Thursday, 4 April 2013

Catherine: Gabriel's Garden

When I first read Clara's email asking if I'd like to write a guest post to share Gabriel's story, I immediately accepted her offer. I'm always looking for outlets and places to share Gabriel with others and welcome every opportunity to do so. But as I grabbed my notebook and pen and sat down to write yet another version of his story, I thought about how many times I've written about his fatal diagnosis, his birth, his tiny body, his beautiful hands and miniature fingers. And I realized those are merely descriptions of him. What I really want is for others to know how Gabriel has inspired me to grow, take risks, help others and heal. What I really want is to share all of the ways in which he continues to live on.


Shortly after Gabriel died, I felt compelled to connect with others who understood the sorrow of losing a baby. I began searching the internet and was amazed that not just a few, but thousands of people were blogging, writing, Facebook-ing, and sharing their stories. Slowly I started talking about Gabriel and meeting other people. I was profoundly touched and felt a surprising amount of comfort when other people would write his name or light a candle in his memory or simply send me a note saying they understood. Nothing they did ever erased the pain, but knowing that I wasn't "the only one," dramatically changed my perspective on grief and healing.

I realized that I no longer had to suffer silently and alone. Giving my grief a voice was powerful and having it acknowledged was radically healing. As time went by, I thirsted more and more for a sense of community. I wanted to make more connections with people who I could relate to on an empathetic level and I wanted to encourage others to do the same. I thought about how in a community, an important part of being a member is being actively involved and supporting others in the group. But what could I do? For weeks, this question remained stuck in the back of my mind.

During this time, I was busying myself with a new hobby and passion: photography. I was finding photography to be therapeutic, so every few days I went out in search of new places where I could practice. I'm not sure why, but one day I visited a botanical garden near my house here in Los Angeles. I've lived here for over a decade and never once thought about going to this garden. But something inside me kept urging me to try new things, to live life fuller and to not be afraid to explore. So I went to the garden, camera in tow, and explored. While there, I marveled at the beautiful sights and thought about how much I wished Gabriel could see this place, with all its trees and flowers and butterflies. And I realized, had it not been for Gabriel, I would not have discovered this place. I never would have known about a little piece of paradise tucked away in my own backyard, nor felt inspired to savor the simplicity of nature.

When I left the garden, the question that had been mulling around in my mind re-surfaced. I had found a place where I could heal, but just being there wasn't enough. I had found a community in which I could grow, but just being part of it wasn't enough. I knew instantly how I could combine both into a meaningful healing project.

I returned to that garden a couple weeks later, but this time I picked flowers in memory of Gabriel and other angel babies. And so began Gabriel's Garden. Now, I go regularly and every time I go, I pick and photograph more flowers than the time before. Today, the request list is longer than I ever could have imagined when I first launched the website and I've reached dozens of people through my Facebook page. I'll admit that I had low expectations when I first started, but  now I've seen that helping others even on a small scale, can lead to unexpected growth and healing.Looking back, I know it wasn't random chance that brought me to the garden. Gabriel's Garden has always been a part of my plan, just as it's always been a part of Gabriel's. To most people, it's just a garden, but to me, it's a precious corner of the world, where our paths were destined to cross.

In December, I made the decision to go back to school to become a sonographer. I considered taking out a student loan, tapping even deeper into our savings, or borrowing from the bank. I knew I wanted a new career, but I needed a way to to pay for it and none of the options were ideal. I told myself this dream was more important than money and enrolled for the spring semester with the hope that things would work themselves out.

That same week, my husband and I went for a walk close to the beach and stumbled inside a little shop that sells seashells. I wanted to buy an ornament of an angel made out of seashells. It was $10 and I thought that was too expensive for a few shells glued together. My husband said something about buying the individual shells and making the ornament myself. Genius! "And what about making a butterfly?" he asked. As soon as he posed the question, an answer immediately erupted in my mind.

The Sacred Seashore ended up being the answer to many questions. It has become the culmination of many ideas and dreams. It started off as a way to pay for my education, but it's also been a creative and healthy outlet for expressing my grief, an avenue to healing, a means to give back to organizations that help the babyloss community, and yet another way to connect with and to help other people.

I knew from the beginning that the Sacred Seashore would be a source of great healing because it allowed several things that are important to me, to intersect: Gabriel, photography, the beach, community, art, creativity, charity and helping others. I'm amazed by how perfectly it fits into my heart, and how much I've learned from the experience.

Both Gabriel's Garden and the Sacred Seashore are places of healing and strength, but they are also Gabriel's little legacies. They are where he lives on and where he will never be forgotten. They are his imprint on the world... a message of how love and beauty can transform a broken heart into a healing heart.

Redondo Beach at sunset

I know that in many ways I am unlucky. My firstborn child died in my womb. I now carry around with me the fear of never being able to have a healthy baby. I've endured the type of sorrow and pain that nobody deserves. But I realize, too, that I am so very blessed. I know that God has a beautiful life planned for me. And though that plan will likely include more pain and suffering, more loss and grief, I trust that there will also be more beauty and more healing.

For those of you in search of healing, I encourage you to look inside yourself and contemplate ways that you can grow. Challenge yourself to live a full and meaningful life. Be kindhearted and generous. Love others and love yourself. Do what is right for you and follow your own path.

Remember that healing is not a reflection of the passage of time. Healing is a perspective, a lens through which to see the world. It is not the absence of sorrow; but rather the presence of peace and spiritual growth. It is both inside and outside. It is everywhere and anywhere you are willing to go. It is real, but only as real as you choose to make it.


You can find Gabriel's Garden and the Sacred Seashore here:


An addendum from Clara:

I was so pleased when Catherine agreed to write about Gabriel's Garden and the Sacred Seashore for the blog. I came across Gabriel's Garden a while ago after seeing photograph's on another blog. I loved what Catherine was doing and immediately added Molly & Grace to the waiting list. I received their photos a few months ago:

Catherine also has a facebook page for Gabriel's Garden and, every so often, offers the chance for other special photos to be done. These were the girls' beautiful Easter photos:

I have also requested starfish photos from the Sacred Seashore for the girls' forthcoming birthdays.

These are all opportunities to see the girls' names written and to have them remembered elsewhere in the world. This is something really important to me. Catherine's inspiration for starting these projects makes it even more special - every time she creates a memory for a lost child, she is creating a memory of her son Gabriel and it is truly wonderful.

Thank you Catherine (and Gabriel!) xx


  1. I love your websites Catherine, I'm lucky enough to have had Easter eggs and sand drawings done already and I have a starfish ordered for Ruaridh's 2nd birthday next month. It's a wonderful thing to do and your words are really lovely. Xxx

    Much love to you and your girls as ever too Claire <3 <3

    Lorna xx

  2. Lovely pictures, what a really nice idea it brings so much comfort see your little ones name(i know it does to me)i will need to have a look at the website x

  3. Catherine,

    I enjoyed reading this side of you and Gabriel. Just what I needed to read tonight.


  4. A beautiful way to express our love for our babies. xxxxx