Karen Garver Santorum, wife of U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, found out in June of 1996 that she was pregnant with her fourth child. The same day she learned she was pregnant, 25 June, she began something unusual. She started writing letters to her child. Almost two years later she agreed to publish these letters in a volume called Letters To Gabriel.
She did not know when she began this project that her son would eventually be diagnosed with a defect, and would be born premature, and live only two hours after birth. In early October Karen was told, in a most insensitive way, about her child's condition. As she writes on page 34,
"With your sister and brothers present in the room and without the slightest trace of compassion or emotion, the radiologist studied the screen for a moment and said, 'Your baby has a fatal defect and is going to die.'"
Karen enjoyed the strong support, however, of her husband, extended family, friends, and the Church, and she and Rick were determined to do all they could for their little one. They named him Gabriel Michael, after the angels; they prayed; and they held on to all the hope they could find.
On Friday (the day of the week the Church remembers in a special way her Lord's suffering and death) 11 October (the feast of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Karen gave birth to her son at 12:45 A.M., knowing that he would not live long on the earth. Gabriel was baptized, held, cherished, loved, and he enjoyed the company of his family until he died, two hours later. His parents could have very easily disposed of him right after birth. But they never once entertained such ideas. Instead, Karen insisted on holding her son until it was time for his burial.
She kept writing letters to Gabriel in the months following his death. The letters collected in Letters To Gabriel take the reader up to Karen's next pregnancy, a beautiful conclusion to such a life affirming story.
One of the remarkable coincidences of Rick and Karen's heart breaking fight for their son was that at the exact same time Rick was fighting for the partial birth abortion ban on the floor of the Senate. Opponents of the ban argued that the right to such late term abortions should be preserved for precisely the sort of situation in which Rick and Karen found themselves. Advocates of abortion rights cannot say that the defenders of life argue from high above any real experience with difficult and painful situations.
God allowed the lives of the Santorums to be permeated with deep, inexplicable, suffering. We cannot presume to know all of God's reasons. We do know that God has used that suffering to ultimately bring much love and joy into their life. God gave the Santorum family a great deal of love through a child, and He gave them a great opportunity to give love to a helpless little child.
Even now Gabriel's short life, and his parents' love for him, touch the lives of any who hear of their story. This is one of the great benefits of writing a book. One never knows where and when it will appear on someone's radar. Letters To Gabriel was published in the spring of 1998, and I only discovered it lately, quite by happy accident. If you want a life affirming experience, find this book, read it, and pass it on.