a check-up appointment, so no one was home. I got in my car to head back to work until 1:43 PM. 1:43PM, the moment our world was changed forever. My phone rang, and I answered the way I normally do… “Hello beautiful”. Except all I heard on the other side were tears. “We lost the baby,” Natalie replied. It was surreal. It was not possible, at least in my head. A feeling of nausea, terror, heartbreak, and helplessness came over me. And like most idiot husbands, my first question was a stupid one… “Are you sure?”, as if the doctors didn’t know what they were doing. It was at that point Natalie told me the doctors could not find our son’s heartbeat. I drove like a maniac through Delco and Philly and finally made it to the hospital. I was a mess, but I knew I had to be strong for the one person this would affect most… Natalie. As I walked into the room, she burst into tears, and I just couldn’t hold back. As I said earlier, our world had been rocked. My brain could not comprehend how this could happen, so much so that I wasn’t going to believe it until I saw my son for myself. I was so caught up in all of this that I didn’t realize the worst part was still to come. Natalie still had to deliver our son. She had to give birth to him knowing that he would not be coming home with us. How cruel of a world do we live in that someone, anyone, has to go through with something as horrible and haunting as this?!?!
It was an eerie feeling being there. Somber faces, people feeling sorry for you, being overly sensitive and empathetic. It’s a delivery room. There’s supposed to be smiles, screams of new life, and happy tears in the eyes of parents. But not here. Not in our room. On Thursday, October 14th, 2016, at 6:58am, our son was born. It was as if someone slipped earplugs into my ears. The room was silent. The doctors were quiet. The nurses didn’t say a word. Our son was pulled out, placed on a table, weighed and measured, and wrapped in a blanket. Not a sound. I remember standing over the scale, just staring, and hoping. One breath. PLEASE!!! Just one breath. A cry. ANYTHING!!!
A silence that will be etched in my memory forever. As if all my senses dulled. All except sight, and it was a sight I wish upon no one. But although it is cruel and heinous to have to see your child lying there, lifeless… he was perfect.
The nurse wrapped him up in a blanket. She walked him over to Natalie. And the tears flowed. I embraced the 2 of them, trying with everything I had to be her rock, her support, and her protector. A piece of me felt like I had failed. And I then I broke down. It felt as if my insides were trying to climb out of my throat. We cried together, holding him, kissing him, hugging him. Everything the doctors had said, that he may not look like we’d expect, or his head may be elongated and slightly deformed… they were wrong. He was beautiful. He was perfect. He was our son. He IS our son. It was at that moment that I suggested to Natalie his name. The one name that suits him best. The one name that will signify his apparent purpose for being conceived, and nurtured, and delivered.
Angelo. The Italian masculine given name meaning “angel” or “messenger”. We know he’s an angel. What his message is is still unclear to me. And today, 6 months from when he was born, I do not feel any closer to finding the answer to that question. I’ve never dealt with such grief. I’ve never felt such a stinging pain. I can only describe it as being similar to what amputees describe; as if a part of me was removed, but I still feel like it’s there. Maybe that’s because he is still here, even though he was taken from us.
He was cremated on the 19th. We had a small service, just us and our parents. They wheeled him out on a gurney, wrapped up and bundled. He looked as snug as a bug in a rug. He looked perfect. The way I will always remember him. The way I want to remember him. At peace. The night before I wrote him this letter from Natalie and myself, and read it at his viewing:
To Our Son,
Your name is Angelo. You were born October 14th, 2016 @ 6:58am. I am your dad and this is your mom. We are your parents, and we love you with all of our hearts. You have a big brother. His name is Geno, and he wants to be the best big brother. You have a big strong family, with the best, loving, and caring grandparents, the coolest aunts and uncles, and cousins like best friends. Prior to your birth, you brought us hope and joy for 38 weeks, and 5 days.
Your name is Angelo. It means angel. You were taken from us as part of God’s plan. We may never know what that plan is, or why God chose it, but for whatever reason, we will not be taking you home with us.
Your name is Angelo. Your story will read that you were born on October 14th, 2016 @ 6:58am our son, and that you died October 14th, 2016 @ 6:58am. It’s a tragic story. An unfair story. And while we won’t physically be taking you home, we can find some peace and comfort knowing that God blessed us with an angel, and that you will always be with us, everywhere we go.
Your name is Angelo. You were our son. You are now our Guardian Angel. We love you so much, and we want you to know, you will never be forgotten.
We had him cremated. Our plan is to build a memorial garden to honor him and remember him, though he will never be forgotten. I kiss his picture every night. We have our bad days. Random moments of emotional breakdowns are not out of the norm. I’m told it’s expected. Having Geno helps. He just turned 2 in January, so he keeps our minds busy. I sometimes wonder if he kept us too busy. We talked a few times about how maybe we didn’t get a chance to fully grieve. Thankfully he’s too young to know what was and is going on. We’ll explain it to him someday, how he has a brother, and even though he’s not physically here with us, he is watching over us, and how he can’t wait to meet him someday. As for me and Natalie, we’re ok. You’re never really good after going through something like this, at least not for a while. But we lean on each other, give each other room to grieve, a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to vent to. We plan on having another child sometime soon, too. And we’re going through life now knowing that we have a Guardian Angel looking over us.
The Gerace Family – Phil, Natalie, Geno, and our Guardian Angel, Angelo