Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Gabriel did not open his eyes much in the ten days that he lived, but the morning he passed they were open wider and longer than they had ever been. That's because he spent the morning in a series of seizures. The first major seizure occured at about seven in the morning. He was sleeping on the couch when Ben looked at him and saw that he had turned purple. Ben quickly picked him up, examined him, and thought that maybe he had passed. I demanded that he give Gabriel to me, then I remembered the oxygen tank, which only Ben had learned how to use. Ben placed the mask over Gabriel and started the tank, but it didn't seem to be working. Eventually, Gabriel started breathing on his own, his eyes opened wide as he gasped for air. We didn't set him down the rest of the morning.
I hadn't eaten in nearly a day, so Ben held Gabriel while I had a bowl of cereal, then I set myself up on the couch and sat down with Gabriel. After another seizure we made the decision to administer a dose of the morphine we had been provided by hospice. We gave him slightly less than what he had been prescribed. We wanted him to be able to relax, but we didn't want him to go to sleep on us. When the morphine didn't seem to make things any easier on him, we called hospice, and our nurse put in a rush request for an anxiety medication to help with his seizures. She came over as soon as she could, but Gabriel had already had several seizures at this point, each more severe than the last. His face would turn purple, his lips would get purple and tight, and his tongue would fall out of his mouth while his eyes opened wide, staring at nothing that we could see as we believe he was born blind. Sometimes I let myself believe that he was able to see God or an angel, and that was providing him some comfort.
We held him through his seizures, stroking and talking to him, and encouraging him to breathe when he stoppted. He had to be held as upright as possible to facilitate his breathing. We told him how much we love him, and thanked him for coming to us and being so strong. We told him he didn't have to fight anymore, that he was headed to a wonderful place and that we would be along before he knew it. We sang to him, read him a story, and just loved him. We knew his time was drawing to a close and we were flooded with mixed emotions. How could we let him go? But how could we ask him to stay when he was struggling so much.
I sincerely believe God doesn't let babies feel pain. Gabriel struggled, but that struggle was for us. We couldn't be granted so much time without having to give something back. Gabriel's time meant a passing that was difficult to watch. I believe I needed to see that to understand that it was time for him to go. I'd known for a while that he wasn't mine to keep but I think in those ten days I started to think maybe I could keep him.
Our hospice nurse Jennifer arrived with the anxiety medication. She gave him his first dose and told us another could be given in four hours. I didn't think we would need it in another four hours. Jennifer advised us that we were probably seeing the transition we had read about. We nodded. We knew.
Jennifer left and Gabriel was relaxed for a while. I stroked his face while Ben held his hand and I told him to relax, to sleep. I hoped he would fall asleep and peacefully take his last breath. When I wasn't in conversation with Gabriel, I was silently pleading with God to take my son quickly and peacefully.
It wasn't long after Jennifer left that Gabriel had his final seizure. Again his eyes opened wide, and he began choking and struggling to breathe. Again his face turned purple, his lips tightened, and his tongue fell out of his mouth. Again, Ben had to check his chest for a heartbeat or breathing, as we could no longer feel it from his back as we had been able to for the past few days. We waited, and waited, but this time his breathing did not resume. His face was frozen in a gasp. He was gone.
We laid him on my pillow and Ben called hospice. And then we went to work.
I asked Ben to clear off the table and spread his quilts on it. We laid Gabriel on the quilts and Ben lit a candle for him. I whispered to Gabriel that Daddy was lighting his way to Heaven. We took out the memory boxes we had been given for him and prepared to wash and dress him one last time. We took several more ink footprints. We called our parents and reported Gabriel's death. My parents and brother came to say good-bye.
While Jennifer and my parents were there we wiped Gabriel down first with a baby wipe, then with lavender scented water on a handkerchief provided in the memory box. The handkerchief was then folded and placed in a sachel. We dressed him in a sleeper and wrapped the St. Gerard medal that I'd been wearing for months on a chain around his hand. He was given his mini-Bible to hold, and pinned with a Holy Spirit pin. A St. Gerard prayer card was also placed on his chest. We considered capping him or wrapping his head again, but ultimately decided he was perfect the way he was. We kissed him and held him throughout this process.
Lividity began to set in. Gabriel's color drained from him and settled at the back of his body. He was stiff, and his eyes would not close all the way nor would his face be smoothed out. You could see the look of strain in his face. I was surprised at the ease with which I was able to hold him in this time. I'd never touched a dead body that had not been preserved already, but I could not set him down.
I looked at Gabriel's strained face with pride. He would not go without a fight. His strength was a quiet one, a simple refusal to go anywhere until he was ready. He took his time coming into this world, and then he had railed against death, forced it to take him in a battle that was fitting of his name. Gabriel. A hero of God. God is my strength.