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.
Rest in peace, Gabriel. And rest in Love.
As I read this and get to the part where you hug Terry LOVE Lenley, I cry, only to hear my own Gabriel mumbling something in the background, I say what? but I really don't know what he wants or needs. Finally I finishing reading your beautiful well written words and everything else is clear, "My Gabriel needs me to turn on his light in his room, because after all he is only 3 1/2 and wants to play with his Thomas the Train toys." My heart broke when I hugged Wayne and then told him my son is Gabriel too! It was a very cleansing day for me to reconnect with my friends and I now know I would do anything for any of them (you) at anytime, because we are bonded in some way! ONE LOVE! -Anita
So very beautiful, Hollye.
As Rumi wrote…silence is the language of God.
Hollye…..you've brought so many tears with your beautiful, heartfelt words. As I'm sure you know, this brings back the sadness of the recent death of my friend's daughter. You are right, it doesn't matter the cause….just that it happened to someone so young and full of life. Love is the only answer to everything!!! It is so powerful…..stronger than any other emotion. It encompasses all. Those who have gone before us, would want nothing less than for all of us to listen and respond to the call of love……for it is in every touch, every smile, every place. Thank you Hollye, for sharing your pain, their pain, their strength, your wisdom and your heart!!!!
I LOVE YOU HOLLYE DEXTER……♥
I love you too Georgie, and I thought of you, and your friend losing her gorgeous daughter and grandchild. It's not for us to understand, but only to love each other, hold hands and walk through it. We have to rise to the best in us to survive, and maybe that's why? Maybe these tragedies make us better humans. I don't know. But let's love each other the best we can, because at the end, that's all that matters.
Jim- thank you for that. I love Rumi's Poems.
Anita- Yes- ONE LOVE, just as we always sang together. ONE LOVE.
Dearest Hollye, so sorry to hear about the death of your dear friend Gabriel. Our modern world is not comfortable with death or grieving, so I'm pleased you chose to honour Gabriel by writing about him and his passing today. You have shone a light and shown us a far better way, and for this I thank you sincerely.
I wish I had never had to write it Elizabeth, but I am glad that because of Gabriel, this has touched your heart. Blessings and love to you.
thank you for bringing your gift forth in such a powerful way…your words are a healing balm…so soothing to the heart… much love.
Until the end of time and time is done and all of the words have been spunned, never ever let life's tragedies and pitfalls dictate or redirect your love and happiness for those you love. We have all been blessed with that ability and the one great thing that we can do is to rediscover that ability everyday, some way,somehow. Take a chance, life is too short for regrets. Reach out and grab it with both hands and enjoy the ride. Gabe did, how can we do anything different? Susie, my love goes out to you and know this one thing that I will always be here.
Grace is the thing. It's the only thing that saves us, and grace is what answers the 'how' and the 'why.' Grace is also what counts 'now.'
This was really moving Hollye. At EastLake Seattle today, Grace is what we covered. So glad I clicked over here, this was a perfect follow up lesson. Your friends have an angel in you and your friendship. With the understanding you've shown by writing this Prayer for Gabriel, you will be a great comfort to many.
I'm so glad you found us here, Ms Peach. Grace is the key so so many of our problems in life.
Glad to hear from you Christy- thank you for your kind comments and for joining our conversation.
And Chilly Willy- lovely words. I know you loved Gabriel so much and shared so many memories with him. love to you, my friend.
Wow… such a sad story… he just passed in his sleep with no apparent reason???
I hope never to hear the "deafening thud." Any day a mother does not hear that is a good day.
I worry about my children every time they drive away from my home. I'm afraid an experience like this would (well lets just say that I'm not as strong as you all obviously are) Your group love is infectious and out of the ordinary. This is not the first instance I have noted how you all love each other and I am truly touched by your love for Gabriel. I wish I had met him just once, but he lives on through you all.
Debra- It is every mother's worst nightmare. And yet, I have now witnessed two of my friend's experience this. All we can do is love our children like crazy, and tell them as often as we can. Even through my worst problems, if my kids are alive and healthy, I am counting my blessings.
Donald- Me, too! I am a notorious worrier, which my adult children do not appreciate, but one day when they have kids, they'll know. And yes, there is tremendous love in this group of friends, and that is something that will help Susie survive this awful tragedy.