To Brooke On Your 15th Birthday

My Sweet Brooke: This picture was taken when you turned 11. It was your very last birthday on Earth and, while I remember it so well, we all thought you had so many more. We went to dinner in Hermosa Beach with Nana and Ray. You’re wearing the outfit you picked out just hours earlier at TIlly’s on your birthday shopping spree. I loved shopping with you. Your sense of style was incredible for a girl your age. You knew what looked good on you and you also knew what looked good on others. I loved the way you would go into my closet and put together ensembles that went beyond my usual jeans and solid tees. When I told you I wasn’t young enough, or skinny enough, or pretty enough to pull off an outfit like that, you’d just shake your head adamantly. You saw the best in me, and the best in others, too.

Blake and I were just talking about that on the way to his School of Rock rehearsal (you should hear how amazing he is on guitar)!  He told me he could name many people…kids and adults… who became kinder after you passed away. We agree that your quiet influence was bigger than you ever knew, and that it remains just as strong. And there are so many people who never knew you while you were here, but they know you now through the stories we continue to tell.  Brookie, you remain my compass, showing me where to go. You are also my beacon and I’m always focused on your light. It shines so brightly as I watch Blake and Daddy goofing around. I see it in Leah’s eyes when she’s laughing and in the way she dances to the Wiggles just like you did at her age. I stay in the light because that’s where you are, and that’s where I feel closest to you.

We’ve spent three birthdays without you here, but we still eat pasta and chocolate cake and we will continue to do so forever. Each birthday, we promise to give something to others on your behalf. Last year, your friends started Brooke’s Books. And this year we’re doing it again! I know you’d love my friend, Lindy Evans. She was the one who recommended your favorite book, “Shadow Castle”. Lindy has been a steadfast friend, and she’s one of the people I can call anytime I’m sad about you. She always listens and she never tries to diminish what a great loss it is to no longer have you here. I’m so glad we can help her school this year.

So sweet Brooke, I hope you have chocolate cake in Heaven. I know you have friends there, and many of them are the children of parents I’ve met here who miss their kids as much as I miss you. I hope you’ve met our family and close friends who are already there: Grandfather Randle, Grandpa Sandy, Uncle Sammy, Aunt Margaret, Aunt Dolly, Patty, Mike and Tom and Beth. A few months ago I had a dream that I found you in Heaven. You ran to me and hugged me so tight! Your hair smelled exactly as I remembered and your long fingers wrapped themselves around my back. You simply exclaimed, “I never knew I could miss you so much and it’s only been two weeks!” That’s exactly what I hope it feels like when we meet again. For now I’m here raising Blake and Leah and taking care of Daddy and Dudley. My hope is that time slows down enough for you not to miss us too much, although we will always miss you each and every moment. We promise to celebrate every one of your birthdays forever with these three things: pasta, chocolate cake and books. And we promise to live each day with these two things: kindness and light. Because Brooke, that is exactly what you were – and what you still are to us all.  Love, Mom, Dad, Blake, Leah and Dudley

Brooke’s Books will help Lindy Evan’s 2nd Grade Classroom at Rawson STEAM School in Hartford, Connecticut. Budgetary restrictions have limited teachers’ ability to build adequate classroom libraries. Used or new books may be sent to:  Lindy Evans, Rawson STEAM School, 260 Holcomb Street, Hartford, CT, 06112
You can also do PayPal at Lindy Evans@comcast.net and she will apply her teacher discount to purchase the books she needs. Brooke’s Books runs  through March 31. Thank you for supporting our beautiful girl as we continue to celebrate Brooke’s life and her love of reading.

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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.

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.

How Much Longer?

1399674_10153355654144619_1025590539219127888_oEvery August, our family would make the 12-hour journey to Park City, Utah. And every hour or so, Brooke would ask the same question… “How Much Longer?”

Along the way, we’d play games, sing songs, and watch movies to pass the time, but the drive always seemed to take longer than Brooke, or any of us for that matter, wanted it to take.

This year, our family is on a journey without Brooke, and this journey really has no end. But it seems like everyone (including us) is wondering… How Much Longer?

How much longer until the unbearable pain wears off? How much longer until we can make it through a day without crying? How much longer until we can focus on a simple task without forgetting something important? How much longer until we feel somewhat like ourselves again? The answer is simply this: We have no idea.

So we play games, we sing songs, and watch movies to pass the time. We hug each other – a lot. We find moments each day where we get some relief from the pain … dinner with friends, watching Blake play sports, a walk near the water, jumping high in the trampoline, Dudley’s antics… a freshly baked cookie.

But the truth is, our journey has just begun. Losing Brooke was so sudden, so unexpected… we haven’t even pulled out of the driveway yet.

We have no idea where we’re going, and we have a long, tough road ahead. But there’s one thing we do know. We won’t ask “How Much Longer?” Because Brooke isn’t here to ask. She knows it’s forever – and she’s along for the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Unconventional Grief

When death occurs, a chain of events usually follows: memorial services, meal trains, charitable contributions. These events allow us to “do something” to honor the one we loved and support the ones who must go on without them. But most of the time, death is expected… as the result of illness, injury or old age. Brooke’s death was anything but. It was sudden. It was unanticipated. It was unconventional. And so is our grief.

Throughout the past nine weeks, I’ve often pondered how we’ve handled this tremendous and unforeseen loss so far. We were literally blindsided and in shock for the first week. Immediate family was in town so we had a small, yet beautifully intimate service at our beloved church. We sat in a circle, told stories, held hands and prayed.

After everyone went home, we went about the task of getting back into our routine. Brenn to work, Blake to school and sports. Then, before we could even catch our breath, came Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. We are exhausted both physically and emotionally.

My focus remains on nurturing my boys (and myself)  as we navigate our way through profound grief and come to terms with this new reality. I call it the three C’s: Cooking, Cuddling and Cocooning.

I’m cooking favorite meals because it gives me great joy to nourish my family… hence no meal train for us. The cuddling and cocooning keep us focused on each others’ immediate needs…hence we are currently unable to plan a large memorial service or life celebration. We also lack the focus  needed to decide on charitable contributions or a scholarship fund in Brooke’s honor.

The bottom line is that there’s not much for anyone to “do” at this moment – other than continue to love us, spend time with us, and let us know you care. We are so appreciative of the outpouring  of support. It gives us the strength we so desperately need.

Our grief may be unconventional,  but so is our loss. Sometimes I feel like we’re letting everyone down, but most of the time I think we’re doing it exactly right and people will be patient.  People will understand.

Because Brooke always took her time. And, when the time is right, we will celebrate her life… her legacy… and it will be as beautiful as she is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.