FORT WALTON BEACH — Kellie Young was up before dawn Friday, her arms yearning to cradle her baby boy as the anniversary of his death haunted her for the second time.
It was on Nov. 9, 2016, when her 5-month-old son Dominick Johnson died of multiple blunt impact injuries to the head and severe retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes.
Dominick’s father, Jared Leevan Johnson, was later charged with killing his son.
Young said she hoped to remain in solitude this year. That is, except for her 4-month-old son Dash who, on her late son's death anniversary last year, she found out she was carrying.
"Every year we just light candles for him," Young said. "I'm going to mourn him alone. I've come to the realization that I cannot get him back. I have to continue on with my life and remember the best of him."
Young said Dash was a sign from God given to her on the day she mourns most. It was a sign, she said, that she could handle being a mother again.
"The moment I held him in my arms, the worry completely fell away," Young said. "He's so sweet and such a blessing. I love my son Dash so much, and it did help me a lot and it does help me a lot, but it’s just hard now. I miss holding Dominick. I just want to hold him."
Instead, Young will hold tight to the few memories she has of her baby boy.
She laughed between tears Friday morning at the memory of Dominick once pulling a fruit basket from her hands and immediately putting it in his mouth to lick off the sweet juices. She let him taste fruit for the first time that day, two days before he died.
She also reminisces of her trip to Disney World with her son and mom. Dominick was dressed as Woody and everyone stopped to say how cute he looked in his outfit.
"We just did everyday life together," Young said as she tried to think of more memories. "I could go on and on about how we were always watching TV together. He was a baby. He was just starting to develop a little personality. But he never got to go the park and swing on the swing. I will never have those types of memories with him."
However, Young said she finds comfort in those who choose not to forget her son. Young said Starbucks employees at the Silver Sands Premium Outlets recently found out about Dominick and made a Build-A-Bear dressed in a Woody outfit to celebrate Dominick's life.
"It was just the sweetest thing strangers have ever done for me," Young said.
Following her day of mourning, Young will begin to turn her focus to December. Not to gear up for the holiday season, but to face her son's father at trial.
Young said she believes she's finally ready.
"It's going to be hard to relive it all. I think I'm ready. I'm ready for it to be over with."