Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Feast of Saint Baby Gabriel

I recently asked a friend who is divorced and sharing custody of his daughter if he misses his daughter on his "off" days. He of course answered yes, especially on the last day.  It may seem curious that I would even ask.  How could I question something so obvious? My best explanation for my curiosity is that for me, every day is that last day.  I wonder how I would feel knowing I would see Gabriel in a matter of days, rather than a lifetime.  The longing, the anticipation, the missing my child is constant.

What is it about an anniversary?  The longing somehow feels stronger today.  My arms feel especially empty.  My brain is struggling to wrap itself around the idea that one year ago my son died. For a year, I have been living without him. And very little in the last year has gone the way I expected.

On Saturday Ben will come to the house and take the last of his belongings, pack them in a trailer, and drive across the country.  I will, in all likelihood, never see him again.  The last year will be just another year, our marriage, just a phase we went through.  Sometimes, having a child who has passed away is convenient, and this is one of those times.  We don't have to work out things like custody.  There's nothing to keep him here, no reason for us to stay together.  In fact, I suppose a part of me knew or at least had my doubts.  A year ago when Gabriel passed, I clipped his hair and separated it into two tiny plastic bags, thinking if Ben and I ever split at least this part would already be done.

When I got married, I recall thinking one of the best parts of marriage was knowing I would never have to go through another break-up again.  But here I am, breaking up.  And I thought Sean's "break-up" was the hardest it could ever be, because it was sudden and I was so helpless in it.  Now, it seems like the least cruel way to leave someone - suddenly, and irreversibly.  I've spent the last three months breaking up with my husband.  I find it difficult to understand how Ben can just walk away, how he could leave the house where we cared for our child, how he could leave the city where his child's ashes are kept, how he could leave the state where he's lived most of his life and where, in a scuzzy little bar in Huntington Beach, he met the mother of his child -- but I also know it's what he has to do.  He has to make this irreversible.  It's too hard for both of us if he sticks around.

Ben frequently visits Gabriel's place at the cemetery, at least once a week.  I don't.  I felt better knowing Ben went regularly, but I never felt compelled to visit that much.  From the moment Gabriel passed I know his soul moved on.  He is, by definition, a Catholic saint who has obtained his reward in Heaven.  He died without ever having committed a sin, and having been baptised and cleansed of original sin.  His place in Heaven was secure, as is the place of all babies and young children who die.

"I hope you take comfort in knowing you have your own saint in Heaven now," I have heard more than once.  I do, but being here without my son still hurts.  I am grateful for ten days, ten days more than many of the mothers in the anencephaly community get.  For the last ten days I have been posting pictures of Gabriel, and  I was struck by the mother who said "You're so lucky to have all of these pictures." When your child is only with you for ten days, it can be very easy to slip into self-pity, but knowing how much those ten days would have meant to another family drives home just how very fortunate I am.  I'm fortunate also to know how my son's life has touched so many people.  I still get e-mails from people telling me how much Gabriel has inspired them.  My favorite are the e-mails that say, "I don't know what to tell you, except that today I hugged my children until they made me let them go, and I have never been so thankful to have them here with me."

In an hour I will meet my friend and former co-worker Lisa for lunch, and she'll bring her six-month old baby, who I call Mickey.  I can predict how the meeting will go.  She'll take him out of the carrier and let me hold him, and I'll cry thinking about what could have been.  Lisa will cry too, thinking about the eleven days Mick spent in the NICU, and how unimaginable it is to not have him here with her now.  Then Mickey will start to freak out because we're both crying, so we'll have to pull ourselves together and take our seats.  After lunch I'll go to the cemetary - I don't visit much but today seems an appropriate day to go.  I'll cry on and off throughout the day but the day will soon be over.  Tomorrow I will pack the last of Ben's things that are in the house, removing the physical traces of him.  I'll put together one of our two memory boxes for him, and give him a lock of Gabriel's hair, a laminated copy of his obituary, a set of Gabriel's footprints, the onsie that Gabe wore on Father's day, and one of his blankets.  On Saturday I will tell Ben good-bye, and it will be hard, but then I will go inside and marvel at how despite the emptiness of the house I don't really feel lonely.  I have, after all, had to spend the last year without my son and I'm pretty sure if I can do that, I can do more.

I am, above all, grateful for my time with Gabriel.  Not everyone gets ten days.  Not everyone is trusted with a child like Gabriel.  Not every woman gets to say, "I am the mother of a saint."

Happy Feast of St. Baby Gabriel Day.

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