Behind the scenes of this horrific nightmare there is a woman that has been a pillar of strength and a testimony of faith. She’s the one that went to the hospital to be with Adalyn that horrific night because both Dane and I were in critical condition in the hospital right next-door. She’s the one that held my baby’s hand last. The one that kissed her and told her just how much she was loved and always would be. She’s the one that sang her lullabies and prayed with her while she waited for the medical examiner’s office to come and take her granddaughter away. The granddaughter that had been a symbol of hope and a promise that life did indeed go on. She was the joy that followed pain, the rainbow after the storm. You see, when I found out that I was pregnant with Adalyn, my sister was in hospice. She was dying. She had fought a 10 year battle with breast cancer and her body was worn out. My mom was going to lose the little girl that made her a mommy, many years ago. As we prepared to say goodbye to my sister, the news of Adalyn’s coming arrival brought joy and hope. My sister was the very first person that Dane and I told our little secret and it was the very same day that the test came back positive. I didn’t hesitate, I wanted my sister to know about her niece or nephew that was coming and I knew that her time was running out. My sister slipped into a coma 4 days after we told her I was pregnant. She passed away a week after that. My first ultrasound was scheduled for the day before her birthday, the very same day that my sister would pass away. I left hospice to go to my ultrasound appointment after saying goodbye to my sister and walking with her as far as I could go when the funeral home came to pick her up. It was my promise to her that I would be with her all the way, until the very end. That was May of 2017. Imagine the hope and excitement it brought when Adalyn’s arrival brought in 2018. Adalyn Nicole Zisa was born on New Year’s Day 2018. She brought a new start at life and taught us all that there was still joy in this world. That symbol of hope and the promise of life going on would come to an end 17 months and 1 day later. Adalyn’s life would come to an end and it would be my mom that was with her until the very end, just like I had been with my sister.
My mom’s job had just begun at the hospital with Adalyn. Lying in the trauma bay next-door to where my mom was saying goodbye to her granddaughter, was her daughter who was begging and pleading to know what was going on with Adalyn. Who was desperately asking to go and be with her but who medically could not be released. In the trauma bay was my mom’s daughter and her son-in-law who had just lost their daughter and it was my mom’s presence in the trauma bay that would tell the whole story without any words. I knew that my mom would never leave Adalyn if she had survived. That was the whole reason I kept fighting to stay conscious at the scene. I knew that we had no identification on us and that no one was going to know who we were. I also knew that I had to get ahold of my mom so that she could go to be with Adalyn. I knew that she would be the familiar face amongst the sea of unfamiliar faces if Adalyn had survived and I also knew that if Adalyn had not survived my mom would say goodbye to her just like I would have. I knew that she would sing to her, pray with her, but most of all I knew that she would tell Adalyn just how much she was loved by her mom and dad. I knew she would tell Adalyn that she had changed my life and I was a better person because of her. I also knew that she would stay with her until the very end. I knew what I was asking of her was going to be one of the hardest things she would ever have to do but I knew that it was also one of the greatest honors she would ever receive. She was the one that I chose to be with my daughter. The one I asked to fill in for me when I couldn’t be there. I knew she would say goodbye the way I would have because everything I knew about being a mom I had learned from her.
In the days that followed the loss of Adalyn, my mom never left my side. She stayed in the hospital waiting room while I underwent 4 surgeries praying that I would keep my leg and hopefully walk again one day. She slept on the couch in my room at the hospital for 31 days while I began my physical recovery. This woman that needed to have her knee replaced found the strength to push my wheelchair or my recliner (my leg was so swollen it wouldn’t fit in the wheelchair) to Dane’s room so that I could be with him. She helped me as I learned to shower without using my right leg, she stayed up late at night trying to help me make sense of something that could not be explained, she watched as I grieved for my daughter and my husband. It was my mom that had to grieve silently so that she could help me survive. She went with me to live in the hotel across the street from the hospital where Dane remained in the ICU. We would live there for 6 months and 5 days. The hotel room became our home. It was my safe place and the only home I knew after losing my family, right before my eyes. It was my escape from the reality that I was running from.
She went with me to the funeral home to say goodbye to my daughter. She watched in disbelief as her daughter sat in a wheelchair holding her own granddaughter’s body. Her daughter was singing lullabies, reading books, and finally praying with her granddaughter, before tucking her in one last time. She watched as I screamed and cried the tears that a mother who has just lost her whole world cries. A sound that you will never forget. She watched in agony as I signed my daughter’s death certificate, as I picked out flowers for her service, as I was given my daughter back in an urn. She watched as I tried to walk so that I could walk the aisle for Adalyn’s service. I refused to be pushed in a wheelchair, walking was a sign of respect and I was going to do it. She rubbed my foot, worked on my ankle, and stretched my leg out. She pushed me from the hotel to the hospital so that I could stand, in shock, by my husband as he fought for his life. She watched as I chose what I wanted to hear from the doctor, selective hearing we’ll call it. When the doctor’s told me that 98% of the people that had this kind of brain injury never fully recover. What I heard was that there was a 2% chance of him making a full recovery and I held onto that 2%. She then watched as my hope for a full recovery slowly began to fade away. She watched as grieved for all the things that should have been, for the family I had lost, for the dreams that would never be my reality. She watched and she held herself together so that I could grieve.
After 279 days of living in a hotel, my mom brought me back to the house that used to be my family’s home. To the place that Dane and I had bought together just after we were married with the hopes of one day having a baby. I returned to the place that Dane and I had renovated together and though all of our old furniture was sold and new things were brought in, it still felt eerily familiar. I came back to the house that we once brought Adalyn home to. The house that now held her empty pink nursery. There were no more baby giggles, or toys everywhere, there was no longer a routine to follow (though I still felt like I should be living that way), there was no longer a home filled with a family. We left our home that horrific night as a happy and healthy family of 3 and I returned to that same home as just me, 279 days later. My mom lived with me at my house for another 104 days while I tried to find my “new normal”. She lived with me as the world shutdown because of a pandemic. She handled so many phone calls and e-mails, while I remained in shock. My neighborhood celebrated her birthday with her (outside and socially distanced) because they had come to know her as she walked her dog.
Over the past year I have found that there are many songs that speak to how I feel as I navigate this journey of life before and after. One of the songs speaks directly to me about the unsung hero in this journey and about an inspirational Granny who is part of the Acts For Adalyn Foundation. Her role is not only to keep Adalyn’s memory alive but to provide support to the grieving grandmothers that must learn how to grieve their own loss, while supporting their child through the hardest thing any parent could ever face, the death of their own child. “While You Holding Me”, Jasmine Murray could have been written about my mom. I want to share a few of the lyrics with you because they are the best description of who and what this woman is for me.
“While you were holding me
You were praying prayers that only mamas do
While you were holding me
You were fighting battles your babies never knew
And I never knew 'til now just how strong you were
Drying all my tears while fighting yours”
My mom took me to Adalyn’s cross to decorate for the holidays/seasons and she watched as I knelt before my daughter’s cross in tears on Mother’s Day. She silently shed tears because she was watching the unimaginable. I was so angry at God when this happened. I questioned where He was when this happened? Why didn’t he stop it? Why did my daughter’s life end at 17 months and 1 day? Why did He leave Dane here with a TBI? Why didn’t He answer my simple prayer to take Dane Home if he wasn’t going to be restored to his normal self? Why did He leave me behind when I was right there and would have given my life to save Adalyn? Why did I have to watch as my family was destroyed? I begged God to tell me WHY and my mom prayed for us. She helped me to understand that there are things that cannot be explained on this side of Heaven but that one day I will know in full all the answers to my WHY questions. She helped me to survive. She wouldn’t let me quit or give up. She helped me to find my purpose in the after part of my life.
“All that darkness you lived through
Couldn't dim the light inside of you
All the broken pieces
You kept giving them to Jesus
And He gave you strength to raise me up
Knowing one day I would see
He was holding you
While you were holding me”
The Acts For Adalyn Foundation is blessed to have her serving on the board. We are blessed to be able to offer assistance to grieving grandmothers while we also offer assistance to the grieving mom. She is the unsung hero behind everything I do, everything I accomplish, every day that I live. If you are a grieving grandparent of a toddler please reach out to us so that we can connect you with my mom for support.
To my mom, I could never have survived this without your love and support. Thank you for being with my baby when I couldn’t. Thank you for everything that you continue to do for me as I navigate this long journey through more pain and sorrow than most people will know in their lifetime. You are the unsung hero of so many things and I am so proud that you are my mom and Adalyn’s granny. Thank you…I love you more than I can say.