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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As The School Year Ends

The end of the school year is always bittersweet. As we see our children gleefully advancing to another grade, we long for time to slow down, to stand still. This was us, last year, at Brooke’s Fifth Grade Graduation Ceremony.  I cried happy tears as I watched my girl move on to Middle School. I had no idea that fifth grade would be the last grade she would ever complete.

As this school year ends, there is a huge hole in her Sixth Grade class. She started something that she will never finish. Brooke is forever a Sixth Grader.

This time of year was and still is a flurry of activity. End of the year parties, baseball playoffs, Blake’s birthday. And Brooke’s dance recitals. The ones she won’t be in. The ones with a dance number dedicated to her. She should be on that stage. But she’s not, and her young, beautiful teammates are dancing through their own tears of losing her.

The end of the school year is bittersweet. But this year I will not cry as I watch Blake in our school’s annual “Scoot Back” Ceremony where he moves to Fifth – yes Fifth Grade! I will celebrate that he made it through the entire school year. I will think of the other parents I’ve met on my journey of child loss who are also missing their child’s progression to another grade.

I will slow down and savor every moment of those chaotic days leading up to Summer. To those of you with intact families, no matter how many children you have… please do the same. Please. Just. Enjoy. Every. Incredible. Moment. For sometimes moments are all we get.

As this school year ends, I know Brooke will be at Blake’s “Scoot Back” Ceremony.  She’ll help her brother blow out all 10 candles on his birthday cake. She’ll be the strength her dance team needs as they take the stage in her honor. Because Brooke is always with us, and if we keep her in our hearts, she will forever inspire us to slow down, enjoy life’s precious moments, and be kind to one another – this school year, next school year – forever.

 

 

 

To Brooke On Your 12th Birthday

Dear Brooke,

Twelve years ago tonight, I couldn’t wait to meet you. I remember the night before you were born like it was yesterday. Curled up on the sofa under mountains of blankets, I listened intently to the Ohio wind howling outside. I wanted to remember everything about this last night with you still in my belly. The night before I would meet my baby girl, my dream come true.

But there was so much I already knew about you. How you seemed to gently tap whenever you were hungry, how you kicked hard when I was upset at a work meeting , or when things got too loud. I remember having to leave a hockey playoff game at the most exciting moment ever because I knew you couldn’t stand all that noise.You were a sensitive soul and I talked to you all the time. I told you that you were my dream come true.

You came into this world on March 9, 2004 at 11:37 p.m. When you arrived, you did not cry. You simply looked around.  You had a full head of dark hair, more than a newborn should,  and you were wide eyed and alert, with a curious look as if to say, “What just happened and where am I?”

You made up for not crying in the delivery room by crying constantly after that. Nothing seemed to soothe you except when Daddy and I held you. And so we did. Constantly.

We didn’t know what colic was, but we knew what you needed. So we gave you everything we had. All night. For hours on end. For three long months.

One night, after hours of non-stop crying, I just looked you, exhausted. You were calm and those blue eyes of yours were looking at me intently.

Everything made sense at that moment and I told you this:

“God gives us children to make us more loving, more caring, more like Him. The more you need me, the more you cry, the more I will love you.”

It was so simple, so pure. God simply wanted me to love you, and I found that my love for you had no limits… no boundaries.

As you grew into a shy, sweet little girl,  I marveled at the sheer miracle of you. The way you loved animals, the way you intently studied a blade of grass, a flower. You and I could spend hours just exploring the world together. You loved your little swing in the backyard and I’d sing to you as I pushed you higher and higher until you giggled with delight. You were my everything. And I told you everyday that you were my dream come true.

When Blake was born I was afraid I couldn’t love him as much as you and of course that was the silliest thing ever because my heart literally just doubled the moment he was born – probably even a little bit before. You loved him, too and together with the best Dad ever, and finally after the arrival of Dudley, our little family was complete.

As we watched you grow, we became more and more proud of the sweet, smart young lady you were becoming. Every night you told me I was the best mom ever. And every night I told you that you were my dream come true.

And you know what, darling? You still are.You are my dream come true. You left us way too soon and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to understand something I never will. But if I was given the choice to have you for only 11 years and 8 months or not at all, I’d still choose you. I’d choose all the joy and love and happiness you brought every day, to every life you touched.  I’d choose you, because having you, just for a little while, was better than never knowing you at all. I was blessed with the most beautiful daughter a mother could ever imagine. I’d choose the honor of being your mom.

It was so simple, so pure. God simply wanted me to love you, and I found that my love for you had no limits… no boundaries. And my love still reaches you.  I just know it.

So Happy Birthday, baby girl. We miss you so very much, but we’re celebrating your life on Earth and and sending all our love to our beautiful angel in Heaven.

Love,

Mom, Dad, Blake and Dudley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.