Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Survive the Death of a Child

I may have gone off the deep end. I'm not sure yet, because I've been just treading water for quite some time now, so I haven't yet figured out how far beneath me the floor is. These days, I don't even know how I am getting through the day. I eat because I have to, not because I love it like I used to. I survive, but I'm not quite sure I live. I'm simply going through the motions.

I've recently deduced that Ben is ready to put Gabriel's memories away. Or maybe I have only decided that Ben never memorialized Gabriel the way that I did, and so it was best for our marriage if we just stop talking about him, or being reminded of him. I put most of his pictures away. I removed his picture from the wallpaper on my phone, so I wouldn't see him every time I picked it up. I took his ultrasound images off the refrigerator. I've informed Ben that I would like to move out of the house that we brought Gabriel home to, the place where he died, as soon as possible. I would also like a puppy, immediately, so I have something else to fuss over.

But I just couldn't leave Gabriel's memory alone. Since the day we received Gabriel's death certificate, I have been niggled by the fact that it does not include Gabriel's middle names. The "no" box has also been checked under the questions "Is the decedent Hispanic or of Latin descent?" The certificate also fails to include mine and Ben's middle names. As a student of history I am bothered by the fact that Gabriel's birth and death certificates are inconsistent. These records should be scrupulously preserved! My child's memory, his history, should be accurate. As his mother I would see to the proper recording of his memory. So, I went to the city's hall of records and requested a copy of Gabriel's birth certificate to put in our family Bible. I also asked what the procedure was for curing the defects in his death certificate. I was given a form and told to submit the corrections to the state office for vital records.

This still wasn't sufficient to me. I headed to the church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, under whose jurisdiction Memorial Hospital, where Gabriel was born and baptized, falls. I wanted an official copy of Gabriel's baptism certificate. When I learned that Gabriel's baptism hadn't been recorded at the church, I asked what I needed to do to correct that. There wasn't much more to be done today, so exhausted, I went home to write this blog and do the one thing that pacifies me anymore: tend to my virtual cafe in Facebook's Cafe World.

What has me so frazzled lately? I suppose the obvious answer is the loss of my son, a fact that I still haven't been able to grip completely. Maybe it's the fact that without a baby in my life, and without much of a professional career, I feel useless. The fact that my husband has been in transition in his own career hasn't made life very stable for us either. The fact that I feel as though he's lost interest in me and lost interest in our baby has me feeling not so stable myself. I stopped worrying about what he might think when he reads my blogs, probably because he stopped reading them. Ironically, I blog to provide an insightful tool into the mind of a mourning mother and wife, but the person I most wish would tap into my mind has no interest in this tool I've provided.

Recently I read the following poem by Gretchen Warren:

"Forgive me, Friend
If I don’t seem there—
If I seem a little distant
Or you think I don’t care.
My child has died

It’s hard to explain
My down-an-out days
When I don’t respond
Or I seem in a daze
My child has died.

I seem to be happy
When I suddenly cry—
The emotion overpowers me,
Hard as I try.
My child has died

So forgive me, My Friend,
When I can’t seem to give.
I’m doing all I can
Just to get up and live.
My child has died."

My child has died. And that about sums up what has happened in my life, what has me a shattered, broken shell of the woman I once was. My child has died and that's why I don't get out of bed until I have to -- why sometimes I struggle to believe there is even anything important enough to warrant "having to" get up. My child has died and that is why I have moments when I realize that I have driven somewhere, but can't remember the drive. My child has died, and that is why my husband and I are like roommates, sharing a space but simply passing each other by with distracted minds. Our child has died. We, and our marriage, will never be the same.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


"If it is possible, let this cup pass from me," Jesus asked the Lord before he was seized and later crucified. Just goes to show that human nature is to resist that which causes us suffering.

Yesterday was National Infant Loss Rememberance Day. I honored my son by lighting a candle for him and other babies that have died, but even as I remembered Gabriel and his legacy I wished that he was here for me to hold. Today is the feast day of St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers. I prayed to St. Gerard for Gabriel's safe delivery and asked also that Gabriel would live to be properly baptized. I cried with relief as Gabriel was being baptized but that relief was mixed with sadness that I was going to have to turn my son over to God sooner than I would have wanted. I had, following Gabriel's first diagnosis, asked God to spare me this cross but I vowed that if two weeks and one day after Gabriel's initial diagnosis, a specialist confirmed what we had already been told, I would accept God's will. I knew that I had already given my son back to God and I was blessed by every minute I had with Gabriel after he was born. Every single one of those moments were a gift.

After a long night at work I found myself having a night cap with a local bartender and his lone patron besides me. We agreed that we could discuss politics and still stay friends and so the conversation began. We talked taxation, party affiliation and abortion. "I know this is a sensitive subject," the patron said to me. I suppose he thought my experience with Gabriel, a child who had at least a 90% chance of being aborted if he were given a different mother, has made me passionately opposed to abortion. He just doesn't understand that the reason my son was carried to term was because I was already passionately opposed to abortion. I believe in an unborn child's right to live; that didn't change because the unborn child I was carrying wasn't going to be what I thought he would be. He wasn't going to play football for the East High Blades or become a doctor or make me a grandmother. But he was and always will be my son.

A few cocktails later our conversation veered off into the darkness of challenging ethical questions: When is it okay to kill an unborn child? When is it okay to kill any child. What if you were in Nazi Germany, and they asked you to choose, you or your child? Or worse, one of your children to spare the other? These questions are probably impossible to answer, the kind of questions where if you are ever in this very unlikely but very unfortunate situation to have to answer them, you would have to answer them to the best of your ability and trust that God can read your heart and that your heart is pure. Then, the other patron said to me, "You know the Nazis performed a series of experiments that yielded information about the human brain, neuroscience, but the information has been sealed. The experiments were so heinous that society has decided that the information gathered from them is not worth their benefit. The world still hasn't come close to achieving the knowledge that was gained from those experiments. Should that information be unsealed?" Well, that cuts to the heart of my matter, doesn't it? With more knowledge about the human brain, it is possible my son might still be here today. He has just presented me with a scenario that, if true, could have meant the difference in the length of my son's life. I might not have been lighting a candle yesterday; instead, I might have been holding my four month old son.

The question is impossible -- I don't even know if what the man said was true, but even if he were telling the truth, I don't have the power to access that information. Perhaps it is easy for me to answer this question knowing my answer doesn't matter, but my answer is still no. No, I wouldn't want that information unsealed, not just for the sake of saving my own son's life anyway. I wish I could say I don't want that information because of how it was obtained. Because experiments performed on Jews in Nazi Germany stripped those victims of their dignity, caused their suffering, devastated the world, orphaned children, caused other parents to have to lose their own children which is an experience I would wish on no one. I wish I could say that the only reason I would answer that impossible question with "No" is because I think it is morally correct to to keep that information sealed.

But my answer is selfish. I guess I see Gabriel as a sort of savior. I might never know how many minds he has changed and how many lives he has changed as a result. Views of his blog keep rising, I have received e-mails and public comments from strangers. A card with a link to his blog is attached to the bunch of flowers that decorates his niche at the cemetary and I don't know who might have tuned in since that was left. Gabriel's effect on the world amazes me. He undoubtedly has a place in Heaven and is it not the goal of a Catholic parent to raise children of God who will become heirs to God's Kingdom? I am selfish for not wanting to trade in my experience with Gabriel, even to have him here with me now. Some might say I have made a sacrifice, but really my loss was not my choice. I am just a selfish woman who was given a gift, who took her gift and held and enjoyed him. Now I selfishly want to be a part of Gabriel's mission.

"But not my will, but Your will be done," Jesus said. God's will was for Gabriel to live for ten days. They were exhausting days that challenged me, challenged my husband, challenged our marriage all for an inevitable ending. But they are ten days that I wouldn't give back, days that I will cherish for the rest of my life and that, as I am dying in what I hope is many years from now I will recall as I look forward to joining my son. And just like I wouldn't give back those ten days, I wouldn't take my son back now. I would not pluck him from his place in heaven just to have him in my arms, not after all the good he has done for others. Not after all the good that he has done for me. God's will, God's plan, is perfect. We are not promised a life free from struggle and pain. We are only promised that God will carry us through it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just Be Nice

Yesterday some guy cut me off on the way to Jack in the Box.

Wait. Let me rewind.

As many of my friends and family know, back in 2004 I started working at a little bar called Charly's, which has since changed ownership and been renamed The Wright Place. Two weeks before graduation from law school the job offer that I had been depending on was revoked due to a hiring freeze. I asked the new owners, Rick and Lynn, if they would let me come back to fill in and they did. Though I continued to submit resumes to law offices, I had no response and soon grew disenchanted with the rudeness I began to associate with legal practice. Two years after graduation, and two lost babies later, I am still at the Wright Place tending bar and taking on legal side jobs. I love my job, very much. I love my life. I feel very blessed that in a world where so many people are out of work, I have a job that I love and work for people who care about be.

Lately, though, I have grown increasingly disenchanted not with bartending, not just with the legal community, but with, well, everything. I've been stiffed by a client. That doesn't make me as angry as the fact that recently I have performed some work for another attorney, someone who lives in LA and needed some work done in Kern County, and she has stiffed me too. I know that eventually I will probably have to work my way into full time legal practice, but being reminded of how rude and unscrupulous people can be hasn't done much to instill faith in me.

I find my escape from that world, oddly, in a bar where we often see people at their lowest. I find comfort in being able to comfort others. I have learned that most of the time, my kindness towards others is rewarded by their kindness when I need it. The patrons at two different bars funded Gabriel's burial expenses almost entirely, just out of kindness. For my birthday this year, my boss took a simple step: She remembered what my favorite food is, macaroni and cheese, and made a huge dish of it for me. Another patron brought me a cherry pie, because I prefer it to cake. I love to be remembered. I love to feel special and important. I make a point to remember what might seem trivial details about others lives. I remember that Carmen likes her gin and tonic with a lemon and two olives. Donny collects state quarters like I do, so I try to remember which state he is looking for to keep my eyes open as well. Trudi prefers her Jager at room temp -- Like most bars, we keep ours in a cooler, but to try to make up for it I give her a room temperature shot glass. James likes his bloody mary simple, with just celery salt, tobasco, lime, and clamato instead of tomato juice. I remember these details because I know that just those little accommodations can go a long way.

Upon arriving at work yesterday I sensed that I was in for a long night when I opened the door and a row of loud, drunk, young guys turned and yelled "Hey."

"Let's try this again," I told them. I walked back outside, closed the door behind me, then walked back in. When I was again greated with the same boisterous "Hey," I knew I would just have to plug ahead. Hi-Fives down the bar were in order; Miguel is a 49ers fan, Wyatt is a Raiders fan, James is a Bills fan, and I am a Charger fan, and all four teams won that day. Remembering a man's football team is just one more way to make him feel special. I thought maybe the evening wouldn't be so bad after all -- until Miguel said the last thing I wanted to hear: "Why are you always so mean to me?" I'm mean? I'm MEAN to him? I'm the first to admit that I am not always smile and sunshine. My friendliness is not always in-your-face. I take a few minutes or more to warm up to people. But I'm NOT mean. And I'm certainly NOT mean to this guy.

I settled into a funk. Everyone proceeded to get drunk. A former co-worker stopped by and for the second time since Gabriel's birth and subsequent death, failed to acknowledge that any of the events of the past year had taken place. Everyone got drunker. People ran out of money. People whined that the bar doesn't take credit cards. A couple came in and offered apologies for their stupidity the last time I saw them, then proceeded to act like idiots again. I closed the bar and couldn't wait until the door closed behind the last of them. Good riddance. I love my job, but the night ended just in time to allow me to continue to love my job today.

I got into my car, further angered by the fact that my turn signal switch is broken and the dealer couldn't get the part until Monday (As in, today -- however when Ben called this morning, he learned the part hadn't been ordered). Why can't stuff just go my way? Why can't people be nice? Why can't people be thoughtful? I was thinking all of this when a man cut me off so he could get to the Jack in the Box drive-thru before me. It was all I could take. I ordered three of my favorite fried side items, drove all the way home without bothering to adjust my broken turn signal, and cried over my bacon cheddar wedges.

Some might think I just want pity for the last few months' events. That's not what I want. Some might think that I feel I've earned some extra niceness. That's not it either. Perhaps I was exceptionally edgy yesterday as I was anticipating Gabriel's four-month birthday today. But I don't think people should be nice to me because I lost my son. I don't even think people should be nice to me in particular. I just think people shouldn't be so damn rude and thoughtless. I just want to know that the next time I bring a child into this world, people will still have it in them to be nice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs, Meet Gabriel Cude

For the last two days, the world has mourned the death of a true role model: Steve Jobs. As a co-founder, innovator, and CEO at Apple, Steve Jobs changed the world and the way we communicate. Apple technology is prevalent today, but as Jobs and Apple developed they also drove competition among others in the industry. Without Jobs, perhaps I wouldn't have had a competing smart phone, from which I kept friends updated throughout Gabriel's life. Perhaps even this blog from which I continue to chronicle our journey would be different, or even non-existent. Who knows how the world would be different if Steve Jobs had never been born?

I am not a technologically sophisticated person. I'd heard of Jobs but never thought much about him. I don't use Apple computers (though 100 years ago, I learned to type on an Apple) and I don't have an Ipod, ITouch, IPad, or IPhone. But as Steve Jobs, the force behind so much of our technology, has been so visible in the headlines since his death I couldn't help but learn something about him. I know that he is a self-made successful business man, a self-proclaimed geek, modest but brilliant. I know that he had cancer, that as he experienced various ups and downs while he battled cancer he knew that he was mortal and would not live forever. I know that he was brave, that he looked at death and told it, "You will not take me without a fight." In a commencement speech addressing graduates of Stanford University in 2005 which has grown in its fame since Jobs' death, Jobs said " No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share.No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new." Steve Jobs got it. He understood what I also learned early in my life: Death is a part of life. It is inevitable. But it is human nature to resist it, to rally against it, and to hold on to every last moment of life on this earth.

Steve Jobs lived about 56 years longer than Gabriel did, yet their commonalities are striking to me. They both demonstrated a fearless strength and a love for life, even with the promise of a better, eternal life waiting for them. They both changed the world in their own unique way. You and I are different because they lived.

Gabriel had even in his short earthly life a look of wisdom and maturity that seemed far greather than his days on earth. His little bald, open head and circle of hair gave him the appearance of a tiny old man. He seemed to know more than he should -- it is a trait common among anencephalic babies. I always imagined that look was just an indication of how important their work here is, and how important they will be in Heaven. I imagine that if they haven't already, Gabriel and Steve Jobs will be introduced soon, and they will have much to talk about. I imagine them sitting at a table, Gabriel having to climb on top of whatever serves as a booster seat in Heaven, and chatting with a wisdom that I hope to know someday. I can't wait to join them both at that table someday.