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.

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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.

An Invisible Day

I don’t think Brooke would mind me sharing this. She wrote it in fourth grade.

An Invisible Day – By Brooke Randle (2014)

One day I was sound asleep until a strange violet light came into my window. I felt like I was flying but when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see myself. Away I flew through the roof of my house into the cherry pink clouds. Just then I fell onto a rainbow bridge. And there I saw an amazing sight, a clear crystal castle gleaming in the distance.

Wondering why I couldn’t see myself,  I walked on the rainbow bridge and into the gleaming castle. There I saw a king made only of silver. I asked him, “Where am I and how did I become invisible?” He responded in a voice as loud as thunder, “You are in Weather World and when the weatherman was changing the weather he accidently made you invisible. You must go to into his garden to not be invisible anymore.”

I ran through the crystal castle onto the rainbow bridge and into the luscious green garden. I walked quietly through the pebble path and saw a small bluebird resting in an old Oak tree. It flew toward me and surprisingly turned into a tall old man with a beard that seemed as long as an elephant’s trunk. And, with the snap of his fingers, I was back in my bed as the elegant smell of hot cocoa drifted over my head.

I hope Brooke entered a world as beautiful as the one she wrote about.

I wish it were a mistake and a man with a long beard could put her back in her bed.

Perhaps, in her world, that’s exactly where she is, safe in her bed with the elegant smell of hot cocoa drifting over her head.

That’s where I see her right now. Because Brooke may be invisible, but it doesn’t mean she’s gone from our hearts, minds and souls. And I’m going to believe that she feels warm, happy and safe.

 

 

 

All The Things We Didn’t Say

Today we finally hosted the gathering we’ve been dreading for the past five months. The one with Brooke’s friends from preschool, elementary, and middle school. From dance, Girl Scouts, Y-Guides, church, and all the wonderful people and families we’ve met along the way. Brooke’s Beach Cleanup was as perfect as anything marking the sudden death of a healthy sixth-grader could be. The weather was sunny and warm for an April morning. A task-force of amazing families provided refreshments, shade, signs, balloons… everything needed. So why were we dreading this? The answer is simple. Seeing all of Brooke’s friends, Brooke’s world… without Brooke…. made this real. And I still don’t want it to be real.

Everyone in purple, everyone gathered to remember this girl, my girl. It was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. We purposely planned an outdoor event, one where people – especially children – could DO something rather than sit in a church and cry. The beach was Brooke’s favorite place and gathering there made us feel close to her. Community service, cleaning the beach, and raising money for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles was also something that would make her smile. Brooke was all about making a difference in the world. And, even without her physically present, she still is. Our plan is to do some type of community service and fundraiser every year. That’s how we will keep her spirit alive.

The event is already blurry to me as things like this usually are. As my boys napped, I decided to read through the guest book and The Brooke Book — an unbelievable undertaking by her friends to gather notes from students and faculty at both her school and dance studio. The things people wrote about my daughter were amazing. Things like how she brightened their day, how she always had a smile on her face, how she was so positive all the time. One teacher talked about how she helped a special needs boy who sat next to her – even though this boy had an aide – he looked to Brooke for help and she willingly gave it to him. This boy actually wrote Brooke a letter with the help of his mother, thanking her for being so kind.

That was my Brookie. My kind, sweet girl. I saw it in her, others saw it in her. But I wonder if she really saw it in herself? I wonder if she ever knew just how much she was loved? Middle school is a jungle. Many tweens – especially girls- think that being mean or acting cool is the only way to go. But Brooke was kind and she touched their lives. The thing is, she had no idea.  She was hurt by the transition she saw happening as girls who once spoke to one another no longer would because they only spoke to the “popular” girls. She forged new friendships because she realized that friendship should be a two-way street, not a competition, not a way to make yourself look good while making someone else look bad.

That morning, before there was that sudden, unexpected burst in her brain, we talked about it. How sometimes, in the quest to be popular, friends may leave friends behind. I assured her that they would come back and that things would settle down. I didn’t speak unkindly about anyone who may have hurt her because I knew she hated it when I did that. I remember her looking at me, gratefully, for just listening and understanding.  I think she appreciated that I could acknowledge that she could feel hurt, without blaming anyone or anything.

Then I read the beautiful things that people wrote not only about her, but to her.  And I got to thinking about how the barriers come down — how it’s okay be honest — when there is no more risk. It’s “safe” to tell Brooke how special she was, because she’s no longer here. And, while I wish she would have known (although I hope she had a hunch)  I wonder about classmates of hers who also are kind and wonderful and giving. Do they know? In a way, I hope they never  do, because that means they will live a life free from the kind of tragedy that ultimately tells the truth.

Today I looked around and saw pure love. I saw moms and dads, toddlers and teens, coming together as a community to support our family as well as one another through this inconceivable tragic loss. Since we lost Brooke, I have seen the depths of grace and compassion from people I once only said, “Good Morning,” to. I’ve found friendships through this loss, but I wish I had found them without it.

So while we should never, ever have to fill out a book for an eleven-year-old girl or anyone for that matter, we should always think about what we might want to say in that book. How we might want to act to convey just how much someone means to us. Just how much we appreciate how they make us feel. Because Brooke did that every day of her life. And, while her life was tragically short, she made every moment count by making us all feel just a little bit better about ourselves. And that’s something that, if we pay it forward, will live forever.

Out Like A Lion

March was always my favorite month. Our wedding anniversary, Brooke’s birthday, my birthday, Brooke’s big Dance Company Showcase, Little League Opening Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Spring Break… Easter. So many things to celebrate. But this year, March was more like rubbing salt in our open wounds. Over. and over. And over again.

I grew up in the Northeast, and everyone always said that March came in like a lion, yet out like a lamb as the weather got warmer and better. Now that we’re in Southern California, it usually gets colder in spring right before June Gloom sets in. I have to say, I’m actually looking forward to it. A little wind, a little cold. Maybe even a little fog and a fire to fit my mood.

As the days stretch on endlessly without Brooke, it gets harder instead of easier. I can no longer ignore that voice inside my head. It’s getting louder  and louder as denial and shock are gradually becoming replaced with reality.  That voice taunts me. It haunts me. Until I have no choice but to acknowledge it.. “She’s never coming back. Ever.”

So if you see me crying after dropping off Blake at  school, or hiding behind my sunglasses at a baseball game… be gentle. The lion of March has kicked my butt. And, once we get back from Spring Break, there’s our fundraiser community service in Brooke’s honor… The Beach Cleanup.

If this were a Lifetime movie, it would be heart-rendering. But it’ s not Lifetime. It’s Life.

There is no heart-rendering musical score, there are no slow motion moments of friends and family together on a beautiful, perfectly lit beach. It’s cold, hard reality. She’s gone. And I will never know why.

So we push forward. We honor her Spirit. We do the very best we can.Because Brooke expects us to. Because Brooke deserves a strong family and the wonderful support network for which we remain eternally grateful. But it’s the hardest thing in the Whole World. So be gentle with us. Be kind. Be understanding. Because Brooke is gone. Because Brooke will be missed forever and ever. And we still just don’t understand why, and we’re still figuring out life without our beautiful girl.