The boy who lives on
A year ago today, my friend Eliza became a mother. Her son Gabriel was born and she held him in her arms. But Gabriel was born too soon. Due the same week -- maybe even the same day -- as Nico, he was born at only 20 weeks, too little, too early. There was no hope for a NICU miracle or a last-minute happy ending. There was a brief time to hold him and talk to him and tell him he was loved, and then he was gone.
That night, I lay in bed, 900 miles away, curled around the 20-week-old baby in my own belly, and I sobbed. For Eliza, for Gabriel, for the fragility of tiny lives. In the days and weeks after his birth and death, I was often at a loss. How could I offer comfort when I was a walking reminder of exactly what she had lost? How could I hope to console her in an embrace with only one pregnant belly between us instead of two? I hope that I was able to offer her words of love and encouragement. I hope I did not fail as a friend in those terrible early weeks and months.
For her part, she has been a wonderful friend to me. When she had every right and reason to turn her face away, she instead celebrated my son's birth. When it would've been easy for the seed of bitterness to take root, she instead has expressed joy, again and again, for me and my boy.
After Gabriel's birth, whenever I thought of Eliza, I wished her peace. I didn't know yet about the fraught nature of the word, about the possible pain of it. I do still think of peace and hope for her, but more often when I think of her I think about grace. The grace she has shown me, the grace that carries her through even the darkest of days. I am not a religious person and this is neither the time nor the place for me to discuss God. But I think I have come to believe in grace.
I hope it's not creepy or conceited to say that sometimes I feel Gabe's presence. Sometimes I feel like I can almost see him out of the corner of my eye, playing and growing alongside Nico, as if I could catch a glimpse of him if I just turned quickly enough. He is in my heart, always. Even if something happens and someday Eliza and I drift apart, I will never forget him. He will always be both a tiny, perfect, fragile baby and a mysterious almost-there boy, growing and changing with the months and years.
Eliza has said before that sometimes just knowing people are thinking of Gabe is helpful, that knowing he is on someone else's mind is proof of life, evidence that it wasn't some surreal and awful dream, an acknowledgment that she is a mother, she had a son. I know most of you don't know her, but if you have a moment and could summon the courage to leave a comment on her blog today, I'm sure it would help. Even if all you say is "I thought of Gabriel today." If that's too much, feels too intrusive, then all I ask is this: find a quiet moment today and say his name, just once. A shout or a whisper, it doesn't matter, just say Gabriel.
Today I do not wear black for mourning. Instead I wear green, the color of Gabriel's birthstone, the color of new growth, of life and hope. Today I do not sit in silence. Instead, I speak his name, aloud and on this page. Gabriel. Gabriel Ross. You lived. You live on. You are loved. We remember you, we celebrate you, we miss you.
Happy birthday, Gabriel.