“Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?”
The sounds of children’s voices echoed through the cathedral at my daughters’ school as my husband, dressed in black, carried our son Gabriel towards the altar. My two daughters and I, along with our family members and all the small children in attendance, followed behind, carrying white roses to offer him near his casket. My mom took one of my grandmother’s tablecloth’s and placed it over top, as a pall.
I will always remember my baby boy being placed at the forefront of this beautiful cathedral, painted light blue, surrounded by roses, stained glass windows, and the smell of incense. My husband placed a baby blue Crucifix on top of his casket and a two-toned blue Rosary nearby.
And then it began–my baby’s funeral. My son’s official farewell.
Before arriving, it dawned on me that this would be one of the very last times I would physically be in Gabriel’s presence. That was hard to accept, but also felt like a blessing. It was an odd contradiction of emotion, but keep in mind that for someone who had such limited time with her child, having that hour being just a few steps away, was a privilege. It was some of the only time I’d ever get with him.
Throughout the service, I felt like I was in and out of consciousness–like I was present and aching one moment and the next I was speaking to God, and to Mary, and to my baby Gabriel…asking them to help me find a way to survive. It was only when I looked over at the helpless tears on my older daughter’s face when I would snap out of it, remembering that I had two other blessings from God that needed me, even when I needed help myself.
The priest, Father Francis, asked those in attendance several times to please pray for our family during his Homily. While I think we all felt baby Gabriel had already flown to heaven, it was us, stuck down here on earth in inexplicable pain, that truly needed comfort and the love of those around us. I will never forget him saying that although Gabriel’s time here on earth was short, that he believed it was “enough time,” nonetheless. While some people may have been hurt by that, I found solace in it. We got fifteen minutes of life. We got to meet our baby boy and every moment of his life was spent in my arms, being loved unconditionally by his mama and daddy. Not one moment passed during his entire lifetime, when he was away from us or didn’t know our love. We were there for him, loving him wholeheartedly, from beginning to end.
As the choir sang the words to “Be Not Afraid,” my girls brought the bread and wine up as an offering in Gabriel’s honor. It was an incredibly brave gesture by my oldest, who was having such a difficult time saying goodbye to the brother she never really got to know. For being just nine years old, her strength was admirable.
“We remember, we celebrate, we believe.”
Communion was hard. I closed my eyes and prayed, offering everything I had left in me to my baby boy. I have no idea how long that portion lasted or how many people came by to accept the bread. I really felt in my own world, sheltered by my own tears, until I heard the echoes of the “Magnificat” being bounced off the walls of the church. A group of students, all adorned in their uniforms, entered the back doors and sang Mary’s plea to God, in Latin, in rounds with my daughter’s classmates–reminding us all just how beautiful and kind children can be. If sounds could illuminate, that moment would have been a radiant glow of love, compassion, and support.
My husband picked up my baby and carried him out of the church to the echoes of “On Eagle’s Wings” while my girls and I trailed behind. That part was all a blur.
How could my time with my son already be over?
When we reached the hearst and the priest said his final blessings, I thanked the young altar servers, who selflessly assisted during such a hard, unimaginable time. One young lady had tears in her eyes and my heart went out to her as I smiled a smile of gratitude. I later found out she cried in the bathroom for quite some time after the service. Even for those we don’t know well, the death of our baby was so unimaginable and so sad. I was so moved by the crowd of folks who showed up, from family members to fellow soccer moms and mothers of children at the school. As they all acknowledged me, I saw the tears in their eyes and felt so comforted to know that my baby boy had touched so many lives, even if he didn’t really get one of his own.