When he was 13 months old, my son Gabriel had his first life-threatening asthma attack. As my mom and I put finishing touches on dresses and party favors for my upcoming wedding, Gabe grew listless, and his breathing increasingly labored. Throughout that busy day, we blindly took turns calling the doctor and soothing Gabe with home remedies. By nightfall, we were in a hospital emergency room being introduced to the miracles that can be wrought with adrenaline and oral steroids. Gabriel spent the next five days, including the wedding day, recovering in an oxygen tent.
This memory reminds me that joy and pain and illness have always mingled to shape my family. Gabriel is the half-Tanzanian child of a failed college romance. As I wrote in "A Laughing Child in Exchange for Sin" (CT, February 2004), there was no hiding the circumstances of his birth after I married a man who is white like me. There was also no remedy for the pain of those circumstances, other than the salve of love.
For nearly two decades, love gave rein to Gabriel, his brother, my husband, and me as we galloped prettily through life. Then we hit a rough patch. By the time Gabe graduated from college, we were barely recognizable to ourselves and to each other. In "Sorrow But No Regrets" (CT, July 2007), I wrote that our church experiences alone had left my husband and me limping and our sons jaded. Again I told myself that home remedies and time would heal us; I told others that I would prove the supremacy of love in my children's lives. Just about the time I thought we might regain our family stride, Gabriel died by suicide. He was 23.
Grief and Guilt
The prenuptial flashback soothes amid relentless waves of grief and guilt. It reminds me that I am not God; I cannot ...1
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