Friday, May 02, 2014

Mourning 11 Days of Unclehood

I hadn't planned to walk 3 miles this past Sunday morning. It was not because I don't enjoy exercise. A 75-minute Spinning class is part of my typical Sunday morning routine. But on a cold and windy late April morning in Michigan, my wife, three children and I completed a 3-mile trek along a nature trail an hour from our home. It was an annual fundraiser walk to benefit the March of Dimes. My family unfortunately got to know the importance of the March of Dimes' newborn screening program late last year.

I've been a fan of since its early days on the web and always dreamed of being a Savvy Uncle though I know it doesn't quite roll off the tongue like "Savvy Auntie". While I have three wonderful children of my own, I have always looked forward to becoming an uncle. When my wife's sister announced she was due with her first child about a year ago, my excitement level rose. Unclehood was within reach.

Rabbi Jason Miller's Nephew Rylan Gelb
Rylan Foster Gelb 12/3/2013-12/14/2013

On December 3, 2013 I became an uncle. I was ecstatic. On my personal blog I wrote about what a blessing it was for me to become an uncle. That might sound silly since I was already blessed with my own awesome and healthy biological children, but I enjoyed a wonderful relationship with my own uncle during my childhood and I was eager to try to replicate that special bond with my new nephew.

Sadly that high was short lived. Only a few days into my new role as an uncle I learned that my nephew Rylan Foster Gelb had been born with a rare genetic disorder. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law would come to learn more about that genetic disorder only because it was diagnosed through the newborn screening, which is a test researched, funded, and advocated by the March of Dimes. Tragically, my nephew was simply too sick to recover and he passed away on his eleventh day of life. He never left the hospital. He died cradled in his parents' arms. He died looking like a perfectly healthy baby.

And so, I never had the chance to meet the beautiful little boy who made me an uncle. I look at his photo each day as I drink my morning coffee and then again as I sit around the table with my wife and children eating dinner. But I never had the chance to hold him, teach him to throw a ball, give a funny speech at his bar mitzvah, or help him move into his college dorm room. I have fond memories of going for bike rides with my own uncle and visiting him at work and attending sporting events and concerts with him. He'd sneak me a sip of his beer, tell me dirty jokes and let me drive his boat. Those are things I dreamed of doing with my nephew Rylan, but sadly I never will.

I think that when tragedy strikes and a newborn dies, everyone's attention turns to the grieving parents of the newborn. It certainly hits them the hardest, but there's collateral damage as well. The day of Rylan's funeral was the hardest day of my life. I mourned the beautiful nephew I never met and I mourned the uncle-nephew relationship that would never be.

And so I walked three miles yesterday morning. I walked to show my support for the March of Dimes, which has helped Rylan's parents through the unthinkable. I also walked so my nephew's name will never be forgotten. I'm grateful to that little baby because he made me an uncle, if only for eleven days.

Cross-posted to


Unknown said...

Beautifully written. Rylan would have been so lucky to have had you for his uncle. May his memory always be a source of strength and comfort.

Unknown said...

Beautiful Thank you For Continuing to keep Rylan's memory alive so beautifully.
Rylan's mom