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Letters to Gabriel, Lessons in Love

I will never forget being asked in 1999 to read a small book Senator Rick Santorum’s wife, Karen, had written about their son Gabriel, who was born prematurely and died two hours later. The book, Letters to Gabriel, shook me to the core as I recalled my own family’s loss. In 1956, I lost my brother Mark to illness, though we were blessed to have him in our midst for two years rather than two hours. Either way, the loss of a child is a shattering experience for the parents, the siblings, and the extended family. The pain remains, as do the memories—which are bittersweet. But it is the memories that continually remind the family of the special blessing the Lord gives with each child.

Gabriel Michael Santorum died in 1996. It is of interest to note that, during the same year that the Santorums were learning that their preborn baby had severe health problems and would die before, if not immediately after, birth, the partial birth abortion debate was raging in Congress.

Shortly after Gabriel’s death, Karen Santorum wrote,

If parents are blessed with the life of a child, how could they give up an opportunity for love in exchange for such violence? Everything inside us cries out for a different solution—for a better way. There is another way. We know because we chose it. It was to deliver a living infant and allow him to die a natural and peaceful death in the loving arms of his parents. To suggest there are no options is to reject our own humanity. It is to take what is profound and mysterious and cut it off.

Not everyone was moved by the letters Karen later published. In fact, one reviewer posted: “This book is nothing but pro-life propaganda from the Santorums. That a tragedy like this would be used for political gain is disgusting.”

These heartless comments posted in 2005 expose a perverse attitude within our culture that cannot be ignored. Keep in mind that nobody was pressured to purchase Karen Santorum’s book. In fact, the book has helped many people cope with the loss of a child and for that we are grateful. At the same time, one wonders who could possibly write such heartless thoughts.

Just this week, Fox News analyst Alan Colmes found it politically expedient to take a jab at Senator Santorum by heartlessly mentioning Gabriel Michael Santorum’s death and the manner in which the family handled that death. Upon hearing of Colmes’ remarks, the only thought I had was, “Dear God, is this where politics has taken the culture? Is nothing sacred?”

I realize that Colmes publicly apologized for his comments, yet his true position remains on his website and is titled, “Rick Santorum took dead baby home to meet family.”

If political hacks like Colmes truly understood the intrinsic human rights of the person from creation to death, he would never have written or said such things. Such cruel comments make the case much better than I ever could that this nation is growing ever more compassionless in its regard for the dignity of the human being.

Whether it is the death of a child due to illness or the death of an elderly person, such events should not be exploited for the sake of political commentary.

The culture we live in needs healing, it needs love and, most of all, it needs to understand that children are gifts from God—gifts to be cherished, nurtured, and embraced for whatever time God has given us to have them in our midst. Without that sensitivity, without that simple understanding of the humanity each of us possesses, how can we ever hope for a civil discourse on any subject?

God save us from cruelty.