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Challenge: Pregnancy and Infant Loss

A Beloved Novel Gave Me the Strength to Live After My Son Died

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{My first photo with our daughter, Willow Rosemary. She was born less than one year after the loss of our 3 year old son}.

Those of us fortunate enough to have read The Giver understand the beauty of this novel. If you have not read it, or if it has been years, grab a copy, because the secrets in this book are waiting.

Our 3 year old son died in June 2018. I do not know how we managed to walk out of the hospital room without him, but the words in The Giver were with me from the beginning. Ten months after losing Levi, I wrote a letter to Lois Lowry, the author of this novel I love so much. I told her in the letter: "It was as if our souls and brains and bodies already knew how we would respond to tragedy, and they took over when our hearts failed us."

Lois Lowry, this beloved author of whom I have the utmost respect REPLIED back to me within days. Her reply was genuine, personal, and unexpected. It is one more example of the light and goodness that are helping guide the way for us through this darkness.

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I did not write this letter with the intention that it would be shared with anyone else. Yet, when I look at my 5 month old daughter, I am overcome with gratitude anew every time. Hopefully my words can serve as a reminder that literature matters in our lives. Read (or re-read) The Giver, and embrace its message.

Below is the letter I shared with Lois Lowry:




Dear Lois Lowry,

My 3 year old son, Levi, drowned on June 10, 2018. He somehow slipped out the back door of a room filled with people, including both my husband and myself. One moment he was on the couch, wearing khaki shorts, eating Cheetos, surrounded by friends. In the next, I found him face down in the deep end of the pool. HOW did I not see him get out the door? If only regret and love could help me defy the rules of time.

I know you receive emails every day from students, teachers, adults, and writers, all desperate to share the impact of your words on their lives. I have debated reaching out to you, hesitant to add one more testimony to your overflowing pile. But, I think of your words often, and my heart will not rest until I at least attempt to reach you.

On that seemingly normal Sunday night just 10 months ago, my world stopped spinning. I was the one to find Levi in the pool, who jumped in and pulled him out. My husband, an anesthesiologist, performed CPR on his only son, his namesake. We both fell to our knees, pleading to trade places with this boy who still had so much life left to live, this boy we somehow had failed to protect. His older sisters, just 5 and 9, watched in horror from the balcony.

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Our precious Levi regained a pulse and was airlifted to the hospital but never came back to us. My husband and I kissed this baby one final time, our tears mingled into his hair and dripping down his once-rosy cheeks. And, then we had to walk out of the hospital without him.

I look back on this night as if watching someone else’s life. Grief does not bend to the rules of time, so despite living 10 months without my son, I have actually lived an eternity but also somehow only seconds. As I think back upon that horrific night, I see us surrounded by fog. When I picture us that night, our faces are blank, as if life drained out of us the second it was stolen from our son. But, we were walking. We were making forward progress and walking toward the future. It is only in retrospect that I have realized we made the choice to move forward- to not just physically walk out of the hospital but to live with intention despite this tragedy. It was as if our souls and brains and bodies already knew how we would respond to tragedy, and they took over when our hearts failed us.

The big and small events in our lives clicked together and provided the strength and tools necessary to move forward. I am grateful to you from the depths of my heart that The Giver was part of my life preceding the loss of Levi. I read it for the first time in 1999 during a college course on adolescent literature. On a day when classes were canceled for snow (fitting, of course), I read this entire novel in one sitting, spellbound and barely breathing during the final chapters. I knew then I would devote my life to bringing powerful words to children. Once I did become a middle school teacher, I shared The Giver with hundreds of students, each time holding the familiarity close while discovering new treasures hidden along the way. When I had my first baby, a daughter I actually named Lily, in 2009, I taught The Giver, again. But, this time, as a brand new mom, I felt as if I was reading the novel for the first time. Throughout my teaching, a constant ache sat with me- one that I imagined would have been felt by Caleb’s mother if they lived in the regular world. I truly understood the appeal of a world void of emotion.

During the early breaths of that first morning I was forced to live without Levi, my thoughts had already turned to The Giver. I felt I would have done anything to take away the sadness. Take me to the world of The Giver, I thought. But, just as quickly, I realized that the chance to be Levi’s mommy was worth the pain. I would choose him- even if it also meant this pain- again and again, every time.

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My students and I had discussed and held sacred and whispered along with Jonas this most powerful of all lines: There could be love,” Jonas whispered. This line was never far from my thoughts during those early days, becoming a permanent fixture in my heart. These words comfort me, as if validating the pain. The sadness and grief is just a manifestation of the deep love I hold for Levi.My husband and I were forced to make decisions we never imagined would be part of our parenting journey. One was simultaneously the hardest and easiest: will we try for another baby?

In 2017, we decided our family was complete, and we took steps to ensure this finality. After Levi’s death, we had to choose whether to undo those actions and move forward on this path of expanding our family. And, it needed to be sooner, rather than later, because of our ages. Guilt shamed us, as if maybe we had jinxed our lives by the 2017 decision that had seemed so right at the time. My husband, this man of action, didn’t hesitate on the decision of trying for a baby. From the very first moments, he knew the only way to survive would be to move forward. My heart was more guarded. I didn’t want a new baby; I just wanted Levi.

Your words were in my heart, nudging me forward, though. The Giver lost his own daughter, Rosemary, to a preventable death. Yet, he still believed that we need to take the risk, that love is worth it. Love was the only flicker of light in the fog that clouded our future.

“Yes,” I told my husband. “Let’s try. And, if we have a daughter, her middle name will be Rosemary.”

Despite feeling undeserving, I was pregnant immediately. This baby is indeed a girl, and her middle name is Rosemary. It was not until just a few weeks ago that I realized Rosemary means “in remembrance of.” This middle name is filled with meaning, as she will always carry part of Levi with her. But, It is not her job to heal us. We will love her because she is a gift to us in her own right.

The last ten months have been filled with despair and relentless grief. We have survived Levi’s funeral, the 6 month mark, Christmas, and his 4th birthday without him. My husband and I are determined that our daughters will not lose their childhoods, too, and we are choosing every day to live purposefully despite our sadness.

This baby girl’s birth will not give Levi a childhood, does not bring him back to our family. My grief for his life will not magically fade once she is here with us. But, your words and message have held me up and will continue to push me forward. There could be love.

This baby girl is not instead of Levi, but she is because of him. It is because of our love for him that we are determined to live intentionally despite this sorrow. I feel her kick, and each tiny thump reminds me that despite our immeasurable loss, we are gaining, as well.

In addition to the courage your words have given me, I kept thinking: And, this novel I’ve loved for years even includes a drowning death. I never imagined my own son would lose his life in the same way as Caleb. Your reference of childhood drowning brings power and awareness to this taboo topic. I find a small amount of healing in your mention of this epidemic. Since Levi’s death, I have learned that drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause for ages 5-19. A staggering 69 percent drown during an unanticipated swim time, just like Caleb, and just like our Levi. A toddler, with his small lungs and lack of knowledge to hold his breath, can drown in just a moment. I am now all too aware of the stigma of drowning and the implications of neglect. I am determined to break down these societal assumptions, as they are the biggest threat to drowning prevention efforts. I hold this book even closer to my heart because you shared this insight about drowning, expertly woven into the story. Thank you.

I am aware that you have received millions of letters over the decades from readers like me, desperate to share how your books have shaped their lives. Even if you never read this, though, I believe in putting the good out into the universe. I hope you somehow feel my gratitude. Thank you for sharing your words with all of us.


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