Some days, I think it looks easier than it is.
Living without Gabriel, that is.
Every once in a while I have an opportunity to talk about pregnancy and motherhood as though my experience was just like everyone else's. While at a hearing in Long Beach on Monday, I talked with another lawyer who also happens to be an expectant mother, and we compared experiences. I had fun, until she asked the natural follow-up questions.
"Did you have a boy or a girl?"
"Oh! What's his name?"
"How old is Gabriel?"
"He would be two. He passed away when he was ten days old."
"Oh. . . Do you mind if I ask what happened?"
"He had anencephaly, a neural tube defect."
"What does that mean."
I went through the routine explanation of Gabriel's condition. She deduced that I made a choice to carry him to term in spite of his diagnosis and asked a few questions about that too.
"How old are you?"
Knowing what would follow, I responded, "Thirty-one."
"You're still young; you can have more." It's true. God-willing, I can and will have more. But I will never stop missing Gabriel. And when people tell me, "Having another baby won't fill that hole in your heart" I know that they are right - no one knows that better than me - but I want them to know that the hole is so very big and deep that I can't just let it be. If I'd made no attempts to begin to fill it in, I would have died. What is left to do when your child has gone before you? What is left to live for?
I could feel this woman's eyes on me as I flipped through the file in front of me. "I'm really impressed by you. You must be so strong." I looked at her, weakly, and I could see the sympathy in her eyes. Don't crack. Don't break. Don't cry. I pressed my lips into a smile.
"Do you know where the dismissal forms are kept?" She pointed to a shelf behind her, and we went about talking law.
Make no mistake: Every day is a struggle. If you've never experienced the strange blessing of witnessing someone's dying before your eyes, it's nearly impossible to explain the residual feelings. One moment my son was alive, in my arms. The next moment, his heart stopped beating, and mine did too, and I had to make it beat again. I had to make myself keep breathing because I didn't want to. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that my son's soul was at peace, but I missed him immediately. I know that there must be some reason that I'm still here; still, every day I have to look for that reason.
In just a few hours, family, friends, and I will release balloons in celebration of Gabriel's "Angelversary." The balloon release is of course symbolic of the flight of the soul upon death. We will watch the balloons as they make their way towards Heaven, like we did with Gabriel's birthday cupcake last week, fading away until they disappear. Having watched Gabriel die, though, I know now that his passing didn't really work like that. He was here, struggling, dying - But instantly, he was gone. You could have nothing but faith in Heaven in a moment like that, feel nothing but certainty that Heaven is real and that's where Gabriel's soul was swiftly taken, and you could do nothing but want to be there too. Somehow, though, you have to find a way to stay here and a reason to go on.
Lord knows I think about more babies too much. I think about silly television shows. I think about Jodi Arias. I think about the dogs. I drink too much. I eat too much. I function the best I can.
But Gabriel is still at the heart of what drives me to carry on. Spreading his message is, right now, the most important thing I do. Being his mommy is the most important part of me. So, when those balloons are released this evening, a little box will be tied to their strings. Inside that box will be a link to this entry, and a request that anyone who finds the box please log on and tell us where it was found. With luck, we'll get some participants, and we'll be able to see how far this message has gone, and how many more people have been touched today by the baby boy who, against all odds, lived ten days and changed the world.
If you are logging on to share that you've found a balloon, please know that Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude was born on June 10, 2011. He had anencephaly, and at 21 weeks gestation we learned that he would not live long after his birth. Doctors told us we'd be fortunate, if he were even born alive, if he lived for one day. Gabriel died on June 20, 2011. He touched lives. He melted hearts.
He is my first and only born child, and he is missed deeply. And you logging in today - and you who have logged on for two years now - you give me hope that even though my son is gone, life isn't over. It has gone on, it will keep going on, and there is always a reason to live.