‘My son was born at 1:05 p.m., the exact same time as his father’s death.’: Grieving spouse shares powerful journey of love and loss

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My Parent’s Love Story

“I was born in Miami, FL to Cuban immigrants in 1988. I was what you can call an ‘oops’ baby, as my parents had only been in the country for 2 years, had just purchased a home, were working multiple jobs, and my siblings were 15 and 21 years old when I was born. My parents taught me to work hard for what I wanted and even when we didn’t have anything, I felt like I had everything. Their marriage wasn’t perfect, but what I learned growing up is that their love for each other never wavered and because of it, no matter what, they always chose each other.

parents when they first got marries
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

My mom was always very independent, smart, and worked. My dad has always been a provider and would do whatever he needed to to make sure his family had everything. He always made me feel safe, and as a little girl, he would always send my mother and me flowers on special occasions. This year they will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary. I give you this quick backstory on my childhood and my parents because it ties directly into the main reason for this story: the love of my life, my husband.

mom and dad after 50 years of marriage
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

Meeting ‘The One’

I met my husband in 2010 at his aunt’s store, but this is not where OUR story begins. He was not ‘my type’ but his eyes, smile, and personality triggered me to ask her who he was. She said he was her nephew, was married, and just had a baby. Of course, I was no longer interested and for the next 2 years, we were friends and saw each other around her store or at events around town. In mid-2012, he separated from his then-wife, and about a month later he called me and invited me to dinner. That night he kissed me and I told him we couldn’t go further because that kiss meant a lot to me. I didn’t believe he was ready for that kind of relationship just having ended a marriage he tried hard to save and with a little girl in tow. Again we went our separate ways and a year later, in 2013, he pursued me again. This time we both dove head first into the deep end of an Olympic diving pool, and officially became a couple in September.

couples first pic together
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

Gabriel was 10 years older than me but we were equals in almost every way, except our age. We had the same sense of humor, dark and all. We challenged each other intellectually, believed in each other, and pushed one another to never give up. He was an absolute gentleman, who surprised me with flowers and always made me feel safe and down to earth. He quickly became my favorite person and best friend. Now, our relationship wasn’t perfect, But we fought hard and loved harder. We ALWAYS chose each other, and even in arguments, respect, trust, and love were never a question.

In Gabriel, I saw a man like my father, I saw a potential marriage like my parents’ marriage and a future that we could build together. Gabriel had been divorced twice but for me, he was willing to go to the ends of the world to make me happy. He asked for my hand in marriage, proposed, and even waited to live together until we were married because he knew that was important to my very conservative Cuban dad. We traveled together and everything, but ‘living’ together before marriage was a no-no for my dad. Haha. March 28th, 2015 became the happiest day of my life.

couple kissing on the beach during their wedding
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez
mom and step daughter taking a pic at wedding
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

Moving In & Starting A Family

One of the best things about Gabriel is his daughter Gianna, my heart daughter, who I have had the privilege of helping raise since she was 3 and a half. Quickly after we got married, we decided to start a family and a business. He believed in me and my talents and pushed me to start my event planning and designing company. Not only did he push me and support me in my venture, but after he finished his job, he was my business partner. He would help me with ideas, build props, design graphics, and help me set up and breakdown events. But back to the family part, we were blessed to welcome our little girl, Gracie Marie, in September of 2016. I always wanted a big family. I wanted 4 kids. Gabriel thought I was crazy, so I said with Gianna and Gracie, I wanted two more. He would laugh and say only one more, but I would tell him at some point he would cave and we’d have another.

mom and dad smiling together
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez
mom dad and daughter taking a selfie
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez
mom and dad kissing in paris
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

Life has many twists and turns. With a pandemic, it took us longer than I thought to decide to have another child, but in January of 2021 we decided it was time to get rid of the IUD and start ‘trying.’ Well, we didn’t have to try much because I became pregnant on Valentine’s and of course, he prayed hard for his boy. We had our gender reveal on Easter, chicks vs bunnies, and when we popped those cannons and the blue confetti came out my husband jumped higher than he had ever jumped in his life. The boy, Gabriel Tomas, who we had prayed so hard for, was on his way and due November 1st via a planned C-Section since my daughter had been an emergency c-section in 2016.

gender reveal party for baby boy
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

We were living everything we had prayed and wished for. Our business was starting to pick up after almost closing during the pandemic and Gabriel was VP of his company and thriving in the construction industry. Gianna was doing great in her first year of middle school and our spunky 5-year-old was doing amazing in PreK and her first year in a big kid school. Everything was great and we were making all of the plans for our little boy’s arrival. We celebrated my birthday on October 20th, we did our last huge event on October 22nd, and we went into nesting mode. We woke up Monday, October 25th, and had the most beautiful morning, Gabriel, Gracie, and I. I was 38 weeks pregnant.

The Day My Life Changed

That morning, per usual, my husband brought me my Cuban cafecito to the bed, he played with Gracie, we had a quick breakfast together, and we kissed and said I love you. Only this time, it was for the last time. We spoke around 10:30 a.m. and I gave him a long to-do list we needed to accomplish in just a week, before my c-section, and he just lovingly agreed to everything. We said I love you and continued with our day. I texted him at 1:04 p.m. about dinner and he didn’t answer. I found it odd because he always answered pretty quickly but I knew he had a busy work day and had to be at different job sites, so I went on with my day.

family posing around the ultrasound
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez
dad admiring pregnant belly
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

I had lunch at my parents’ house and ran about 10-15 minutes late to pick up Gracie at school. In that pick-up line, around 1:55-2 p.m., our best friend calls and asks if I knew anything about Gabriel having an accident. I said I didn’t, but he probably hadn’t called me to not worry me but that I would call him or his boss, which is his other best friend, and I would find out. I call Gabriel, then call his boss/friend, make the left turn to the school, call Gabriel, and call his boss/best friend again and he finally picks up. And from the moment he did, I just knew. I was the last car on the pickup line. I pulled over to the right and I just kept telling him to please tell me my husband was alive. He would just say to please get my daughter, stay calm because I was pregnant, and to go home and he would meet me there but he wouldn’t confirm or deny anything. But I just knew.

God put me where I needed to be at this moment. Gracie’s school was my elementary school. I got out of the car calmly and told the security guard to please load Gracie into the car. I told her I was having a little pain in my belly and to be cautious, I was going to have someone drive us to my parents’ house. While he put her in the car, I walked up to my former teacher and told her, ‘Gabriel had an accident, he died, and I need you to drive me home,’ to which she replied that I must have heard wrong. I told her that I didn’t hear wrong but I couldn’t start processing this anymore until Gracie was in a safe place because I didn’t want her to find out this way.

The Confirmation

After I dropped off my daughter with my sister, everything became a fog. People started trickling in, I had to help break the news to my mother-in-law and I will NEVER forget her scream. I remember hugging my dad multiple times and with tears; I would whisper to him that I was not only about to break my daughter’s heart but I was about to turn off the shine in her eyes. Telling my daughter and seeing her change from this innocent 5-year-old who was always laughing and being silly to a little girl whose eyes no longer lit up and whose smile would just no longer come out is one of the most heartbreaking things you can experience as a parent.

mom and son posing together
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

My husband died instantly from a construction machine that fell on him. To this day, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor) has not completed their report, and therefore, 7.5 months after his death, we still do not have exact answers as to why this machine fell, injured another worker, and instantly killed my husband.

The Birth Of Our Son

I spent an entire week being as strong as I could for my daughter and to be able to give birth to a healthy baby boy. I saw Gianna once that week; seeing her,and the light also gone from her eyes was just another blow in this entire situation. My son was born with multiple signs that his daddy was by our side at every moment. He was born at 1:05 p.m., the exact same time as his father’s death. I believe his father met him in Heaven and carried him before I did. He physically looks just like his daddy and the look in his eyes is his daddy’s same stare.

mom with her new born child
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez
son being held up with a picture of his father
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

Fast forward to June of 2022. 7 months have passed and this is the hardest thing I have ever faced, but I have chosen to be very vocal and raw about my grief. See, I have learned that people around those of us in grief are extremely uncomfortable with grief. They say all of the wrong things, even though they mean well. Talking about my husband does bring me pain, and does make me cry, but it also makes me happy. It validates his life and the amazing person he was. Talking about him keeps him alive for his children and me.

My Advice

So in this process, I urge everyone to just be normal. Talk about the person that died, yes their loved ones will cry but we prefer to talk about them than be told the wrong things. Grief is only uncomfortable to those not experiencing our deep pain. I explained to a friend that grief is like being put to live on a boat forever and the ocean is grief. You now live on this boat and no matter where you look, there is the ocean. Sometimes the water is calm and flat, other times the waves are high and come crashing down, and other times it’s rocky yet manageable but the water is still there and the boat must keep moving through it. I will forever live in this ocean that is grief because I will forever love my husband, my best friend, my partner in life and business, and the father of our 3 kids.

Losing my husband after only having him for 8 years of my 33 years of life but having an entire life planned together is so hard. I am at a point in my life where I am married yet I no longer belong to a couple. I am one of my kids’ parents yet I’m alone. I not only have to run a business by myself, raise our kids by myself, run a household by myself, and make all kinds of difficult decisions by myself, but now I also have to find my identity again. This is the loneliest journey, even when there are 100 people around.

woman laying down at husbands grave
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez
woman grieving her husband
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez
woman with her son at his father's grave
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

I want other grieving wives/spouses (I hate that other W word with which they describe us) to know that it is okay to do things at your pace and at your timing. It’s okay to normalize grief in an age-appropriate way for your children. It’s okay to set healthy boundaries and turn away help if it makes you uncomfortable. It’s okay to cry with your kids and it’s okay to be both strong and weak. I want the friends and families of those in grief to understand that we need you but not your rush to try and ‘get over’ grief because we won’t. We know you will move on faster because this is not your deep pain, this is not all of your future plans wiped away, and you are not the one dealing daily and nightly with a little girl who begs and cries for her daddy to come back down from heaven. A little girl who is confused as to why her sister doesn’t come over at the same times as before and who analyzes everything her little brother won’t do with their dad.

Please don’t rush us to move on because we are still living on the last day our lives were whole and in a state of confusion, and it is normal. It won’t last forever but it is normal. I don’t have all of the answers and I sure as hell don’t know what the future brings, but for now I plan on living life at my pace, raising our children as we planned, helping my mother-in-law and disabled brother-in-law to the best of my ability, and turning my pain into purpose with my writing in hopes of helping others in grief (and helping their families and friends to better understand them).”

baptism of son
Courtesy of Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Grace M. Sotolongo-Alvarez. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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