When Amelie Bacuyani was born at just 23 weeks and 1.4 pounds, her family knew she had a tough road ahead.
But, her mom Angela Bacuyani told TODAY Parents, they were ready. The family sold their home in Oregon and all their belongings, uprooting Amelie’s three older brothers to move to Ohio, near a center that treats Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD), also known as chronic lung disease. Little Amelie struggled most with her lungs due to her prematurity.
She was a fighter. “She was this teeny tiny thing,” Bacuyani said, “but she was doing awesome. We were getting ready to bring her home and learning how to care for her.”
The then 10-month-old had a tracheotomy and was to come home on a ventilator in October of 2021. Amelie had never properly met her big brothers and the family was looking forward to being together for the first time.
Suddenly, one night in September, Amelie died. Her mother believes it was from a blood clot in her leg that caused an embolism.
“I had just started to let go of the fear of losing her, something I had during my entire pregnancy and during her stay in the NICU,” Bacuyani said. “It was devastating.”
They were “wrecked by grief," Bacuyani said. "You want to lay in bed all day and do nothing.”
But soon, their unimaginable loss gave Bacuyani and her husband a new perspective. Bacuyani said the couple thought long and hard about what was important to them.
Their family was their top priority. Amelie's short life made them realize, she said, that whether your child dies or not, time with them is fleeting.
“We don’t have endless time,” Bacuyani said. Plus, she had known many families torn apart by grief.
“Sometimes people go into their own holes to grieve alone and they can’t come back from it,” she said. “I wanted us to grieve together, to grow together. We lost a daughter; they lost a sister. The last thing I want is for us to lose each other.”
The family had already sold their home and most of their belongings to care for Amelie and they had homeschooled once before. They had also traveled as a family to places like New Zealand and Bali. With no desire to go back to their everyday routines, they decided to travel full-time.
Their first stop was Daytona Beach, Florida. From there, Fort Lauderdale. Then to St. Croix, back to Florida (Fort Pierce), and onto San Simon, Avandaro and Valle de Bravo, Mexico. The next stop was Panama, where they visited El Cope, Anton De Valle and Rio Hato.
Wherever they go, they take Amelie’s ashes. Bacuyani said she had thought they might sprinkle them in special places along the way, but so far the family hasn't been able to part with any. They do take photos with her picture in new locales.
The family used points accumulated from years of house swapping for accommodations up until their last stay. Out of points now, they use their social media presence to secure hosted stays. Bacuyani said a return to Oregon to see family and friends will happen in the spring and they’re discussing spending six months in an RV to travel the U.S.
Amelie is a part of the family’s every day. “We talk about her openly and freely,” her mom said. And while she said the travel and the beautiful experiences with her family are a distraction and a way to move forward, her grief catches her off guard.
“I’ll be on the beach and see a baby girl with her family and start crying,” Bacuyani said. “But in some ways, it’s healing too.”
So are the memories she holds dear of her baby girl. “She was like an old soul,” her mom said. “Amelie would stare into my eyes for the longest time. It seemed like she was looking right into my soul.”