Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Jonny & Gabby Holding Hands

In the midst of my complete sadness and despair, I came across this video that brings the biggest smile to my face and joy in my heart.  I even laughed out loud as I watched it.

I remember taking this video and, I wanted to change the song so badly (because it's such a bad one!) but I didn't want to miss Jonny and Gabby playing together in their highchair.

They loved eating side by side.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A poem by cousin Sarah


Her eyes shone, twinkling blue

Angel wings she now has grew

Sometimes I wonder if it's true

Oh Gabrielle, I'll never forget you

Inside the body through the pain

The Spirit will always remain

I'll never forget the smiles you gave

they gave me comfort in so many ways.

Deep inside I knew you were so much more

I'll carry the memories with me forever.

You will, and always be loved,

As you watch from above.

I love you Gabrielle.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Gabrielle's Euology

We received several gentle requests to share Gabby's eulogy here... for re-reads, out-of-towners, etc. I believe I started by saying how grateful we were for everyone's help and attendance, then I shared how some people thought I was crazy for speaking (i.e. aren't you afraid of breaking down), and how my response was always "Heck no!" ... I won't get to dance with her at her graduation or honour her life and spirit at her wedding, so of course I want to say her eulogy. I will never forget standing there, with my little son Michael who followed me up to the podium and didn't leave my side, how utterly proud I was of my little girl ... Full of love and peace and fatherly pride ... and then I said,

Gabrielle’s Eulogy

In the summer of 2010, Amy, pregnant with our third child, came home from a maternity appointment with news: we asked to know if the baby was going to be a boy or a girl. The doctor wrote the sex on a piece of paper and folded it up. Amy didn’t look at it, and came home. I remember it clear as day, standing on the deck together, both secretly hoping, and then rejoicing when we found out: we were going to have a baby girl.

Oh my goodness … we were so happy. We were so filled with joy and dreams and expectations. 

  • We envisioned a little girl growing up with temper tantrums, dance recitals, and soccer games
  • We laughed at the thought of giggling girlfriends, high school boyfriends, and her relationships with her big brothers
  • Like any Dad I foresaw myself dancing at her high school graduations, and then her wedding
  • We were both so grateful and relieved, knowing that a girl – our girl – would maybe stick around home when older, would have her own children one day, and – when we got old and grey – would maybe help take care of us. 

A million thoughts and feelings in a flash. And as beautiful and wonderful as that moment was, looking back, Amy and I were living life fast asleep. I had ambitions and was going to build businesses and be successful because I thought that was what a good father should do. Amy was going to be a Mom in a nice house with what may as well have been a white picket fence. We were so, so asleep. Fast asleep.

Gabrielle never should have been born. Amy, her mother, at 37 weeks pregnant, went for her regular maternity check-up and, even though she was told everything was fine and good, she insisted, with no good reason other than mother’s intuition, to be sent to the hospital. Once there, the doctor called for an emergency C-section. When she was born, we knew she was a “Gabrielle” … not a Breanna, or a Madelyn like we planned. Gabrielle means “God is my strength.” She was so small and so different looking. Maybe that’s how angels are supposed to look. And we were rushed in ambulance to BC Children’s Hospital.  Before Gabrielle was even born Amy had saved her life. 

All this week the saying, “Only in the end did they understand,” has surfaced in my mind... over and over. It’s so true. In an interview, Joseph Campbell, the master mythologist from the last century, was asked, in relation to getting older and coming closer and closer to death, about his views on life. He answered the question by quoting Schopenhauer, a famous philosopher who I’ve never read, and said,
“It’s almost as if, when you look back on your life in your old age, it almost seems as if there was an order to things, as if someone composed them as a song. 
I love this. It fits so well for Gabrielle and our time with her. Only in the end are we starting to understand.

When we were given Gabrielle’s diagnosis, when we passed through the iron cold gates into the fields of sorrow and grief, the dream of the healthy girl we imagined – the dream of a happy normal life – died. It was our first death. It was devastating. But it was also the beginning of our awakening.

How do raise a child you know is going to die? How do you find comfort and meaning and build a life and a family around such a reality? … Why us? These were the questions Amy and I asked ourselves over and over and over. You know … over the past two years, when people have asked us “How do you do it?” we’ve usually replied “Well, you just do it. And you probably would too.” … but, looking back, with a clearer understanding, that wasn’t completely true. We had Gabrielle and her little spirit to show us the way.

Oh Gabrielle, you were so, so beautiful. You were so strong. And you just filled us up with such love and wisdom – all of us – and your smiles and cuddles woke us up every morning and reminded us that everything was meant to be and everything would be OK. 

My goodness did you love your brothers. You were so feisty. We had a wonderful family from Minnesota fly to visit us who had lost their boy to I-Cell disease a year earlier, and they couldn’t get over how loud and strong and scrappy you were. You had to be. From the day you were born your brothers were all over you giving you kisses and trying to wrestle with you … and you loved how they didn’t care whether there were NG tubes or oxygen tanks … James and Michael couldn’t get enough of you, and you couldn’t get enough of them. The love between you was amazing. Totally and utterly amazing. 

You taught them about love and special needs and finding beauty in life and now in death. You would laugh at them when they did silly dances for you and made them feel like kings with your little giggle. And every night they would ask a tired Mom and Dad, a tired Mom and Dad who often suspected they were stalling, but a Mom and Dad who now understand that they were being genuine and real and wanting … and every night they would ask “But I haven’t kissed Gabs yet, can I go back up and give her a kiss.”  They were so gentle with you. You taught them to be such gentle little boys and you filled them up with love. Simple love.

And when Jonathan was born, you knew your days as the baby were over. He motivated you so much. We watched you watching him advance past you physically, and man did it piss you off! You knew, with Jonathan, you had to get stronger in order to protect yourself, your toys, and your pride. Your fiery spirit didn’t want to be left behind. And I’ll never forget how, when Jonathan started crawling a month ago and would start pulling himself up with the help of your exersaucer that you were standing in, and would stare you straight in the eye and see your little altar of play, you would screech and swat and bat him away and grab your toys and turn away so as to keep him away from them. You loved him so much, your baby brother. You, a big sister.

Gabrielle, was such an angel. She taught us that life is not forever. She taught everyone here that our nice clothes and houses and cars don’t matter. Nothing in this world matters beyond our relationships with the people we love … and Gabrielle taught us that we are all capable of so much love … so, so much love.  …

The more I think of it – that is, the more I think of what made our beautiful Gabrielle such an angel – the more I realize that Gabrielle did not give us anything we didn’t already have. All she did was awaken something within us – and everyone who met her or followed her story – something that had been there all along. 

Her loving smile. Her wise eyes. Her infectious laugh. This beautiful girl, this complete and utterly helpless little girl, awoke the love that’s inside all of us. I believe that every time anyone – including us – shed a tear thinking about her, what was really happening was they were simply experiencing the love and light that Gabrielle made real. Love and light we have always had in our hearts. Pure, unadulterated, unconditional love. No strings. Just love.  

Life isn’t always pretty. Believe me, we know. Life can be hard. There are lots of fights that need to be had. There is anger to work through. There are tears and losses and hurt feelings. Gabrielle taught us this. She taught us that all these things are okay and normal and part of life … but, as you work through them and with the people in your life, if you fill your heart with love and light, everything will be okay. Everything will be so much better.

To quote my wife who said this through tears as we wrote this together, “I am the luckiest Mom in the world. And you are the luckiest father in the world. And I’m so, so proud of her. And who she was. And what she brought to our lives.”  

Many times, while caring for Gabrielle, Amy and I found guidance in a quote from one of our favourite stories, Lord of the Rings. Long before we had children, we both read and talked about this story, so much so that when the movies came out, Amy’s family teased us about whether or not we were going to wear our hobbit-feet slippers to the theatres on opening night. But, before the brave characters embarked on what seemed to be a hopeless quest, like ours seemed to be at the beginning with Gabrielle, Frodo, the meager Hobbit, asked Gandalf the wise wizard,
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
And then Gandalf said,
"So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
While Gabby was fading, all I could whisper in her ear was “Thank you. Thank you so much my little angel. My little princess. You saved my life, and your mother’s life, and you taught your brothers and all of us so much. You woke us all up. We owe so much. And we’ll do everything we can to make you proud.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Memorial Service for Gabrielle Mae Ross

On Behalf of the Ross Family
A public memorial service for Gabrielle Mae Ross, our darling little girl who left us far too early, will be held on Friday, June 14th at 2:00pm at Victory Memorial Park Funeral Centre, 14831 28 Ave, Surrey, BC V4P 1P3. 
We ask that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, the most wonderful place in the world, and the place where our daughter, through the good will of peoples’ compassion and generosity, was able to take her last breaths with her family by her side. 
If you wish to send something to the family directly, or have any questions related to the service or how to support them, please contact me, Eric Von Hertzberg, Gabby's loving uncle, by phone at 780-402-4898, or by email at eric.vonhertzberg@cnrl.com.

Amy and Regan also wanted to share this video of Gabrielle, taken just a week before she passed.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

So Much Can Happen in Just a Day

Gabrielle Mae Ross, October 13th, 2010 ~ June 7th, 2013

Four nights ago, at 3:00am in the morning, with both of us taking care of Gabrielle who was coming down with a cold, Amy knew. Even though it was just a cold running through the house. She wept uncontrollably.

As she mentioned in her post, that night, we decided that we could not put her through yet another horribly invasive hospital visit to get her better at (almost) all costs. Honouring Gabrielle, her life, her well-being, her integrity, her love of family close by, and her will to live, we chose to take her to Canuck Place and give her the best care possible a children's hospice can provide.

That morning, while I was just walking the boys to school, in a remarkable set of circumstances I'll abbreviate, not a block from our house there was a coyote prancing by. We don't live in the country. I haven't seen a coyote here ever before. I haven't seen a coyote anywhere in ages. Not daring to let the significance of this incident pass, I looked up what kinds of messages earlier cultures thought coyotes brought, and read: 
The Shoshoni believed the Coyote as an indication of an ending. The sighting of the Coyote was said to bring natural shifts in balance, causing an end (which, of course, simply makes way for new beginnings, and so on). Essentially, the Coyote is like a "way-maker" of new direction as it went about its symbolic role of representing the cycle of life and death in nature.
A few hours behind Amy's motherly intuition, my heart grew heavy with understanding.

Upon arriving she seemed to be thriving. So much so that a part of us almost felt sheepish for bringing her in, but we knew we were at our limit at home. I went home that night to be with the boys and Amy spent the night with Gabrielle at Canuck Place. That next morning (Thursday) Amy awoke at 6am and quietly sat in the room and listened to our little daughter breath well and deeply, despite her lungs being slightly filled with cold. Myself and the boys arrived later that day after James' school-day ended, and with almost no intentions of us all staying at Canuck Place that night (Gabby was getting better and we'd be home soon, you see), we were all having so much fun that we spent the night. Us 5 up stairs, Gabrielle on the nursing floor just below.

I-Cell is horrible and misleading. One minute these children seem so healthy, smiling smiles that light up rooms with their life, and the next they're requiring all sorts of medical help to help them stay alive. This was Friday morning – yesterday. We awoke and Gabrielle was breathing well. Me, Amy, and James came downstairs and took this video.

About an hour later Gabrielle had declined to the point that we thought we only had minutes left. Both her Grandparents rushed to Canuck Place in time to say goodbye. They did, but she hung on for the whole day ... long enough for her aunties and uncles and cousins and all sorts of people to come into her room and be with her. Really, she loved nothing more than being around people. Always watching and listening and smiling.

The whole day Amy and I took turns holding her as tightly and gently as we could. We sang to her. We thanked her. We tickled her legs and ran our fingers through her hair.

At the end of the night, her breath grew faint. Amy and I were in the room with just her, but she wasn't letting go. We asked the nurse at Canuck Place to let her grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins to come in, one by one, to kiss her goodnight and whisper how much they love her in her ear. They did. Nothing could have been more beautiful than for Gabrielle to receive this procession of love and well wishes at the end of the day from everyone who loved her most.

While this was happening, the staff here arranged three beds all beside one another. One for Gabby and one for both Amy and I. In the end, James and Michael joined us (Jonny already asleep upstairs) as they couldn't resist not being with us and by Gabby. She was on the one end of the giant bed so the nurses could reach her, then Amy, then James, then Michael, and then me on the other end. 

Our boys fell asleep and Amy and I knelt by the bed and gave her kisses and told her all those things you can imagine you would say to your child before they leave you on this earth forever. Her cheeks were pink and her body was tired and warm ... warm with "spirit" as I explained to James. "It's our spirits that make us warm. And when we leave our bodies behind and go to heaven, they get cool like everything else too." I went back to my end of the bed thinking how I suppose this was how it was meant to be: Mother and daughter side-by-side, the mother who brought her into this earth, with me waking up at some point in the night to find her spirit gone, and her body left.

At 11:10pm, staring into space, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something blur past the light by the room entranceway. It was real enough that I thought for sure it was our nurse. The light dimmed in my view as it passed. No one was there. "OK," I thought. I got out of bed and walked over to give Gabby one more kiss. Amy said, "You want to be here with her, don't you." And I cried a, "Yes I do."

We shimmied Gabrielle into the centre of the bed and moved the very large, waste-high, metallic oxygen canister closer to the top of the bed so that I wouldn't cut the flow by laying down it. While doing so the cord gently banged the canister and tiny little "gong" "gong" "gong"s filled the room, just like in the temples Amy and I visited several times while living in Asia. It was as if Gabrielle was being summoned. It was as if the synchronicity of the universe was tolling for our wonderful daughter. We didn't know. We thought she might be awake in the morning. 

As we lay down beside her, we adjusted ourselves. Amy held her hand. I shared my blanket with her and put my hand on her chest. She took three breaths. And passed. And what was left was the most beautiful, pale white, utterly angelic body of the most amazing daughter with the most loving spirit a mother and father could ever hope to have.
Five nights ago we took this blog down. We were becoming at peace with things and were settling into what, we believed, was going to be a few more years with Gabrielle. We wanted to keep Gabrielle and our time with her to ourselves.

Within days we realized that Gabrielle's life here had a greater purpose. She touched so many hearts and souls and helped us and everyone she met put things into perspective. Life. Love. Laughter. Now. Already this blog is our scrapbook of memories. It's only the morning after.

Amy wrote about hope. Hope in life. Hope in death. I don't think we could have imagined a better passing for our daughter. For everything she did for us. For her love. Her innocence. For everything. Gabrielle. We are so glad you left this life as you did. We are so glad you chose us. We love you. Thank you for your sharing you life with us. Gabrielle. Our gift from God.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Prayer for Gabby If You Will

Please say a prayer for Gabrielle tonight. She's fighting hard right now and we're doing everything we can as a family to lift her spirits and fill her heart (and lungs) with love and health and energy.

Right now Amy is reading her a story by a sun-lit window and she can hear her brothers enthusiastically playing tether ball outside in the court yard.

Canuck Place is hope.

We came here yesterday.  My head pounding from all the crying.  Both of us coming off a couple of days of no sleep with the adrenalin pumping not knowing if this was it with our little angel.  The sun bright, the birds chirping and poor Gabby sick as could be.  We couldn't bear the thought of Gabrielle going to the hospital anymore.  Cooped up in an isolation room with med students, residents, doctors, nurses not trained in palliative care all poking her , suctioning and tormenting our little girl.  We couldn't do it to her.  So we called over here, and as per our family meeting where we decided to intervene only as much as Canuck Place can.  And here we are.  Calm, hopeful and getting better.  This place is magic.  The palliative model where our girl is being cared for in a big beautiful room with big windows, her door wide open where she can hear the nurses talking and laughing, her mom and dad finally rested and relaxed and Gabby being cared for just the way she needs, on her schedule nobody else's.

Yesterday she was given her 'cocktail' of meds to help with her breathing.  A steroid, another antibiotic and something new that she's never had but it helped her relax and sleep, morphine.  She's still got some fight to go with her lungs still full and on 2 litres of oxygen (baseline 1/4) but I am so thankful we are not here for end of life anymore.  The nurses are aggressive with their treatments and I can tell Gabrielle is relaxed and not freaked out like she gets in the hospital.

Canuck Place fills me up with so much hope.  Hope is not a long life.  Hope is knowing I have somewhere amazing to take my child for her final days where she can die peacefully and surrounded by her family.  Hope is knowing I can walk upstairs to sleep if I need to.  Hope is knowing I can bring my family here and take Gabrielle outside for a walk in the garden.  Hope is knowing I can go downstairs to the kitchen to eat when I'm hungry.  Hope is knowing that my little angle is pain free and peaceful even when she is sck.  Hope is knowing I can cuddle her without the tangle of lines to different machines.  Hope is helping Gabby get better.

My friend Sarah sent me a quote from Winnie the Pooh the other day and I have to share it here.

"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you"

I love you Gabrielle.  Thank you for more time.