To Brooke on Your 16th Birthday

Dear Brooke,

I’m sitting by the fire with a cup of tea struggling to find the words for your annual birthday letter. You should be here, drinking tea and talking about how exciting your life is right now. You should be driving and shopping for prom dresses. Instead, I’m just imaging what you’d d be like, longing for your presence, and angry as hell that your life was cut so heartbreakingly short.

I want to spit out raw words of rage that scream of the injustice and unfairness of it all,  but I can’t anymore… and there are two reasons. The first is because you would never want me to do that,  and I won’t embarrass you just because you’re not here to stop me.

The second is because I’ve learned so much about the world since you so tragically left. It’s full of  bereaved parents who miss their children as much as I miss you. In the five years since your last birthday on Earth, I’ve met many parents who lost their children,  and they are some of the kindest people in the world. I know their angel kids through the stories they tell, and they’re special like you, with big hearts and a wisdom beyond their brief time here.

I can’t begin to understand any of this, but I know somehow we are all connected and you remain connected to me, to Blake, to Dad and even to Leah who just yesterday made a car from some recently found old Legos. She put a little girl figure in the car and said, “Brookie.” How could she know that your name is still on her back in masking tape from the day you took it to preschool?

It’s after Midnight now and I know tomorrow will be difficult, but we’ll smile through our tears and allow our home to be filled with the light and warmth we feel when we let go of the anger and sadness and just let your spirit into our hearts and minds. It won’t be easy. It’s never easy. But we have no choice.

And I think that’s your birthday gift. Our continued connection to you. Because Brooke, if we can find the strength to push away the anger, sadness and grief… all that’s left is our love for you. And my hope is that you feel it on your birthday, and every moment of every day until we meet again.



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 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.

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.

Child Loss: A Day in This Life

“How are you?” People ask. For a bereaved parent, there is no simple answer. We say we’re fine. But the reality is, we’re not.  How could we be? But we do appreciate you asking. We appreciate you trying to understand something that is incomprehensible. We appreciate your love and support and the fact that you cannot fix this. All you can really do is stand beside us in this insurmountable grief.

If you really want know what it’s like to be a bereaved parent, here is a snapshot of just one day in this life.

7:30 am: The alarm goes off and my very first thought is that Brooke is dead. I look over and see my son, sleeping peacefully, holding her stuffed turtle. He had a bad dream and wound up in our bed – again. I rustle him awake, give him a few snuggles and jump in the shower to give him a bit more time to sleep.

8:00 am:  I used to make elaborate breakfasts for both kids and still do sometimes, but I also used to put on crazy 80’s videos and dance around the kitchen to wake them up and make them laugh. Now it just feels hollow.  Instead I let Blake do the Water Bottle Flip while he eats and, if there’s time, we watch another epic YouTube Water Bottle Flip. Diversions, especially new ones, are always a good idea.

8:30 am: Off to school. Sometimes I feel like talking to other moms at drop off, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, the glimpse of a girl with a long, sandy-colored ponytail will take my breath away because I imagine Brooke carelessly running to this very school just two short years ago. I see the past everywhere I turn at our beloved elementary school and cherish the days when both kids were safely tucked away here.

9:00 am: I work from home so I have long stretches of alone-time in a house that no longer  feels like a home because she’s missing. And nowhere do I feel it more than here.  Since my hours are reduced, I have plenty of time to connect with my new friends from my closed bereaved parent groups. We all share the same feelings of loss and loneliness. We all have good days and bad. On my bad days, they hold me up. On my good days, I hold them up. These parents… they are true warriors, saints… the very best human beings on this  planet. I know more about them, their deceased children and their living family members than I do about some of my closest friends. I know their beautiful hearts and souls and I cannot understand why these good people must suffer this tragic loss, too.  Their children are/were spectacular humans and I ponder why the good are taken. I look at some of the horrible people making news. I look at despicable criminals, politicians, and I wonder… why are they still here when our precious children are not?  I wonder what these children would have done to make the world a better place had they lived.

Noon: Eating is both a blessing and a curse. I used to be a healthy eater. Now I tend to graze on comfort food: Blake’s  leftover chocolate chip muffin, cheese and crackers… for a moment, they bring me some type of escape. Then I walk the dog. There are still some purple ribbons wrapped around the trees. Some are frayed, some are faded from Southern California’s endless sunshine. I’m not sure if they give me comfort or angst. I just wish there was never a reason to tie them in the first place. Some new people have moved into our neighborhood and I wonder if they know about Brooke. I see them walking their littles around the block on their scooters and strollers and I remember the day we first moved here and how excited we were to explore this neighborhood. We would stop at the Ladybug Forest (someone’s overgrown sidewalk lawn) and count the cute little bugs. We’d draw hopscotch lines with colored chalk and bounce the big blue exercise ball in the driveway. As the kids grew older, I’d watch them play from my home office… so content in the safety of our little neighborhood where all was well and good. Now, when I look in the driveway, I see the EMTs walking up to our house on that horrible sunny Saturday morning. Every single day here is sunny and sometimes I just long for clouds or rain to match the new reality of our lives.

3:00 pm: Time to pick up Blake from school. He had a good day. He almost always does and for that I’m truly grateful. There’s homework, baseball practice and Dad is traveling again, so we make plans for dinner out. He’s so lonely without Brooke, so he begs me to go out with our neighbor on his scooter. I relent, knowing he has to release a little pent-up energy. He returns, 10 minutes later. “I got sad,” he says. And we snuggle on the sofa. He asks me the same questions again and again. “Why did this happen?” “How are we going to go on without her?” I tell him I have no answers. I tell him that sometimes even adults don’t understand and there are things we simply cannot fix. I promise him I’ll always be there for him, that he can talk to me about anything. And, most importantly, that I will never let him fall. Brenn and I tell him this daily: “You are loved, you are entitled to the happiest and most normal childhood possible.” He feels guilty he’s here and she’s not. “We all feel that way,” I tell him. We talk about heaven and the afterlife and all kinds of philosophical things that no 10-year-old should talk about or be worried about. But here we are. So we talk. And talk. And talking is good but exhausting. I’m tired almost all the time.

5:00 pm: Baseball practice is going well for Blake. He just won some contest to see who could run the fastest between bases. I’m so grateful for sports. Children are amazing because they really can live in the moment. He’s so into it…high-fiving his teammates, cracking jokes, having to do push ups for cracking jokes… Just a regular kid. I watch these boys and understand how looks can be deceiving. One of his teammates has a mom who just had two brain aneurysms coiled for the second time in four years. I see him drifting off during practice. He trips while running and grabs his knee in pain. Is it pain? Or just a release from his family’s stress?  I look at the other boys and wonder… what are they facing? Life isn’t easy for most of us. Even if they haven’t lost a sibling or a parent, I hope they have love and support they need to face whatever challenges they have.

8:00 pm: Nighttime is always the worst in our house. We all keep expecting Brooke to come bursting through the door in her ballet leotard the way she used to, sweaty and exhilarated and starving. She’d rush to her homework and I’d sit next to her while she ate and studied. When she was almost done, I’d draw her a nice bath with a Lush bath bomb. I’d turn down her bed and put her fuzzy unicorn slippers at the foot of the bed. I’d get her lap desk all ready and crawl into bed with her, finishing up my work while she finished up her reading. I cherished this quiet time with her. I just wanted her to know I was by her side. Now in the evenings we usually relent and let Blake watch a little TV – something we never did on weeknights before – but it’s a good diversion and it winds him down. It takes him a long time to fall asleep and there are usually more questions and observations about the fact that Brooke is gone. “Nothing is the same,” he says. And I just hold him tight and say, “I know.”

10:00 pm: Blake is finally asleep. He’s been tossing and turning for over an hour. All the while I’ve been chatting online with my bereaved parents who also cannot sleep. The one-year anniversary of losing Brooke is fast approaching, as is Halloween (her last holiday) and then the “real” holiday season. I’ve planned out so many “One Year” events in my head and none of them feel right. Her friend has an idea I like… I need to get on that, but I also don’t want to… because that makes it real. She’s been gone for a year. She’s not coming back. Sometimes it’s just too much to think about. Too much to bear.

2:00 am: Sleep came quickly but, as usual, I’m jolted awake with a flashback. These flashbacks are too horrible to write about. I’ve lived every parent’s worst nightmare and the nightmare continues each and every day… whether I’m awake or asleep.  The reality taunts me, reminds me… there is no escape. I fumble in the dark for my phone and reading glasses. Somebody’s awake, somewhere. Between insomnia and time differences there’s  always someone to talk to about child loss. For a day in the life of child loss is endlessly the same for us all.

This post is incredibly long, but a day in the life of a bereaved parent is even longer than this, because every moment is filled with a myriad of emotions. The “here and now” of just being, and the relentless voice in our heads that says… “they’re gone forever.”

Thank you for reading this. Because Brooke mattered. Because all of our children matter. Please do what you can to be understanding of anyone facing the loss of a child. They are true warriors who will likely tell you they are fine. And they are. They are the finest people left here on Earth.










I finally have the courage to post a photo of us together. It’s taken me this long to do so for many reasons. The most obvious is because we look so much alike, and it’s painful to be without my other half. We also look so incredibly happy because we were. We took this selfie during Blake’s birthday party last June at Angels Stadium. I want to warn those two smiling faces about what will happen in November. I want to tell them to hold on tight for the next several months because that’s all they will have together.

But the other reason it’s hard to look at photographs, or even videos for that matter, is Because Brooke is so much more than an image or a file.

The word for this is Quintessence:  the essence of something in its purest and most concentrated form.

Brooke’s essence transcends photos and videos. For those of us who knew her well,  it’s the way she made us feel when she walked into a room.

It’s the way her smile was like a light going on in our hearts.

It’s the way her overall silliness made us roll our eyes and giggle at the same time.

It’s how we can hear a song on the radio and fondly remember her wacky rendition.

It’s how we eat a cupcake and still look over our shoulder, waiting for her to mischievously stick her finger in the frosting.

Brooke’s Quintessence is alive and well in our hearts and our minds. And that’s where she  lives  – 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.




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.