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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Is But A Dream?

I’ve been dreaming a lot about Brooke lately. But I’m not the only one. When others tell me of their “Brooke Dreams” they provide tremendous comfort, because she’s always happy, always smiling. Always pretty much saying the same thing… “I’m okay.”

So it makes me wonder… what are dreams, really? If you asked me that four months ago, I’d tell you what anyone would. Anyone, that is, who hasn’t lost someone precious. But now that I’ve  lost a piece of my heart and soul, I’m not so sure about anything anymore.

If we spend over 30 percent of our lives sleeping, who’s to say when we’re actually awake?

Maybe we’re more awake when we’re in a dreamlike state. Perhaps when our mind shuts down at night, it’s really switching on what our rational daytime brain shuts out.

I’ve had what are called Vivid Dreams, where I can see, feel and smell her. I’ve also had dreams that give me some type of knowledge or peace in the fact that there is another place,  far beyond our brains’ capacity to understand. I believe that sometimes, just for a moment, we can comprehend that place… but only when our minds are open. Only when everything is shut down for the night. Only when we are dreaming.

So maybe life really is but a dream. I don’t know. All I know is that I want to keep dreaming. Because Brooke will find a way to reach out to me, as she has to many of you.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close Enough

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Silver Spur Elementary is just on the other side of the canyon. Working from home, I’m close enough to hear the bells that signal recess or lunch. When Brooke and Blake were both there,  I took tremendous comfort in the fact that I knew exactly where they were, and that I had a general idea of what they were doing.

When Brooke started middle school, I had to get used to the fact that she was several miles away. And now that she’s a literally a world away, I have to get used to that, too. I hate that I don’t know where she is. I wish there could be a bell, a signal..anything to let me know… something.

Blake is now a fourth-grader at Silver Spur so I’m often on campus during the school day. Walking to his classroom,  I pause at the mural she painted with her Girl Scout Troop last year. There’s her signature… Brooke. Two little girls skip happily past me, holding hands. Across the blacktop, some older girls are sitting in a circle, whispering about the boys playing handball. This is a world, I realize. And for more than half of Brooke’s life, this was her world.

It dawned on me that, while Brooke was here, she was off experiencing her own life. While she shared parts of her day with me, there were probably many parts she didn’t share. So while I took comfort in her being physically close – just across the canyon – she was also a world away as she made the transformation from a shy little kindergarten girl to a confident fifth grade tween.

And all the while, she was just on the other side of the canyon. Close enough for me to feel secure, yet farther away than I realized. So what about now? Sometimes I think she’s closer than I realize. Because Brooke is always on my mind, and maybe that’s the bell or signal I’m longing to hear.

 

 

 

 

How Much Longer?

1399674_10153355654144619_1025590539219127888_oEvery August, our family would make the 12-hour journey to Park City, Utah. And every hour or so, Brooke would ask the same question… “How Much Longer?”

Along the way, we’d play games, sing songs, and watch movies to pass the time, but the drive always seemed to take longer than Brooke, or any of us for that matter, wanted it to take.

This year, our family is on a journey without Brooke, and this journey really has no end. But it seems like everyone (including us) is wondering… How Much Longer?

How much longer until the unbearable pain wears off? How much longer until we can make it through a day without crying? How much longer until we can focus on a simple task without forgetting something important? How much longer until we feel somewhat like ourselves again? The answer is simply this: We have no idea.

So we play games, we sing songs, and watch movies to pass the time. We hug each other – a lot. We find moments each day where we get some relief from the pain … dinner with friends, watching Blake play sports, a walk near the water, jumping high in the trampoline, Dudley’s antics… a freshly baked cookie.

But the truth is, our journey has just begun. Losing Brooke was so sudden, so unexpected… we haven’t even pulled out of the driveway yet.

We have no idea where we’re going, and we have a long, tough road ahead. But there’s one thing we do know. We won’t ask “How Much Longer?” Because Brooke isn’t here to ask. She knows it’s forever – and she’s along for the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quintessence

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.

 

 

 

Our Unconventional Grief

When death occurs, a chain of events usually follows: memorial services, meal trains, charitable contributions. These events allow us to “do something” to honor the one we loved and support the ones who must go on without them. But most of the time, death is expected… as the result of illness, injury or old age. Brooke’s death was anything but. It was sudden. It was unanticipated. It was unconventional. And so is our grief.

Throughout the past nine weeks, I’ve often pondered how we’ve handled this tremendous and unforeseen loss so far. We were literally blindsided and in shock for the first week. Immediate family was in town so we had a small, yet beautifully intimate service at our beloved church. We sat in a circle, told stories, held hands and prayed.

After everyone went home, we went about the task of getting back into our routine. Brenn to work, Blake to school and sports. Then, before we could even catch our breath, came Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. We are exhausted both physically and emotionally.

My focus remains on nurturing my boys (and myself)  as we navigate our way through profound grief and come to terms with this new reality. I call it the three C’s: Cooking, Cuddling and Cocooning.

I’m cooking favorite meals because it gives me great joy to nourish my family… hence no meal train for us. The cuddling and cocooning keep us focused on each others’ immediate needs…hence we are currently unable to plan a large memorial service or life celebration. We also lack the focus  needed to decide on charitable contributions or a scholarship fund in Brooke’s honor.

The bottom line is that there’s not much for anyone to “do” at this moment – other than continue to love us, spend time with us, and let us know you care. We are so appreciative of the outpouring  of support. It gives us the strength we so desperately need.

Our grief may be unconventional,  but so is our loss. Sometimes I feel like we’re letting everyone down, but most of the time I think we’re doing it exactly right and people will be patient.  People will understand.

Because Brooke always took her time. And, when the time is right, we will celebrate her life… her legacy… and it will be as beautiful as she is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Do You Talk To An Angel?

Ask anyone who has lost a loved one and they’ll tell you about signs: butterflies, pennies, feathers, songs on the radio.. the list goes on. I truly believe that love and energy continue and our connection remains forever with those we so dearly  love.

Last week in Tahoe, I quickly snapped this photo from our hotel window with my iPhone. I see an angel kneeling and praying in this wispy cloud – the only one in the sky. But Blake sees ballet shoes. It’s kind of like the cloud game we used to play on long car rides. We all see something different, yet meaningful to us.

Whenever I’m driving and missing Brooke the most, I always see two birds flying overhead. I watch them playfully follow one another and remember how Brooke and I would swing hands as we walked together through a parking lot. I always told her that while I no longer needed to hold her hand… I wanted to.

Signs. They connect us back to the memories, the moments. Are they sent from those we love? I have no idea. All I know is that they open up my heart and keep me connected to my precious Brooke. They bring a smile to my face and comfort my aching soul.

I like to think of them as angel emogies. Which are absolutely perfect coming from my tween whose texts were usually more pictures than words, anyway. On Earth she sent me purple hearts and cookies. From Heaven she sends me clouds and birds. I wonder what’s next from her?

I remain open to signs and feelings along with amazingly vivid dreams. That’s how you talk to an angel. Because Brooke will always talk to me, and I will always be watching, listening, and connected to my amazingly creative girl.

 

The New Year

We are spending the week in Lake Tahoe with dear friends. Together we will greet the New Year and 2016 will be the first of many without our precious girl.

It feels strange to be here without her. It feels strange to be anywhere without her. But this place, this beautiful, snowy place… is somewhere she never was… so we don’t see her in our memories here. Instead we see her in the snowflakes and the soft glow of the sky at night. We feel her in the calm beauty of winter. She is with us. I am sure of it.

Blake is learning to ski and loving it. He is so happy to be in the snow… in this new place… so I’m trying to not be a nervous wreck as he takes on new challenges. I’ve learned that we have absolutely no control over what happens to any of us. The only control we have in this life is to make sure the ones we love know that we do… every moment of every day.

I will always think of 2015 as the worst year of my life – the worst year of our family’s life. But most of it – up until November 8 – was one of our best years. One day I’ll write about the great times we had as a family, about how Brooke and I became closer than ever as she seemed to grow and mature at light speed before my very eyes. I’ll write about how I saw glimpses of the woman she was destined to become… about how much wisdom she had for someone so very young. For now it hurts too much to put into words.

Our little family will take on a New Year, new experiences and new adventures.  But Brooke will be in our hearts and minds the entire time. Because Brooke is always with us, no matter where we go, no matter what we do… forever.

 

It Takes A Village

If it takes a village to raise a child… then it takes a village to lose one, too.

Our village is made up of many little villages near and far – from school, dance, Girl Scouts and church – to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – to friends who span miles, continents and years.

Our villagers are confused, hurt, angry, sad and frightened. How can this be? How can someone so young, so vibrant, so healthy be gone without warning? There are no answers, but as we struggle together to understand something we never will, we are beginning to understand that life is unpredictable, life is brief and, most importantly, life is precious.

So while I know I said this is not about you… maybe it is.  Maybe it’s about everyone in our village, from the very young to the very old, shattered by the loss of a child. Our child.

As a village, let’s love one another, appreciate one another, and hold on tight to what matters. People matter. Life matters. Love matters.

And remembering matters. Because Brooke will always be a member of our village. She is part of our lives – forever.

 

It’s Not About You

There are four people in the photo above. A happy, healthy family. Now there are only three left here on Planet Earth, and we are the only ones this is about. This family tragedy is ours and ours alone. It’s not about you.

It’s not about you posting things on social media “honoring” Brooke.  While your intentions may be pure, they make me feel like you’re using our pain to make yourself look like a better person to your “friends”.

It’s not about you talking about us behind our backs or asking others how we’re doing when all you have to do is come to my blog or, better yet, call me, message me, reach out to me… not the Internet…not the Starbucks line in town or wherever you gather to talk about “that family”.

It’s not about you telling others to give us space or privacy. I’m the only one who gets to say that and, by the way, I want neither. What I do want is for people to reach out to me directly. See above for suggestions on how to do that.

It’s not about you trying to come to terms with your own fears that this could have been your child. It’s not about you telling me that you can’t imagine… that I am so brave. No, you can’t imagine and, chances are, you’ll never have to experience this. And no, I’m not brave but I’m a survivor of the most painful grief there is. And I will survive. Because the other two in this photo still on Planet Earth need me. And Brooke needs me to take care of them, too.

It’s about us.

We are the unwilling stars of this tragedy that seems more like a reality series because we constantly feel like we’re being watched… because we are. We understand that you care. We understand that you don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to do, either. But here are some suggestions.

Be mindful of our pain.  We are literally trudging through the days, but we must do “normal” things like school, shopping, sports, etc. We are weighted down by a heavy cloak called grief. While this cloak may become lighter in the months and years ahead, we will never shed this cloak. It is something we will wear forever. Remember that we will need support long after you think we will. We will never get over this. We will never forget.

Be kind to us. Be kind to everyone – especially your children. Grief provides the ability to see things with a laser focus. I have zero tolerance for overachieving soccer moms, gossip, and those who complain about what a burden their children are. In Brooke’s honor, I will tell you kindly when I think you are out of line but I will tell you, I promise you that.

Be brave. Don’t be afraid of us. Don’t be afraid of what happened. Death is a part of life. It’s okay to expose your children to it, and to talk about Brooke because she was a part of our lives and talking about her keeps her alive in our hearts and minds. I don’t know why she died. But I do know why she lived. I am her mother from now until eternity. And whatever role you played in her life is forever, too.

Be patient. I have at least one thousand emotions every hour. I may yell at you, I may tell you I want to do something and then change my mind. I may not return your calls, texts, or emails but I want them. I need them. I need to know that you care. That you haven’t forgotten just because some time has passed. I need you to invite me to things you normally would and keep inviting me to other things in the future. I may not go, but then again, I may. I just need to know that while nothing is the same, some things still are.

Finally, treat us the way you always have but maybe with a more gentle heart. In fact, treat everyone that way.

So if you still feel the need to make this all about you, then try this:  Be mindful, be brave, be patient, be kind. Be like Brooke.