01/25/2019 09:47 EST | Updated 01/25/2019 10:04 EST

Meaningful Lessons I Learned After Losing My 16-Month-Old Son

This unimaginable loss caused me to confront everything I believed to be true

Jen Bergmann, WJB Photography
The author with her son Brody at seven weeks old.

Three years ago, on Dec. 30, 2015, my husband and I brought home our newborn son Brody from the NICU. He'd spent three weeks in intensive care after being diagnosed with a severe form of a rare genetic disease.

It had been the most challenging experience of our lives, (the diagnosis was a complete shock) and we were incredibly relieved and grateful to bring him home. One year later, we were celebrating how miraculously well he was doing and how bright his future looked. We went into 2017 expecting good things. Instead, his precious life ended not long after when he was just 16 months old.

This unimaginable loss affected every area of my life. It caused me to confront everything I believed to be true, and certainly raised questions about what makes life significant.

Much has happened since then, and through the journey, I've discovered a few truths that have helped me to heal and move forward. I hope they inspire you on your journey as well.

I'd rather be who I want to be than have what I want or do what I want.

Our job title or our marital status etc., etc., do not define who we are. You might be living the life of your dreams on the outside, but if you aren't happy with your values on the inside, everything will feel wrong. One of the most powerful books I read after Brody died was Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Honestly, I can't recite all seven habits, but what will never leave me is his teaching on living a principle-centred life.

For a long time after we lost Brody, I wondered if I would ever feel safe again, or if I'd just live worrying about what tragedy would befall me next.

We all have something at the centre of our life — money, work, church, pleasure — but we aren't all aware of what that something is. Covey writes how we need to recognize the motives behind our decisions and then intentionally recentre our lives around values such as bravery, integrity, humility and love. This process of aligning my decisions around intentional values and beliefs helped me realize my second life lesson:

True change is from the inside.

As you set goals for your year and your life, remember that a quick fix will never stick. If you are tired every day and don't have enough energy to enjoy life, a holiday is not going to solve all your problems — you need better sleep and exercise habits. So often we seek out a bandaid instead of embracing the inner-work required to create our best lives.

Though I would never try to rationalize tragedy, my own inspired me to look inward and tackle the unhealthy perspectives and practices that held me back. Don't wait for a dramatic moment in life to pursue new ideas. You can begin changing from the inside as soon as you're willing to confront your belief systems.

Whatever happens, respond with love.

You can imagine that after the death of a child, your sense of security is shattered. For a long time after we lost Brody, I wondered if I would ever feel safe again, or if I'd just live worrying about what tragedy would befall me next. To reclaim peace, I had to acknowledge that I cannot stop all bad things from happening, but I can commit to respond to those things in love. My six-year-old has heard me say many times that love is the only real power we have. We are at the mercy of so much, but we are in control of how we respond, and acknowledging that helps me to move forward hopeful and empowered instead of afraid.

Wonderful things can happen when you're brave enough to try.

On New Year's Day 2018, I announced on social media that I was pregnant with a healthy baby boy. Today, I am writing this with a video monitor next to me so I can watch my rainbow baby sleep.

The greatest rewards in life often come from taking risks and trying something new. For me, this has meant ensuring that I don't merely create goals to solve problems — that's like driving just to avoid potholes. I encourage you to look up and decide who you want to be at the end of this year and beyond. Set a goal based on your values and move toward it. If you change from the inside out, the change will last and be authentic.

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