Brooke’s Books

How do you honor a classmate and friend you lost suddenly in sixth grade? Each March, Brooke’s middle school in Palos Verdes Estates, California, was decorated with purple hearts and balloons on her birthday. Students performed random acts of kindness as they remembered their sweet friend. But as middle school drew to a close, they wanted to find a way to remember her for years to come. In 2018, Brooke’s English Language Arts teacher, Olivia Wakida, helped her friends, now 8th graders, create an event to remember Brooke on her birthday. Brooke had many passions, but she especially loved books. Soon it became quite clear that a book drive to help schools less fortunate than theirs would be something meaningful and sustainable. “Brooke’s Books!” shouted one of her closest friends. The name stuck, and they got to work immediately.

In March 2018, Palos Verdes Intermediate School students collected used and new  books for a school on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. The books came from everywhere: her elementary school and her dance studio, from people who knew Brooke and people who came to know her through the stories we continue to tell of a girl who was kind to all, who made us laugh and who made us feel loved.

In March 2019, The Randle family picked up the reins for the second annual Brooke’s Books. The recipient: Rawson STEAM Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut. Second grade teacher, Lindy Evans, is a close college friend of Brooke’s mom. Budgetary cuts have made it challenging for teachers to adequately stock classroom libraries. From North Carolina, Brooke’s mom, dad, brother and sister asked family and friends to send gift cards and monetary donations. From neighboring Glastonbury, Connecticut, Brooke’s aunt, Marlise Randle-Davis and her family asked friends and neighbors to drop off used books.

While the books are still being sorted by grade and reading level, it’s estimated that over 500 books have been collected. They will be shared during  an all-school free book fair in May where teachers can select the books they need for their own classroom libraries. After that, students will be invited to select a free book to take home. Ms. Evans also plans to use the gift cards and monetary funds to purchase new books to complete the libraries.

The Randle Family is grateful for the continued love and support for Brooke and her love of reading. Brooke was always about helping others, being kind and sharing her favorite stories. She also loved to write and draw. One day, her mom and siblings plan to create a children’s book using her stories and drawings as the basis for a wonderful tale of a girl who will continue to inspire others for years to come.

For more information about Brooke’s Books, contact her mom, Sandi Randle randle.sandicatherine@gmail.com

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To Blake On Your Twelfth Birthday

BrennRide

Dear Blake,

It’s almost midnight on the eve of your birthday and the last day of 6th grade. 12 years ago, your dad and I headed to the hospital around this time and you were born at 6 a.m. the following morning. Your birth was quick and easy… dare I say peaceful during that quiet time in the maternity ward. You were happy and adaptable to any situation and a fast learner. Before we knew it you were crawling, walking and then talking – a lot. In fact, I don’t think we remember you before the talking. Your first word was “ball” and you loved “Thomas the Tank Engine” and later, Superheroes and you still do. In fact, I know your superpower, and that is resiliency.

I believe that superpower of yours is what helped you adapt to our family moving from Ohio to California and now to North Carolina. I believe that your resiliency helps you handle a batting slump or a bad day on the pitching mound. Your resiliency helps you face challenges big and small, and of course the biggest one being the loss of Brooke.

But your superpower helps more than you. It helps others, too. I honestly don’t know how our family would have made it through the past two and a half years without your insight, instinct and humor. I remember being in awe as you went to school just a week after what I hope will be the most tragic event ever in your life, and how you returned to the baseball field and basketball court, too. I watched you learn to do tricks on your skateboard, play acoustic and electric guitars, to navigate the ever-changing social norms of fourth, fifth and now sixth grade, and to never stop talking about Brooke. You have clearly become the keeper of her memory, her spokesperson and the most constant connection to her that I feel daily. And then when Leah came into our lives, you once again adapted, embraced and accepted her with all of her baby ways. You made room in your heart for her, sandwiching yourself between your big and little sisters, pointing out that we are now are a family of 5.

So Happy 12th Birthday to our superhero and son. As you grow, our love grows bigger. We can’t wait to celebrate every year; every milestone with you.

Because Blake… you mean everything to us and Because Brooke is always with you, watching you and so proud of her superhero little brother.

 

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.

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.