A video popped up on my newsfeed yesterday that I was not fully prepared to see. The minute-and-a-half clip shows heart-tugging images of numerous moms breaking down with grief, as their children drift between life and death. The video, which was created for the SickKids Foundation’s Mother’s Day campaign, already has close to 300K views on YouTube — and it’s eliciting strong emotional reactions across the Internet.
The SickKids Foundation is a nonprofit organization that works to fund pediatric research, health care for children, and support for caregivers. The campaign is using the hashtag #SickKidsMomStrong and the responses on Twitter and YouTube are both uplifting and devastating at the same time.
Its Mother’s Day ad features both actors and real moms, along with their children, who all face difficult battles with debilitating illnesses. We especially see the moms in their private moments, as they grapple with the wide-range of emotions that come when caring for a sick child.
But just when you think your heart can’t take anymore, a mom says confidently to herself, “She can get through this,” and another musters up the strength to stop crying by continuously whispering, “get up, get up.” They all wipe their own tears, take a deep breath, and arm themselves with smiles and determination before walking back into the room to see their children.
In short, these women show us what true bravery looks like; true grit.
The strange thing is, as I watched the video, I felt like I knew every single one of those mothers. I knew the mom standing at the back of an elevator, crying uncontrollably. I knew the mom pounding into her steering wheel while screaming in an empty parking lot. And I especially knew the mom who was doing something completely ordinary, like jogging, until she suddenly found herself kneeling over and gasping in agony.
In March of 2015, my 6-year-old came home from school with a sore throat. By nightfall, it turned into croup and we made our way to Urgent Care as he started to struggle breathing. By the next morning, we had been transferred to a full-fledged pediatric hospital where the most qualified ER doctors in Houston, Texas were rendered helpless as my son went into respiratory failure right in front of our eyes.
My son’s lips had started turning blue after he’d been gasping for air for what felt like an eternity; and the floor shifted beneath my feet as the doctors began pushing him on the gurney to another room. I found myself in a slow-motion nightmare, watching my first-born have respiratory failure as a chaplain appeared out of nowhere to hold my hand tightly.
I learned then that you can never un-hear the sound of someone dying from breathlessness. I knew that the trauma of listening to my son fight for his life would haunt me for the rest of my days; and sadly, it has. I watched as doctors made the decision to intubate my son, and the sheer force of pushing a tube down his swollen throat ruptured the blood vessels, leaving behind dots of blood all over the beautiful face of the boy I grew in my own body.
My husband and I spent about three weeks in and out of the hospital, drifting like phantoms that never ate or slept. We met other phantoms too, who all paced the hallways as their offspring lay in hospital beds nearby. We all looked like death ourselves and reeked of tragic despair as we sometimes stood in silent camaraderie, offering nothing and unable to receive anything in return.
This video may be heartbreaking to watch, but it so clearly articulates the absolute depths of agony a parent experiences when their child becomes seriously ill. I am beyond grateful that my son is now healthy, happy, and mostly oblivious to the harrowing memories that continue to haunt his parents. But I know that for many parents, they don’t get to have such a happy resolution.
As the video ends, a message flashes across the screen: “This Mother’s Day, help a SickKids Mom stay strong” — and I can’t emphasize how important this truly is. While in the hospital, my husband and I were met with a never-ending stream of visitors who all came to hug and cry with us and share our pain. I’ll never be able to forget the kindness of friends, acquaintances, family members, and complete strangers.
But here’s the really important takeaway from this video that I hope every viewer sees: The despair doesn’t instantly disappear the moment your child becomes healthy again — if they even become healthy again. I soldiered my way through that fraught time because that’s just what you have to do; I had no choice but to be strong and hold it together. But, about six months after all of this, just as life was beginning to return to normal, PTSD blew up in my face and I isolated myself completely from everyone I knew and loved. My depression took over and wrecked my sense of self, and I couldn’t understand how I could be so sad, angry, and ungrateful when I had been so lucky to be given another chance for my son to live.
Soon, all the friends disappeared, unwilling to walk this road with such a difficult version of what I had become. The more support I needed, the more isolated I became.
When a traumatic illness or accident happens, it’s amazing when everyone in your world comes together and envelops you, helps you stand up and not falter as you walk the difficult steps towards recovery or loss. But what we don’t often talk about is just how critical it is to stick around when the dust settles.
Even though it’s been two years now, I still wake up and occasionally walk the hollow hospital corridors in my mind, trying to find balance between life and death. For many mamas like me, we are still just trying to hang in there; still doing our best to remain strong, even though some days, we feel anything but.