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Living with Leo Hardcover – 14 Mar 2004
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From the Back Cover
Leo Di Clemente was born on the 27th of January 2003 and died the following day. But what an impact he had, and still does have to this day. He lived a brave, meaningful and special life. He touched people, the vast majority of whom never even got to meet him. Some have said that he changed and inspired them. Others feel that his short life and early death have taught them something. As for his parents, through all the pain and suffering caused by the loss of their first child, they have somehow managed to believe that life is still worth living, that the good memories will outlive the bad and that grief is not forever but love is.
Leos father, Mario, has spent the year since his sons birth and death writing about his feelings, looking back in pain but also forward in hope. The result? Living With Leo. "This is a book", he tells us, "about Leonardo Di Clemente and my life with him. For if in one very obvious way I am without Leo, in so many others we will be with each other forever."
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But Living with Leo is especially meaningful for those who have lost a child. The awfulness of grief; the anger and bewilderment that goes with it; the sense of isolation, even madness – Mario Di Clemente writes about them all in a way that will touch any bereaved parent.
As well as the twelve letters written by Mario to his son, Leo, at monthly intervals up to his first birthday, there are chapters on Marianne’s pregnancy, Leo’s birth, death and funeral, the support Mario and Marianne received, and a chapter by Marianne for her son.
It is not an easy read, for it brings back memories of the darkest and hardest times. “What’s wrong with him?”, demands Marianne at the moment Leo is born and doesn’t cry. It took me back to my own son’s birth and the sheer panic and terror of that silent moment. But in a way, no bereaved parent wants to forget a second of their child’s short life, for those few memories are all we have, so recalling once again even the most painful times is strangely precious.
“Nothing is trivial in the harrowing process of losing a newborn baby”, Mario writes, and there are many emotions and experiences in Living with Leo that bereaved parents will recognise, and take comfort in knowing that they are not alone in feeling.
The despair: “… it’s so hard, and try as I might I still seem to be struggling to live with my grief, wondering whether it can get any worse and whether I can cope with it for what could easily be another forty years.”
The bizarreness of being able to – often having to – carry on as normal, and the guilt that accompanies it: “Sometimes I catch myself laughing and joking with work colleagues and feel as though I am letting my little boy down.”
The “kind of quiet anger” that leaves you “virtually speechless”.
And above all, perhaps, “the thrill” when somebody asks about your baby, and you have the chance to tell them of your beautiful, perfect child.
Living with Leo is about healing and joy, too, for it charts a course through grief and despair, and shows that it is possible not only to survive the most devastating loss, but to do so with dignity, hope, and ultimately, a greater understanding of the value of life, and your lost child’s life in particular:
“For a parent to outlive their child is not only unnatural … it is … the most painful of experiences, putting into perspective so many of life’s difficulties and disappointments. How utterly trivial they seem in comparison.”
“Sometimes when I look back at Leo’s life, I am filled with an overwhelming hope that he might somehow know what effect he had … to make one small group of people fully aware that life is fragile and that family and friends are forever, whatever problems and setbacks may arise.”
Parents who lose a child are courageous, although it doesn’t often seem like that. We are brave because we have no choice, or rather, because the only other choice is to give up and “live a life of misery and sadness”. Living with Leo reflects that courage, and pays tribute to both bereaved parents and their beloved children.
Whether you have recently lost a baby or were bereaved long ago; whether you are a bereaved parent yourself or close to someone whose baby has died, Living with Leo will give you consolation, hope, and perhaps even a sense of joy.