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Gabriel F.

By Gabriel's mom, Tina

Gabriel Franco

Mundelein, Illinois

I fell in love with Gabriel the minute I found out that he was coming into this world. He was a loving, kind and generous person; he could get along with anyone and fit into any situation. Based on the stories people have told me about him, I know he changed many lives, including my own.

When Gabriel was 2 years old, a neighbor and I were getting ready for a yard sale. Gabriel and her son were amusing themselves by unpacking all of the stuff. I turned my back for a second and when I turned back around he had disappeared. I frantically ran up and down 9 flights of stairs stopping on every single level to scream his name. I ran out front to the playground and there he was: “Gabriel!”

“What mom?” he asked. I felt like screaming but--that smile--I gave him an enormous hug instead.

This became a pattern; he would disappear for bouts of time but he always came back.

In grade school and junior high he made honor roll and was involved in sports. The summer before his freshman year in high school things started to change. Gabriel hurt his ankle while riding a go kart and couldn’t report to freshman football camp. My husband and I always secretly wondered if this was actually an accident or if it was his way of not letting us down because he knew how excited we were about seeing him play in high school. So, football was out, skateboarding was in and he loved it.

Gabriel tried to find all the local skate parks and even took the train to the city to hit several parks around there. At this time I wasn’t concerned about him because he went to school, made good grades and didn’t get in trouble. I knew he loved to skate but I didn’t realize he loved to skate high until much later.

Gabriel was about 16 when the whole family planned a trip to Florida to renew the vows of close friends. My husband, Chris, and I couldn’t go so Gabriel and his brother went with their grandparents and cousins. I was at work when I got a hysterical phone call from my mother-in-law saying she had lost my son, “He’s gone and I have no idea what to do! Where is he?” I calmed her down and told her he would come back. I knew he was fine somehow. I think most mothers know when something is not right with their child, and with Gabriel, I was usually on-point. He did come back. He always came back.

When he was 18 it was time for his wisdom teeth to come out. After the procedure, I went to the pharmacy and filled his prescription for Vicodin. I gave him one pill as directed and when he asked me to leave him the bottle I said, “Absolutely not.” I remember this moment well--when I realized that my son didn’t just have a sore tooth, but was suffering from an illness called addiction.

After that the rollercoaster ride started and didn’t stop. He was arrested for possession and stealing. Most of my belongings were pawned and re-purchased. I felt like everything was spiraling out of control. One day Gabriel said, “Mom you have to take me here.” He had made an appointment at a methadone clinic. I felt dizzy as he told me all about his heroin use. But things just went from bad to worse as we entered a very dark period of our lives, especially for Gabriel.

By the age of 23, he was spending more time in jail than at home. He didn’t want to deal with probation and people breathing down his neck, so he told me he was going to prison to “get this stuff over with.” I cried but consoled myself in thinking that he would finally get clean-- he can beat this, I thought, and when he gets out we will start over, right? Time heals everything, right? Looking back, I know how stupid that sentiment was. But off Gabriel went to prison. I knew he would come back.

Eventually, Gabriel was granted work release. I was nervous about it but he secured a job and things seemed alright. Then one day I got a call from the hospital saying he’d been jumped. I remember thinking that couldn’t be true--Gabriel knew his way inside and out of the city. Something wasn’t right. My husband and I drove to where he was staying on work release but they wouldn’t tell me anything, so we went to his workplace and they said he hadn’t been in. He wasn’t jumped. He had overdosed again.

Several days went by before I got a box from Joliet prison with his things in it. At least I knew he was safe again. Gabriel was gone for a total of 15 months. During that time, I received a letter from him about how grateful he was for getting caught. He was ready to move on with his life and was considering going to culinary school when he got out.

The week he came back I was in heaven; I made all of his favorite foods, ordered whatever he wanted to eat, enjoyed his company, and talked to his friends who came to visit. We were starting over. For some reason, I woke up on a Thursday morning a nervous wreck, and couldn’t shake it all day. I watched the clock at work and when it hit 5 I ran out of work, drove straight home, and barged into his room. It was dark.

When my husband told me Gabriel had gone out my insides slid to my feet and tears came to my eyes. I waited all night for him to come home and at 11:30 p.m. he finally did.

The next morning he left again and I am still waiting for him to come back.

Gabriel died of an overdose on Feb 22, 2013.


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