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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.