Thursday, April 14, 2016

To Keep His Memory Alive

In the seven years since Gabriel's fatal diagnosis, my husband and I have been blessed with three healthy daughters.  Our family is now big and crazy and wonderful.  Our evenings are full of bickering and laughter, chaos and cuddles.  I can't count the times Kyle and I look at each other, both tearful, so full of joy we feel we may explode.  And yet...

And yet there is still that empty hole.  I admit it - I still grieve the tremendous loss of my son's death

April 29th is the date that will mark seven years since we received Gabriel's fatal diagnosis.  Seven years since our once illuminated world turned dark.  We were young parents with one toddler, thrilled to be giving him a sibling.  All that joy, all that hope.  To then find out our baby boy wasn't going to make it long after his birth.  Suddenly all we could feel was despair and intense sadness.  After enduring months of carrying around the son who would soon die, the real sorrow began on August 21st.  The day we said both "hello" and "goodbye" to our beloved baby boy.  Have you ever felt such grief that your heartache felt quite literal?  It's a true sensation.  Your heart actually aches.  Your chest is tight, your eyes are heavy, and your body longs to hold your baby just one more time.

And then life just keeps going.  At first you are forced to deal with the shock of everyone else going about their days, as if all is normal.  But your life is not normal.  You are struggling.  Time goes by and you find yourself falling back into routines and traditions, feeling pulled by your past while being flung forward.

You begin to feel desperate to remember, and to keep him remembered.  You never want to forget his sweet face, the color of his hair, the smell of his very existence.  I distinctly remember the first time I took his tiny hospital hat out of its little bag, inhaled deeply, and realized his scent was gone.  

You fiercely seek ways to keep his memory alive.  Lighting candles around the dinner table at holidays, releasing balloons for his birthday, keeping his pictures around and seen, even just saying his name.  But you don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, so you struggle to fight for any actions of remembrance.

One of our biggest efforts was organizing a yearly event to raise money for The Gabriel Fund, which was set up in his name within a local Christian organization.  Since his death, we have intensely wanted everyone we know and love to remember him as well, and to show up to show their support.  And because of the closeness of the cause, we found ourselves hurt and taking every absence personally.  Our hearts started to feel torn as we asked the community to rally around the remembrance of our son year after year. 

So we will no longer be organizing and hosting such events.  We are at the point that we want to tuck him away in our hearts and no longer ask the world to join in our sorrow.  While this gives me great relief, it also makes me feel like I'm doing the one thing I never wanted to do.  The one thing everyone around me wanted me to do.  I'm moving on.  Not getting over, never getting over, but moving on.

This all became so abundantly clear to me the other week when my oldest child came home with an assignment from school.  He was given a writing prompt, "Who is worth more to you than gold?"  And his response brought instant tears to my eyes.  "Gabe is worth more than gold to me because he is special to me.  I was only one when I saw him.  Now he's up in Heaven.  I will always remember him."

That's it.  My complicated grief simplified in the words of my seven year old.  I no longer need to feel obligated to urge others to keep my son's memory alive.  I no longer need to feel sad if the entire world forgets, because my family will always remember.  His story is written in our hearts.

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