Finding Gratitude Through the Love of Strangers

By Brianna Langerfeld

Keegan Robert Langerfeld was born on October 10, 2020, and our world immediately changed for the better. From the very moment he was placed in our arms, we fell completely head over heels in love with our bleach blonde, blue-eyed, happy baby boy. As first-time parents, we truly thought we hit the jackpot with Keegan. Before you have children, everyone loves to remind you how hard a baby is: the lack of sleep, the endless crying, and the days of frustration. Keegan was none of those things. In my heart, I honestly believed he was sent down from heaven to teach us how to be parents. He was just the easiest, happiest little guy, and it only got better as the days, weeks, and months went by. His little belly laugh echoed through the house all day long. My husband, Bobby, and I constantly imagined a future with Keegan. We talked about what we thought Keegan would be like as a toddler, child, teenager, adult, husband, and father. We couldn’t wait to watch him become all those things. Even at a young age, Keegan was a sweet, lovable, adventurous, and shy boy who immediately lit up every room he crawled into.

Despite being born during such a tumultuous time in the world, it never stopped us from creating so many beautiful memories with our sweet boy. Many days were spent at the Jersey Shore where Keegan loved nothing more than splashing in the ocean waves. Keegan loved the shore (a trait that he got from his mother), and he was a fish in the water (a trait that he got from his father). Our vacation down the beach is a collection of memories that will forever be engraved in my mind. When we weren’t at the shore, you could often find Keegan at his favorite spot, the Elmwood Park Zoo, where he could be found feeding the giraffes or playing in the music garden. He also spent many days at his weekly music classes and swim classes, where he was always cracking everyone up. No matter where it was or who it was with, every memory made was filled with joy, laughter, and so much love.

Even before I had children, I couldn’t wait to throw a first birthday party. I always wanted to be that mom who went all out: celebrating their child’s first birthday but also showing everyone how much love they brought into my life. Keegan was no exception. I started planning Keegan’s first birthday party around the time he was four months old. Even though I couldn’t throw the elaborate celebration I wanted due to the pandemic, that didn’t stop me from celebrating our baby. Keegan’s actual birthday was amazing because it was spent with just me, Bobby, and Keegan. We took Keegan to the Camden Aquarium where he gazed endlessly at the fish, laughed at the waddling penguins, and pointed at the sharks swimming above. Because Keegan’s party was planned for the following weekend, we kept it simple that night by singing with a little cake and a few family members. I remember vividly putting Keegan to bed that night. I rocked him longer than normal because I didn’t want to let go. I couldn’t believe how fast his first year went. The week after his birthday went by in a flash and seemed like the quickest week of my life. And then it was all gone. On the morning of what would have been his first birthday party, October 16, 2021, we found that our beautiful boy passed away suddenly but peacefully in his sleep.

When Keegan passed away our world came to an abrupt standstill, as I would imagine most families would feel. I will never be the same person, let alone the same mother, that I was before I opened that nursery door. A month before Keegan was gone, we found out that our family was growing. We were so excited and so happy. We instantly started talking to Keegan about being a big brother, making plans for when we were in the hospital, and just picturing the two of them being the greatest siblings. Our hearts felt truly complete, but the second Keegan was gone, I couldn’t even imagine bringing a new baby home. The anxiety that took over was crippling. My entire second pregnancy was a complete blur. I spent most of it drowning in sorrow and grief, feeling heartbroken not only for Keegan, but also his little brother. All I’ve ever wanted in life was to be a mom, and then I questioned if that was even possible. I dreamt of the day I had a home full of kids running around the house wreaking havoc. When Keegan was born, the love I felt for him completely took over, but when he was gone, I couldn’t imagine feeling that same amount of love for anyone. I think my heart and mind were protecting me from feeling this pain again. However, when Kellen was born, 6 months after the horrific day, all that questioning went out the window. The love I had for Kellen was just as hard as it was for Keegan, and if anything, it felt stronger. While I was pregnant, during a SUDC support call, a mother shared that “you will love your future children so much harder because of the child your loss.” That was exactly what I felt. Because of Keegan, Kellen is surrounded by the deepest, strongest love. He has been the biggest blessing, not only for me and Bobby, but for our families as well. He allowed us to feel joy again and for that we are so grateful. He may not get the same mother that Keegan had, but I will try my hardest to get there. The anxieties that I have around anything and everything to do with Kellen are only because I love him immensely and will not allow us to lose him. He gave us a purpose again.

Having a new baby during the hardest year of our lives was a challenge but it forced us to get out of bed and move forward. We still have our dark days, but they were now surrounded with love. Because of Kellen, Bobby and I were able to put one foot in front of the other, but one thing we realized is how fast time goes by; we experienced this the hardest during Keegan’s first year gone. It started with “I can’t believe he’s been gone a week” to “how has it been 6 months without him.” Some days it honestly felt like Keegan didn’t even exist because of how fast he was here and then gone. The date of his birthday and anniversary were slowly creeping up and were constantly in our forethought; his birthday was what I was anticipating being the hardest, since such a celebratory day is now a day full of sadness. Bobby and I talked long and hard about what to do, if anything at all. Do we acknowledge the day or just forget it even existed? After months of going back and forth we decided not only to acknowledge it but to celebrate it, just like Keegan deserved. Our hope was to give Keegan the birthday that every 2-year-old should have, as well as raise awareness of SUDC. And what does every little boy love? Trucks! Keegan’s Touch-A-Truck came together quicker and smoother than we ever thought possible. The second we put the event out there it seemed everyone just wanted to help and be a part of the day somehow. We hoped for an event to show Keegan and the SUDC Foundation so much love, but we never expected what occurred. On the day of the event, we had over 900 people in attendance and raised over $17,000, all for our sweet boy. Keegan’s Touch-A-Truck was the first time in those awful 12 months that I felt actual happiness. It was able to turn such a painful day into a day filled with children and families laughing and smiling. During the event, a woman who I had never met before stopped me and said, “Thank you so much for bringing this event to our community and spreading awareness for SUDC. I had never heard of this awful tragedy but now I will make sure to share your son’s story.” My goal was accomplished, and I know Keegan was so proud.

You always hear awful stories of parents losing their children, but in the back of your mind you always think “I could never imagine.” That is right, you truly can never imagine. Hearing the words, “I’m so sorry ma’am, he’s gone,” is something no parent should ever have to experience. When a child is born, you are instructed to watch videos, read brochures, and sign paperwork to show you understand the seriousness of SIDS and what to do to prevent it. You make it to their first birthday, hell past 6 months, and you think you’re in the clear. And then one day, your perfect, healthy, beautiful boy is gone without any reason. How is this possible? How is this our life? I ask myself those questions every single day. Sadly, this is our life, and we have no choice but to persevere forward with a giant hole in our heart that can never be replaced. Even though I could drown in my own tears most days, I put one foot in front of the other for Kellen, Keegan, Bobby and myself. If there has been any positive thing to come out of this horrific journey, it’s the amount of gratitude I now have. I didn’t need to lose Keegan for that to happen, but in the short 371 days we had with him, Keegan taught me so much about life. He taught me patience, how to be more present, what unconditional love truly means, and that time sure does go by fast. I could have been given 370 days with my boy, but instead I was given 371, and for that I will be forever grateful.

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