To Blake On Your Twelfth Birthday

BrennRide

Dear Blake,

It’s almost midnight on the eve of your birthday and the last day of 6th grade. 12 years ago, your dad and I headed to the hospital around this time and you were born at 6 a.m. the following morning. Your birth was quick and easy… dare I say peaceful during that quiet time in the maternity ward. You were happy and adaptable to any situation and a fast learner. Before we knew it you were crawling, walking and then talking – a lot. In fact, I don’t think we remember you before the talking. Your first word was “ball” and you loved “Thomas the Tank Engine” and later, Superheroes and you still do. In fact, I know your superpower, and that is resiliency.

I believe that superpower of yours is what helped you adapt to our family moving from Ohio to California and now to North Carolina. I believe that your resiliency helps you handle a batting slump or a bad day on the pitching mound. Your resiliency helps you face challenges big and small, and of course the biggest one being the loss of Brooke.

But your superpower helps more than you. It helps others, too. I honestly don’t know how our family would have made it through the past two and a half years without your insight, instinct and humor. I remember being in awe as you went to school just a week after what I hope will be the most tragic event ever in your life, and how you returned to the baseball field and basketball court, too. I watched you learn to do tricks on your skateboard, play acoustic and electric guitars, to navigate the ever-changing social norms of fourth, fifth and now sixth grade, and to never stop talking about Brooke. You have clearly become the keeper of her memory, her spokesperson and the most constant connection to her that I feel daily. And then when Leah came into our lives, you once again adapted, embraced and accepted her with all of her baby ways. You made room in your heart for her, sandwiching yourself between your big and little sisters, pointing out that we are now are a family of 5.

So Happy 12th Birthday to our superhero and son. As you grow, our love grows bigger. We can’t wait to celebrate every year; every milestone with you.

Because Blake… you mean everything to us and Because Brooke is always with you, watching you and so proud of her superhero little brother.

 

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Sunshine and Thunderstorms

North Carolina has interesting weather. Today Alexa told us to expect sunshine and thunderstorms, and I couldn’t help but think that’s pretty much the daily forecast for a bereaved parent.

When you lose a child, you never get over it, but you learn to get through it… one moment at a time. Brooke is always on my mind (along with Blake and Leah) but there are times when the emptiness from not having her here becomes unbearable. And that’s when the storm hits. Sometimes these storms are in the forecast, like holidays or her birthday. Sometimes these storms come out of nowhere,  and these are called triggers.  These unexpected moments of overwhelming sadness pop up when I see a girl around Brooke’s age with her wavy hair swinging as she walks by me in the pickup line at school. They happen when I hear a song by Meagan Trainor or Taylor Swift, when I’m channel surfing and come across her favorite Disney XD shows, and especially when I see a brother and sister goofing around at the mall. They remind me of all that was. But the big storms come up when I think of all the things she will never experience like graduation, prom, college, and that walk down the aisle.

Back in the early days, the storms were relentless, but as I get farther along on this never-ending journey without her, I’m able to welcome any ray of sunshine that breaks through the clouds. And sometimes we even have clear skies for a while like when Leah laughs with delight, when Blake hits three doubles in one baseball tournament,  and especially when I see the carefree and wild way that Brenn and Blake can play together again.  The sun shines bright on our strong yet struggling family. And while we realize there is always another storm on the horizon, and that they will never subside, we also know that we can survive them all. Because Brooke is always with us, through sunshine and thunderstorms, and all the lonely nights in between.

Rainbows and Butterflies

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. But sometimes, both come into our lives when we need them the most.

It’s been two years since Brooke left us for heaven and we’ve been visited by countless butterflies. They provide comfort and remind us that the world is full of mysteries we will never understand. Our job, quite simply, is to trust our instincts, and be open to all signs that our loved one is near.

Rainbows have a way of sneaking up on you when you need them the most. They bring beauty and light after the stormiest of skies. Rainbows are truly a gift from heaven, which is where the term Rainbow Baby comes from. They are the children that come after child loss, never as a replacement, for it’s impossible to replace a child. But just like rainbows, these babies are truly a beautiful gift from above.

Introducing Leah, our Rainbow Baby, born on October 15. Her birth parents are two of the kindest and selfless people we’ve ever met and we are so grateful to welcome this beautiful baby girl as newest member of our family. She’s truly a gift from heaven, and has a way of filling in the cracks in our broken hearts.

Rainbows and Butterflies. They exist in our lives side by side. We know that Brooke loves her baby sister and have no doubt their souls have already met. And the moments we long for Brooke’s physical presence as we go about this latest family chapter… well, those are the moments when we feel her around us the most. Because Brooke is always near, and we have no doubt that our beautiful butterfly had a lot to do with the lovely new rainbow in our lives.

Here, There and Everywhere

Our family has covered a lot of ground on our journey through the grief of losing Brooke. Along the way we’ve made all the usual stops. Shock. Denial. Anger. Bargaining, etc. As for Acceptance… I think it’s more of Acknowledgement. We Acknowledge that we lost Brooke to a congenital birth defect called a brain aneurysm/AVM. We Accept that there was nothing we, or any doctor could have done to prevent what happened to her from happening. We Accept that God is holding her hand in heaven, and that she is holding our hearts here on Earth.

Our family has covered a lot of ground in the literal sense, too. All the way from California to North Carolina. Our journey took our little family to the Grand Canyon and Route 66. Through a solar eclipse and, finally, to the street where we now live, aptly named Brookfield Place.

Moving cross-country was something we never planned. But if there’s anything we’ve learned in the past two years, it’s that life seldom goes to plan. So when a great job opportunity came up for Brenn, along with the chance to slow down a little with shorter commutes and a more reasonable cost of living…the choice became perfectly clear.

Our new neighborhood feels like something out of a storybook. A street full of kids who are outside playing ball or fishing in the nearby pond. There are tree houses and trampolines, and amazing neighbors that invited us to dinner the day we pulled in, road weary and hungry for something besides rest stop food.

But we were hungry for connection, too. We told the families on our street immediately about Brooke. The next day, the most beautiful thing happened. Our neighbor came by with a housewarming present. It was a purple, sparkly butterfly lawn ornament.

“We want you to know that Brooke will always be part of your family,” she said. “And this butterfly represents your beautiful Brooke.”

She had no idea at the time that butterflies and purple are two symbols that we always associate with Brooke.

Last Friday I had lunch with a mom I previously only knew from an online parent support group for kids with aneurysm and AVMs. Her gift to me… another butterfly for our lawn.

People ask us if it was hard leaving our home, if we felt like we were leaving Brooke behind. It’s actually quite the opposite. As I always told both kids, “Home is where your family is.” Our family is in North Carolina now. And Brooke is most certainly with us. I’ve told people that I literally feel Brooke when I stay in the light. I feel like our family is floating in the sea of Acknowledgement, with Resilience as our life jacket. Since moving here, we’ve felt the peace of her presence, and the warmth of her light.

Butterflies are a symbol of Brooke. And this one spent about 20 minutes with us the other day. She landed on my arm first, and then flitted over to Blake’s shirt where she stayed, quite comfortably, until a gentle breeze took her up and away.

Our journey continues, as does our story. But one thing’s for sure. She’s here, there and everywhere. Because Brooke is always with us wherever we go. Forever.

Forward March

March, you’ve exhausted us. While you used to be a month of milestones to celebrate, you are now an annual reminder of what we’ve lost.

Our 14th Wedding Anniversary: We are still (and will remain) in the habit of marking how many years we were married by knowing Brooke arrived just one year later.

Brooke’s 13th Birthday: We went “big” this year with kindnes activities at the elementary and middle schools, random acts of kindness cards, and even a birthday gathering for her friends where we painted rocks with inspirational words and reminisced about her birthday parties. This was no birthday party, but we ate Brooke’s favorite cupcakes anyway and they tasted just as sweet as we remembered her.

My Birthday: I always told Brooke that she was my birthday present (and still is). Last year I threw lemons at our backyard retaining wall while sobbing loudly. This year I wept softly as I blew out candles on a creme brulee with my mom as well a chocolate cake baked just for me by a sweet little girl. I had lunch out with friends and enjoyed a birthday weekend of treats and shopping with Brenn and Blake. I’m finding that when I allow people into my heart, it feels a little less broken, just for a little while.

March also marks the beginning of baseball season, making it impossible to hide inside my home or car. Our Little League field is a hub of excitement, with “whole” families and pure joy. This year, I’m able to stay in the moment and enjoy the sense of community that baseball brings.

March also marked advocacy day for brain aneurysm research and, while we couldn’t make the trip to Washington, I shared a lot on social media and even made my first call to our congressman.

But March, I’m tired. I’m tired of dragging myself out of bed every morning and facing another day without Brooke. I’m tired of all the purple things we keep creating and receiving, the cards, notes, photos and other gifts that serve as constant reminders that she is no longer here. Her room is full of boxes of these things. I think that’s where they belong. And every time I put them in there, I tell her how much she is loved.

So goodbye, March. Although you’re gone for another year, we really don’t need all your milestone events to remind us about Brooke.

Because Brooke is loved forever. Because Brooke lives inside each of our hearts as we remember her sweet smile and her silly laugh. The way she sang songs just a little off key on purpose, the way she danced and twirled everywhere she went. But mostly, we just remember how Brooke made us feel. And that is something that will never leave our hearts. As we March forward, we take that with us. Always.

After A While

This is little piece of hopeful writing for all the grieving parents I’ve met on my journey. I certainly don’t feel like this everyday, but this came to me just sitting here in the silence and I thought I’d share.
Because Brooke would want me to. I’m sure of it.

After a while you grow accustomed to the pain
After the explosion has detonated your heart, mind and soul
You find you can walk through the searing fire of grief
And make it through another day, and the day after that.

After a while the scar tissue feels like a blanket
Allowing you to survive the triggers and reminders
The ponytails, giggles, and songs of children still here
While yours is gone forever.

After a while the tears stop pouring from your eyes
Enabling you to see the way the world really looks
You see truth in suffering, humbleness in heartache
You see the purity of grace and the clarity of love.

After a while you grow accustomed to the waiting
After you’ve asked why  a million times
You realize you must productively pass the time
Until time becomes the time when you will see your child again

After a while you grow accustomed to the light
That you’re finally brave enough to let into your heart again
Because that is where your child lives for now
Until time becomes the time when you will see your child again.

You will see your child again.

Keeping Her Flame

I finally understand the incredible poignancy of Hamilton.  And the most meaningful words to me are these:

But when you’re gone who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
Who lives
Who dies
Who tells your story?

We all have a story. And, while most of us will not be part of history, our story is just as important to our loved ones because it keeps us alive long after we’re gone.

I’m fully aware that it’s my duty to tell Brooke’s story, to keep her flame.

I’m also fully aware that it’s totally backwards. The loss of Brooke remains so devastating that sometimes those who love her the most have the most difficult time talking about her.

To quote another  phrase from Hamilton, It’s Quiet Uptown, “We’re trying to live the unimaginable.” Yet for bereaved parents, it is imaginable. It is real. And the only thing that keeps us going  is remembering that our child existed, our child was real, our child mattered and will always matter.

Every bereaved parent has the same fear… that their child will be forgotten.

So we keep their flames.
We lived
They died
But we tell their story.

So if you know a parent who has lost a child, listen to their stories. Better yet, tell their stories, too.

Because Brooke has a story that inspires us all, let’s continue to tell it. Remember her laugh, her love, her essence, and together we can keep her flame burning bright in our hearts and minds forever.