A moment in their memory
After painful losses, Waubonsie Valley's Rossiano gains new
Author(s): Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: February 24, 1995
Section: Sports Extra (High School)
Have you hugged your kids today? Did you thank your mom or wife for the dinner she cooked, then reheated when you got home late? Do you still hold a grudge for something your brother did two months ago?
Hold them, thank her, forgive him. Now.
That is Tom Rossiano's first message. The Waubonsie Valley wrestling coach just wants everyone to have the chance at resolution he and his wife Kim had.
Normally, you don't know when you or your closest and dearest will die, but the Rossianos knew.
So last Oct. 19, after Kim delivered two tiny identical twin boys, she and Tom cradled them. One nurse took the boys' pictures, another placed their footprints on paper. Kim and Tom cradled them.
"We held them and kissed them goodbye," Rossiano says. ''We had both babies baptized, then we buried them."
* * *
Rossiano has a few more messages, actually. Before Oct. 19, he may have kept all but the competitive ones to himself.
"I'm a different person," he says.
Now, after the inner turmoil and then the peace of imminent fatherhood; after seeing twin boys on the ultrasound; after watching Kim read to them; after one of the tubes that linked Kim's life with the boys malfunctioned in the fifth month, resulting in the death of one, then the other; after watching Kim deliver their first children, Rossiano needs you to know:
Don't take life for granted. Follow every precaution during pregnancy. If you're in the same terrible situation, spend time with the babies before burying them. Don't carry around regret.
"Treat people, especially people that you love, the way they deserve to be treated, because you never know when you're gonna go," Rossiano says. "Keep things in perspective, and be thankful for what you've got. If you've got two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, you have so much more than a lot of other people.
"Even with this loss, we still have things to be thankful for."
They have each other. They have their families. They have their therapeutic everyday routines. They have the courage to try again.
There was nothing the Rossianos could have or should have done differently during the pregnancy. The complications which took the lives of Joseph Anthony Rossiano and Vincent Francis Rossiano in no way endanger further pregnancies.
Of course, that is no consolation to the Rossianos.
Tom and Kim learned most well-wishers mentally separate pre-natal and post-natal infant death. But what is the difference between death and death? The Rossianos saw the boys' hearts beat on the ultrasound. Kim read to them.
"People don't know how to act," Rossiano says. "You almost have to coach them, tell them what you need. The most common response is, 'That's OK, you can have other babies.' We didn't want other babies. Those were the ones we wanted."
* * *
Tom and Kim met at a party in the south Chicago suburbs about 13 years ago. He got her phone number, then didn't call for three years.
They met again at a restaurant and he wanted to know if he could call her. He still had her number, and this time he used it.
"I knew right away I was gonna marry her," Rossiano says. "I just knew."
They dated for three years, were engaged for three and will be married for seven years in July. But when Kim announced she was pregnant, Tom was anything but elated. Both their families and their friends wanted them to have children, but Kim and Tom weren't planning for them.
"For the first month I was like in denial," Rossiano says. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a father."
One day he broke down and confessed his fears to Kim, and all the doubts passed just like that.
"I had a new reason for being," Rossiano says. "That just becomes a reason you want to live. It made everything other than them seem unimportant."
Things changed. Rossiano, never one to give mortality much thought, was now afraid to change lanes on the tollway. He had a new reason for being.
The news of twins added to the couple's anticipation.
"That really got me excited," Rossiano says. "It was a special gift from God."
The wrestling season was fast approaching as well, but in the fall, Tom spent as much time with Kim as possible.
There was no warning in the days before Oct. 19. That morning Kim went to her doctor for a checkup, while Tom took one of his science classes to the school's planetarium. When a fellow teacher came to him with a message she had called, it was much earlier than the time they had agreed upon if everything went well.
The water bag had broken and the boys' chances of recovery were about two percent. When Tom arrived at the hospital, crying hysterically, the ultrasound couldn't find a heartbeat. It was around 10 a.m. After labor was induced, Kim delivered Joseph Anthony at 3:05 p.m., his brother at 5:40 p.m.
They weighed less than a pound apiece, and had perfectly formed fingers and toes.
"They were just two beautiful baby boys that never had a chance," Rossiano says. ''Even though Joseph Anthony was dead, (the delivery) was like the most remarkable thing I ever saw.
''When he was handed to me, I prayed to God 'Let my baby breathe and let my baby cry,' to take me and I would have had a full life. I know my wife felt the same way. I would've been happy to go at that point. Some people may think that sounds strange, but I think that any parent in the world would understand that."
In a deserted classroom, Rossiano apologizes again for the tears.
"Sometimes I can get through the story and not even cry," he says. "Sometimes I can't get the words out."
* * *
There was a little of both when the coach told the state's best public high school wrestling team for the last two seasons that he and Kim had lost the twins.
"Pretty much he gave us like an inspirational speech," says Warriors senior Ruben Saldana, who won the 152-pound state title last weekend. "'This is what happened, but I'm still going, you can make a positive out of a negative. I'm gonna be hurting and stuff, and I might not be here sometimes and you guys are gonna know why, because I'm gonna have to be with my wife.' He told us straight out. He's a good man like that. I respect him."
Oct. 19 was a Wednesday, and Rossiano was back to school the following Monday. He woke up in the 4:30 a.m. darkness for the rush-hour drive from the city, worried about Kim's first day alone and moved like ''a zombie."
At the end of the day, he got in his car and headed back to the city, for the first time alone with his thoughts.
"I have a long drive home," Rossiano says. ''I would cry all the way home."
Then he and Kim went to bed early. That began the numbing weekday schedule.
"We'd cry ourselves to sleep, and then in the morning do it again," Rossiano says.
They went to group therapy, and fed off the support of their family and friends. Fred Johnson, who preceded Rossiano as Warriors coach, wrote Rossiano a letter. Johnson and his wife had gone through the same thing in her pregnancy's eighth month. Johnson offered any kind of help.
The closest comparison either Tom or Kim could make to the tragedy was the passing of grandparents or, for Tom, the near-death of former Warrior Jim LeDuc, last year's 160-pound state champion who almost died from inexplicable complications with a routine knee surgery during his sophomore year. But those comparisons paled.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life," Rossiano says.
The start of wrestling practice was a relief. Rossiano considered taking the year off, but didn't because this year's senior class is the first he's coached all four years.
"I wanted to finish up with those guys," he says.
Rossiano got back perhaps more than he gave. The four padded walls of wrestling practice are pain-proof. Saldana says the team never considered tiptoeing around its coach.
"When you're in the wrestling room, you don't think about that, you just go out and do what you gotta do," Saldana says. "That's the great thing about the wrestling room. I know when he was in there he didn't think about his kids. When I'm in there, all your problems just go away."
"It was the best therapy in the world for me," Rossiano says. "When I'm wrestling somebody and they're trying to rip my head off and I'm trying to beat them, you kinda block out everything else. It allowed me to give more of myself to Kim."
A flight attendant, Kim returned to work in mid-December, about the same time Tom started getting back his sense of humor and his passion for his job.
"It takes a long time to function normally," he says, and of course it will take Kim longer.
* * *
Rossiano says he made a deal with God while LeDuc lay in the hospital walking the fine line between life and death. Rossiano promised God if LeDuc recovered, he would go to church every Sunday. Through it all, he has kept that promise.
"It tests your faith and what you believe in," he says of this past four months. "It made my faith stronger because I like to think I have two angels up in heaven and I'll see them again someday."
Does it need to be written that until that day, Rossiano and his wife and their family have new priorities? A year ago this weekend, the Warriors finished second to Mt. Carmel for the second straight season. Whether or not the Warriors get another crack at the three-time defending state champion seems silly now. Ironically, Rossiano says he may have coached better than ever this season.
"If we never win another wrestling meet while I'm coaching here it doesn't make a difference to me," Rossiano says. "It'll never be a life-and-death situation for me like it might have been before. Now I've experienced the life-and-death part of it."
* * *
There's a box opened often at the Rossianos containing the baby pictures and the footprints and the hospital bracelets.
Rossiano is an accomplished musician, specializing in guitar. He used to play in a band. ''I express myself musically better than I do verbally," he says.
Tom wrote a holiday song for his sons. It's called "Is There Christmas Up In Heaven?", and listening to it sometimes helps.
There are two tombstones in a cemetery in Calumet City.
"It's something I never want to forget," Rossiano says. "I never want to forget my boys."
Have you hugged your kids today?
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.