Seeking Refuge
Backpacker|September - October 2021
A father confronts his grief in the Adirondacks.
RICHARD DEFINO
Forty-one days after my wife and I watched our infant son die in the hospital, we thought it would be in our best interest to get out of the house.

We decided on hiking, and set out from a trailhead near our home in Saranac Lake, New York, early in the morning to beat the crowd. We just wanted to be alone with each other; we dreaded running into anyone we knew and having to explain what had happened to our baby in the middle of a public trail.

In the fall of 2018, we had moved from Buffalo to Saranac Lake, an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise in the heart of the Adirondacks. Aside from its small-town charm, there were mountains to climb, lakes for kayaking, and the vacation destination of Lake Placid just a few miles away.

After we settled in, we decided to hike a few of our new local mountains before winter arrived. But just days later, a brutal snowstorm swept in and stopped our plans in their tracks. Without the experience or gear to hike in winter conditions, we postponed until the spring thaw.

A few months later, as we eagerly watched the snow recede, Andrea and I learned that we would become first-time parents. Our child was due in November, which meant putting our hiking dreams on hold once again. But we didn’t really mind. We talked about hiking with our son once he was old enough. I researched the best trail carriers for toddlers and pictured the three of us summiting peaks and making memories. Although it felt like a lifetime away, we were already making plans for our family.

Then, in July, our lives changed forever. Early one Sunday morning, Andrea started having contractions strong enough that we rushed her to the hospital. At 23 weeks pregnant, she unexpectedly went into labor and at 5:39 a.m. gave birth to our son, Louis. He was born premature and didn’t survive the morning; Louis passed away just a few short hours after he was born.

Over the next few weeks, we lived a routine of crying, sleeping, and searching for answers, only opening the door for family. Overnight, our parenting books were replaced by ones about child loss, and our living room became lined with sympathy cards. I was scared for my wife, never having seen her so sad before, and I was barely functioning myself.

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