Updated: Jan 7, 2021
It wasn’t long ago that Dane, my husband, myself, and our sweet daughter, Adalyn, lived a very private life. We were content being a family of 3 and looking forward to soon expanding to a family of 4. We had spent the last few weeks hunting for a larger house so that we would have plenty of room for a growing toddler, a new baby, a stay at home mommy, and a work from home daddy. The 3 of us were always together. Dane and I had built a life that we were happy living, it wasn’t lavish but it was us.
On June 1, 2019, we were blessed to have spent the day at the beach with our dear friends and their children. Their daughter was Adalyn’s best friend. The girls had a wonderful day playing in the sand, the water, eating sandy snacks, and spraying each other in the shower as we rinsed them off to go to lunch. Their giggles will echo in my head for the rest of my life. They were the sounds of two little girls in pure bliss, destined to be best friends for life. It was the perfect family day. The next day began just as any other normal day. We spent the day as a family doing normal family things. We were happy and not the kind of happy you are when you are in the public, we were genuinely happy together. I made breakfast for dinner that night. It was always a hit with Adalyn and her Daddy too. When we finished dinner we decided to wrap up the weekend with a bike ride, Adalyn’s favorite thing to do, before getting our sleepy toddler off to bed. Adalyn climbed in her bike cart, Dane fastened her seat belt, and I grabbed her sippy cup and a toy. That was it, we were off. There was no warning of danger, no signs that life was about to be forever changed in the most horrific way possible, no fear where it should have been because we had taken this bike ride many times before. Adalyn loved the hill, just before the light to cross the street, because it would blow her baby fine, blonde hair, and make her giggle. There was no indication that we should have held each other extra tight before that bike ride or said extra I love you’s. It was a normal day, a happy day, a family day, that would end in horror.
Suddenly, my very private family became a very public name. The most horrific night of my life would air on every local tv station. The horror of that night would cause police officers and firefighters to have to take leaves of absences from their jobs. I can only imagine the toll it took on those that watched it happen and the kind people that stopped and tried desperately to help us. My happy family of 3, with the dream of being a family of 4, crashed around me. There are so many people to thank for what they did for us that night, some that I will never even know their names.
I wasn’t used to seeing our family as breaking news or hearing Dane’s, Adalyn’s, or my name coming out of the mouths of news anchors I had watched for years. I wasn’t used to be recognized in public or asked questions about if I was “that” mother. I would cry in anguish, disbelief, shock, frustration, and a purely broken heart daily. If I’m honest, I still do. How does this happen to a family like ours? How is this our story? I didn’t want to live anymore and yet I knew that my husband still needed me. From the beginning of our relationship Dane always told me that I was the love of his life. He was ok knowing that he was second only to our daughter in my eyes. The night of horror, when Dane wasn’t expected to live, they rolled my bed into his ICU room and let me lay with him. All I remember of that time is saying to him, “I’m still here, I’m still alive”. I don’t doubt medical science for a moment nor do I doubt God’s plan for us but I know that when those words left my mouth Dane found a new reason to fight. He would fight because the love of his life was still alive and he wouldn’t leave me behind. How then could I choose to leave him behind?
My life was filled with pain, both physical and mental. I was faced with decision after decision about my husband, the man I would usually talk to about everything and suddenly I was left to make life or death decisions for him, without him. Those beginning days were dark and blurry. I was kept on a lot of medicine to help with all I was enduring. No parent is prepared to hear that their child has passed away and yet you can’t even focus on that pain or begin to process that pain because your husband is currently fighting for his life and he needs you. It was like being a hamster that was running on a wheel only I could never get off of the wheel and I was tiring... fast!
We were now a common name amongst the news stations. My mother addressed the media on our behalf first and then once an arrest was finally made I made the first of what would become many media appearances. It was incredibly difficult to talk about losing my daughter. You see, when you lose your baby you don’t just lose them but you lose all the dreams that you had for their future, for your future with them. It was hard to talk about Dane. We were over a month into it and nothing had really changed. We just sat waiting. Waiting to see what he would do, waiting to see if he’d come back, waiting and fearing the damage that had been done. What effect would it have on the rest of his life? Of our life?
I lived next to the hospitals in a hotel for 7 months. The hospital where our daughter was pronounced dead and the hospital that still held my husband in the ICU. It was while we were staying at the hotel that I decided I had to make something good come from all of this. I had to make Adalyn’s life count and I had to build a legacy for her. It was during this hotel stay that the dream of Acts For Adalyn was born. It was a dream that seemed so far away and it was but I was determined. Once I make up my mind about something there is little that can be done to deter me. Toddler loss mothers needed me. They needed to see my face and know that I had survived the unimaginable. They needed to know that they too could and would survive the nightmare of losing their toddler. I needed to give them something to hold onto physically and mentally. I knew what I wanted to do for Adalyn’s legacy. It was the day before 19 months of loss that Acts For Adalyn Foundation launched and became a reality. Once again, my very private life became very public but this time it was because something good was born out of so much pain and suffering. Something good was born from surviving the unimaginable.
I write this because I want to paint an honest picture of grief and loss. While I appear to be strong and determined on camera that is not always my reality. I have days where I replay that night and wonder if I could have done anything to change the outcome but the truth is I couldn’t change it. I didn’t cause my very private and happy family to become a public name and a story to follow. Someone else’s terrible choices took my daughter’s life and essentially ended both Dane and my life as well. What is a story to everyone else is my reality. A reality that is so so so painful. It comes with debilitating PTSD, an anxiety disorder, serious depression issues, and as of January 5, 2021, my third “mental” or “nervous” breakdown. It came complete with collapsing and hitting my left leg on the end of the bed leaving a massive bruise. It came with vertigo and crawling to get to the bathroom. It came with bouts of a spinning room and limbs that were so weak I could not move. It came with hysterically crying, feeling like a failure, wondering what I did to deserve this life, anxiety that I couldn’t control, insane rushes of panic, and horrific flashbacks. Just 4 days after announcing the legacy I created for my daughter, I found myself hitting rock bottom. I stayed in bed for a day and a half. I haven’t really done much physically since my collapse as of yet. I didn’t give up though, I’m fighting my way back even if it takes time.
I chose to share this blog because I want other mothers to know that it’s ok to hit rock bottom, you will, and likely you will hit it many times during your grief journey. I chose to share this to tell you that even as you watched me announcing the creation of Acts For Adalyn on the news, I had already begun my downward spiral. I was covered in stress hives, I felt the fear, the anxiety, and saw the flashbacks already starting. It was both terrifying and excruciating to put on a brave face and tell the public world that my birthday gift to my daughter, in Heaven, was a living legacy. I had fulfilled the creation of her legacy of kindness, even as I was fighting my internal demons.
I have decided that if I am really going to help other toddler loss mothers I cannot only tell the good that has come from having to face the unimaginable but I also have to tell of the pain, the anguish, the sorrow, and the ugly side of things. Every single day I miss Adalyn with every breath I take. My heart physically longs for her and my empty arms ache. My once happy dreams of her future have turned to dust and now the only happy dream of the future I have with her is the day I am reunited with her at Heaven’s Gate. I am angry at God, I don’t understand why Adalyn’s life was so short, why Dane’s life is now defined by a catastrophic brain injury, and why my life is a walk of more pain and trauma than most will know in there whole lifetime. Yet, I choose to believe in Him. I choose to believe that He is using me for the good of others. I believe that He holds my daughter until I get there and am reunited with her for all eternity. As you go through my blogs you will likely see me talking about a Bible verse that has become an important part of my grief journey. I’ll start today by sharing a verse that was part of our journey early on. This verse appears on the back of the Zisa Strong shirts. The shirts were a fundraiser for my family and I was so touched to see people from near and far wearing these to show their support. They are still on the Zisa Strong FB page. This was a powerful verse for me.
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
To all the toddler loss mothers reading this blog, no matter where you are in your grief journey, know that I am walking with you. The Acts For Adalyn Foundation Team is walking with you.
Please like, follow, and most importantly share our FB page. When you share ask your followers to share as well. You never know who needs our support and if you know of a toddler loss mother that is currently at the beginning of her grief journey, please submit her story to us. Thank you for being part of Acts For Adalyn Foundation and helping to make Adalyn’s legacy of kindness a success.