March 3, 1981 – June 13, 1996
Kevin (known as Coco) is on my mind today. Nineteen years ago I was sitting in ICU at Children’s Hospital at Stanford at Coco’s bedside. He was in a coma caused by meningitis. Things happened so quickly and I was sort of in a state of shock. I sat by his side as much as time would permit, but there was nothing I could do for him other than to pray that he was not in pain and know that he was loved.
Coco happened to be a friend and classmate of Derek’s. Once therapists at Chandler Tripp School in San Jose became aware he needed to move from his foster home, they suggested to his birth father (who was still involved in Coco’s life) that he contact me. I met with him and discussed the situation and how things would need to be handled if he were to move into our home. We were not licensed for foster children, only for adoption. This would mean his father would need to allow us to legally adopt him should he come to live with us but would still be able to visit and take him places. Of course, that’s what happened.
Coco was very much like Derek physically: non-ambulatory, nonspeaking, required a feeding tube for nutrition and medications, and of course to have all his care met by others. One advantage Coco had over Derek was that he had normal hearing and that meant his communication was not limited to only people who knew ASL. Since I knew how to do all his care, thanks to Derek, many challenges of a move were already taken care of. Coco was an alert child and loved to be where the action was. He was a “people watcher”. I’m so thankful the therapists followed their hearts to make the suggestion they did to his birth father. He fit into my home with ease.
Back to the bedside at Children’s Hospital. As I sat in the dim room with tears trickling down my cheeks, the nurses made me aware his birth mother was coming to visit. Birth mother? What? I was already overwhelmed with sadness and now she was going to show up while Coco was like this? I had no idea when she saw him last but it was never after he had joined our family. The thought made me angry, you might even say a bit jealous. I couldn’t even fathom the idea of giving birth to a child and not being involved in that child’s life for year after year to come visit him while he was close to dying. If she was truly interested in him, why didn’t she make an effort to come and visit him before? It’s not like our door was locked or we wouldn’t have let her be involved in his life in some other way. Maybe it was her guilt that she was not involved in his life that led her to come that day? One thing for certain, I know that Coco knew I loved him and would not abandon him. I want to thank the nurses for letting me know and leading me out a back door while she made her visit. I don’t feel I could have handled that visit at all.
Later that evening I returned to the hospital with Ben. Some other brothers had visited a couple of days earlier as well.
After putting all the boys to bed, I slept some too. At 3:00 am I suddenly sat up in bed from a sound sleep as Coco’s name shot through my mind. Not more than a couple of minutes my phone light flashed and it was the hospital – Coco had passed. Such a strange feeling that I already knew before they called. Another beautiful child had left to join some of his brothers who had gone on before him. Peace to all of you, my sons.
Below is what I shared at his Celebration of Life service.
I will refer to you as Coco because I told you I would only call you Kevin when you made me mad. It’s difficult to believe our short time together has ended. It’s close to impossible to put my feelings into words but I know you understood my feelings as I held you in my arms last week. A large part of this writing is about group. I will be honest that I almost always saw you with a group. When you arrived in the family at your age, it allowed for almost no time for individual interaction. You were almost always included in a group. Your laughter brought joy to others. When you arrived here at the beginning of the school year, you were for the first time able to ride a bus to school with your brothers and after that you never rode alone again.
I can clearly remember the first time I met you, Coco. When you were six, on a field trip with Derek and I thought, wow, look at this beautiful child – your perfect skin, your smile. I can’t even describe how your eyes sparkled like the stars. And your shiny black hair, I envied your curly black hair, You made my heart fill with happiness. At that time I had no idea you had no permanent family to live with. You continued to be in Derek’s class for many years. You’d sit together for many lessons. Later Sean and Raymond would join you as classmates.
When Jim and I became aware you needed a home, we approached your birth father about becoming a member of our family. This was a difficult decision for him to make to allow us to adopt you and legally become an Aiken-Forderer. I know he now has no regret about that decision. I know he felt relief that you had a permanent place to live and didn’t need to more around any more. You already knew some of the boys, that helped you make the transition easier. You understood you could go to San Jose and visit your birth family there and come back to us. You looked forward to those visits.
You came to visit for a weekend before any final decisions were made about a final move here. I decided to check your feelings about the idea and if you wanted to live here. When I asked you and Derek if you wanted to be brothers, you both became so excited and started to kick and hold your breath.
I scolded you that I only had one suctioning machine. That made you laugh more and made matters worse as the two of you became even more excited.
I saw a lot of growth. You were afraid of clowns, Santa Claus, and Halloween, but once you realized there were real people behind these costumes, you learned to enjoy these holidays. You loved to go places with your class at school and with the family. As you matured socially your interaction with others was great to see.
In our short time together, we went through many ups and downs with your physical health. We had some complex decisions we had to make together. You seemed to agree with most anything that would make you more comfortable and more active.
Now I won’t say you were 100% cooperative! To brush your teeth was a real challenge. You loved to take control of that issue. You became a teenager who could look right through me when you refused to answer a question. It was obvious you knew the answers!
Coco, thank you for becoming a part of our family with your cheerfulness, positive outlook for life and strong personality. You will be greatly missed and remembered for the person you are.
Following is the poem my mother wrote
TO KEVIN………….FROM……………GRANDMA AIKEN
Say “hello” to Heaven
Dark eyes smiling
Dark hair curling
Bright smile flashing
Bright eyes laughing
From earth you have gone
But your memory lives on
It’s your birthday in Heaven.