Hit Hard: One Family's Journey of Letting Go of What Was--and Learning to Live Well with What Is

Hit Hard: One Family's Journey of Letting Go of What Was--and Learning to Live Well with What Is


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Life hit Pat and Tammy McLeod hard when their son Zach collapsed on a high school football field; he had sustained a severe brain injury. Facing the devastating possibility that things would never be the same for their beloved son, they committed to staying strong as a family and finding a way to maintain their footing. But the journey would reshape their faith, their family, and their future in ways they never saw coming.

What would it take for them to navigate the endless fallout of their son’s life-transforming injury? How could they reconcile their grief over the life Zach lost, with gratitude for the life that remained? And how does a couple move forward together in their search for hope, rather than letting indefinable loss drive them apart?

Hit Hard is the true story of the McLeods’ journey through ambiguous loss—both having and not having their son. It’s the story of a family who faced unexpected heartbreak, a story that offers us all glimpses of how we can pick up the pieces, redefine expectations, and trust God for hope in the midst of unresolved pain.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496425331
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 07/09/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 118,120
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Pat and Tammy McLeod serve as Harvard Chaplains for Cru, an interdenominational Christian ministry. Tammy is also the Director of College Ministry at Park Street Church in Boston. She received her MA in Spiritual formation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Pat holds an MA in Theological Studies from the International School of Theology, and an MA in Science and Religion and a PhD in Practical Theology from Boston University. Pat and Tammy have been married for more than three decades and are parents to four grown children.

Table of Contents

Our Story

Prologue xiii

Chapters 1-19 1

Photo Gallery 226

Acknowledgments 235

Writer's Note 239


Creating Your Own Ambiguous Loss Ritual or Ceremony 241

Learning to Live with Ambiguous Loss and to Support Others in Theirs 245

Holding On to Your Closest Relationship in Ambiguous Loss 249

Notes from Tammy about Football and CTE 251

Additional Resources for Your Own Hard Hits 255

Meeting God in the Midst of Pain and Loss 257

Resting in Scriptures for Times of Loss 259

Endnotes 263

About the Authors 267

What People are Saying About This

Gerald L. Sittser

On the surface, Hit Hard tells the story of a young man’s brain trauma and its long-term impact on the McLeod family. But there is far more to this book than a story about a catastrophic injury. Parents Pat and Tammy alternate as authors, often reflecting on the same incident from two points of view. In essence, they weave two stories into one, which underscores how each member of a family—of a community, really—is affected so differently by the same loss, especially a loss that never ends. The story itself is compelling on its own. But their honesty, their maturity of faith, their confession of hope, and their commitment to deal with the harsh reality of the experience without yielding to despair set this book apart as profound, insightful, and helpful. I was so captured that I read it in one sitting.

Ben Bradlee Jr.

A stirring and inspiring story about loss, grief, love, and faith. Pat and Tammy McLeod have much to teach us all about the meaning of ambiguous loss—how they let go of the son they once knew and learned to embrace the son they have today.

Bob Swenson

Clarity. That is what this book brings to those searching for meaning in the midst of loss and suffering, or for those who feel caught up in a story that has no last chapter.

Dr. Pauline Boss

This book is riveting. I could not put it down. Pat and Tammy McLeod share their story of being “hit hard” by their eldest son’s head injury in a high school football game. With twists and turns, their story moves from sadness to joy and back again, but always informs and provides hope. While this book is about a child who is brain injured, it will be helpful for anyone coping with losses of any kind. The awful challenge is to embrace change—especially a change we loathe. In Hit Hard, the McLeods share their journey of how, with faith and dignity, they are coping with loss. I recommend this book not only for professionals but also for those who want to learn how to live with loss of any kind, clear or ambiguous.

Matt Carroll

Good stories can help us find meaning in the midst of devastating tragedy. Hit Hard is one of those stories. It’s a hard but wonderful story that shows us how to deal with unimaginable loss.

Matt Mikalatos

One of the greatest destroyers of hope in our lives is a lack of honesty about pain, grief, and loss. In Hit Hard, Pat and Tammy McLeod share, with painful honesty, the reality of living through ambiguous loss together as a family. I wept several times reading this book and was moved by their commitment to Christ and especially their son Zach’s focus on God. If you are experiencing loss, this book will bring you hope, comfort, joy, and a certainty that you are not alone.

Nicholas Wolterstorff

Hit Hard is a gripping, brutally honest narrative of the emotional devastation of parents and siblings when the athletically gifted eldest son suffers severe brain injury in a football accident, and of the disruptive effects of the injury on family relationships. When, after several years of flailing about in their grief, the family learns to identify what they are experiencing as “ambiguous loss,” they are finally able to acknowledge and celebrate what is good and precious in the life of their son, especially his unbounded joy in family and friends, and his unwavering faith in God. Told by the parents in alternating sections, the story is both gut-wrenching and inspiring.

Stephen Arterburn

Hit Hard is a story of tragedy, grief, heartbreak, acceptance, hope, and redemption that will encourage every reader who has also been hit hard by the reality of this life in a fallen world outside the Garden of Eden. I have been privileged to know Pat and Tammy through this difficult journey. I have witnessed, through the pain and challenges, their struggle to accept the unknown and begin grieving without closure. Their faith has inspired me, and Zach is so fortunate to have parents who are deeply committed to Christ and to him. Hit Hard does not answer the question of why these difficult things happen to faithful believers. It does provide an inspirational guide to what we are to do when the challenge before us is so great that, without faith in a faithful God, we would lose our way. Pat and Tammy do not lose their way. Instead they show the rest of us how to find ours.

Chris Nowinski

The McLeod family has been on a remarkable journey. By sharing the highs, the lows, and the unvarnished truth of their son Zachary’s serious brain injury, they invite us all to reflect on finding meaning in tragedy, coping with a new reality, and discovering the depth of a family’s love.

Dr. Ron Sanders

I’ve known Pat and Tammy McLeod since 1986. This is the story about how their family’s life changed when their sixteen-year old son, Zach, suffered a traumatic brain injury after a routine hit during a high school football game. It is a story about marriage and its imperfections; about parenting and its vulnerability; about the struggle of faith in life’s uncertainty. It is a story about overwhelming grief and unexpected slivers of grace; about loneliness and friendship; about finding a marker when you are lost. It is a story about finding a name for their experience—ambiguous loss—and trying to hang on to God and each other when sometimes “hanging on” is all you can do. You will find your-self in this story somewhere. As I read it, I thought of being a parent, being a child, being a brother, being a friend, and being a person of faith. I cried and I laughed . . . it seemed like real life.

Edwin Smith

Hit Hard hits hard. By sharing their experience through story, Pat and Tammy offer humanity a wonderful gift from their struggle, making meaning of their loss in the crucible called life. Their story resonates with issues that transcend geographic location, class, and race, not only because it interweaves their experiences in South Africa and in the US, but because ambiguous loss and its ubiquitousness is a reality for many people across the world.

Jonathan L. Walton

Jesus told us that in this life we will have trouble (John 16:33). Hit Hard is a heartfelt and courageous testimony of fear, disillusionment, and hope in the midst of loss. Pat and Tammy corroborate the reality of so many Christians who walk through the shadow of death and still feel evil. In this regard, Hit Hard is a generous and empathetic love offering to the body of Christ.

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Hit Hard: One Family's Journey of Letting Go of What Was--and Learning to Live Well with What Is 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous 11 days ago
A fascinating, and heartbreaking, look into Pat and Tammy's experience with ambiguous loss. Offers a unique perspective on how to get through challenging times as a couple. Will make you grateful for your life and the people in it.
Anonymous 12 days ago
Pat and Tammy McLeod present a wrenching but hope-filled portrait of a family thrust into a crucible of faith when their oldest son suffers a traumatic brain injury. As a mother, I think and pray constantly about keeping my children from harm. Hit Hard tells what happens when God seemingly fails to answer a parent’s prayer for protection. Everybody loves happy endings: Christians love stories of answered prayers, of miraculous cures, of “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” a la Joseph. This story does not end the way you want it to, but describes a family learning to live well in the tension of mourning loss while celebrating life, a family clinging to God’s loving-kindness in pain and re-casting their vision of God’s good plan for their son. If you’ve wondered how you could face the unbearable, how your family would survive tragedy, this story shows a way. With stunning vulnerability, Pat and Tammy share their journey navigating the spiritual, relational, and social fallout of ambiguous loss, and provide invaluable resources and information for anyone struggling with the heartbreak of unanswered prayer. Whether you have faced terrible loss and pain or just everyday levels of the disappointment of living in a fallen world, Hit Hard will deepen your understanding of God’s kindness in sorrow, broaden your perspective on God’s good plans, and increase your faith in his redemption of pain.
Anonymous 12 days ago
Pat and Tammy can be trusted to tell it like it is. This hard hitting book doesn't sugar coat pain and ongoing loss. It hands you hope in the midst of what seems unbearable. The vulnerability and authenticity of their journey with Zach is riveting, soul searching and courageous.
Anonymous 4 hours ago
An extraordinary book. Pat and Tammy McLeod share their deep grief and struggle in facing the result of a football injury that resulted in permanent, extreme brain damage of their 16 year old son, Zach. Ambiguous loss. A life-changing experience and on-going existence within the family for the last 10 years. Through strong faith and perseverance, encouragements and discouragements, Tammy and Pat prayed, discerned, hoped and eventually accepted Zach as he now is. To come to the point where they, as a family and friends, could celebrate Zach as he was and to choose Joy for who is now takes herculean strength and mindset. Knowing Pat and Tammy well, walking beside them, praying with and for them, interacting with Zach, I was riveted to this book even though I knew the story. To read their humble journal of events makes one realize that loss and letting go comes in a myriad of ways. All readers will benefit from the McLeod’s story and experience.
Anonymous 3 days ago
This is an outstanding book. The McLeods tell a very personal and powerful story. In addition, they delve into a powerful and meaningful concept, ambiguous loss, from which many people can benefit. Finally, the writing itself moves. In short, this is a powerful, meaningful, and compelling book, and I would give it my highest recommendation.
Anonymous 7 days ago
Hit Hard is an incredible book. Everyone trying to better understand the impact of ambiguous loss needs to read this book. Pat and Tammy write with such honesty and openness regarding the struggles and challenges they faced daily. There wasn’t an emotion untouched, including encouragement, as I read their story. At times, I related to how Pat was responding and other times I related more with Tammy. It allowed me to understand more clearly the devastating effect something like this can have on a marriage and family. Pat and Tammy both talk about their commitment to their marriage and lean firmly on their faith. I recommend this book to anyone desiring to better understand how a life altering change in a family member can affect the family.
Jooe Kim 8 days ago
This is an incredibly powerful book. I sat in stunned silence for a while after I put it down, tears streaming down my face. I read every page front to back. I had tears of empathy for the heart break and devastation of this family’s experience, tears of wonder and awe at the power of Jesus Christ, lived through the McLeods. I cannot imagine any other way they could have survived this heart-wrenching experience. What a testament to the power, resilience and commitment of a Christ-anchored marriage. To come out of those years together. Thank you for telling your story with brutal honesty.
Anonymous 9 days ago
This is not a cookie cutter Christian book with a neat, simple resolution. Pat and Tammy share vulnerably and viscerally, not only about Zach's injury, but also about the deep effects on their marriage and family. Even more incredible is Zach's faith despite his personal suffering, trusting that God has a purpose for him in the face of unthinkable injury, using his limited communication ability only to spread joy. This is a raw, genuine story of suffering, and finding hope and purpose amidst great loss. A humbling read that both broke my heart and inspired me. The authenticity of this family's journey will no doubt speak to you too.
Anonymous 10 days ago
Hit Hard is a raw look at a family forced into a new reality, one of staggering losses and constant mercies, unresolved conflict and unshakable commitment. I was left with more questions than answers and yet with a profound sense of God’s ability to bring beauty out of brokenness. I am inspired by the McLeod’s perseverance and deeply grateful for their vulnerability. I was taken up in their grief, in their joy, and in the profound tension of a broken world loved by a crucified Savior.
Anonymous 11 days ago
Hit Hard is rich with emotion, simultaneously overflowing with sorrow and joy. With clarity and vulnerability, Pat and Tammy McLeod eloquently express the depth of their pain following their son's traumatic brain injury. In telling their story, they offer the words to describe the pain of complicated, undefined, ambiguous loss, a topic that is rarely discussed. I recommend this book to anyone who may be experiencing the struggle of losing someone while still having them. This book is also worth reading if you haven’t experienced this type of loss because it sheds light on a topic that impacts so many.
Pauline Boss 11 days ago
This book is riveting. I could not put it down. Pat and Tammy McLeod share their story of being “hit hard” by their eldest son’s head injury in a high school football game. With twists and turns, their story moves from sadness to joy and back again, but always informs and provides hope. While this book is about a child who is brain injured, it will be helpful for anyone coping with losses of any kind. The awful challenge is to embrace change—especially a change we loathe. In Hit Hard, the McLeods share their journey of how, with faith and dignity, they are coping with loss. I recommend this book not only for professionals but also for those who want to learn how to live with loss of any kind, clear or ambiguous. Dr. Pauline Boss, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota; author of Ambiguous Loss and other books.
Anonymous 12 days ago
I can't say enough positive remarks about Pat and Tammy McLeod's new book, "Hit Hard." The book highlights God's grand story of guiding the McCleads through suffering - not as helpless victims or more-than-human heroes, but as participants in a redemptive drama. As the curse affects all of us with suffering, this book gives hope and advice as we await redemption far as the curse is found. The comforting advice doesn't come from a lofty pedestal, but through an honest journey and commitment to wrestling with God through the suffering.
Anonymous 13 days ago
I picked up Hit Hard while taking a break from another good read by an author that has published dozens of books which have sold millions of copies worldwide, and what a refreshing break it was! I found the writing of this seasoned author not nearly as compelling or engaging as what Pat and Tammy McLeod have now offered the world. Every word, every reflection and memory of Hit Hard is saturated in authenticity. As a parent, I was moved to tears by the closing scene, father and son running headlong into the night, present with one another, souls knit together. Speaking of souls, Saint Augustine once suggested we liken the trinitarian concept of a creating, redeeming, sustaining God to the human condition, through which we have our being, we know that we exist, and we learn to love both the knowing and the being. Pat and Tammy McLeod, authors of Hard Hit, have shown me how to take Saint Augustine at his word, learning again to love both who we are, and that sense of who we become with greater authenticity. I hope you too will let the truth of their story, and the way it can resonate with yours, seep through the spaces between the cobblestones of this redemptive road we all walk together. Dana Mahan, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Republic of South Africa, author of Poor White and Trashy.
Anonymous 13 days ago
Hit Hard is an honest, sometimes brutal, window into the lives of one family as they are plunged into “ambiguous loss.” When their son collapsed on the football field, just shy of his seventeenth birthday, Pat and Tammy McLeod’s lives changed forever. This book is the true story of how they navigated grief and gratitude, anger and the slow battle towards peace. Pat and Tammy demonstrate resilience and realism in facing this terrible suffering. They let us see the dark corners of their souls and the burdens they carried for and with each other. Although this is one family’s story, it is a beacon of hope for anyone facing life-wrenching loss.
AaronMansfield 13 days ago
The title of this book is appropriate – both for the authors’ experience and for what you will feel as you read it. 'Hit Hard' evokes genuine emotion; it was the first book ever to bring me to tears – and I cried at the close of practically every chapter. Riveted by each turn in Zach's story, I flew through this book, dying to crack it open at every free moment. The authors deserve praise for their beautiful storytelling. I'm confident you'll be similarly captivated by Pat and Tammy McLeod’s agonizing but encouraging journey and by Zach’s inimitable spirit and heart for others. I cannot recommend 'Hit Hard' highly enough.
Anonymous 13 days ago
Profound. Pat and Tammy take you by the hand and guide you through a period of indefinable loss with striking openness and clarity. The vulnerability they display shows the triumphant and redeeming power of God's love, a love that can be hard to understand but fundamentally necessary in our lives. Their words have much to give for people of all backgrounds: athletes, parents, coaches, students, teachers, brothers, sisters. Everyone can derive significant benefit from their story.
Damian Long 13 days ago
I absolutely loved this book! Not only is the story gripping, but the interplay between the authors brings you right into their marriage and family – struggles, conflicts, triumphs, reconciliation. Their faith unites them, carries them, and inspires others as it so honestly bends without breaking. Though I know this family well and even walked closely with them through this tragedy, reading their story gave me so much more insight into the constant, yet subversive onslaught of ambiguous loss. I can see this book deeply ministering to so many who are currently struggling with the painful and elusive internal battle of mourning what has been lost and celebrating what remains in a close relationship. I literally could not recommend Hit Hard with any more gusto!
Anonymous 13 days ago
For years, I’ve followed the McLeod’s journey through their son’s traumatic brain injuries with admiration and curiosity. How do families deal with such ongoing losses and sorrows? Their book, Hit Hard stunned me with its honesty and surprised me by giving me hope and practical suggestions in my own losses. Written from the two very different perspectives of husband and wife, father and mother, Pat and Tammy told not only the story of their son, Zach, but also a gave a brutally frank window into the conflicts in their own marriage and how their faith helped them survive. Couples will find comfort that they’re not alone in dealing with the losses and suffering in their lives. It gave me hope that marriages can survive “hard hits.” This book also named a type of grief few people talk about. Ambiguous Loss. A type of grief with no closure where your community doesn’t even know how to help you. I’m recommending this book to friends dealing with lost dreams and divorce, and for those dealing with family members struggling with addiction, dementia, and mental illness. What do you do when the grief never ends? The McLeods tell more than their story, they show others in ambiguous loss ways to live full lives. This book has something for anyone who needs hope in dealing with loss and with for those who are looking for ways to interact with those dealing with ambiguous loss. I highly recommend it!
Beth Sturman 13 days ago
Pat and Tammy give an incredibly vulnerable and intimate glimpse into their journey dealing with ambiguous loss. Their story is as authentic as it is riveting; neither of them papers over their suffering or their shortcomings, yet their faith shines through as deep and relevant rather than chock full of hollow platitudes. Having the narrative alternate between Pat's and Tammy's perspective was a helpful way to frame the several seemingly disjointed sides of ambiguous loss. It illustrated not only the tension in their marriage that resulted from Zach's hard hit but also gave voice to the many different responses someone dealing with ambiguous loss might experience. A powerful read full of many poignant moments that will certainly be a helpful resource for those wishing to learn more about ambiguous loss.
paulwgallagher76 13 days ago
Hit Hard opens with a frantic race to the hospital with the McLeod family. Once you are pulled into that story, you will not be able to put this book down. In Hit Hard, Pat and Tammy McLeod not only share the profound story of their son Zach's traumatic brain injury and their family's inspiring response, but provide a source of comfort, guidance, and hope to those facing challenge. Through its sheer honesty, Hit Hard shows those dealing with ambiguous loss - and loss of any nature - that it's okay to struggle, question, and doubt. Further, Pat and Tammy McLeod are living proof that it is possible to both acknowledge seemingly-unbearable grief and to find peace, joy, and live well. The McLeods have remarkably turned a tragic, senseless event into an opportunity to serve others through telling their story - this book will improve the lives of many. There are valuable lessons for all in Hit Hard. To those facing ambiguous loss, the authors' words and experiences may prove especially valuable in offering common ground that some may have thought didn't exist. To all, Hit Hard will offer needed perspective that is so easily lost in the day-to-day shuffle of life. The McLeod's unwavering commitment to their children and to each other will surely create newfound resolve and gratitude in anyone who reads this book.
Anonymous 13 days ago
“Hit Hard” is an amazing book! In reading of Tammy and Pat McLeod’s struggle to accept and live well with the life-changing effects of their brain-injured son, Zach, I was drawn into the heart-touching reality of daily unending suffering and how one family finally learned to accept and cope with their devastating loss—a loss without a name and without closure—until Tammy, after years of research, was introduced to a new phrase, “Ambiguous Loss.” Finally, she felt validated—although her suffering and loss would continue, it had a name! The healing honesty in their subsequent two public ceremonies—first, one for grieving, and then, one for celebrating is reason enough to say that “Hit Hard” is a must-have book. The back and forth accounting by husband and wife, bringing different views and personalities to bear on their shared loss, was also interesting and helpful in understanding how a family can be to pulled together or set apart in the face of the unthinkable. Last of all, Zach, the center of this book, is utterly amazing and delightful— before his accident and after—you’ll fall in love with him—and with the entire family, as I did. Sent from my iPad
CorriCharltonOgburn 13 days ago
Although I have not experienced the same brand of loss as the Mcleods, they helped me identify what was so painful and challenging about facing "deaths" for which society and friends have few categories or supports. I appreciated their raw honesty about trauma's toll on all relationships; particularly on their marriage and on parenting other children in times of crisis. If you encounter the confusing loss of life-altering injury, betrayal, divorce, disability or sickness, a mental health diagnosis, loss of a job, career, community, spiritual or other abuses, Alzheimer's, caring for elderly parents, empty nest... their ideas for how to navigate complex grief are practical and will help the reader to name their own losses and cease to minimize deaths that are not necessarily physical.
Anonymous 13 days ago
Hit Hard is what happened to me when I read this page-turner by Pat and Tammy McLeod. I was hit hard by the drama of the story that never waned throughout the book. I was hit hard by how an incident that nobody expected, that was nobody’s fault, that nobody was prepared to deal with nearly wiped out a family that had everything going for it. And I was hit hard by how the McLeods held on by their fingernails to their sanity, to one another, and to their faith in God. This book’s title not only describes what happened to this family, but what happened to me as I read their story.
ToniK 13 days ago
Faith in the Trenches Faith is sometimes portrayed as an exercise in make-believe, in which people pretend that their lives are perfect and that their faith protects them from all harm. In Hit Hard, authors Pat and Tammy McLeod express a faith that is authentic and honest in the wake of their son Zach’s traumatic brain injury. Like the psalmists in the Bible, they pull no punches in describing their pain, their complaints, and their needs—as well as their hope in a God who demonstrates his goodness by entering into suffering. They walk us through their differing ways of dealing with tragedy and teach us how to hold both grief and gratitude together. Their riveting story will help those struggling with different types of loss, especially married couples who are processing grief differently. If you want to be a good friend to someone experiencing loss, share this book, read it together, and use the resources at the end for practical guidance.
Anonymous 16 days ago
Really Real. Hit Hard poignantly captures the inner and outer lives of two mature adults as they discover how to love each other through the shocking injury of their teenage son. It so plainly and honestly demonstrates the inner-workings of marriage and parenting that everyone can learn from and appreciate their journey!