Couple turn their grief into help for other families

Stacy Hite had her upper back tattooed with a baby nestled in angel’s wings; the same image graces the top of the headstone of the grave of her grandson, Gabriel, at left.

Chris and Stacy Hite of Grand Junction have formed a fund to help pay for burial expenses for children after losing their grandson Gabriel in 2008.

Three years ago, Stacy and Chris Hite never imagined they’d soon be burying their grandson.

Now they find healing in helping others who are thrust into the same situation.

The Hites founded Gabriel’s Wish last month to honor their grandson, Gabriel Hite. The fund helps others pay for the headstone and burial of infants and young children who die.

Just days after the fund began operation as a project under local nonprofit Hope of the Grand Valley, Gabriel’s Wish provided its first burial plot donation for Alesana Mowery, a 6-month-old Grand Junction girl who died March 26 and was buried Monday in Grand Junction Memorial Gardens.

The Hites know the pain and confusion of paying for an unexpected funeral. The Grand Junction couple found Gabriel’s body the morning of April 29, 2008, cradled in a plastic tote bag in a closet in their home. He’d been left there by his mother, Morgan Hite, after his birth on Feb. 25 of the same year. Hite was sentenced to 20 years in prison in March 2009.

With the startling image of their deceased grandson haunting them and the pain of never knowing him fresh in their minds, the Hites arranged a funeral. They chose a plot in Memorial Gardens and purchased the plots on each side of Gabriel’s final resting place. Someday, the Hites will be buried alongside their grandson.

The image on a bench-shaped headstone over the grave shows a baby cradled in angel wings. The child’s back is turned in the image. It’s the way Stacy Hite said she saw Gabriel when she found him, an image that gave her nightmares. The thought of angel wings helped ease those nightmares, and the same image on the headstone is tattooed on Stacy Hite’s back and over Chris Hite’s heart.

The healing process after their grandson’s death involved more than tattoos. With the added pain of having their daughter’s face all over TV and in newspapers, the Hites were relieved to get out of town the afternoon of her sentencing, when they briefly moved to Washington state for Chris’s job. After a few months, the Hites moved to West Virginia in June 2009 and came back to Grand Junction full-time in October 2010.

“We had a lot of time in West Virginia to sit and talk,” Chris Hite said.

Talking to each other and clergy has helped the Hites get to where they are now, able to talk about their experience and use it to help others.

“It’s taken three years to get to a place where we could talk about it without breaking into tears,” Stacy Hite said.

The idea to help others bury their loved ones began when the Hites went to Callahan-Edfast Mortuary to select a casket for Gabriel. Stacy Hite remembers wanting to donate money then to help other grieving families pay for the small coffins, something she said no family should ever have to buy.

The idea to create a foundation grew from there.

“We wanted if a family was ever in a position where they lost an infant or child, we could help them through that grieving process,” Stacy Hite said. “If it’s one little way we can ease their pain, we’re more than happy to do it.”

Anyone who wants to add to Gabriel’s Fund can donate to Hope of the Grand Valley and write “Gabriel’s Wish” in the check’s memo line.

Hope of the Grand Valley Executive Director Vicki McGee said the group, which the Hites found while researching which nonprofit services they could work with, is happy to welcome Gabriel’s Fund into the fold and help the Hites help families like Alesana Mowery’s.

“It’s something we want to continue for families,” McGee said.

Grand Junction Memorial Gardens has offered to donate three grave sites returned to the cemetery by owners who no longer want them, and the Hites are working on paying the $660 fee to transfer the plots into their name. Memorial Gardens Family Counselor Rocky Jiron said he finds the Hites’ commitment amazing.

“Anyone who can take love for their grandson and put it into what they’re doing ... I believe in angels because I’m looking at them right now,” Jiron said to the Hites during a newspaper interview earlier this week in the cemetery.

Gabriel’s Wish also guides people with questions about pregnancy, sex education or other issues to counseling services. Stacy Hite said she feels its important to include that element in Gabriel’s Wish to make sure no parent has to go through what she went through.

Hite said she remembers reading about Cheyenne Corbett, who placed her baby in an entertainment center after giving birth at her parents’ Grand Junction home in 2006. At the time, Hite felt sorry for Corbett and believed she must have a family that didn’t feel comfortable talking to one another. She believed she would never experience that with Morgan because the two had a good relationship.

Hite met Corbett’s mother at Morgan’s sentencing and discovered both girls came from loving families but felt backed into a corner after giving birth.

“If it can happen to our family, it can happen to anyone,” Stacy Hite said.

That’s why she wants teens and parents and anyone afraid during or before a pregnancy to have a counselor to talk to.

“You may think hearing ‘I’m pregnant’ is the hardest thing you can hear as a parent,” Stacy Hite said. “But trust me, it’s a whole lot harder to hear how your daughter went through this, to hear about and see a dead baby.”

“It’s not a conversation you want to have afterward,” Chris Hite said.


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