For over twenty years, Troy and I have made music with Gabriel’s family. Together, we have filled ballrooms and venues all over the country with music and laughter and joyous sound. But before Gabriel’s funeral, I never knew the sound of four hundred human souls wailing with grief. Now I do. As my husband Troy said, so eloquently, “The deafening thud of the first bit of earth dropped from mother’s shovel to son’s casket is a sound I will not soon forget.”
On this darkest of days, the January sun shone bright, the cloudless sky above was never bluer, as we watched our sweet friend Susan bury her twenty-four year old son, then stand tall and call herself a blessed woman to have loved him. Such unbearable sorrow, such devastating grace and beauty. What to make of it all?
Everyone wants to know how it happened. How could such a young beautiful man die in his sleep? We don’t exactly know yet, and that’s not the point. The point is – it has happened. But still the questions… How? How? It’s as though we think if we can just understand how, we can immunize ourselves from such a terrible fate. I understand this, as I’ve done it myself. But the hard truth is we are not guaranteed any such security in life. Tragedies befall each of us in different ways.
Healing lies not in the how, not in the why, but in the acceptance of what is. It may take us a lifetime or beyond to understand, but this much I know of life. No one gets to elude the difficult parts. There are those who say that happiness is our birthright, but it’s not our only birthright. Suffering, joy, pain, health, illness, disaster, miracles…are all our birthright, because they are all part of the human experience. Pain is what leads us inevitably to Grace. As in the story of Michelangelo, every one of us is David, trapped in the marble, waiting for our Creator to chisel away our cowardice, our ego, our pride and resentments, to release the true essence of what we really are. Suffering opens the door to these defining moments, our holiest moments, if we allow ourselves to be broken open. And once we are, yes, we will know pain. But each of us carries the most powerful antidote in the world to pain, that miraculous healing medicine – love.
Susan and her children epitomized love as they each delivered raw, honest, heartwrenching eulogies to Gabriel. As I watched through tear-filled eyes, I saw light emanating from them, and knew at that moment they were being held by thousands of unseen hands, cradled in prayers from all over the world. Love in action.
They spoke of the overwhelming love Gabriel showed in his life, and asked us all to love each other better, that his life would not have been in vain.
Driving my youngest son Evan home from school yesterday, I was lost in thoughts of the funeral, still trying to process it all- what can I do, how can I help? when out of the blue Evan asked,
“Mommy, how much do you love me?”
“Oh my goodness,” I said, “I love you so much I could never even say…”
“Just try anyway…” he said.
I closed my eyes and absorbed his words. Just try anyway.
Maybe we don’t always know how to love each other better, but we can try anyway. That is what I intend. I will tell my children and all of the people in my life how very much I love them. I will show love through my choices and my actions until my very life becomes a form of prayer- a prayer which I offer in honor of Gabriel:
May my thoughts, my words, my deeds be centered in love.
It may be difficult on some days, and sometimes I may fail, but as my baby boy said…I will just try anyway.
The sun was just beginning to set as the funeral came to an end. The rabbi asked us to form a human walkway for the family to move through as they left the grave to walk back into life. There were so many of us – hundreds and hundreds- it was an astonishing sight. Susan held her head high, making eye contact with us as she passed, acknowledging the love being shown.
As Troy and I left the gravesite, we saw our beautiful friend Terry Lenley. We hugged each other so tight and cried. With tears running down his face, he gave us a reassuring look, “Love’s got this,” he said.
No truer words…
Silence is the sound we hear now. Silence to reflect, to pray, to remember. But one day soon, the silence will give way to music and laughter as Gabriel’s family once again fills their world with the joyous sounds of life. In those moments, I will imagine Gabriel dancing among us.