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.

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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.

Comfort and Joy

Blake was asked to light the Advent Candles at our church’s Sunday evening service on December 11. It was especially poignant because the date and time coincided with The Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting Ceremony of The Compassionate Friends, a support group for families who have lost a child. While we couldn’t be at the actual candle lighting in our town, being back at church, watching the purple candles glow in the evening light, was quite comforting.

Blake was amazingly composed as he carefully lit the first candle, Hope, followed by the second one, Love. As I watched him light the third candle… Joy… I found myself getting angry.  I thought to myself, “What joy? How could there be joy this Christmas or ever, for that matter, in our lives?”

That evening was also Taco Night and one of our first encounters with many people from our church who I haven’t seen since last year. As I walked into the hall, I was immediately greeted by a woman from our summer camp  who had known Brooke since she was four years old.  As we were hugging and crying, I found myself comforting her by telling a funny story about one of the plays they put on many years ago. And through that comfort, I found joy. Joy in remembering something, joy in the fact that Brooke was here. Joy that we could smile through our tears.

Comfort and Joy. The perfect pair of cause and effect. We find joy when we give others comfort. And when someone gives us comfort, we experience joy.

Comfort and Joy should be the hottest gifts of every holiday season. While you can and should do this through your local community outreach projects, consider also giving it in your daily lives. Reach out to people who are lonely or struggling. Take time out to listen and to be present in someone’s life. Have no agenda other than providing the invisible gift of comfort. And in return, welcome your gift back. Joy in knowing that we are human, we are connected, and we’re here to care for one another this holiday season and always.

Because Brooke knew that. Somehow she knew that making people feel better made her feel happy. That is why she always had that light. And that’s why her light still shines. Because when there is joy inside you, it burns as brightly as the third candle on the Advent Wreath…. all year long.

November

November is a weird month. It’s a shift in the seasons, the gateway to the holidays….and the looming New Year.  November is also the month we lost Brooke and, while this marks the first one, I’m certain that all Novembers from now until forever will be difficult.

The last morning of Brooke’s life,  we sat on the sofa and drank peppermint tea as sunlight streamed into our living room. We talked about her school’s Cotillion the night before, about the dance numbers she was rehearsing and the birthday party she was to attend that evening. We had no idea this would be our last conversation. I’m so glad it was a good one. Within one hour,  the ambulance would arrive and she would never come home again. I often wonder how it’s possible that someone so young, so healthy, so vibrant, could be gone in an instant. In fact, I wonder about it almost all the time.

I’ve spent most of this year asking the same questions again and again. Why? How? Of course there are no answers. But I know I’m not alone. Children die suddenly all the time. Adults do, too. No one is invincible and life is a precious gift. That’s all I know. That’s all I need to know.

So this November as we remember Brooke, we cherish what we had, and what we still have.

The three of us went to the Santa Monica Pier to ride the ferris wheel. And we remembered her laughter.

We attended another baseball tournament in Las Vegas. And we remembered when we rewarded her with a frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity for being such a great sister.

While chaperoning Blake’s week-long field trip to Outdoor Science School, I took the same paths Brooke walked just two Novembers ago. And I remembered how much she loved her experience there.

We’ve been remembering Brooke all month, with many tears, but also with laughter. We’re finding that when we talk about her, the heaviness lifts from our hearts and the room lights up just a little. Sometimes we even have beautiful dreams.

November will never be easy. But this one, in particular, has been difficult… and that goes beyond Brooke. As I watch people tearing each other down for their beliefs, for their conflicting opinions and overall disagreements,  I want say two things:

1. Your biggest fears and  worst nightmares aren’t the ones you worry about. They’re the ones that sneak up on you when you least expect them.

2. You never know when the conversation you have with someone will be the last one you’ll ever have.

So speak kindly. Listen intently and tread lightly on everyone’s heart. In the end, there is only love. Love and memories. Everything else fades away and doesn’t matter anyway.

The last morning of Brooke’s life, in the middle of that remarkable conversation when we were oblivious to the  aneurysm that would burst in her beautiful brain,  she stood up and gave me her version of the The Lorax.

“A tree falls the way it leans,” she said. “If you lean towards bad, you fall to the bad. But if you lean towards the good, you fall to the good.”

So lean towards the good. Because Brooke, most certainly, always did just that.