This Thanksgiving, my son Gabriel should have been 10 weeks old.
Instead, this Thanksgiving was the 3 week anniversary of his death.
November 6th, 2014, we woke up to get ready for our day, and Gabriel didn't. There is an abyss waiting for me in that moment, waiting to swallow me.
Fortunately, this guy's watching over his daddy. Maybe it's just me, but that looks like a guy who gets his way. "Really, dad? Despair? You know where I am!"
I know son. Doesn't make me miss you less.
You know that footprints poem? Where the man has a dream and is talking with Jesus, and only sees one set of footprints during the lowest parts of his life?
Yeah, I hate that poem.
I mean, if you like it, I'm not judging you, I just don't think it's quite right. It seems to say that somehow we're just carried through adversity, like we weren't really suffering.
Much better is this one:
That day, the bear ate us.
And yet, somehow, we're still here. The bear has eaten us, and the miracle is not that our suffering has been lessened, but that it has been given purpose.
So, now, you very may well ask if I indeed have anything for which to be thankful. How can I, with my broken heart, be thankful for anything?
Well, the first thing I am thankful for is my son. We only got to hold him for 7 weeks, but what a 7 weeks! Such a reminder of his big sister and brother, and yet completely his own person. The awful responsibility of caring for 3 children - at the same time! The joy that is a snuggly little baby, watching as he started to be able to pick his head up, seeing him track mama while he's getting his diaper changed.
The second thing I am thankful for is my son. Cheating, I know. The thing is, I absolutely hate the fact that I can't hold him, and at the same time I know that right now he is in eternal bliss, praising the same trinity in which he was baptized. My son is a saint, interceding for his mother and me, for his big brother and sister. Our family has its own patron saint! I would give anything to change that fact, yet a fact it remains.
I am also thankful for our two oldest children, Angelica and Jeremy. I never got to hold either of them. Angelica was conceived when my wife was assaulted before we met (miscarried within the first trimester), and played a major part in her mother an I discerning marriage (long story, I'll tell it some time, I promise). Jeremy was conceived shortly after we were married, and also was miscarried. We remember them in our family prayers after every Mass, but somehow this tragedy has made them more real to me. I no longer consider myself a father of 3, and am not a father of 2, but a father of 5, with 3 already in heaven. We have three family patrons, and now my two surviving children understand that in a way that they didn't before their little brother died.
I am thankful for our family and friends, my coworkers, and complete strangers, who have reached out to us in our time of tragedy. Nothing makes this better, nothing fills the hole in my heart, but the prayers being offered, the food and other assistance, all have made it more possible to continue putting one foot in front of the other. We have been taken care of in ways we could not have imagined. We are surrounded by those who mourn with us, and sadly those who have experienced this or similar tragedies. Every word or act of kindness makes it easier to bear, to go on, to stay out of that waiting abyss.
I am thankful for the prayers, and the companionship. More than anything, the shoulders to cry on (or scream into), and the prayers which have been the spiritual equivalent of those shoulders. Erin and I have taken to saying that, "If we're standing, we're leaning." It can be easy to doubt the efficacy of prayer. We certainly tell people that we will pray for them, and we do, yet it feels like the smallest thing possible.
How far from the truth that is!
Those prayers are why we are still breathing. Still moving. Still living.
I am thankful for my faith. I cannot imagine going through this without a supporting community, but even less can I imagine enduring this without my faith. If I did not know where my son is right now, how could I survive? I am so shattered, I don't know how I could go on if it weren't for the promises of our God - promises which I am holding Him to.
I am thankful for the gift of laughter, especially when I can't tell the difference between laughing and crying (which frequently happens when I miss Gabriel, and then he points out something humorous).
I am thankful for my surviving children, for their hearts so full of childlike love. I am thankful that they miss their brother, and that at the same time they are not weighed down in mourning - they are still children. As soon as she knew what colors were, Eve informed us that her favorite color is blue. By the time Michael was about a year old, she informed us that his favorite color is white (I think it might actually be red, but... Whatever). We had not yet asked Eve what Gabriel's favorite color is.
When we were at the cemetery selecting Gabriel's plot, it dawned on me to ask. "Eve, what's Gabriel's favorite color?"
"Oh, like you!"
"Yep, and... Pink!"
"Oh, like mommy!"
"Uh huh, and... Purple!"
"Oh, Grandma Donna will like that!"
"Yeah, and... he likes Black and... Well, he likes all the colors!"
(This is where inspiration hit, thank you Gabriel): "Oh, so he's our rainbow baby!" (At this point I recalled a rainbow pinwheel I had seen at another grave in the infants section.) "Hey Eve, I'm going to make you a promise, and I want you to make me a promise, and as a family we're going to promise that every time we see a rainbow, we'll remember it's Gabriel smiling at us, right?"
The beautiful thing is that both Eve and Michael have taken to finding rainbows (or even just a few colors from the rainbow) and excitedly proclaiming, "That's Gabriel smiling at us!" So add rainbows to the list of things for which I am thankful.
I am thankful for my wonderful wife, who is right there with me, mice notwithstanding (another long story, freaking mice...). She is very good at drawing me back from the edge when it looks like the abyss is ready to swallow me. I hope I do half so good for her.
I am thankful for many things this (belated) Thanksgiving, even as I feel the emptiness. So many "should have beens," and more to come.
But for now, we hold onto that thanksgiving, that Eucharist. I am thankful that when the world ends, He is still there. When the bear eats us, He waits for us, holding out His hand to draw us down the path as we start anew.
With a broken heart full of joy, I am thankful.
God love you.
Heavenly Father, author of life,
Our hearts are heavy from the loss of our son Gabriel.
Unite our suffering to the cross of Your Son, Jesus Christ,
and use this suffering as a prayer of intercession.
We pray for the safety of all children in their mothers’ wombs.
We pray for men & women considering abortion,
that the light of truth be shown in their hearts,
and that they see the true hope of a better way.
We pray for clinic workers,
that they see the lie of abortion for what it is,
and be given the strength and courage to leave for a better life.
We pray for the hearts of all this nation,
that they see the value of life,
and that they treasure all life as much as we do right now.
Father of all mercies,
enfold our son in your loving embrace,
pour your love into our broken hearts.
Our Lady, Mother of Perpetual Help,
Pray For Us