It was nearing midnight six years ago today when I got the phone call. You know the one. The one you never, ever want to receive. I’d been out celebrating with a friend whose new book had just came out, and had just settled into bed, ready to drift off to sleep.
“Gabe’s not doing well,” she said.
The tremble in her voice told me this was the worst kind of news. Gabe was in the hospital, but he’d been in before, and I’d never thought for one second that his life was in danger.
Gabe was the eleven-year-old son of a very close friend. The family lived directly across the street from our house and I’d known Gabe since he was born.
When I got off the phone my heart was beating so hard and fast, it seemed it would bust right out of my chest. My thoughts were completely incoherent. I knew I should get dressed and go to the hospital. But for a few moments I couldn’t even think how to put on a pair of pants.
I dedicated my book PURE GRIT to Gabe because of the courage he demonstrated living with epilepsy. For several years, his seizures were controlled by medication.
But they grew worse and occasionally, the medication didn't work. Gabe loved basketball, and he would take to the floor with his team, even though he knew he might have a seizure on the court at any time.
He didn't have grand mal seizures, but he would lose consciousness momentarily, freeze when all the other players ran down the court. His arm would stiffen out to the side. It might seem a small thing, but it's a huge risk to a child with epilepsy. It would have been easier to not to play, not to take the chance you might look strange in front of your friends and a whole gym full of strangers.
Over time, stronger and stronger meds helped less and less. Doctors urged Gabe's parents to consider surgery to excise a part of his brain where the seizures originated. Brain surgery is always high risk. Anything might go wrong, but even a successful surgery could compromise Gabe's motor skills. He was a natural athlete and loved soccer, as well as basketball.
Gabe's courage was often invisible. And it's hard to put into words. You would have had to live with him day in and day out to understand the courage it took for him to go to school when the meds made him drowsy, for him dribble a ball down the court when he'd had five seizures his last game. To see his strength, you would have had to be there when he went in to the hospital to have his brain mapped with electrodes.
You would have had to see Gabe's face as he was wheeled away from his mom and dad and into surgery where the doctors would cut into his brain to understand that kind of courage. I mostly heard about it from his mom.
Every night, she had the task of asking him how many seizures he had that day and recording the number, if it hadn't been too many to count.
Gabe had a hilarious sense of humor. He had bright blue eyes and a sweet, sometimes goofy smile. He used to shoot baskets at the hoop on the street for hours. He loved to watch LaBron James play ball.
Everyone was so excited the night he came home from that surgery, head shaved with a row of stitches across his scalp. Smiling.
It was a year later when it became clear the surgery hadn't ended the seizures. One day Gabe had so many, he was hospitalized and doctors put him into a coma to stop them. It was a tragic fluke that Gabe suffered an allergic reaction to the Propofol they used to knock him out. His doctors had never seen it happen before.
I doubt there's a parent alive who has not wondered how they would go on living if their child died. I never want to find out, but I have witnessed it now.
After Gabe died, I learned the profound journey it can be to closely accompany a mother through such a loss. To witness such indescribable pain moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, and year to year as it gives way ever so gradually to healing, is to witness a miracle of courage.
And so I dedicated PURE GRIT, not only to Gabe, but to his mother Cheryl. It's a small way to honor them and give thanks for how they have inspired me and enriched my life.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers in the blog comments, by email or social media.