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Every time the doctor looked at a new ultrasound of the baby growing inside her belly, he smiled: “Joy, you’re going to have a beautiful baby girl.”

And then, on April 10, 1985, Joy gave birth to a 6-pound, 9-ounce baby boy.

“He’s my gift from God,” the proud mother told her surprised doctor.

On Mother’s Day, Joy Marsico has long delighted in sharing the story that she says proves that medicine is as much art as science.

“It’s such a fun story,” she said Thursday as she stood at a grave site at Palm Mortuary cemetery on Eastern Avenue, near Warm Springs Road.

As she smiled, tears flowed from beneath her sunglasses.

Year after year her son, Raul Bravo, who grew up to be a muscular Marine, good-naturedly laughed along with everyone else as his mother talked about how she had already picked out beautiful new dresses for her new baby to wear.

This Mother’s Day that story, and so many others, will not be told while the family goes down memory lane at dinner.

They will be shared with everyone at her son’s grave site.

“I have to tell them,” she said of the stories. “They’re part of this family. ”

On March 3, Lance Cpl. Raul S. Bravo, 21, was killed by a roadside bomb, becoming the first Nevadan to die in military action in Iraq in 2007.

“I’m not sure I could get through this Mother’s Day without his buddies,” Marsico said, nodding at Lance Cpls. Joshua Jordan, Jeff Perez and Craig Perez, all Marines who served in Bravo’s unit. “I am so thankful for my daughters, but it is so unnatural to bury a child. I guess you’d have to say my Mother’s Day is always going to be broken from now on. I haven’t slept since my son died.”

The Marines, all of whom refer to Marsico as “Mom,” brought a Bud Light to Bravo’s grave. Small American flags were everywhere.

If the Marines weren’t hugging Marsico or holding her hand or consoling their friend’s father, also named Raul, they were telling two of Bravo’s three sisters who were on hand, Isabelle and Rachel, about their brother’s service in Iraq.

The Marines just returned to the United States last week, leaving their base in California to visit Marsico on this Mother’s Day weekend.

“Mom needs us and we need her right now,” said Jeff Perez, who told Marsico that with her son’s death he now feels like he has “half a heart.”

“It means so much to me right now to have my son’s Marine Corps family here for Mother’s Day,” Marsico said as she touched her son’s dog tags hanging around her neck. “They made a pact with my son to help me if he died. They’re part of him. They want to help me, and I need to help them. Josh said he feels like he lost an arm since my son’s death. And Craig said he’s having a hard time remembering things. We do need each other.”

Bravo’s buddies want to learn more about their friend and his entire family. And Marsico will share all she can.

“My son had so much fun with life,” she said. “And family meant so much to him.”

Marsico will let the Marines know how her son needed a haircut as soon as he was born because his hair covered his eyes. And they’ll learn how his sisters dressed him up as girl and put him in a large can.

They’ll hear how Raul painted his hand as a child, imprinted it onto cloth and gave it to his mother, and how he gave her a ring from a gum ball machine that he made her wear every day.

Turkey and mashed potatoes was his favorite meal. So Thanksgiving dinner, she’ll say, was eaten by Raul several times a year.

Another memory makes her sob almost uncontrollably.

How she loved it, she said, when her son and his Marine Corps friends, on leave from their first stint in the war, slept off a hard night of partying at her house.

Clothes were strewn on chairs, couches and tables. The young men slept on the living room floor.

“Their feet smelled. So did their breath,” Marsico said. “Even as I was cooking breakfast for them, I couldn’t get rid of that smell. And I loved it. I loved that they could have a good time after all they’d been through. God knows they deserved it. I am so proud to be the mother of a young man who lived life to the fullest. I only wish I lived life the same way.”

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