Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Soundtrack of a Celebration

While I was pregnant with Gabriel, a number of songs came to mean very much to me on our journey, both before Gabriel's diagnosis and after. A few of those songs were played at his funeral, and will always remind me of my special baby boy and the special adventure we had with him.

The opening procession was silent and solemn, as Catholic funerals usually begin. The first song sung and played was the Psalm played after the first reading. I will share the Psalm in another entry about the scriptures read at his funeral. The next song was played during the offeratory. My brother's friend Daniel played the guitar, and my sister Monica sang along to a traditional Catholic hymn, "Be Not Afraid." The lyrics are as follows:

"You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me, and I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames you shall not be harmed
If you stand before the power of hell and death is at your side
Know that I am with you through it all

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me, and I will give you rest.

Blessed are your poor for the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blest are you who weep and mourn for one day you shall laugh
And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me
Blessed, blessed are you

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me, and I will give you rest."

Many of us have heard that funerals are not for the dead, but for the living. This song speaks to that concept. It reminds us that when we have faith, there is no reason to fear. The death of a child is particularly difficult for us to grasp, but the song provides comfort even in a time that seems to make no sense.

Though this song is commonly played at funerals, it is also often played during Sunday Mass. When I hear the song now, I am again comforted.

There was a bit of a mishap, and some of the music was played out of turn. Though I had requested a recording be played during Communion, a bit of confusion led to the following verse being played next:

"People smile and tell me I'm the lucky one
And life's just begun
Think I'm gonna have a son.
He will be like she and me as free as a dove
Conceived in love
Sun is gonna shine above
And even though we ain't got money
I'm so in love with you honey
And everything will bring a chain of love
In the morning when I rise
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything is gonna be alright."

This song began to take on meaning for me the day I learned I was pregnant, when it came on the radio as I was pulling into the gas station. I was convinced then that the child I was carrying was a boy.

After Gabriel's diagnosis, as Ben and I struggled to stay positive, this song reminded me that from the beginning of this pregnancy, we had this sign, this song, that everything would be fine. I grew to love what these lyrics said about our family, "a family where there once was none." No matter how things played out, we were a family now.

When we were released from the hospital to take Gabriel home, a nurse sat down with me as I held Gabriel and gave me some information on infant care. She asked me if I wanted it, and I know we both knew I wouldn't need most of it. I told her yes, that I wanted every piece of evidence that Gabriel had lived to be discharged from the hospital. She looked me in the eye and said with all sincerity, "You are three of the luckiest people I have ever met."

Without knowing my circumstances, someone might have looked at my pregnant belly and called me lucky, unaware of the struggle the pregnancy presented. Those who learned of Gabriel's anencephaly might say that I was a distinctly unlucky 1 in 1,000. But I know now that I am the lucky one. We were lucky to conceive, we were fortunate for the time we had to just enjoy carrying Gabriel, we were blessed by a network of support that carried us in our darkest moments. Above all we were blessed beyond measure by an amazing little boy who demonstrated an amazing strength in his lifetime and whose spirit lives on and touches lives still. Yes, I am the lucky one, and at Gabriel's funeral Mass, I wanted everyone to know it.

This single verse and single chorus was followed by Selah's "I Will Carry You," a sort of anthem in the infant loss community:

"There were photographs I wanted to take
Things I wanted to show you
Sing sweet lullabies, Wipe your teary eyes
Who could love you like this?
People say that I'm brave but I'm not
The truth is I'm barely hanging on
There's a greater story
Written long before me
Because he loves you like this

I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All my life
And I will praise the one whose chosen me to carry you.

Such a short time
Such a long road
All this madness
But I know
That the silence
Has brought me to His voice
And He says

I've shown her photographs of time beginning
Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes
Because I love her like this

I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All your life
And I will praise the One whose chosen me to carry you."

As Mass neared an end my aunt and I each delivered eulogies, and then Daniel played one more song for us, called "The Story." The song touched my heart during my first pregnancy and even after that loss. Its meaning grew for me as I carried Gabriel. It is a love song, and I have always found it fitting for my children, because I have never loved as I love them.

"All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true,
I was made for you.

I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue
I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules
But baby I broke them all for you
Oh because even when I was flat broke
You made me feel like a million bucks
It's true,
I was made for you.

You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
All of the friends who think I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what I've been through like you do
I was made for you.

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true,
I was made for you.

Yes it's true,
That I was made for you."

I have been blessed with a wonderful life. Though I have endured some serious hardships I believe that I have faced them as best I could. I've also had some great successes. But all of it, every struggle and every achievement, seems so small compared to carrying my children and giving birth to Gabriel. Baby Cude and Gabriel are everything to me, and the past means the most when I think of it as leading me to them.

I believe I was made for them. I never felt more at home in my body as I felt when I was pregnant. I never felt more healthy, more beautiful, or more alive. Pregnancy and motherhood are the greatest experiences of my life.

Following Gabriel's diagnosis I began to particularly pay attention to the lyric "I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules, but baby I broke them all for you." I thought about the lines our culture had drawn, the lines that indicated that when an unborn child is diagnosed with a fatal illness, he or she should be terminated for everyone's benefit. On one side of the line is a "perfect" and healthy child, and one the other side is the terminally ill fetus, whose personhood is somehow forgotten. But my son was not some subhuman freak. He is no less significant than any other child. Each child is alike in his or her dignity. Each child has a right to live. And so Gabriel would live, for as long as God would allow him to live. We would cross all the lines, break all the rules, and I will never regret having done so because I sincerely believe that Gabriel has changed the world.

The rules say we don't talk about miscarriage, we don't tell a mother struggling with the loss of her pregnancy that miscarriage is common, that she didn't do anything to bring the miscarriage on. We tell her to push the memory of that pregnancy and that baby who she will never hold to the back of her mind. We carry those children away in a specimen cup, dispose of them according to the rules for handling hazardous waste, and expect those mothers to grieve silently, because open grief in this instance is weird and uncomfortable and unhealthy.

I cannot live by those rules. I cannot abide by rules that treat my children with anything less then the dignity that they deserve as children of God. They have names. They have birthdays and angel days. They are part of the family that I hope to continue to build.

In his homily, Monsignor Frost declared "Let the world be indignant that we would carry a child like Gabriel to term. Let the world be indignant that we baptized him and brought him home from the hospital. Let the world be indignant that we are here today, honoring his life with a funeral."

Yes. Let the world be indignant. Gabriel is not of the world. And he dared to cross all the lines and break all the rules himself. There is no doubt in my mind that his reward is eternal. I thank God for allowing me to be a part of something so BIG.

Gabriel, Baby Cude, it's true. I was made for you.

1 comment:

  1. The world has no right to be indignant. If God gave you a baby, then of course you should have kept him. God loves each and every one of us, and even though we are far from perfect physically, our souls are perfect manifestations and reflections of His love. Thank you so much for sharing your journey in this blog, and may God bless you and keep you always.