Friday, July 20, 2012

Ten Days And Counting

One evening last winter as I was driving down my street, I saw a teenage girl in a long dress walking towards one of the neighbor's doors, closely followed by her mother who was holding a camera.  It occurred to me that the girl was the neighbor boy's date; they were on their way to the winter formal.  And I cried.  Because in that same moment it occurred to me that my son Gabriel will never go to the winter formal.

It's very easy, some days, to think about what I won't get to do with Gabriel, and if it's all I ever thought about I would quickly lose my mind.  I let myself slip sometimes and think about what could have been but I try to stay focused on what really is.  My son Gabriel lived for ten days, and in that ten days he changed the world.  He continues to change the world daily.

The following are letters from people who have become familiar with Gabriel's story through various avenues.  Some letters are in response to a blog I posted in January seeking stories about the ways Gabriel has changed lives.  The final letter surprised me in my e-mail inbox just this morning, after an angsty last couple of days, and brought me comfort just when I was starting to feel really sorry for myself.  Gabriel has a way of touching my life right when I need it.

Some of the letters are lengthy and I considered editing them, however I don't usually edit myself much in my writing and I thought it was only fair to leave others' thoughts uncensored too.  Besides, I've received so many letters and since this is only a sampling, publishing them in their entirety seemed right.  Only the names of people's children have been redacted to protect their privacy.

*From a CM friend

I've had the intention of writing to you for too long now.  I have gone over in my head the things I wanted to say and somehow couldn't quit capture words.  When you wrote the blog asking for people to share their Gabriel story, I knew it was my cue.

When you shared with us last year that the doctors had determined it likely that your baby would be born with anencephaly, and gave you the option to terminate the pregnancy, I was incredulous.  Of course, I believed your words, but something in me kept thinking that God was so great and could work any miracle, that He would just show those doctors they were wrong and your baby would be healthy and live a long life.  ***** and I prayed every morning for your little pumpkin and you, and I just kept thinking that it would be fine.  Everything will be fine. 

One day as I was headed to the nearby Courthouse to file a Complaint, I was listening to the radio in Spanish -- Radio Guadalupe.  As I parked, I began to listen to testimony from the announcer who was reading letters from parents of anencephalic babies.  She explained the illness and described how each one of these babies was so special.  One of the babies she talked about was named Gabriel by his parents and he had only lived a few hours.  At that moment, I realized what you had shared really meant.  I understood what you and your family were facing, and my prayers continued, but bgan to change to praying more for God's will in your life. 

When you later told us that you had decided to name the baby Gabriel, it made me cry.  What were the odds that the same name I had heard on the radio, would be the name you would choose.  I felt God was definitely giving me signs that this baby was special and that the mission you were given was special.  There was not one day that ***** and I prayed that we didn't pray for you, Gabriel and all unborn babies.  

Gabriel came.  He blessed so many in the short days he was here.  I followed his story with so many others -- crying at the miracle and greatness of God, and crying as a mother who was blessed with a healthy baby and not even remotely being able to imagine what you were going through those days.  Part of me knew that God's will would be done, but the other part still fought against it -- still hoping for some unnamed miracle that would keep Gabriel here until old age.  

Gabriel went home.  And my heart broke for you.  I had no words.  I didn't know what to say to you.  I didn't want to just say empty words or pretend like I knew what you were feeling because I didn't.  I didn't want to say to you that it would be ok because I did't truly know how things would turn out.  I didn't want to take away from the graces he left you with by adding my flawed human thoughts to your experience.  So I prayed. 

What I didn't realize, and didn't realize until later I think, is that when we pray for miracles, they come in unexpected ways.  My blessing wasn't to be converted to be more pro-life, or closer to God as others experienced -- but my blessing was to not limit God to what I think is what needs to happen.  My blessing was to not box God into creating our miracles, but to trust that He can and does create His own -- much greater than we could have ever imagined or hoped for ourselves.  Gabriel gave so much in the ten days he was here and still continues giving.  God let us know him and understand that it is not about what happens here on Earth -- it is not the end all of things.  This is just a small taste of the wonder and beauty that will be there in Heaven.  And Gabriel allowed us to see that.  His smile is forever etched into my heart.  

I am grateful for your strength.  I am grateful for your faithfulness.  But most of all, I am grateful for your heart of a mother which allowed you to see Gabriel as your son from the beginning.  Thank you for sharing him with the world and allowing God to touch us all through him.  I know you are sad sometimes and miss Gabriel -- and I don't blame you.  But remember this whenever you feel down, you had a little piece of heaven here on earth.  You held him in your arms and will one day reunite with him.  Many will never know that joy. 

You continue to be in my prayers.  May God create many more miracles in your life. . . better and brighter than anything I can imagine or pray for.  

I'm sorry it took so long to write this, but i hope like everything else that is in God's time and that when you read it, it does not bring any sadness your way, but only helps to uplift you and make you smile. 


*From my "birthday twin" Angie, who calls me 'Pato' and still calls Gabriel 'Patito'


I remember sitting at the coffee shop, me, you and Karla, wondering what I was gonna hear.  When you told us, reading the letter I still have, I wondered how you didn't cry?  I wanted to.  I didn't know how you could be so strong telling us your baby's fate.  Answering questions - I didn't have any but figured I should ask one so it didn't seem like I didn't care.  I was heart broken.  I was in shock.  I realized I was thinking "me, me, me." I wasn't sure how you were doing it, til I realized you had inside you a little game changer, a hero.  He changed my life, my way of thinking and my way of loving.  I love stronger and harder now.  I don't waste a moment now.  In honor of our angel baby.  I didn't get to meet him but i miss him.  I'm glad he changed my life, I'm glad it was him who changed my life. 

*From a local stranger


My name is Angie.  I live in Bakersfield and was only aware of your blog after reading Gabriel's obituary in the Bakersfield Californian. 

I am the mom of two boys - one 8, the other almost 2.  Like you, it is my youngest son who is changing the world, and is proving to be an example of the sanctity of human life. 

Let me explain. . . My youngest son, ***, was born on 1/24/2010 - Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  He decided to make his entrance 15 days early, much to our surprise.  He also decided to surprise us with a little "something extra," a chromosome.  A 21st chromosome, to be exact.  He has Downs Syndrome.

It was until after his birth that we learned of his diagnosis.  We opted out of all prenatal testing during my pregnancy.  We knew our minds wouldn't have been swayed by something as tiny as one extra chromosome.  And yes, while it was a huge adjustment and caused more than  few tears on my part, having our *** in our lives has been such a huge blessing. 

Sadly, for every ***, there are 9 who will never get to greet the world.  They will never experience the warmth of the sun on their face.  They will never know the gentleness of their mother's arms.  They will not be rocked to sleep.  The statistics don't lie - 90% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome will terminate their pregnancy. 

*** (whose name means "God is gracious") has saved a life in his 2 years.  A friend of mine on Facebook sent me a sweet message a few months back, telling me about a friend of hers, whose daughter was pregnant with a little boy.  That little boy has Down Syndrome.  The grandmother had seen some of my posts about *** on our friend's wall, and said she felt God telling her that her daughter had made the right choice to continue with the pregnancy.  

I don't know if the world we live in will ever truly value life.  It grieves me sometimes to see what *** can do, and to know that some woman - a stranger to me - would have missed out on all of this because she let fear of the unknown (about raising a child with a disability)take hold of her.  Moving foward, I will be helping my own church develop a Special Needs Ministry.  It will be a place where parents can bring their kids so that they can worship their Creator.  Without *** in my life, this would not have been a possibility -- something to bless other families. 


*From a sister anencephaly mommy

You ask the question how I came to know of your precious son, Gabriel. . . God brought us together by the same diagnoses of our children.  I remember those dark hours of when I first joined the anencephaly info support group.  You, Jenny, and Keri were my lights in those early dark days.  You all were farther down the line than I was with processing the news and were able to help me see the joy in the situation. . . it was joy I didn't know was there.  As the days crept closer to Gabriel's birth I got this feeling in me that he was going to do something very special for us all.  He had already touched my life and when he was born I felt like it was my sister that gave birth.  I was so excited at my first glimpses of pictures of him!!!  Every day I would hurry up and get on facebook to see if he had pulled through another day and another day and to hear about all the miraculous things he had done.  After being told that my baby would most likely not do anything a "normal" baby does I was so sad.  After watching Gabriel eat and drink and smile and do so many things that babies should do I had hope. . . that was something I hadn't had since Gracie's diagnosis! I prayed so hard for Gracie to do some of the things that Gabriel did. . . I asked God to give me some of those moments and he did.  Gabriel's 10 days on Earth impacted so many people.  When his time came where he left this Earth for his heavenly home I was so saddened but yet so overjoyed that you had such precious time with him and had so many pictures and memories.  Gabriel gave me hope for the first time in over three months and that was the best gift anyone could have given me.  God bless you Andrea in your journey of healing. :)


*From a local attorney, who read about Gabriel in the Kern County Bar Association's monthly magazine, Res Ipsa Loquitor


I am a father of seven children, one of whom had birth defects that were correctible.  As sorry as I was to read of Gabriel's death I really appreciated the depth of your love.  The love that we should have for all of our children but sometimes take for granted. We also take for granted the health that they have.  I look back and wish I had spent more time with each one of my children and I love to spend time with them and now they are grown and having children of their own.  I am grateful that you were able to share your love that was so personal.  Many do not share that and I am so glad that you did.  I hope you have more children, many more, you are the type of mother that the world needs and I look forward to hearing about the birth of your next child.  I can see why Gabriel was such a little fighter - It was love, his, yours and Ben's.  Love always will be what makes the difference in people's lives and you have much to share.  Your children will be blessed to have you as their mother, look at what it added to Gabriel's life! 

*From a stranger in another country

Dearest Andrea:

It is 5:00 p.m. in Mexico City.  Im sitting at my desk in my office and I can see a vast part from the city and the rain about to start. 

I am an architect, I'm 35 and a first time mommy of a 5 months old boy.

I got to your blog by accident, if there is such thing, I like Private Practice, actually I used to hate it because I don't like Addison.  When I went home for maternity leave, 2 weeks before my boy was born, I started watching it and got hooked with the whole Amelia situation.  I was kind of hoping for her to keep the baby and be happy after the boyfriends death.  

When I went back home after my baby`s birth and spending 3 weeks at my moms house, one night I was holding my boy and singing for him (I don't believe in all that CIO thing, I like holding him and feeling him fall asleep in my arms) and I found on tv Private Practice just starting. 

My husband was in the room with us playing with his phone and we slowly and silently got hooked up with the baby`s birth episode.  

We couldn't watch it til the end.

The next day I went online to check "anencephaly" and got to your blog. 

My husbands name is Gabriel, he is my own personal angel.  I have been reading your blog for the past 2 or 3 months and going over your pictures, wondering how Noelle and Gideon are doing, how the bar looks like, how you feel sometimes at night and if you would like to know that somewhere in another country there is a woman thinking of you at least once every day.  

I wanted you to know that Gabriel and you changed a lot my perspective of life, It's not that I didn't enjoy my boy before but now when he cries because I buckled him up in the car seat I just say to myself "hearing him cry is a blessing". . . changing diapers, washing little socks at 11:00 p.m., working hard all day in an office, going to a meeting with a bunch of idiots, the city traffic, the bad manicure, the hair loss, the in laws. . . everything makes sense now. 

You and Gabriel gave so much sense to everything around me. 

I don't fight for stupid things anymore, I don't complain when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to have a conversation with me (in his own language. . . :D), if there is no intimacy with my husband anymore because we are either too tired or too busy, every day, Dearest Andrea, every day I kiss my son specially for you and Gabriel.  

I don't know if it is alright for me to say these things to you, but I think it would be unfair not doing it and not leting you know that all your suffering, which I cannot start to imagine, all your words; every single one of them, all of your pictures (there is one that I simply adore, you holding him with a grey shirt and smiling in profile) made me a better person, a better mom and that is keeping us 3 together. 

Please forgive me if emailing you is incorrect, I mean no harm, I just wanted you to know that I got the message and I think beautiful things about you and Gabriel. 

You taught me how to thank for every day with its ups and downs.



1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, that just moved me to tears, the way something has not done in a long time. That letter that spoke about praying for miracles... I remember when my mom first got diagnosed with cancer and I was fortunate to go on pilgrimage in the beginning months. I prayed and prayed that she would get well. I went to Lourdes and bathed in the water from which St. Bernadette once drank, all the while asking God to heal my mother. I prayed the rosary by candlelight at Fatima, where the three children once saw Our Lady.

    The tumors kept coming and the cancer kept spreading. And eventually it became clear that she was not going to get well. I was frustrated - why weren't my prayers working? But then I was blessed - yes, blessed - to be there at her bedside when she breathed her last.

    She received all the Sacraments, from the hands of our favorite priest, a young man only a year older than me and a holy holy man. I remember tears rolling down his face as she smiled at him. And my brother and I knelt by her bedside and recited the rosary and whispered our goodbyes. The nurse came in and said: "It's okay to let her go. Sometimes they need to hear that." So we did. And it was the hardest thing I ever did.

    And within 5 minutes, she was gone.

    It was 2:30 on the afternoon of February 20, 2007.

    In the days that followed, I was numb. I don't remember much of the days afterwards. But then I went to Mass a few weeks later and from the pulpit, the priest who had been at my mom's bedside when she died, praised my mom by name for being the model of a Christian death.

    And some time later, an anonymous donor established a fund in her name which would take care of a whole year's operation for the crisis pregnancy center she co-founded. At her wake, over 300 people showed up and close to 5,000 additional dollars was donated to her clinic.

    My mama continues to help me - she has never stopped loving me. And she continues to touch others lives...just as YOUR Gabriel touched and touches so many lives as you continue his story. His death was merely an end to the beginning - you are continuing the rest of the story.

    Thank you for sharing Gabriel with me. I have to admit, I wasn't always comfortable with pictures but that was all on me, not on your lovely boy. I remember when I took care of my mom in her last wasn't always visually pretty, it wasn't always easy. But I loved her, and that made the difference.

    And I see how much you loved and love that boy. And you have taught me to love him too. Thank you for teaching me to look beyond appearances.

    Gabriel, you are loved. Keep my mama, my older brother, and nine other siblings company in the light of God.