The circle of life

October 17, 2000

It has been an eventful month for our little family, and one that seemed much longer than usual not only because we are late in composing this month's greeting, but also because the happenings of the past few weeks have been stressful on all of us.

Shortly after the September newsletter went online we rejoiced to the news that Glenn's sister Jennifer had given birth to twin girls on the evening of Sept. 13. It was the long-anticipated conclusion to what had been a difficult and sometimes anxious nine months for Jenny and husband Tom, and what we all hoped would be the start of of many wonderful years for the entire Gehlke clan of watching the twins' childhood and gettogethers with their older cousin Benjamin.

But the delivery of Shannon Joy and Emily Susan Ferreira was not a smooth one, and it became evident in the days that followed that little Emily had suffered profound brain damage. With love and support from family and the hospital administration, Jenny and Tom made the difficult and compassionate decision to let Emily go, and for nearly two weeks we all watched with mixed emotions as the youngest of our new nieces began to slip away peacefully.

We got our first and only look at Emily on a visit to the hospital Sept. 24, taking advantage of Glenn's vacation to make the trip to Hayward on a rare Sunday. Jenny and Shannon had suffered from a bacterial infection during the delivery, so Shannon was being kept at the hospital for observation until the following Thursday. Glenn and Roni donned hospital gowns and spent some time in the neonatal intensive care unit with Jenny, Tom and Glenn's parents where we got to hold the girls and watch Shannon take her bottle. Holding Emily in our arms was a powerful experience that cannot easily be described in a few words. We felt better for having had the chance to do so, however brief.

We had explained to Benji what was happening with Emily and tried to help him process the news as only a 6-year-old can. Still, we thought perhaps it would be best if he not see Emily in her state of decline for fear that he wouldn't understand. But as Ben went to the glass patio door of the hospital suite for a glimpse of cousin Shannon, he asked to see Emily too. And so he got to briefly see his youngest cousin. He probably won't remember the moment years from now, but his parents most certainly will.

A week after our visit, on the afternoon of Sept. 30, Emily died. Glenn's mother Susan was at the hospital to provide a break for a tired Jenny and Tom when death arrived, and she was moved to be a part of the moment. We had been on a Sunday picnic to Micke Grove Park in Lodi and learned of the sad news via an answering machine message from Glenn's brother Sean. We called Jenny and Tom to share our condolences that evening.

Emily was laid to rest the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 5, at a simple funeral attended by her parents and their two families. If you have ever been to one of our family gatherings you know that there is never a shortage of cameras -- film or video -- to record the events of the day, but they were conspicuously absent during the funeral so none of it was recorded for posterity. The memories of seeing Emily's tiny casket placed in the ground and the cemetery workers filling the dirt above it will provide more lasting images for most of us.

Still, life goes on, and following the burial we returned to Glenn's parents' house for lunch and a chance to see Shannon once more before we had to return home so Glenn could go to work. Everyone was drained by what had been an unforgettable two-and-a-half weeks. We all hoped that this would be remembered as a day of new beginnings rather than merely one of mourning. For Jenny, Tom and Shannon, it was at last a chance to put hospitals and sickness and sadness behind them and to focus on the beauty and wonder of life and a new family that lies ahead. And we look forward to future family gatherings where happiness and smiles will return to lighten the mood and create new pleasant memories.

On Sept. 4, we planted a new cherry tree in Emily's name. Fittingly, the tree replaces our Stella cherry that succumbed this spring for reasons of which we are still uncertain. We hope the new tree will be with us for many years to come.

While the month of September will not be remembered as especially relaxing, we did try to get some rest during Glenn's vacation from Sept. 15 through Oct. 3. Apart from the aforementioned Lodi trip we also spent a day at Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco and visited the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. And of course, there were two days of revelry at the Oakley Almond Festival. But with Benji's return to school on Oct. 2 and Glenn's getting back to work on the 4th, life in the Gehlke household has resumed its hectic pace. This past week, Glenn pulled a marathon work week to produce his paper's Novermber 2000 election sections, which he describes as "48 pages of pure hell from start to finish." Two back-to-back 14-hour work days didn't help his outlook any.

We hope your Halloween is filled with fun and goodies and we urge you to vote for all the right candidates on Election Day, Nov. 7.

Glenn, Roni and Benji

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