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Work family provided a grieving mother solace, support, and pride

Xochitl Velasco found support with her Kaiser Permanente family during an emotional Fresno Pride Parade this year.

On a recent Saturday morning in June, Xochitl Velasco couldn’t bear the thought of getting out of bed. It’s a familiar feeling she battles most days.

Velasco, a pediatrics medical assistant at the Kaiser Permanente Selma Medical Offices in the Fresno area, had tossed and turned the night before.

She struggled with how best to honor her son, Rene. She also wondered whether she had the energy to attend the annual Fresno Pride Parade on June 1.

Without him.

Velasco’s son died 6 months ago in December. He was 33, studying nursing at the time.

The Fresno Pride Parade was special to him. He and his mother would participate every year with the Kaiser Permanente Fresno team.

“Rene would look forward to this event every year,” she said. “It was our tradition.”

Velasco said Rene was an open member of the LGBTQ community and was very supportive of efforts to reduce stigma and promote acceptance. That’s why he felt it was important to attend the Pride Parade every year, she explained.

Velasco added that Rene was also committed to the parade because he believed in supporting people.  “All people,” she said. “And loving all people from all walks of life.”

In an effort to honor her son and her resilience, the Kaiser Permanente organizers asked Velasco to carry the Kaiser Permanente Pride banner and lead the team down Olive Avenue in Fresno’s Tower District.

Xochitl Velasco at the Fresno Pride Parade

On the day of the parade, she and other family members wore a pink, heart-shaped pendant with a photo of her late son. Just a few weeks before the parade, the headstone on his gravesite was finished and installed. Behind her dark sunglasses, she dabbed tears while sharing stories about her son and about her grief journey.

“Rene was a kind and giving soul,” she said. “Always looking for a way to support others.”

Velasco shared a story about Rene. When he was a first grader, he convinced her he needed to buy a stroller for school. “He didn’t want to tell me why he needed it.” 

A few days after he brought the stroller to school, she received a call from the school principal, who wanted to discuss the stroller with her.

She assumed he was in trouble.

“But when we met, the principal told me about one of Rene’s classmates who had arthritis and difficulty walking,” she recalled. “It turns out that Rene was pushing her to and from classes and the playground, so she could keep up with the other kids and wouldn’t be late. And feel included.”

That classmate attended Rene’s funeral services in her wheelchair, Velasco said. This story and other acts of kindness are what keep Velasco going and Rene’s memory near.

But there are still days she struggles. Numb. Overwhelmed.

Like that Saturday of the Fresno Pride Parade.

She really needed an emotional lift that day. She found it in abundance among friends and co-workers at the parade and festivities.

Seeing Rene’s friends waving from the parade route helped remind her she made the right decision to attend and surround herself with colleagues.

“When you are grieving, you can always turn to family,” she said. “And my Kaiser Permanente people are my family. On that day, I needed to be with my Kaiser Permanente family.”



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