To Blake On Your 13th Birthday

 

We have several birthday traditions in our family. There’s the birthday balloon in your room when you wake up (note: thankfully I have a teen so I can run to Harris Teeter tomorrow morning). And, since I started writing this blog, each child gets a birthday letter.

Dear Blake,

That 18-month old in the photo may look different than you do now at a strapping 5 foot 4 inches… but you’re still the same in so many ways. I remember this day so well. We were at the park and I was pushing you in the swing. I said to you, as parents often say to toddlers without really expecting an answer, “What are you thinking about in that swing?” And you replied, without hesitation, “Crackers.”

You were always the talker. It made your toddler and preschool years easier because you could always let us know what you were thinking. The talking also made you incredibly persistent, because you assumed once you told me what you wanted, you should have exactly that. As you grew older, your talking turned into some pretty funny one liners They were usually at bedtime and always with this intro:  “Mommy, I want to tell you something.”

So here is a compilation of your observances during your first year of preschool, a decade ago, when you were 3.

“When I was a baby, God rang your doorbell and said, ‘Here is your baby.’ And you said, ‘Thanks God. I think I’ll name him Blake Randle.’ ”

“Mommy, I’m going to marry you whenever Daddy is on a business trip so you won’t be lonely.”

“I don’t know why Santa goes down the chimney. I’m m never going down any chimney, not even when I’m a grown up.”

“I had a good day at school today. I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“I was going to marry Aubrianne today, but Lydia brought in cupcakes so I’m going to marry her instead.”

“They keep telling us at school to make Christmas decorations and I tell my teacher, ‘We have enough at home, we don’t need anymore.’ But she keeps telling me to make them anyway and I don’t know why.”

And my very favorite, “I’m going to kiss you on your heart, so I will always be there.”

Blake, I want to tell you something. You are always in my heart. You share that space with your sisters and your dad, and I remain so grateful that you are still the talker. I love hearing about your day, your adventures, your hopes, dreams and even disappointments. Our conversations are everything to me. As you enter your teen years, I know you may not share everything, but I do hope you keep sharing and I promise keep listening. I love you more each year, if that’s even possible.

Always remember how much you are loved. By Daddy, Leah, me and Brooke.

Because Brooke is so very proud of her brother and her best friend. I’m certain of that. Now please sleep in as late as possible tomorrow so I can run out and get that birthday balloon.

Love, Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So

Brooke’s Books by Lindy Evans, 2nd Grade Teacher Rawson STEAM School Hartford, CT

I was given the great gift and privilege of being the recipient of the donations for a book drive in memory of my dear friend Sandi’s daughter, Brooke. Monetary donations from all over the country allowed me to purchase nearly $1000 worth of new books for my classroom. In addition, Sandi’s sister-in-law, Marlise, organized a used book drop-off at her house, which resulted in boxes and boxes of books for my school.

Buying books, especially children’s books, is possibly the only type of shopping I enjoy. Buying books with these donations was joy tinged with sadness because of why the book drive exists. I never got to meet Brooke, but I had long chats with Sandi about her dancing, and her homework, and especially about her love of reading. I had the pleasure of recommending books both for Brooke and her brother, Blake. I have since had the joy of becoming friends with Blake — a super fun guy who plays Exploding Kittens with me and Bowie on his guitar — and his baby sister Leah, who is a spitfire and a total dish and she knows it. I’ve got some books in mind for her, too.

Because Brooke was kind, and because Brooke loved to read, her friends came up with the idea of a book drive. Last year the books went to a school on a Navaho reservation, this year they came to me. I plan to work with Sandi to continue Brooke’s legacy of kindness and generosity, so you’ll be hearing more about Brooke’s Books in the future, but for now, I’d like to share a very small glimpse of what Brooke’s Books looked like this year.

Many, many thanks to all who donated. Special thanks to friends who donated because though they didn’t know Sandi and her family they were moved by their story.

And to those of you who have never read the Interrupting Chicken books, I am very sorry for you. My class thinks they are hilarious.kids

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

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.