I Keep On
By Amelia Kowalisyn
There’s a song by NF called I Keep On, and every time I hear the lyrics, they just seem to resonate with my soul:
Oh, these hands are tired. Oh, this heart is tired. Oh, this soul is tired. I’ll keep on, I’ll keep on, I’ll keep on. I’ll keep on, I’ll keep on, I’ll keep on.
I’ve felt for so long that I was just pushing through no matter how tired and worn I was because I had to, but until recently, I didn’t think about why. This is my story.
When I was 25, my brother passed away from a heart attack due to his diabetes at just 35 years old. He was found five days later in his apartment. When I was 30, my Dad passed away from a heart attack. When I was 33, my twin daughter Emma Rose took her last breath at just 23 days old. The day after her funeral we brought my son, her twin brother home from the NICU.
My hands, heart, and soul are tired. Life has knocked the wind out of me on more occasions in my short 34 years than most people experience in a lifetime. But I keep on. Has it always been pretty? No. Have I always made the best decisions when dealing with my grief? Not even in the slightest. When I lost my brother I was angry and self-involved. I didn’t care much about the choices I made or how they affected me, let alone those around me. It took an uncomfortable talk and a big dose of reality from a close friend to even begin to rebuild my life again after that.
When I lost my dad, I put up a wall. I refused to be a wreck and to lose control like I had after my brother passed away. I picked myself up and tried to do my best to build the life that I had always wanted. I was engaged shortly after my dad died and married the love of my life within a year. I tried to be strong. I tried to keep it together, but it wasn’t enough. I spent numerous evenings after my [now] husband went to sleep sitting on the kitchen floor, holding my dog and sobbing. I cried and yelled at my brother and dad for being so careless and leaving me. I was angry with God. I was angry with myself for time that I should have spent with them. As much as I thought I was keeping it together or those around me may have, I was a mess, but I pulled myself together as much as I could and kept going. This was supposed to be the best time of my life, and my dad had told me once that my brother wouldn’t want me to be sad. I knew the same advice would be true for him, but my heart was still in pieces.
In 2014, I found out I was pregnant with twins. I thought for sure this was the beginning of a turning point in my life, this was the start of the family I had always dreamt of having. I was nervous because of two previous early miscarriages, but the babies were doing well, and I focused on them. Every week that we got closer to meeting Emma and Alex was a blessing. Then we hit week 31, and life knocked the wind out of me yet again. My twins were delivered via emergency C-section due to concerns with Emma and immediately taken to the NICU. Within days we found out Emma had a stroke in utero, and we made the decision when they were a week old to have her airlifted to a children’s hospital three hours away to get the best care possible for her condition. After three weeks of driving back and forth every three days between the two hospitals to be with our babies, our Emma Rose passed away in our arms on November 5th, 2014. I was broken, yet again. There was no grief that I had previously dealt with that even remotely compared to holding my daughter as we said goodbye. The heartache was crushing, but in the hospital before we left to take the long car ride home, my husband and I made the decision to not let the grief affect Alex who was still in the NICU back home. As I look back at that talk with my husband, these two grieving parents who had no idea what the journey of losing a child would be like, I just want to hug them and tell those two shattered souls be gentle with themselves. That it’s okay to break down. That they don’t have to be so strong. That no matter what, we couldn’t avoid how much losing her would do to our family.
Here I was again, another loss, the biggest one of my life. Yet I had to choose how best to survive while raising a newborn at home. As hard as I tried to keep it together, this took a toll on every aspect of my life— my friendships, my marriage, and my ability to be a mother to both Alex who was here with me and Emma in heaven. I was simply going through the motions to keep on. It wasn’t healthy for any of us, but I couldn’t see past the pain. My soul and my heart were tired. I was incomplete and defeated.
Then one day in the spring my husband told me that we should to go back to church. He thought we needed this in our lives, so we did. We went for the first time as a broken family, and we began to let God’s words and love make their way into our souls. It wasn’t an overnight change, nor was it an easy road, but with every service we attended and the more we allowed ourselves to be open to healing and to dive deeper into scripture, we found our hearts mending.
I began to allow myself to find joy. I began to see that it was okay to let the light in. I began to start becoming whole again. I wasn’t just going through the motions and surviving each day. I was finally connecting with life. I was becoming the person who wasn’t just a sad story that people shake their heads at and think, “that poor girl.” I was becoming a stronger, more confident, and better version of myself. It was through God’s love and his words that I was learning to become this person. I was trusting Him to heal me.
See, the thing is that we cannot do this alone, and we aren’t meant to. What I didn’t realize is that even when I couldn’t muster up the courage to pray, He was there. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Tears are prayers, too. They travel to God when we cannot speak. He knew what my family needed. He knew what this damaged soul of mine was yearning for, and He delivered. I’m not completely there yet.
Grief is a journey, and you don’t come out on the other side overnight, but I’m keeping on and trusting in Him to lead me where I need to go. And for now, that is the light I need. It gives me hope. I know that our time here will be done in the blink of an eye. When that happens, and God sees my heart and love for him, I will spend eternity in Heaven with Him, Emma, my Dad, my brother, and all the loved ones who have gone before me. That is why I keep on.
Amelia is the mother of twins, Alex who is 15 months old and Emma Rose who is loving their family from up in heaven. Amelia and her husband Joe started Emma’s Footprints to provide support to NICU and bereaved families after the loss of their daughter in 2014. Amelia spends her time raising her beautiful baby boy, running Emma’s Footprints, and bringing awareness to both infant loss and premature birth. Find her on Instagram, on her personal Facebook, or on Emma’s Footprints.