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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The Day Everything Changed

It was just a regular Saturday morning. My biggest concern was how to be at Blake’s soccer game and pick up Brooke from dance rehearsal at the same time. We were coming out of a busy week and  didn’t have time to buy the birthday present she needed for a party later that evening. The dog had to go to the vet. Work was going to be crazy up till Thanksgiving.

And then everything changed.

The last time I saw Brooke alive she was smiling and eating strawberry yogurt at the kitchen counter. She was already dressed and ready for a long day of dance rehearsals. I told her I was going to take a shower,  then we would leave for the studio.  She said she was going to go put her hair up.

“Is Brooke okay?” my husband called out. “I heard a noise from her room.”

Brooke was not okay. I found her,  unconscious, on the floor in front of her mirror.  The chain of events that followed were like something out of the worst movie ever: CPR, 911, two hospitals, life support, and a diagnosis without any hope at all.

My perfectly healthy baby girl  had the tiniest of flaws that could never have been seen on any imaging. Something that we never would have known until it was too late. A blood vessel, very close to her brain stem, was weak. It was never strong enough to withstand her growth and, at age eleven,  she had already sprung up to a gorgeous 5 foot 2, eyes of blue, adolescent. It was just too much. That tiny blood vessel burst. Her brain stopped functioning and life, as we knew it, stopped functioning, too.  Brooke died on Sunday, November 8.  Two days later, she saved three lives by donating her organs. Surreal is the only way to describe what has happened to her and to our family.

That was just over three weeks ago and we’re still in shock. Sleep comes in fits and starts. So I write. I write in the middle of the night when my husband and sweet 9-year-old boy don’t need me. I write to make sense out of something that makes no sense. I write to share the anguish and pain and to document the journey that lies ahead of life without my daughter, my best friend, my soulmate.

There is no road map, and I know that grief is a journey that has no end. My hope is that as we find peace,  we may find a way to share what we learn with others who have to walk in our shoes – as well as those who never will – but may learn to appreciate all they have. Because in an instant, everything can change.