Of Grave Concern: The final moments of a 4-year-old and his grandmother remind us what life is about

Stock image, St. George News

FEATURE — For as long as I live, I will never forget little 4-year-old Gabriel and the summer of 1989. His story, and that of his dear grandmother is a love story that transcends time and reaches deep into my soul. It reminds me daily what life is truly about and what matters.

In the fall of 1989, I finished my education in mortuary science in California and began my internship at a mortuary in Sacramento. It was a time when my textbook education became real and raw. I witnessed family after family coming into the funeral home to make final arrangements for their loved one that had died. Some situations were easier to assist than others.

The tension and emotions varied depending on the circumstances, from the death of an elderly person to that of a child or teenager. Holding up a mother who collapsed in my arms from grief as she coped with the loss of her child was always the most difficult. The deep love a mother has for her child seems indescribable. My heart will never be the same. I witnessed absolute true, pure and unconditional love time and again.

And so it was on a beautiful summer day, a family set out to enjoy the beach at Bodega Bay in Northern California. This was Gabriel’s big day as he, his parents, siblings and grandmother settled in for a relaxing day at the ocean. This family was close and their love for one another apparent. That love was soon to be tested beyond what any family should ever have to endure.

As the day wore on, the family played in the white sand, and Gabriel became brave enough to wade into the water – only up to his knees. With his family near, he felt safe. His grandmother was sunbathing close to him. Suddenly a riptide tore upon the shore and took hold of little Gabriel and sucked him out into the much deeper water. As the waves crashed onto the shore, no one noticed. It happened so fast. It was not until his grandmother heard Gabriel’s screams that the family was alerted of the dire circumstances.

Many started running toward the water; however, the waves continued to crash, almost defying a person to enter the water. It was then that the family saw grandma running into the water, swimming toward where she had last seen Gabriel. With all of her energy, she dove, gasping and trying to find her beloved grandson.

As other family members swam toward the area, another wave came crashing down on Gabriel’s grandmother, and she too was taken under the water. Neither Gabriel nor his grandmother survived. They loved each other in life, and now that love transcended death.

The local news stations reported live outside the funeral home over several days. For a moment, hearts were turned outward as a community pondered the “greater love” this grandmother had shown for her grandson. For a moment, the pettiness of this world, the “things” of this world faded, and the relationships we have with family and friends took center stage. Gabriel and his grandmother’s sacrifice helped remind us that life is fragile – and so very temporary.

The line of people wove around the block from the funeral home as those that knew the family and those that were strangers were drawn to the visitation to pay their respects. There was only one white casket. Grandmother lay in state with her dear little Gabriel right next to her with her arm wrapped around him. As people passed by the almost “sacred” scene, they left flowers, stuffed animals…and tears.

The pure love this dear woman had for her grandson blanketed all those in attendance at the funeral. No one that attended left the same. Love triumphed in their hearts, bringing hope to what seems at times to be a hopeless world.

Love is the crucial remedy for so many of the aliments of this world.

Mother Teresa once said, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?'”

I’ll let you answer that question for yourself on this day of love as you review your own life’s journey.

Written by DAVID JOHN COOK, public relations and funeral director for Spilsbury Mortuary.

• S P O N S O R E D   C O N T E N T  •


  • Spilsbury Mortuary | Address: 110 S. Bluff St., St. George |  Telephone: 435-673-2454 | Website.
    • Hurricane location | Address: 25 N. 2000 West, Hurricane | Telephone: 435-635-2212.

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