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The Mourning After: Lessons Learned One Year After Tragedy

Photograph by Eric Weingrad

Almost exactly one year ago I was devastated and lost in the waiting area of an emergency room. My 11-week-old son's skull had been cracked and he mysteriously stopped breathing under the care of his nanny. As my wife and I screamed, cried and paced around the cold, marbled floors of ER, we were beginning what would become the hardest year of our life. One that would hopefully never be repeated.

As I close in on the anniversary of the day my son's life, as we knew it, was taken from him, I'm forced to reflect on what I've learned over the past 12 months.

The first thing is that me from last year would've slapped me from this year for even hinting at the notion there's some great, big point to all this. The reality is I've learned—and accepted—to be comfortable knowing there isn't a reason for something this horrific. It's something that just is. Nothing more, nothing less.

I've learned that life is not a predetermined journey with a master plan. I refuse to believe anyone mapping out my life a billion years ago said, "Eh, let's throw in a severe head trauma to this dude's kid about three months outta the womb. Yeah, that's a nice balance and will fit in perfectly with all the other good stuff the world will have going on at that moment." Screw. That.

I learned that no matter how many times someone tells me "God only gives you what you can handle," my desire to burn holes through their face with my gaze never lessens. Just so you know, that does not make people feel better. If anything it makes people feel cheated. We don't want to be able to handle this; we want to be lazy, like the people who say this. Maybe I'm projecting? Moving on.

I learned that no matter how hard you wish for something, it doesn't make it true. Over the past year, I wished I never left my home that tragic afternoon more times then I probably blinked. Never changed a thing. I'm starting to become OK with that. Mind you, the key word is "starting."

I learned that laughter is not the best medicine. It will not cure seizures, heart irregularities, blood clots, vision impairment, muscle spasms or the ability to swallow. We tried. We literally laughed at our son for hours one night and nothing. Now on top of it not working, we feel horrible for laughing at our little boy.

I learned that the best things in life are not free. All of the care my son now gets on a daily basis costs us cold, hard cash. The insurance we have? We pay for that. Holt's in-home nurse? We pay for that. The meds that aren't covered by the insurance we already told you we pay for? We pay for that. Internet? Pay for it. Cable TV? Pay for it. Gasoline? Pay for it. That dinner I'm going to eat tonight for nourishment so I can continue to live? Using my credit card and will pay for it in four months.

But it's not all doom and gloom, people. I've learned some of the most beautiful things, as well.

I learned that being delivered food unannounced is the most kick-ass thing a friend can do for someone struggling. All it took was a surprise six-pack of Snapple, chocolate-covered pretzels and a burger from In-N-Out to make me forget about my troubles for a few seconds. Hell, maybe even a few minutes.

I learned that even though the world seems to be filled with negativity, tragedy and destruction, there is more to this planet then what we see on the news. I learned that this word is filled with love, respect and kindness. When it mattered most people were there for us. And not just family and friends, but strangers. Complete and utter strangers. Thousands of them from every walk of life, every religion and every social economic position.

I learned that when an infant is hurt, the world stops to listen, pray and hope.

I learned that people who tell me that this is all part of God's plan are just trying to make me feel better and that I should honored that they were brave enough to say anything to me.

I learned that not only is life not predetermined, we have control over our future. We can choose to be sad, to be angry or to be lost, or we can chose to be happy, forgiving and found. The latter is harder but it's worth fighting for in the end.

I learned the reason all wishes don't come true is because maybe I'm just wishing for the wrong thing. Maybe instead of wishing to erase a previous bad day, I should be wishing for future good days.

So here it is a year later and I've learned that I'm more sensitive then I imagined. That people like to read about sick babies with full heads of hair. That a broken heart eventually starts to heal. That the guilt of leaving my son might never leave me but I'm still here with him now and that's what matters most. And that those jerks who say "God only gives you what you can handle" might actually be correct.

I've learned that if I allow it, all my wishes will come true.

If you'd like to learn more about my son, please follow his journey at The Incredible Holt - Road to Recovery.

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