Book Review: ‘Hit Hard: One Family’s Journey of Letting Go of What Was–and Learning to Live Well With What is’ by Pat & Tammy McLeod

Review by Joyce Koo Dalrymple. Joyce Koo Dalrymple is a wife and mother, a minister of discipleship and women, and a former attorney.


The family and friends of Zach McLeod gathered at a church in Boston for a solemn ceremony entitled “A Time to Mourn.” They watched a video of his life from birth until the devastating accident he suffered at age 16. Zach had been a gifted athlete, student leader, and beloved friend. His mother spoke of how much she missed hearing Zach’s prayers, thoughts, and dreams. Guests wrote down what they missed most about the young man they had known—the young man they would never see again.

Then, later that day, the same group reconvened. This time they celebrated a new life and watched a video showing milestones of progress. Who were they celebrating? Zach McLeod. In fact, Zach himself attended this ceremony, called “A Time to Dance.” He was elated to see so many friends and family members, to see and to hear their affirmations of what they appreciated about him.

If this sounds like a confusing day, not to mention an emotional whipsaw, welcome to the world of “ambiguous loss.” And welcome to Hit Hard: One Family’s Journey of Letting Go of What Was—and Learning to Live Well with What Is, a powerful new book by Zach’s parents, Pat and Tammy McLeod. Hit Hard deals with the messy contradictions of a life where suffering and joy are not strangers but siblings that share the same house.

The Language of Loss

Pat and Tammy were attending a ministry meeting when they received a nightmarish phone call. Their son Zach had sustained a catastrophic head injury in a high school football game. Zach survived, but today he speaks with great difficulty and requires 24/7 care. Pat and Tammy had to come to grips with the complex realities of taking care of him while parenting their other three children and juggling their careers in ministry. They both serve as chaplains for Cru, an interdenominational Christian ministry, at Harvard University. Tammy is also the director of College Ministry at Park Street Church in Boston.

The McLeods wrestled for a way to understand what they were experiencing. Alternating as authors, Pat and Tammy write about the same events from different points of view. Having and not having their son in the way they once did put them on what felt like opposing sides. Pat focused on the “have” part of that reality, while Tammy gravitated toward the “have not” end. As a result, they struggled to connect with one another in their grief. This book is as much about how a marriage survives in the wake of a crisis as it is about the ongoing trauma.

Because Hit Hard is so honest, it is also raw, intense, and messy. It is emotionally difficult and uncomfortable to read. The book takes readers through a series of traumatic events and explores how Pat and Tammy process each of them and the relational challenges that ensue. The details of their loss are heart-wrenching: Tammy gets cancer, and Zach sustains a second brain injury. For people who have endured trauma (or are enduring it still), the details of their journey may reopen wounds before providing hope.

The McLeods could not find language for what they were experiencing, which only deepened their sense of loss and isolation from their community and from one another. Their friends were unsure what to say. Should they share their joy that Zach had survived? Or grieve with them for the loss of the life that was?

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Source: Christianity Today