Rising from the Rubble



I’d been here before, sitting in the rubble of a life I once knew. 

Up to this point in my life, I had worked through some pretty hard shit – an eating disorder in my early 20s, injured athlete syndrome just a few months after winning Gold in Sydney, and depression that followed.   

And. This was different.

This time, fighting through was not an option. 


{ Falling Down }

Two hours prior, I had been bedside giving her kisses after a trip to the restroom.  As hard as it was to see her with all the tubes and lines coming out of her tiny little body, I took comfort in the news that she was doing a little bit better after a rough post-op experience the day before.  I noticed that her face looked a little puffy – but knew this was ‘normal’ for cardiac kids, post-open heart surgery.  So, I gently rubbed her cheek, whispered into her ear and convinced myself to go back to sleep. 

Moments before the alarms sounded, I lay on the bench-turned-bed in the back of her cardiac ICU room – paralyzed by fear – feeling like my entire body was filled with cement.  Deep in my gut, I worried that my baby girl was not OK.  I kept repeating to myself – “Let go and trust.  Let go. Trust.” – and tried to work myself back to sleep.    

In an instant, my world changed forever. 

Lights. Alarms. Beeps.  And then came the overhead call: Code in Room 2 – on repeat, confirming my worst nightmare.    

Everything around me was moving so fast, spinning out of control – and – yet, every moment seemed to last forever.  In the back of the room, I sat on my knees - staring - praying - and rocking. Back and forth.  Feeling completely helpless, screaming to myself, “No. No. No. Fight Mia, fight.  Fight baby girl. Fight.”

As more people came rushing in to help, I locked eyes with her nurse for a split second - a split second that felt like an eternity.  In her eyes, I saw courage + confidence + love.  There was no one I trusted more to take care of my daughter.     

And then came the piercing sound of a flatline - echoing throughout the room -from the heart monitor that was attached to my 12-month-old’s heart.  A sound that will stay with me forever.  A sound that returned after each order to “clear” – despite my wishing, hoping, pleading and praying for the return of rhythmic beeping.

A nurse started walking toward me to take me out of the room.  I didn’t want to go.  Every ounce of my body wanted to wrap my arms around my baby girl – to comfort her – to protect her from everything that was happening.    

I wanted to stay there with my baby girl.  And, at the same time, part of me knew she really wasn't there.  I felt an emptiness - her soul high above- and I felt warmth + love.  I could feel my great aunt, Lou-Lou, an angel in heaven, holding her - keeping her safe. 

Physically walking out of the room and away from my baby girl, I felt shattered, helpless, scared, and numb.  And.  I also felt comforted by the presence of angels - the ones who stood in front of me helping to save her physical body, and the ones who were in Heaven holding her soul.  

The nurse sat me in the hallway just outside of Room Two – far enough away where I couldn’t see what was happening to Mia – but close enough where I could see all the people working diligently and in sync to save her life.  My eyes were fixed on the clock.  All I wanted to do was run into the room and scoop her up. 

Trust and let go.  

As I rocked back and forth in the chair, I kept telling Mia to fight.  It was then, when the nurse who brought me into the hallway looked me in the eyes – and said, with so much compassion + confidence:

REST.  Tell her to REST.  She’s fought hard enough.  Now it’s time for her to rest.” 

She then shared with me that the massive machine I saw being wheeled into her room would do the work of her heart; it would give her body a chance to heal and rest - it would give her time. 

{ No More Fighting }    

 Rest.  Let go. Trust. Surrender.

Her words cut through my perfectionist armor – and my belief that if I just tried harder, I could make everything right.  Her words shot straight to my soul. 

I had been in the rubble before – and my mantra was always – just try harder.  I would control as much as possible, put my head down and wrestle my way up with sheer force.     

Rest.  Let her rest.  My entire body shifted and I felt a weight lift. 

She gave me permission to just be – to let go and trust -and she helped me to find gratitude in a moment of complete darkness.  

{ The Unknown }

In the days that followed – 40 to be exact – we stood by her bedside with the chaplain, reverend, rabbi, social workers, psychologists, geneticists and her expanding team of doctors and nurses - having the most difficult conversations of our lives.  We had no idea if her heart would heal – especially during the first six days of her CICU stay when she was on every type of support possible and showing no clear signs of recovery.  

We had no idea if we would leave that hospital with Mia in our arms. 

Every night, the pain of seeing her empty high chair – and laying her twin sister down to sleep next to an empty crib - and answering her big sister’s questions - the pain tore through my body, making it difficult to breathe.  

Leaving me to wonder how the hell I could possibly carry on.    

The fear.  The panic.  The unbearable weight of the unknowns. 

The complete loss of control. 

I had no idea how I was going to pull through all of this.  I had no idea how much more I could take.  I had no idea how long our lives would be in a state of complete disarray.  Or how many more times I would make the trip up that elevator to 8 South. 

The pain of not knowing was crippling. 


The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming.

Prayers. Visits.  Meals. Cards written. Gifts sent from complete strangers. Notes.  Family and friend who just stepped in to help.  

Gratitude was overflowing.  

I found comfort in writing - and receiving the notes and messages that came in after my nightly update to friends and family.  

Keep the faith.

No matter how tough the day - no matter how much fear tried to grab hold of me - I forced myself to find gratitude in the day.

For the anesthesiologists who saved her life the first time she arrested, on the OR table immediately post-op.  For her angel nurses who saved her life the second time, responding before the alarms went off.  For the carefully orchestrated response to that overhead call.  For her surgeon walking through the double doors of the CICU at the exact moment they needed him.  For the technology that gave her heart time to heal.  For the attention to detail.  For the medicines.  For the nurses, doctors, fellows, residents.  For her ECMO team.  For the Patriots come-from-behind-win when Mia was at her lowest - a win that reminded us that nothing is impossible.  For the laughs we shared with her care team.  For the nurse who took the time to carefully place all of her lovies and animals all around her.  For the compassion and grace that was offered to us.  For the child life specialist helping Mia's sisters feel the love around them.  For the volunteers who helped to serve Thanksgiving dinner and wrap Christmas presents for those of us who spent the holidays in the hospital.  For the musician who played the harp and helped settle Mia's blood pressure.  For the small wins.  There were so many...    

There was always, always something to be grateful for.    

By choosing gratitude, I allowed my heart to stay open to the love that surrounded us. 

Let go. Trust. Surrender. 

The only thing we could do was surrender to the Universe – a task that was so incredibly brutal.  And.  Having faith in the Universe that she would be taken care of brought us comfort.     

We found comfort and inner peace in surrendering – letting go and trusting - and choosing to find the gratitude hidden in the darkness. 

{ We Can Do Hard Things }

It’s in these face down moments - just after the rubble comes crashing down on us - when we are buried underneath the weight of it all – when we don’t have any idea how the hell we are going to get back on our feet again – buried so deep that we can’t see the light… It’s in these moments when we feel so utterly broken that we begin to tap into the strength that lies within. 

When we are buried under the rubble of our life, the light can seem so far away – impossible even.  We wonder if we will ever feel pure joy again.  We will.  In time.  

When we rise from the rubble, we stand up changed – from the experience itself and the resiliency we build on the way up.  

The only way out of the darkness – is to move through it, one step at a time.  Finding gratitude - no matter how small - leads us to the light.      

{ Rising

It’s been 3 years since we walked out of the hospital doors with Mia in our arms - her heart began to heal - a miracle, they said.    

When I left the hospital, I vowed to live my life with my head up and eyes open – understanding at the deepest level that this is it.  This is our one life.  And, we can choose love or we can choose fear. 

I choose love. 

Our time here is limited.  Over the last 3+ years, I've climbed my way out of the rubble once again - except this time, I've left behind the heavy armor of perfection that I carried around for more than 20 years.  I've released the grip of the inner critic that was standing in my way of truly LIVING. 

It’s been quite a climb – and I’ve had loads of help along the way – including weekly work with my therapist.  

Climbing out of the rubble takes a village. 

I used to think asking for help was a sign of weakness – a call to try harder and fuel for the inner critic who told me I was never enough. 

Here’s what I know for sure -- there is strength in learning to accept help. 

Over the past three years, I’ve learned to let go and to trust – the Universe and myself. 

I’ve learned to sit in the mess. 

I’ve learned to practice self-love. 

I’ve learned how to meet myself with compassion. 

I've found joy again - and this time, it's a deeper, richer, lasting joy.  

We all get buried underneath the rubble – no matter how hard we try to control the world around us.  In the rubble lies an opportunity – a chance to leave behind all that no longer serves us - a chance to set ourselves free. 

No matter what you’re facing, know that you are capable. 

No matter how thick the rubble.  No matter how heavy each brick.  Know that you are capable handling the very thing you are facing in this moment.  And, trying harder is not always the answer.  Sometimes the answer is in the surrendering.  

Letting go and trusting - and choosing to find gratitude even in your darkest moments.      

I Believe in You



Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, high-performance coach and consultant, transformational speaker, educator and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC., the Rise Free Academy and the online course, Strengthening Our Emotional Agility — inspiring, empowering and equipping athletes, coaches and women who lead with the skills they need to cultivate high-performance - to achieve AND feel fulfilled along the way. 

In addition to private and group coaching, Samantha consults with teams and organizations on athlete wellness, Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE), leadership, courage building, rising skills and creating high-performance environments. 

A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. To grab her free gifts, and/or learn more about her offerings go over to www.samanthalivingstone.com.