Letters to Gabriel. Karen Santorum: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum. Foreward by Mother Teresa. $12.95, Paperback, 136 pages. Published by Ignatius Press
I was mourning my third miscarriage and seeking a book which would offer me comforting words from a another Catholic mother who had lost a child. I found "Letters to Gabriel" by Karen Garver Santorum. In the pages of the book I got to know Karen as she spoke to her son Gabriel, who is now with God. Gabriel had a urinary tract irregularity which was life threatening, he was not producing urine and was going to die. Karen, a neo-natal nurse and Rick did not accept this, and traveled out of state to a doctor who was able to do inter-uterine surgery. The surgery was successful but left Karen with an infection causing premature labor, and, despite Rick and Karen's best efforts to save him, Gabriel was born to early to survive.
This is the story of a parent's fierce love for their son, a story which has been viciously misrepresented by Rick Santorum's political enemies. I read a piece in The Daily Kos which said Karen had an abortion, and winced as I saw Alan Colmes and Eugene Robinson mock the Santorums' expression of grief over the loss of their precious son on political talks shows. The simple truth is that baby Gabriel was waked at home and buried in the Catholic Church as any other member of the family. Because he is still a member of the family, thanks to the Communion of Saints.
But the story doesn't end at Gabriel's death.Karen tells the story; she lost Gabriel in the middle of the Senate debates on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. Rick who had not until then sought the national spotlight, was thrust into it, debating vociferous pro-abortion Senator Barbara Boxer of California. "The Senator (Boxer) was thanking the women who had partial birth abortions for coming forward with their stories, . . said she "hears the cries of the women outside this Chamber".
"We would be deafened by the cries of children who are not here to cry because of this procedure," retorted Senator Santorum. The Washington Post described what happened next, 'Republican Senator Rick Santorum turned to face the opposition, and in a high, pleading voice, cried out, "where do we draw the line? Some people have likened this procedure to an appendectomy. This is not an appendix!' he shouted, pointing to a drawing of a fetus, it is a baby. Its a baby.'
"And then, impossibly, in an already hushed gallery . the cry of a baby pierced the room, echoing across the chamber from an outside hallway. Not one mentioned the cry, but for a few seconds no one spoke at all."
Karen continues, "A coincidence? Perhaps. . .or maybe. . .it was the cry from the son whose voice we never herd, but whose life had forever changed ours."
Rick concludes, "Sometimes you hear a faint voice inside whispering what you should do. With respect to this issue, I heard the message through a loudspeaker. " (It Takes a Family p 245)
In an interview I did of Rick for Canticle magazine, he said he felt that it was Gabriel's voice from heaven, supporting his father as he asserted the truth that the unborn baby is still a baby with a right to live. During the interview in September of 2007, I shared with Rick that "Letters to Gabriel" resonated with me because my daughter Christina has Down syndrome, and we chatted about the blessing of special needs children. Within a year, baby Isabella Maria Santorum was born with Trisomy 18, an event which Rick said inspired him to run for president, to help create a more welcoming culture for our special needs children.
Letters to Gabriel is a sensitive and comforting book because it reminds a mother who has lost a child whether born to live too briefly, or unborn, that their child matters to God, to her family, and to the world. It is a unique tribute to the value of every human life, and should be a staple on the Catholic family bookshelf. I myself bought several copies, but kept giving them away to friends who had experienced infant loss.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Spero columnist Leticia Velasquez is the Co-founder of KIDS (Keep Infants with Down Syndrome) and author of "A Special Mother is Born".