Carry on

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve either experienced tragedy beyond measure and comparison, beyond comprehension even, or know someone who has.

One of the hardest things to explain about loss is that part of the bereaved parent literally dies, but not enough to kill us.

Sometimes we have moments when want to die, we wonder if this is all really worth it if our baby is no longer with us. Other times we are so filled with joy, purpose, and fervor to live the most amazing life we can so that our babies didn’t die in vain.

So we carry on. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by might, sometimes by grace, and sometimes we are simply existing.

When my son Leo died, my heart shattered and its pieces were scattered into the unknown. Every beat of my heart felt like a betrayal because I should have been buried, not Leo. Yet somehow, for some reason, by some unknown strength, I was able to carry on. What choice did I have?

Carrying on can mean different things for every bereaved parent. For me, it meant bringing sweet Zoe into the world and trusting that she wouldn’t die too. It meant forcing myself to believe that my older daughters wouldn’t suffer the same silent, unexpected, undetermined, death as their little brother. It meant trusting that my heartbreaking tragedy would be used for good; to bring hope, to spread love, to save the life of another baby.

I carry the memory of my son with me everywhere. All of my experiences are colored by the deep sadness of his death and of the joy of my 26 days with him. My lost hopes and dreams for Leo bring me closer to my girls and at times pull me father away from my family.

My youngest daughter Zoe, my rainbow, was hospitalized recently. As we were taken from the doctors office to the ambulance to the hospital, I relived some of the trauma of the night Leo died as I begged her not to die on me and to keep breathing, even though she was struggling.

But it was different this time. She was responsive, we got to go to the hospital with her, we got to bring her home, alive! Zoe’s illness moved some things around in my heart. It helped me realize how much of Leo I carry around with me and I took some time to reflect on the different outcomes of Leo and Zoe.

Before the ER doctor came in to tell my husband and I that Leo had “expired”, I recall praying that Leo had a respiratory illness or a heart defect, something that people have survived. Unfortunately, it wasn’t any of those things and he died of SIDS before we even knew what was happening. This time around, hearing the doctor tell me that Zoe had a respiratory illness and would be fine with breathing treatments and monitoring was an answered prayer that I had prayed for Leo. As I carefully rocked Zoe to sleep inside the hospital, minding the many tubes and cords that connected her to the various monitors and medications, I felt lucky and blessed that Zoe was only sick and not dying.

All of my living new moments and reliving old ones helped me to realize something that I hadn’t been able to put into words before. Carrying on doesn’t mean letting go, it means I carry Leo and his memory with me everywhere I go.

I’ll never move on, or move forward, or let go; but I will carry on.

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