We were so happy to find out that we were pregnant with our third baby in February, 2015. At the end of May, we put an offer in on a new house and began looking forward to all the changes that were coming. At my 17-week appointment, I got to hear the heartbeat of my baby, which sounded perfect. On June 25, after a week and a half of both Matthew and I traveling for work, we were so happy that the day of our sonogram had come. We were looking forward to finding out the gender of our sweet baby. My husband met me at the imaging place, so we could find out together. Sadly, just minutes after the sonogram tech started the sonogram, she put away the tools and excused herself for a moment. I knew immediately something was wrong. I looked at my husband and let him know that that was not a good sign. It seemed like forever before she came back in to let us know that our doctor was waiting to talk with us.
At that point I asked if something was wrong and she confirmed that there was no heartbeat. My heart sank. I was 20 weeks and two days pregnant and my baby had passed away sometime in the last three weeks. Over those previous three weeks, I had moments wondering why I had not felt movement or why my belly wasn’t growing more. However, it was still early to feel much movement and being busy with two other children and life, I chalked it up to just not paying attention to the small flutters that I might've been able to feel at that point. Other concerns were just things I noticed, but after two very healthy, normal pregnancies, I figured everything was fine. While talking with the doctor that day, she gave us our options and we chose to go in to the hospital a few days later to be induced and deliver our baby, whose gender was still unknown.
I went home that day, canceled our family photo shoot we were planning to have that night, and began making phone calls to tell our close family and friends the sad news. I sent an email to my co-workers to let them know the news I had just announced to them the week before had drastically changed. We had to explain to our 5-year-old and 2-year-old what had happened. The 2-year-old didn’t quite understand, but in the coming weeks, he did understand that Gabriel was his baby brother and that he was with Jesus. When we told our 5-year-old, he just didn’t understand. He asked, “What? Already?” and then he broke down in tears. It was as if he knew that he would die someday, but that he also knew it wasn’t supposed to be this soon. In the coming weeks, when we would discuss Gabriel, my two-year-old would always look for my Gabriel bracelet on my arm and just touch it. My 5-year-old would talk about Gabriel fairly often and about how he was with Jesus and at night while I laid with him, he asked me multiple times if my pain was almost gone or getting better. My sweet boys on earth. They were and are amazing.
The day after our sonogram was Friday and our closing date for our new home. After living with Matthew's parents for 6 months while we sold our previous home in Lawrence and found a house in Wichita, we were excited to have our own home again. Family and friends helped my husband move some things into our new home that Saturday. Then early Sunday morning, while Grandma and Grandpa watched our two boys, we headed to the hospital to deliver our precious baby. Luckily things progressed fairly quickly once we got started.
Our sweet angel baby Gabriel Mason was born sleeping at 2:50 PM on June 28th, 2015. He weighed just 2.2 oz and was 6.5 inches long and fit in our palm. His tiny body was perfectly shaped. A while after he was born, after trying to take footprints of the smallest little feet, the nurses handed him to me, and I was able to transfer him from the hospital linen into his Bridget’s Cradle. After spending a few hours with him, both sets of grandmas and grandpas came up along with both big brothers and we had the Wesley chaplain come in and do a blessing for Gabriel. A little while later, Kaci, a photographer with NILMDTS, came and took some pictures. These meant a lot as they are really the only visual thing we have to remember Gabriel by. We took a few of our own, but they were nothing like these. After that, Matthew and I spent some more time with our baby boy saying our goodbyes and then packed up our things and went home.
Over the next few weeks, my mind was semi-numb and I went through the motions I needed to go through to get through life. I took off work, but didn't do much. I was surrounded by boxes and piles of stuff around the house but chose to try to spend a lot of my time with my boys doing fun things we didn't normally do. I wanted them to have happy memories associated with our move and new house and not just sad memories. I, too, wanted those happy memories. I was having a hard time with the idea of removing the bright orange plastic hospital bracelet from my day of delivery. Shortly after I came home from the hospital, I had received an invite to an online jewelry party. I decided I wanted a bracelet to wear in place of the hospital band that was still on my wrist. I chose a leather band with letters GMB, an angel wing, and a bar of June birthstones. Once that came in, I allowed myself to switch out the bright orange bracelet with this new softer and sweeter band. I wore it every day. It became known as my Gabriel bracelet.
About a week and a half after delivering Gabriel, a new kind of guilt and sadness came over me. I started regretting allowing the hospital to bury him and wishing he had his own grave. After reading stories of people being able to change their mind and do this, and knowing that Wesley only does a burial once per quarter, I called the hospital to see if his body was still in the morgue. Unfortunately, and fortunately, because he was born at the end of the second quarter, he was buried almost immediately. I struggled with this for quite a while, knowing there was nothing I could do. I finally came to the decision that I was going to have a memorial service for Gabriel on his due date of November 10th. Just making this decision, made me feel so much better. I was able to take my time to plan it and think of all the things I wanted to do for it over the next few months.
On October 4th, Wesley Medical Center held a memorial for the babies lost throughout the last year. We attended and it was beautiful. Part of the service included them placing a dated brick next to their living memorial in the courtyard to memorialize the infants lost that year. Following that service, my husband and two boys went to the cemetery to visit the grave where Gabriel was buried. It’s a beautiful memorial and I am thankful for that.
November 10th came and after lots of planning, I had all sorts of things that I wanted to cherish forever and be connected to my Gabriel. We had a short service, where we spoke and Matthew chose to read the 23rd Psalm from the Jesus Storybook Bible, and played a few songs. We did a balloon release and my 2-year-old picked the song You Are My Sunshine to be played during that. The other song we played was Three Little Birds, which was the song Matthew sang while holding Gabriel in the hospital. Christi, another photographer with NILMDTS and friend of mine, came and took photos during the memorial. They are the only photos I have from that day and I cherish them. She also gave us a slideshow with some video footage. I remember thinking and saying how fast the balloon release went and now I can watch it over and over again.
Details of Gabriel’s memorial include our Gabriel rock, a bubbling rock fountain in my front yard, next to a new small stone patio. We were given our Gabriel bear that sits in the front garden area and we had it on display (in its new permanent home). My whole family loves music and dancing, so I made a wind chime from a children’s xylophone, so that Gabriel could ‘chime’ (pun intended) in on our dance/music parties. For the memorial, it was hanging above his bubbling rock. We wanted others to be involved in helping us remember Gabriel as well, so we had rocks to write messages on that would later go around our Gabriel bubbling rock. We had tags for notes, messages, or just names of those there with us that would be hung on a decorative tree. We also had colored ink and a canvas for people to put their thumb prints on, that I later made look like a bouquet of balloons to symbolize the balloon release that we did that day. It was a wonderful service and I appreciated all those that could be there that day to acknowledge the existence of and celebrate my baby boy. Somewhere I had read that the purpose of a memorial was to acknowledge the existence of someone, and I know that is the reason having a memorial helped me so much.
It’s been just over 9 months. We are now expecting Gabriel’s baby sister to be born around his first birthday. We are happy to know she will have two big brothers here on earth to watch out for her and one big brother in Heaven to keep watch over her. I think about Gabriel all the time, which will never change. I will always wonder what life would be like if he were here on earth with us, what he’d look like, and what his personality would be like. Days are better than they were and continue to get easier as time goes by. Time and talking about it has allowed me to learn how to better deal with the grief. I talk about him when I want to and I know that it’s okay when I don’t. I am thankful for the friends he has brought into my life. I enjoy the volunteering I do because of him and hope that I can continue to bless others in many other ways because of him as well. To quote the well-known children’s book: Gabriel, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be. <3
A paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm from the book The Jesus Storybook Bible that was read at Gabriel’s memorial:
God is my Shepherd
And I am his little lamb.
He feeds me
He guides me
He looks after me.
I have everything I need.
Inside, my heart is very quiet.
As quiet as lying still in soft green grass
In a meadow
By a little stream.
Even when I walk through
the dark, scary, lonely places
I won’t be afraid
Because my Shepherd knows where I am.
He is here with me
He keeps me safe
He rescues me
He makes me strong
He is getting wonderful things ready for me
Especially for me
Everything I ever dreamed of!
He fills my heart so full of happiness
I can’t hold it all inside.
Wherever I go I know
God’s Never Stopping
Never Giving Up
Always and Forever
Will go, too!
Photo credit: Family Photo - Alisha Call; NILMDTS - Under the Willow Tree Photography; Memorial Photography - 9 Sparrow Lane
Written by Dena Broderick, Gabriel's Mommy