Gabriel “Gabe” Alvarez leaped into the air when he learned that his wife, Grace Sotolongo-Alvarez, was pregnant with a baby boy.
“He absolutely was overjoyed,” close family friend Liza Santana-Pineres told TODAY Parents. Gabe, who was already a devoted dad to daughters Gianna, 9, and Gracie, 5, had been praying for a son.
“Gabe just really wanted that experience,” Santana-Pineres recalled. “The whole family was over the moon.”
Then tragedy struck. Gabe, 43, was working construction in Miami, Florida, when a piece of equipment fell on top of him and took his life. He died on Oct. 25, just seven days before Grace, 33, gave birth.
Grace announced the baby's arrival in a poignant Facebook post written as a letter to Gabe.
“A week ago today, at 1:05 PM, you took your last breath my love. Today, exactly at 1:05 PM, our son, #GabrielTomasAlvarez, took his first breath,” Grace wrote. “Everything about today has been filled with signs that you are here with us.”
One of the first faces that baby Gabriel saw belonged to his late dad. Grace had a photo of Gabe in the delivery room, which showed him in hospital scrubs. The picture was taken when their daughter Gracie was born.
“Grace made sure it was hanging at a height where she could look up at him during her C-section. She needed to be able to see him,” Santana-Pineres said. “She also had his wedding ring with her. She knew it would keep her calm.”
Earlier this month, Grace shared images of Gabriel sleeping peacefully on a “Lion King” T-shirt with the word “Dad” written across it. In the snapshots, the newborn wears a yellow Simba onesie and matching cap.
“We laughed at how we would take a pic of you wearing this shirt by the hospital window holding him up for the world to see,” Grace wrote on Facebook. “These photos were supposed to be so different.”
Santana-Pineres said that Grace is home and focused on staying strong for her young children as she prepares for Gabe’s funeral on Saturday. A GoFundMe was created to help raise money for the family.
“Grace is devastated,” Santana-Pineres said. “Her heart is shattered in a million pieces.”