I always say that my story is one I would give back in a heartbeat. But since I don’t have this choice I’ve decided the bravest thing I can do is tell my story courageously in the hope it will help others.
Currently? I’m a life coach, I host a podcast and a blog. I cofounded a business that has supported hundreds of women transform their lives and we are only beginning our work.
Previously? I didn’t want to live.
My daughter died at the age of four months. My life was completely shattered. The pain I felt in my heart and my body was indescribable. The world as I knew it no longer existed, “mother” was stripped from me and the future I had envisioned long before was gone.
I’ll never forget the night we left Boston Children’s Hospital without our daughter. Driving home with an empty car seat in the back. A car seat that took me seven months to remove from my car. I found comfort in looking in the rearview mirror remembering how scared my newborn was when her hat fell over her eyes in the backseat. I would pull over as a nervous mother to make sure she was safe.
The guilt and shame I felt for not keeping her safe was suffocating. She didn’t die from a car accident or anything I pacifically did. She died from undiagnosed intestinal damage that led to organ and renal failure. However, I had created her, and fed her and felt like I did everything wrong.
I’ll never forget the tears as I sat on the floor in her nursery. I had spent hours agonizing over which decor was best. I sat on the floor with no baby, yet my body was still producing breast milk. The sound of the pump stung loudly in the silent room. The tears seem to come quicker than the milk.
Survival mode is the best way I can explain navigating the initial days and months of bereavement. I couldn’t be around people, noise, or crowds. I would do a loop around Trader Joe’s, forgetting what I was looking while obviously being in the way of others in a hurry. I remember trying to order at Starbucks coffee, forgetting where I was while people behind me asked me to hurry up. I remember driving but not knowing where I was or showering without any idea if I had washed my hair.
The path from those moments to now is one I wouldn’t wish on anyone but one I want to share because I want every single person who is hurting and who has experienced challenged heartache, loss, fear or guilt to know that they have the ability to love their life again.
There was one thing that was pivotal to my growth and one obstacle I had to overcome.
The first was investing in myself and accessing support. A grief coach, support groups, life coaching, podcasts, books and Ted Talks — I absorbed it all. I felt like I had to become an expert on what I was experiencing so I could learn how to navigate my path. I had to be patient with the process, take it all a little at a time.
These tools helped me alleviate the weight of guilt and shame. I felt like I had done something wrong I spent one year of Fridays night reading my daughter’s medical records –99 nights in the hospital equalling 18,000 pages of paper.
And then came the guilt and the shame of wanting to live and live happily. As if choosing to live my life again would dishonor Leyden or minimize my loss. I worried that if I smiled people would think I didn’t care. I remember a friend asking me to do the Ice Bucket Challenge to post on social media a month after Leyden died. I looked at her and thought I can’t possibly have people see me smiling. Nor did I feel like smiling.
It wasn’t overnight but over time I learned the strategies and skills to cultivate my happiness and reshape my life to live in alignment with the way that serves me well. To find a way to mother. To shine my daughter’s light.
I learned that we can’t go through this life expecting smooth sailing, we can’t run away from adversity or fear failure. Rather we can trust that we have the skills to navigate through our journey. Even broken and shattered, it is possible to learn to love life again. Not only is it possible, it is worth it. I believe this as someone who truly felt no purpose in living after Leyden died. After a lot of work, I understand that everyone of us deserve to live a meaningful and happy life, even after the worst of circumstances.
I know in my heart that’s what Leyden would want for me too.
Melissa Dlugolecki is a life coach, gut-health educator and energy junkie. All of which she pursued after losing her daughter Leyden Saige to NEC (a sick gut) at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2014. After not wanting to live, Melissa realized she had two choices; to remain broken or to take steps to rebuild, in a way that honored her daughter. Her path of bereavement sparked a curiosity in studying how to channel our energy to choose growth and help others do the same. She is the founder of Thrive with Mel-DL, co-founder of MOVE. with Mooch&Mel, a marathon runner, blogger and host of the podcast, Grief, Guts & Green Smoothies.