In a few days, it will be June 12th. Fans of red roses, peanut butter cookies, and beef jerky may be looking forward to the day as they all share June 12th as National [fill in the blank] Day. I’m betting that even the most avid jerky fan is surprised to learn of the upcoming National Jerky Day. For the rest of you, it’s probably just another day on the calendar. For a handful of us, it marks another bittersweet reminder that Brooke was here.
How do we celebrate without the guest of honor? Who makes the wish when there is no one to blow out the candles? When our loved ones are no longer here, we long to celebrate their memory and we wish that more people had been given a chance to meet them in person.
Brooke’s due date was June 26th, which happens also to be her cousin, Danielle’s, birthday. Danielle was thirteen going on fourteen at the time and was somewhat excited about the prospect of sharing a birthday. Brooke’s sister, Lauren, on the other hand was twelve going on thirteen and was not too excited that her little sister might arrive earlier than expected only to steal her June birthday from her. Well . . . little sisters seem to have a habit of doing exactly what you wish they wouldn’t and Brooke started early.
In the wee morning hours of June 12, 1999 – Brooke decided enough was enough and she was ready for the world. She awoke the entire house around 2:00 a.m. and entered the world at 4:58 a.m. – weighing in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Brooke was here.
We waited until late in the day to share the news with big sis, Lauren, only to end up calling right in the middle of her birthday party. Fortunately, as she had aged, so had her outlook, and she was thrilled to have another little sis. Brooke was here.
For those who know and love Brooke – we’ve known from day one that she was a force with which to be reckoned. Brooke was a little mix of drama queen and Tasmanian Devil from the get go. There was even a point when I consulted a book entitled The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children.Don’t worry – I covered the book old-school-style with a brown paper bag, ever mindful of her delicate psyche in the off chance that I’d picked up the wrong book. Brooke was here.
Truth be known – Brooke was a loving child. As a toddler, she would often sneak in my bed in the middle of the night. I would use my own exhaustion as an excuse for not sending her back to her room but I missed those days when she was no longer a cherubic toddler. As she grew older, that love poured out in the form of a fierce and loyal love for her family and those whom she chose to make family.
Lauren wasn’t the only family member to become a big sis that day in June. Megan, only sixteen months old, seemed keen to have a new family member – that is until she figured out that it meant Brooke was here – to stay. Not long after Brooke came home, it looked like a rash had broken out on her arm. Closer inspection revealed a “rash” that looked suspiciously like bite marks. For a little while, it was hard to tell that they liked each other, much less that they loved each other. I imagine that the casual observer watching my own relationship with Brooke might have wondered from time-to-time if we liked each other. The only thing that I can figure is when you love big, sometimes you fight big.
And, that big love really started to blossom as the girls grew older. After Megan left for her freshman year of college, I learned that Brooke and Meg spoke almost every day. Then Brooke nonchalantly let it be known to me that they ended each conversation with “I love you.” Not wanting to overreact and quash the growing relationship, I maintained a cool pretense. On the inside, my heart skipped a beat. To see your children love one another is a gift beyond words.
Brooke’s big love didn’t stop with her sisters. It poured out onto her large blended and extended and adopted family. She couldn’t have been closer to Lauryn Lee – her “never will be stepsister” and one of my “supplemental daughters.” The three of us hit the road more than once chasing some boy band – usually One Direction. One summer, Brooke issued a “Mom of the Year” award and wrote me a note letting me know just how much those trips meant to her. I cherish those trips and I cherish that note.
In recent years, Brandy, Shelby, and Mallory became a part of Brooke’s world. Though those relationships were just beginning, Brooke wasted no time making them meaningful. Of course, the relationship with the supplemental sisters took a back seat when Olive – a new niece- came on the scene.
Everyone knows that all of these “grown up” relationships were a distant second to her number one loves – her nieces, nephews, and cousins. Known as “Auntie Bu Bu” and looking forwarding to adding “godmother” to her resume, Brooke LOVED the babies in the family. (Frankly, she LOVED all babies.) It’s no secret how much Brooke fawned over them all – especially Lauren’s daughter, Eloise, who made her first birthday the day after the accident.
Brooke had big plans for a large family of her own provided she could convince her future husband. And frankly, she would have needed to convince the Man upstairs as well, because her plans included a convoluted combination of boys/girls, single births and twins. I have no doubt that she would have. Brooke had a knack for convincing. When Brooke hatched a plan – precious little would stand in her way. She didn’t just have Plan B tucked away in her back pocket – she had Plan Z and beyond. Brooke was here.
Before the accident, Brooke and I had planned to celebrate her 18thbirthday in NYC – her favorite city. Rather than cancel the trip, my husband encouraged me to take the trip with our other girls. Even though it felt odd, I’m so glad that we took that trip. We planned the itinerary just the way Brooke would have including a full tour of NYC – Gossip Girl-style. One night at dinner, Megan pointed to a graffitied wall next to our table. When I turned to look, it read “Brooke was here.” Yes, she was. And yes, she is.
They say that years are not the measure of a life well-lived. I say they are right. Brooke didn’t have much time on this earth by our measure. Maybe at some level, Brooke knew. Not consciously. But somewhere deep in her soul. At a molecular level. Was this silent secret her impetus to live life more fully and more passionately than most? Whatever motived her, Brooke wasted no time with life living it to the fullest! Brooke was here.
Brooke found her passion(s) early and pursued them with all of her heart. Though she had many hobbies (swimming, skiing, shopping, road trips, and animals), horseback riding was her love. If you are under the impression that that grace and composure come naturally when jumping a 1,200-pound animal over a four-foot fence, think again. Brooke had immense natural talent for horseback riding, but she spent thousands of hours over the years training. I can still see her walking in the door after a long weekend of horse showing – sweaty, exhausted, and filled with joy. Brooke was here.
It’s supposed to be my job as a parent to model life for my children. Yet, I find myself examining the short, beautiful life of my daughter as a model. What does that look like? Find your passion. Pursue it with your whole heart. If something is worth doing – roll up your sleeves and be prepared to work hard.
Last, but certainly not least, LOVE BIG!
Brooke Was Here . . .