A few weeks ago, I was feeling rather blue because a plant that we had gotten when Gabriel died had also died, from neglect. I got quite a long email from my friend N about that post expressing her concern for me (“I just don’t like to think of you as suffering”) and wondering if, in the sadness, if there were positive things to take from our loss. “It is Spring, Lent, soon to be Easter,” she wrote. “A time of rebirth.”
I have thought a lot about that email from my longest-running best friend, and in the wake of two losses from around the interwebs this week, I thought that I would try to capture the idea of the gift that Gabriel was/is. “Every child is a gift,” I have said, and I truly believe that, and even the ones we lose — although it is hard to understand how that loss can be a “gift”.
1. As a little girl, I didn’t dream of getting married and having babies. I don’t even remember playing with dolls. Gabriel is the one who taught me that I did, actually, want to be a mother. I had not given it a lot of thought one way or the other up until I was pregnant with him. It wasn’t even ambivalence on my part. My pregnancy just seemed the evolution of my relationship with my husband, turning our family of two into a family of more.
2. Losing Gabriel meant that my other two pregnancies were more closely monitored. Without that level of scrutiny, the problems that cropped up at the end of my pregnancies with my girls (low amniotic fluid, prematurely aging placenta) would not have been discovered. Interventions would not have been made.
3. Gabriel’s loss has given me a unique perspective as a parent. Sometimes it’s not the greatest feeling in the world, knowing how very fragile life is, how very fragile a heart is. Sometimes it stops my breath, with fear, with love. It’s not a gift I would give you, in other words, but it’s a gift I have.
4. Gabriel’s loss gives me empathy for other parents of lost babies, lost children. When we went to Compassionate Friends, they reached out and supported me and DearDR, gave us a place where our grief was perfectly understood. Their message was, “We’re so sorry you’re here, but we’re so glad you’ve come.”
5. I feel like I have an angel in heaven watching over me, and over DearDR and me, and — especially — watching over my girls. Watching over his little sisters. As much as I would change that if I could, it brings me a deep comfort.
6. It gives me the desire to do something if I can, to help a grieving family or friend. Sometimes you can’t do much — take my word for it. The best things that were provided for me after Gabriel died sound like such small things: food, for example.
After Gabriel’s death, my parents and my sister stayed with my husband and me for a bit, maybe a week. I spent a lot of time sleeping in the first couple of days (daze). At one point, I remember DearDR coming into the bedroom and saying, “Your mother is cleaning the lightbulbs.”
“Your mother is standing on the dining room table, dusting the lightbulbs in the chandelier.” He sounded a little outraged.
“Let her go,” I said. “They don’t know what else to do.”
That’s why I’m walking for Maddie. Nothing will bring her — or Gabriel — back, nothing will heal the pain of the empty cradle, the lost child, the hole in the heart. But in the face of that helplessness, I will grasp the thing I can do, which is offer condolence and support.
As N pointed out in her email, “Maybe it is ok to open up a new space in your heart where you can be happy that Gabriel is a very special entity watching over you, over his Dad, and over his sisters… Because, while it was (is!) terribly sad to have lost him and your opportunity to know him on this earth, you can know him in a new way.” I have known him in this new way for awhile, and I’m glad that N’s email gave me a way into sharing it. The sadness is inevitable and accessible. But there are gifts, too, gifts that Gabriel gives.