When Chad and Jamie dropped the girls off Dec. 3 in Chino, at the home in which Chad and his three siblings grew up. Edward Cordero played with Tehya in a swing, snapping photos that he still carries on his phone. He eventually went to the living room to watch TV. Riley fell asleep there. Edward’s wife Patti, Chad’s mom, took care of Tehya, coaxing her to sleep in a bedroom. Even after Patti and Edward retired themselves, they checked Tehya regularly. When Edward got up just after midnight, Patti checked on Tehya. Around 12:45 a.m., she went in again. Edward heard her scream.
There is hardly any sorting out the next minutes, hours, days. A call to 911, Edward’s futile attempts at CPR, the arrival of paramedics, the gathering of relatives.
There were no answers, not then and not now, and maybe not ever. Part of the definition of SIDS, according to the American SIDS Institute, is that the deaths — about 1 in every 2,000 live births — remain unexplained, even after an autopsy. There are some preventative measures parents can take – have babies sleep on their backs, keep blankets and pillows out of the crib, etc. – but nothing is foolproof. And in those frantic moments after their granddaughter slipped away in their own home, Edward and Patti Cordero couldn’t comprehend it.
The police, too, wanted answers. They stationed an officer outside Tehya’s door, preventing anyone from entering. They separated Edward and Patti and, at their darkest moment, began questioning each individually. When was the baby last checked on? Who held her when?
“They treat you like a criminal,” Edward said.
Edward Cordero, though, had one thing to do before he could answer even a single question. He had to call his son.
“Making that phone call,” he said between sobs, “was the worst thing I ever had to do.”
The initial message to Chad was that he and Jamie had to come quickly, that something was wrong with Tehya. They were in the car instantly. At 1 a.m., the roads were wide open. Chad kept calling his father.
“I had to tell him the truth,” Edward Cordero said, so he did.
“I have no idea how I was able to drive,” Chad said.
When the Corderos arrived, the paramedics were already gone, the coroner there, distraught relatives littered about. Finally, authorities allowed the Corderos into Tehya’s room. There, they held their baby girl one last time.
“She looked peaceful,” Chad said. “She looked like she was sleeping. She looked like she had a smile on her face. Her eyes were halfway open, so it almost seemed like she was looking out at us.”
Try to keep things normal
In the days that followed, the Corderos’ Huntington Beach home filled with people, maybe 50 a day. Chad and Jamie spent much of the time in their room, the door closed, crying. But they wanted — they needed — the support. When Edward called Chad one day to say he and Patti would give them some space, Chad responded, “No. We want people here.”
The trick then: Try to keep things as normal as possible, even if that was inherently impossible. Just three weeks after Tehya’s death, the Corderos wanted to have their regular Christmas, and their regular Christmas included Chad’s younger brother Matthew playing Santa for all the family’s kids. In his role, Matthew ticked off their names. He omitted one: Tehya.
“He didn’t know how he should handle it,” Edward Cordero said.
The realization hit everyone. Tehya wasn’t to be avoided. She was to be celebrated.
“I get upset with people that don’t talk about her because they think . . . I don’t know,” Jamie said. “I’m just happy when someone mentions her name, because she’s still our daughter.”
She is, too, the reason Chad Cordero returned to pitch. After Christmas, he called his agent and said he wanted to try again. The Blue Jays had been interested all along.
“I was just basically telling these guys,” said Toronto scouting director Dana Brown, who drafted Cordero when he held the same position with the Montreal Expos, “if there was anybody who would fight back, it would be him.”
The fight, though, takes work. Three days after Tehya died, Cordero got a tattoo of Tehya’s face on his left forearm. Now, he talks to her image before bullpen sessions, looks at it when he’s on the mound. Almost all the Corderos – Matthew, Edward, little sister Ashley — got tattoos as well. Jamie has Tehya’s footprint and nickname — “Tey Tey” — on the inside of her left wrist.
Still, said Jamie, “It doesn’t get easier,” and she badly needs distractions. The family passes the down time in spring training with hours of miniature golf. They bought a season pass to Busch Gardens, where being slung about on the roller coasters can nudge the mind somewhere else.
“You start questioning, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ ” Edward said. “It’ll be difficult to the day we die. We won’t ever get over it, but hopefully, we’ll be able to function.”
Functioning, now, includes baseball. Tuesday, Cordero is due to throw in a major league spring training game for the first time. Trite as it might sound, Tehya will join him.
“I’m just using her as motivation, trying to find strength,” he said, “because I know, now, she’ll always be with me, no matter what.”
She will be with the entire Cordero family. Even Riley, two months shy of her second birthday, hears about Tehya. “We have to remember: she lost a sister,” Jamie said. So when Chad and Jamie speak of her — which they do often — Riley turns her head to the sky and blows Tehya a kiss, her own way of doing what her parents want: Remembering precious little Tehya Irene Cordero, Sept. 12-Dec. 4, 2010.