The New Year

We are spending the week in Lake Tahoe with dear friends. Together we will greet the New Year and 2016 will be the first of many without our precious girl.

It feels strange to be here without her. It feels strange to be anywhere without her. But this place, this beautiful, snowy place… is somewhere she never was… so we don’t see her in our memories here. Instead we see her in the snowflakes and the soft glow of the sky at night. We feel her in the calm beauty of winter. She is with us. I am sure of it.

Blake is learning to ski and loving it. He is so happy to be in the snow… in this new place… so I’m trying to not be a nervous wreck as he takes on new challenges. I’ve learned that we have absolutely no control over what happens to any of us. The only control we have in this life is to make sure the ones we love know that we do… every moment of every day.

I will always think of 2015 as the worst year of my life – the worst year of our family’s life. But most of it – up until November 8 – was one of our best years. One day I’ll write about the great times we had as a family, about how Brooke and I became closer than ever as she seemed to grow and mature at light speed before my very eyes. I’ll write about how I saw glimpses of the woman she was destined to become… about how much wisdom she had for someone so very young. For now it hurts too much to put into words.

Our little family will take on a New Year, new experiences and new adventures.  But Brooke will be in our hearts and minds the entire time. Because Brooke is always with us, no matter where we go, no matter what we do… forever.

 

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It Takes A Village

If it takes a village to raise a child… then it takes a village to lose one, too.

Our village is made up of many little villages near and far – from school, dance, Girl Scouts and church – to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – to friends who span miles, continents and years.

Our villagers are confused, hurt, angry, sad and frightened. How can this be? How can someone so young, so vibrant, so healthy be gone without warning? There are no answers, but as we struggle together to understand something we never will, we are beginning to understand that life is unpredictable, life is brief and, most importantly, life is precious.

So while I know I said this is not about you… maybe it is.  Maybe it’s about everyone in our village, from the very young to the very old, shattered by the loss of a child. Our child.

As a village, let’s love one another, appreciate one another, and hold on tight to what matters. People matter. Life matters. Love matters.

And remembering matters. Because Brooke will always be a member of our village. She is part of our lives – forever.

 

It’s Not About You

There are four people in the photo above. A happy, healthy family. Now there are only three left here on Planet Earth, and we are the only ones this is about. This family tragedy is ours and ours alone. It’s not about you.

It’s not about you posting things on social media “honoring” Brooke.  While your intentions may be pure, they make me feel like you’re using our pain to make yourself look like a better person to your “friends”.

It’s not about you talking about us behind our backs or asking others how we’re doing when all you have to do is come to my blog or, better yet, call me, message me, reach out to me… not the Internet…not the Starbucks line in town or wherever you gather to talk about “that family”.

It’s not about you telling others to give us space or privacy. I’m the only one who gets to say that and, by the way, I want neither. What I do want is for people to reach out to me directly. See above for suggestions on how to do that.

It’s not about you trying to come to terms with your own fears that this could have been your child. It’s not about you telling me that you can’t imagine… that I am so brave. No, you can’t imagine and, chances are, you’ll never have to experience this. And no, I’m not brave but I’m a survivor of the most painful grief there is. And I will survive. Because the other two in this photo still on Planet Earth need me. And Brooke needs me to take care of them, too.

It’s about us.

We are the unwilling stars of this tragedy that seems more like a reality series because we constantly feel like we’re being watched… because we are. We understand that you care. We understand that you don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to do, either. But here are some suggestions.

Be mindful of our pain.  We are literally trudging through the days, but we must do “normal” things like school, shopping, sports, etc. We are weighted down by a heavy cloak called grief. While this cloak may become lighter in the months and years ahead, we will never shed this cloak. It is something we will wear forever. Remember that we will need support long after you think we will. We will never get over this. We will never forget.

Be kind to us. Be kind to everyone – especially your children. Grief provides the ability to see things with a laser focus. I have zero tolerance for overachieving soccer moms, gossip, and those who complain about what a burden their children are. In Brooke’s honor, I will tell you kindly when I think you are out of line but I will tell you, I promise you that.

Be brave. Don’t be afraid of us. Don’t be afraid of what happened. Death is a part of life. It’s okay to expose your children to it, and to talk about Brooke because she was a part of our lives and talking about her keeps her alive in our hearts and minds. I don’t know why she died. But I do know why she lived. I am her mother from now until eternity. And whatever role you played in her life is forever, too.

Be patient. I have at least one thousand emotions every hour. I may yell at you, I may tell you I want to do something and then change my mind. I may not return your calls, texts, or emails but I want them. I need them. I need to know that you care. That you haven’t forgotten just because some time has passed. I need you to invite me to things you normally would and keep inviting me to other things in the future. I may not go, but then again, I may. I just need to know that while nothing is the same, some things still are.

Finally, treat us the way you always have but maybe with a more gentle heart. In fact, treat everyone that way.

So if you still feel the need to make this all about you, then try this:  Be mindful, be brave, be patient, be kind. Be like Brooke.

 

Boylandia

We played five-card-stud after dinner last night while watching Monday Night Football. We used poker chips and everything. My life has become All. Things. Boy.  Skateboard parks, baseball games, basketball games… these were things that Brenn and Blake did together while Brooke and I were usually out doing All. Things. Girl.

The boy things are fun. They are active and provide a welcome distraction from our sorrow. Boy things help me understand that males  cope with grief differently than females… In Girlandia we talk and cry. In Boylandia they build and play.

Our family has passports to both lands and we sail into each every day. We build and we play. We play a lot. But we also talk and cry. We see the benefits of both as we figure out how to navigate this ship with crushing waves and one less crew member.

 

 

A Poem About Brooke

Easter2006

When Brooke was in third grade, her wonderful teacher made each child “Sailor of the Week”. She asked us to write a letter to read aloud in class that week. I decided to write a poem instead. The overwhelming sadness of losing Brooke is so consuming, but this poem reminds me that she lived. She lived… and continues to live in my heart… and I hope she does in yours, too.

A POEM ABOUT BROOKE  (With Love From Mom and Dad)

On a cold winter’s night when springtime was near

A baby was born with a head full of hair.

She arrived very curious, without even a cry

Just looked at us as if to say  “Oh my!”

Mom and Dad named her Brooke, for a sweet, babbling stream

She lived up to her sweetness, although sometimes she screamed.

From the time she could speak it was perfectly clear

That she loved all things animal, from horses to deer.

Her playroom was filled with stuffed bunnies and bears

Unicorns,  frogs…Little Ponies with hair.

She loved Turtle the most and she carried him ‘round

Turtle often got lost, but he always got found.

Brooke colored and painted,  made treasures of clay

The park and the duck pond were part of her day.

When the Randles moved West, Brooke had just turned three

It was time to start preschool and she did so with glee.

Her talent for art made her teachers so proud

She obeyed all the rules, was never rude or loud.

At Silver Spur School, she made lots of friends

They giggled and played Littlest Pet Shop to no end.

Brooke loves the ocean, and swimming and dance

She is cautious and kind and leaves little to chance.

She’s caring, she’s sweet, she’s a very good friend

She is loyal and fearless and will fight to the end…

For things that are right, and things that are good

Brooke has the inner compass that all of us should.

Her friends call her funny, thoughtful, patient and kind

And while she’ll do it gently, she’ll always speak her mind.

Brooke, we love you so much, we’re so proud of you, too.

Stay curious, stay sweet, stay strong, and stay you.

Christmas Present

Christmas Past is filled with cherished memories of when our family was whole. But now our little family is facing a new normal… Christmas Present.

It seems especially cruel that we lost Brooke so close to a holiday she so dearly loved. But Dixie, our Elf on the Shelf, still surprises us every day with her creative new hiding places. The Advent Calendar counts down the days,  and Blake gets his daily dose of breakfast chocolate – just as he and Brooke always did. Christmas is coming, whether we want it to our not. And it’s coming without Brooke, as is everything from now on.

So our Christmas Present is to figure out how to keep Brooke with us during this holiday and all holidays. She is and always will be part of our family. For one, we will hang her stocking and I have a feeling that Santa will leave her just a little something to let us all know that he loves children in heaven.

But the tree is tricky,  since most of our ornaments are from Christmas Past, made by their little hands to mark the passing of each year and their growing artistry. There are messy hand prints and photos and paintings and pictures. Poems and promises about how I’ll look back on these trinkets with joy one day. But those poems were meant for when she was grown, not gone forever at age 11.

I can’t go there yet. I can’t unwrap the ornaments that we wrapped together as we took down the tree last year… putting them away and saying what we always say… “I wonder what next year will be like for us when we take them out again? ” Never, in my wildest dreams – or nightmares –  did I think we’d be doing this as a family of three.

Christmas Present is nothing I ever could have imagined. But somehow we’ll make it through. Somehow we’ll find joy in the fact that Brooke’s spirit is bigger and brighter than any Christmas spirit can ever be. So shine brightly,  my sweet, beautiful, angel princess. Shine your light on your family and help us make it through this holiday and the all the days ahead.

 

Gone, But Never Forgotten

Someone took the purple ribbons down in the middle of the night. It wasn’t anyone who put them up, it wasn’t the city (unless they work overtime). It was most likely some crabby person who got sick of being reminded of the  fact that an innocent little girl died for no apparent reason. It was probably someone who didn’t want to think of unpleasant things during the holiday season. Whoever it was, I hope they never have to meet this mean Mama Bear who will tell them how heartless it is to take down something that is meaningful to a little boy who lost his sister and best friend.

Those ribbons. My son said that they made him feel like people cared. They made him feel like people still remembered Brooke. While I knew they had to come down one day, I felt that we should at least have some say in when they did. I even thought that perhaps it would haven been therapeutic for us to remove a few ourselves. Maybe with a some of the same good people who put them up. But that will never happen because some coward took them down in the dark. And that person probably doesn’t even know us.

Blake didn’t notice they were down today when I took him to school. It’s likely he will when I pick him up this afternoon. I’ve been thinking all day about what to tell him and I’ve come up with this:

Those ribbons were put up to show us how much people cared about Brooke, and continue to care about our family. I still see ribbons on those trees, and I always will. But I see more. I see kindness in the faces of our friends and neighbors. To me, it’s like they are all wearing big purple ribbons. Forever.

 

 

 

Ribbons and Lights

The purple ribbons still adorn nearly every tree, post and sign in our neighborhood. They remind us how much our friends and community care. But they also remind us that we lost Brooke.

“When should they come down?” our friends ask. “Just let us know.” That’s a tricky question and the only answer I can give is this… when our entire family is ready.

Today we decided it was time to start decorating for Christmas. While we’re not quite ready for the tree just yet, we decorated outside. We put up purple lights and planted lavender flowers in the beds in front of our little porch. It seems right to us, to decorate in a way that says we know things are different, yet we still celebrate the Season.

The purple makes quite an impact outside, but even more so inside. As we sat in our living room watching The Minion Movie, we all noticed the same thing at once… Purple was shining in from the glass panes of the front door.  It’s as if Brooke is shining bright into our home. Better than any candle. Because to us purple signifies her whimsy, her youth and her spirit.

 

 

 

Four Weeks

Saturdays were always busy in the Randle house. Brooke with dance rehearsals and Blake with the sport of the season. Today was opening day for basketball and, with Brenn as assistant coach, both boys were up and out for a morning practice followed by a game later in the day.

From the moment I woke up, I wondered how we would make it through something so normal when it most certainly was not. Our lives have literally been cut in “half” now that we are without Brooke. But rationally, the remaining half needs every bit of us  – maybe even more  –  so I made a big breakfast for my boys and sent them off to practice. Cleaning and laundry were supposed to happen, but I took some coveted time alone to reach out to friends. There are so many phone calls to return and I remain compelled to tell the story again and again. Somehow it helps me process things and make sense out of something so senseless.

All the while, I kept my eye on the clock recalling what was happening four weeks ago:

8:45 a.m- that was the time we placed the 911 call

9:30 a.m.- numerous frantic calls and texts as we tried to find childcare for Blake and tell family members to get to the hospital.

Saturdays – mornings in particular – will never be the same,  yet we have to go on. Brenn is so much better at it than I – at least he pretends to be. But somehow, we made it through.

The basketball game was a nail biter and we won in the final seconds. It provided a great distraction for others so the hugs and “I’m so sorrys” were minimal. Blake had a play date after the game and Brenn and I made a trip to Costco. We made a lovely dinner and played a few games of cards with my brother who is still with us and providing much support.

Just a regular Saturday. Until it’s time for bed. And just like every night, the wave hits hard. It crashes down and it screams, “Nothing is regular and it never will be again. Your daughter is gone forever.”

I walk Dudley up and down the street crying softly, looking up at the stars  and saying her name over and over again because I love the sound of her name and I miss saying it. “Brooke, Brooke, Brooke.” Dudley’s ears pick up each time. He’s looking for her, too.

My boys are already snuggled in our big bed and I kiss them and hold on tight to them both. Sleep comes so easily to them and that is a true relief. I doze for a bit and return the sofa… to read, to write, to ramble.

Four weeks. Seems like yesterday and seems like forever. Sweet Angel Brooke, I miss you more each and every minute.

 

 

 

 

 

The Day Everything Changed

It was just a regular Saturday morning. My biggest concern was how to be at Blake’s soccer game and pick up Brooke from dance rehearsal at the same time. We were coming out of a busy week and  didn’t have time to buy the birthday present she needed for a party later that evening. The dog had to go to the vet. Work was going to be crazy up till Thanksgiving.

And then everything changed.

The last time I saw Brooke alive she was smiling and eating strawberry yogurt at the kitchen counter. She was already dressed and ready for a long day of dance rehearsals. I told her I was going to take a shower,  then we would leave for the studio.  She said she was going to go put her hair up.

“Is Brooke okay?” my husband called out. “I heard a noise from her room.”

Brooke was not okay. I found her,  unconscious, on the floor in front of her mirror.  The chain of events that followed were like something out of the worst movie ever: CPR, 911, two hospitals, life support, and a diagnosis without any hope at all.

My perfectly healthy baby girl  had the tiniest of flaws that could never have been seen on any imaging. Something that we never would have known until it was too late. A blood vessel, very close to her brain stem, was weak. It was never strong enough to withstand her growth and, at age eleven,  she had already sprung up to a gorgeous 5 foot 2, eyes of blue, adolescent. It was just too much. That tiny blood vessel burst. Her brain stopped functioning and life, as we knew it, stopped functioning, too.  Brooke died on Sunday, November 8.  Two days later, she saved three lives by donating her organs. Surreal is the only way to describe what has happened to her and to our family.

That was just over three weeks ago and we’re still in shock. Sleep comes in fits and starts. So I write. I write in the middle of the night when my husband and sweet 9-year-old boy don’t need me. I write to make sense out of something that makes no sense. I write to share the anguish and pain and to document the journey that lies ahead of life without my daughter, my best friend, my soulmate.

There is no road map, and I know that grief is a journey that has no end. My hope is that as we find peace,  we may find a way to share what we learn with others who have to walk in our shoes – as well as those who never will – but may learn to appreciate all they have. Because in an instant, everything can change.