Parents of children who have faced serious medical challenges will tell you that the experience has a deep and lasting impact on them. Many spend hours on end in the hospital — wracked with worry for their children, doing their best to comfort them, and feeling profoundly grateful for the doctors and nurses who so lovingly care for their kids.
But not all parents are lucky enough to leave the hospital with their children in their arms, and their stories are heartbreaking beyond words.
Dan Langlois and his wife Sara of Neenah, Wisconsin know this harsh truth all too well. Their 8-year-old son Gabriel has been in and out of the hospital for his entire life.
“Gabriel was born with Spina bifida,” Langlois tells Babble. “He is paraplegic, pretty much wheelchair-bound other than crawling, and is at risk of kidney and bladder issues.”
In his short life, Gabriel has had over 20 surgeries; all but one of which have been done at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
A few weeks ago, after attending yet another medical appointment for Gabriel, Langlois says he felt an intense feeling pass through him as he left the hospital. He took out his phone, snapped a photo of the doors leading out of it, and went home.
Once there, he sat down and penned an astoundingly moving note about what those hospital doors truly mean to him.
“I have loved these doors and hated these doors,” Langlois’ note begins, as he goes on to describe the many ups and downs of having a child with serious and ongoing medical needs. He talked about the pain of watching your child endure difficult surgeries, the exhausting doctors appointments, and the profound relief of walking through those doors when the surgeries and appointments were over and his son was well.
And then, once he was finished, he sent the note off to the hospital.
It wasn’t long before hospital staff opened the letter, and were so moved by it that they posted Langlois’ tribute — along with the photo he snapped — to their Facebook page, where it’s since gone viral. And once you read it yourself, it’s easy to see why.
Langlois’ letter begins as an outpouring of emotion about his own experiences with Gabriel, but as it continues, it becomes something entirely unexpected: an apology.
An apology to the countless families who have left the hospital empty-handed. An apology to the families who have left after being given heartbreaking diagnoses. And an apology to the nurses, doctors, and hospital staff who have had to watch their patients pass away after trying everything in their power to save them.
“The other day, walking through [the doors] again with my son (I have lost count how many times over the past eight years we’ve made this trip), I was struck with a different feeling: guilt,” he writes. “I’m not sure where it came from, but I realized I need to apologize.”
And that is just what Langlois does — in words so raw and beautiful, they might just make you cry.
“To every child that has walked in through these doors but never walked back out again, I am sorry,” Langlois writes. “To every parent that has walked in through these doors with their child, but left through these doors empty handed, I am sorry.”
He also takes care to apologize to the custodians, caregivers, advocates, and members of the security and social services teams who have had close and intimate contact with child loss too, and have just as many meaningful impacts on the patients that pass through the hospital as many doctors and nurses do.
Without a doubt, Langlois’ incredibly moving words are ones that all parents should read, regardless of whether or not they have a child facing similar challenges. Since the Facebook post went up on September 23, it has received 16K likes and 4.5K shares. But it’s the almost 800 comments (and growing) that show just how deep an impact this father’s words have had.
“I have walked through these doors 1,000s of times,” writes Sarah Van Ryzin Forster, whose young son, Nicholas Philip Paul Beecher, passed away in 2016. “And I was one who had to walk out without my little boy. Devastating! And still there was hope. Because little pieces of him walked out with other families. Ensuring that they could still look at those doors with hope in their heart. For that we are thankful.”
Another mother, Amanda Novak Pollack, shared her own story of loss in the comments:
“I have a love hate relationship with these doors,” she writes. “I am thankful for all the parents who get to come and go with their children through them. However I am one of the parents who just a few short months ago, walked in with my small child and left without him. My life will never be the same.”
Langlois himself has felt incredibly moved by the outpouring of emotions and shared stories that the post has elicited. But he’s also quick to point out, again, that his own experience at the hospital has been much less tragic compared to the stories that some families have felt compelled to share.
“It is a little surreal,” Langlois tells Babble, regarding the experience of seeing his post go viral. “It has also been quite humbling to read some of the stories that people have shared of their experiences.”
Remarking that the reaction to his post has been “a complete shock,” Langlois also shares that in addition to Gabriel, each of his four children, all adopted, have special needs.
“We have adopted all four of our children and fostered a half dozen more over the years,” he says. “Each of our kids has either neurological or physiological special needs.”
Langlois’ goal is to give each of his children the best life that he can, despite the difficulties they endure — and it sounds like he’s succeeding.
“Each one is a little different,” he says about his kids. “But each has a great love of life.”
I’m willing to bet that’s at least in part to the generous spirit of their dad, whose appreciation for life — and the people who aim to make this world a little brighter — is pretty evident.
I was struck by so many parts of this story, but perhaps most of all by this: It’s a reminder that there is more good in the world than we often realize. Even in the depths of our despair, we don’t need to look too far to find hope.