Today is a day full of grief in our home, in our small town and in our biomed community. Ashley Brock, one of our own and one of Chandler’s classmates, passed away last night.
It is the story we read practically every month. An autistic child gets away from their family, drawn to the water that they love so much, and drowns.
Barry and Michele Brock invited over three friends to cook out on the back porch yesterday. The adults grilled while Ashley, her typical twin sister Alexis and two other children played in the grass.
And then came that moment that we have all experienced too many times.
Everyone scattered around the house calling her name, and immediately they looked over the fence at the neighbor’s back yard. Because the neighbors had filled up their pool the day before and Ashley had seen their children swimming.
And Ashley loved the water.
But when they looked, they didn’t see her and fanned out into the woods behind the house and into the street. A few more neighbors came out of their houses when they heard her name being called to help look for her.
That is when another neighbor checked the pool again... from another angle. He saw Ashley was at the bottom and dove in to pull her out.
Her mother performed CPR on her and a doctor who lived in the neighborhood was quickly called, the paramedics worked on her and the hospital staff continued to work on her for almost an hour and a half.
And they thought they were getting her back… but they didn’t.
Michele and Barry are devastated, and we are heart broken.
It is very hard for me to really believe that Ashley is gone. She was a child full of life and energy. She was always doing. Riding her bike or scooter or swinging. And not just any swing. Last week when the family was going to see their friends across the street, Ashley dug through the garage and brought her own swing over to use at their house.
She was a strong spirit. What she wanted, she wanted, and if you wanted to keep something from her, she made you work to keep it from her. Once Michele had begun teacher her ‘first_____, then _____’, Ashley turned it around on her and began to use it as a negotiating tactic.
“Ashley, time for supper.”
“Mommy, first supper, then cookie, then bike, ok”.
And if she thought you were mad at her, she would ask you for tickles. The girl was smart.
She knew all three names of every major composer. Her favorite was “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” and would sometimes play his music at 3 AM for everyone in the house to enjoy.
She loved books (wouldn't get on the school bus without one), and dogs, and did great animal impressions and carried her flashcards everywhere. And she loved bubbles and she loved to paint and she loved red and she loved stacking things.
And she was great at basketball. They bought her a full sized basketball hoop and she owned it.
And Ashley was loved.
Her parents changed their whole world around for her, giving up jobs and friends and family to come to a place that would be good for her. Barry was a loving, care giver dad and Michele was an autism mom like few others. Her advocacy for autistic child puts mine to shame, challenging school system bureaucrats head on when they weren’t working in interests of her child, but in the interests of their bottom line; searching out the doctors that could heal her child; and letting nothing get in her way.
And what she did for Ashley’s health… let’s just say I could only follow about two thirds of what Michele was saying when she talked about her daughter’s complicated medical picture. Again… her knowledge showed me how much more I had to learn.
And the Brock’s home security is much better than our own. Ashley was an escape artist who climbed out her second story window on the first day they moved into their house. So her windows didn’t open after that.
Which is why Ashley’s death doesn’t just grieve me, it scares me. The Brocks were so much more on top of things that Scott and I are, so if they can loose Ashley in just five minutes when she was only 50 feet away from them…. well…
Last fall I was sitting at my desk paying bills and Scott was upstairs in his office working when the police came to our door with Chandler who had been found three blocks away by a Verizon employee driving by. While we thought he was in the playroom, he left the house apparently to look for his brother who was at school. We never even knew he was gone.
Chandler knows his name and his phone number and his address, but all the police could get out of him was “Webster”. So we have upped our security, and bought a bracelet and even have a tracking system now.
But Ashley was only 50 feet away from them and they didn’t know she was in trouble.
There is not a family among us that doesn’t know in their bones that this could have been any of us. And still could.
This morning Michele all but begged me to get swimming lessons for Chandler. They had just signed Ashley up for them. Again… to my shame… I have not made this a priority, but I will correct that. She is urging us all to make it a priority for our children.
A small correction to what has been in the local coverage. It was reported that the police are investigating Ashley’s death. That does not seem to be accurate.
Last night the police were very respectful and kind to the Brocks and when they left the home they said that they had everything they needed, so even if there is still any formal inquiry going on, or paper work ‘open’, it is probably a formality.
The Brocks are getting good support from their friends and family, and from the community, and many people are asking what they can do to help. But they don’t really know yet. They are still reeling right now.
Michele did say that if any one would like to do something that she would like it if they would make a donation to the National Autism Association’s Helping Hands program that pays for biomedical treatment for struggling families, or to 4 Paws for Ability, who trains autism service dogs for our kids and never turns down a request from an autism family.
For those of you who were on the lists with Michele, she has signed off of all of them. I am sure you could imagine how painful it would be to see those emails coming in. If you want to leave messages for her and Barry here, please feel free.
UPDATE: The Ashley Brock Memorial Fund
A fund has been established to assist the Brock family during this difficult time.
Donations can be made to any Bank of America branch across the country in the name of Ashley Brock Memorial or mailed to
5 Balsam Ave
Brunswick, Maine 04011
or via pay pal:
UPDATE: There is a video tribute to Ashley on the Bracket Funeral Home web site.
Ashley's Obituary with information on funeral services and memorial fund:
Brackett Funeral Home
29 Federal Street
Brunswick, Maine 04011
Brunswick, ME—Ashley Elaine Brock, age 6, died Sunday, May 18, 2008 as a result of a drowning accident.
Ashley, a daughter of Barry Edward and Michele Sporkman Brock, was born in Lexington, KY on February 7, 2002. She was in Kindergarten at Jordan Acres School in Brunswick, ME.
Ashley was a free spirit in every sense of the word and had an umlimited supply of energy. She enjoyed playing outdoors, the beach, swinging, jump roping, riding her bike or scooter, and shooting basketball on her regulation hoop. She loved bubbles, books, balloons, music, umbrellas, red wagons and painting. She regularly woke her parents in the night with the sounds of reading her dictionary or playing her Mozart cd. Ashley was never without her wildlife flash cards or a favorite book and loved all animals, especially dogs. She was a precious gift from God and the world is a better place because she was in it.
Ashley is survived by her parents, Barry and Michele Brock of Brunswick; her twin sister, Alexis Brock of Brunswick; her grandparents, Glenn and Mabel Brock of Berea, KY, Donald and Elaine Sporkman of West Point, IA; two uncles, Robert Brock and his wife Patricia of Berea, KY, Mike Sporkman and his wife Brenda of West Point, IA; an aunt, Sandra Hammonds of Berea, KY; and several cousins.
Friends and family may visit from 5:30-8 PM on Friday, May 23, 2008 at the Brackett Funeral Home, 29 Federal Street, Brunswick. A Mass of the Angels will be held 10 AM Saturday at St. Charles Borromeo Church, McKeen Street, Brunswick. Memorial contributions can be made to the National Autism Association, Helping Hands Program, 1330 W. Schatz Lane, Nixa, MO 65714, 4 Paws For Ability, Inc. 253 Dayton Ave. Xenia, Ohio 45385, or the Ashley Brock Memorial Fund at the Bank of America.
UPDATE: Yesterday was Ashley's funeral and the outpouring of love for her was beautiful. I want to share three very moving tributes that were given during the service. A letter from her mother:
While we gather here today to mourn the loss of one of our special daughters, Ashley Brock, I would like us to focus on celebrating the truly unique and special individual she was. She would be asking for big hugs or tickles right now if she thought we were upset or crying.
As I struggled to find meaning in this tragedy, it occurred to me that while her time on earth was brief, I believe that she had a purpose. I have been overwhelmed by the support and generosity from the community, our family, friends, neighbors and even total strangers. I have also found comfort in the numerous individuals who have indicated that Ashley may have prevented a tragedy in their home by encouraging them to either enroll their child in swimming lessons or increase security. I believe Ashley would find solace if another family could be spared the pain that we are going through.
Ashley also taught me to be more patient, compassionate, and empathetic and to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. My dear friends, if I have learned one thing in my journey with Ashley it is this – take nothing for granted. Appreciate what you have instead of focusing on what you think you want. Look at what you have right in front of you and cherish it – every smile, every hug and yes, even every trying moment. Practice patience when you think you have none left for harsh words can never be unspoken. Celebrate today versus yearning for tomorrow. Live life with no regrets and seize every opportunity to find all that is good in the world.
Ashley was truly a gift from God. While I feel so honored to have had Ashley in my life for six wonderful, yet challenging, years, I know that I am equally blessed to have her beautiful twin sister, Alexis. Alexis, while at times I may be sad because I miss Ashley, I promise to thank God each and every day because we have you. You too are a gift from God and I am so lucky to be your mommy. Mommy & daddy love you very much.
A poem written by her neighbor:
Fly, Spirit, Fly
To a place where every day is warm and sunny, and every beach is Popham.
Fly, Spirit, Fly
To a place where bouncing balls stretch out as far as the eye can see, and there’s a dog to chase every one.
Fly, Spirit, Fly
To a place where bubbles fill the air, monkey bars replace sidewalks, and there’s a bounce house on every corner.
Fly, Spirit, Fly
To a place where bike rides last forever, and you can run and never tire.
Fly, Spirit, Fly
To a place where words and hugs and kisses come easily.
And back here, when it’s time, and the time will come, although the journey will be difficult,
When it’s time to begin replacing sorrow with peace,
Aching with comfort,
And emptiness with fond memories,
We will understand that the flight is notawayfrom us,
But instead is over us and around us,
Embracing us and whispering in our ears
“Thank you for everything.
All these things that bring me joy I know because of you.
This place is just like home.”
- Dave Aust
The eulogy given by her speech therapist Cathy Burgess:
I am Miss Cathy, one of Ashley’s many speech therapists. When Michelle and Barry asked me to speak today, I knew immediately, that if there was ever a moment in time when I wanted to be present, it would be here, right now, in this moment. I am not exactly sure why, except to say that in all my years as a speech therapist, if there was ever a moment in time to give a voice to one of my precious children it is now.
For more than two and a half years Ashley would grace my doorstep promptly at 4:00 on Wednesday afternoon. She was a charmer. With those magnificent dark brown eyes, engaging cheshire grin, and an incredibly inquisitive mind, she stole my heart immediately and melted it into a million little pieces.
Teaching her to talk and communicate effectively was my charge, and as a seasoned therapist I was confident that I could meet that challenge. So with my agenda and materials in hand we would set off for the therapy room where I would begin my lesson. With a secure and authoritative voice I would tell her what the plans were for the day. Well, I think that if there was ever anything that could make Ashley laugh, it would be when you told her YOUR plans. She would look at me as if to say, “girl, its time for you to eat some humble pie.”
I learned quickly that I was not there to teach her, but rather she was there to teach me. And while she could not always say it in words, her message was clear…She didn’t just ask, she demanded, that I Listen, Watch and Learn.
Her first request was always the same. “I want pink and white ball please.” Mind you, it was not the blue and yellow one, or the red and yellow one, but the pink and white one…and God help me if I couldn’t find it. She would place it in a simple maze and watch with delight as it traversed down its winding path. Doing something once however, was never enough. While I might have interpreted this simple game as repetitive and monotonous, she found it fascinating and delightful. So I watched and I learned, and found myself becoming a master at how to find a zillion ways to teach a multitude of a skills with just one simple pink and white ball.
Next, came one of her passions. And there were many. She loved music and singing. Whether it was chanting songs that she had learned at school or playing her little piano, music was part of her captivating spirit. She made it clear though, that there were no rules about singing or playing music. As a matter of fact, it was obvious to her that one should sing absolutely everything and anything any time of the day or night. And as Michelle and Barry will attest to, the more Mozart you put in your life between the hours of 3 and 5 am, the more delightful your day will be, that is if you remember to play the same song 87 times at full volume. Who needs sleep? Mom always said that sleep was over rated anyway.
Colors intrigued her and when she learned what painting was all about, she would set out to create masterpieces. And, as any great artist knows, there are a multitude of canvases from which to choose from that can display your inner most creativity. There are one’s hands, one’s shirt, one’s pant’s, ones’ belly……
Her fascination for letters, words and the alphabet opened up the world of reading to her by the time she was three. Words helped her to say and practice all the wondrous things she saw in her world. Her language blossomed. Each week, brought new and exciting ways for me to understand and reach her. Looking back I recognize how tolerant she was of my stupidity. It was really as simple as knowing your ABCs.
A is for Ashley, athletics and activity.
B is for Bubbles, Books, Baby Einstein, Bikes, and Basketball.
C is for cards, cards, and more cards.
Yes, cards. She loved them. She had cards for every category of life. She carried them everywhere and recited them faithfully. There were cards for animals, toys, foods, and clothing. We had cards for letters, numbers, shapes, verbs and adjectives. Well, I thought, at least I got the cards right. But she told me this week loud and clear that there was one category of cards I failed to give her. I didn’t think to make Ashley her “I love you” cards. So I will do it now.
The first card would say on the front,
“I love you Mom and Dad”
And on the back,
Thank you for your abundant love, commitment, patience and dedication to ensuring that my days with you were the best that any child could wish for. I am so very lucky to have two parents who demonstrated their incredible courage, strength, persistence and unconditional love every day.
“I love you Lexi”
Thank you for being the beautiful, kind and loving sister that you are. Thank you for your hugs, your guidance and for being my teacher and my friend.
“I love You Grandma and Grandpa, nanny and papaw, and all my wonderful aunts and uncles and cousins.”
Thank you for accepting me for who I am and embracing my challenges with love and support. Thank you for being there for me and for helping mom and dad through many challenging times.
“I love you special neighbors and friends”
Thank you for playing with me, accepting me into your lives, and for providing comfort, protection, support, laughter and friendship to our whole family.
“I Love you all, my wonderful teachers”
Thank you for filling my days at Merrymeeting, The Bath Y, Jordan Acres and Longfellow with fun, excitement and learning. Your dedication and commitment to me was incomparable. Thank you for cherishing me, recognizing my gifts, and believing in my potential.
Knowing Ashley, I am sure, that she would add more cards to the stack every week. I am also sure that as I continue to work with children in the years to come, they will all have I Love You cards.
Yes, Ashley had many glorious gifts, but like most children she had her challenges too. Did I mention that she also had Autism? While I refuse to define any child by the parameters of a disability, I am haunted by the fact that like Ashley, too many children in our community, state, nation and world are afflicted with a disorder that in my mind is as senseless and tragic as Ashley’s passing. Autism is a disorder that now affects 1 in every 150 children and there is no cure. For those of you here, who are in the trenches along with me in fighting this insidious disorder we must ensure that Ashley’s voice not be silenced. I implore you to allow this incredible child’s journey to speak through your heart and your voice. Be persistent. We must be vigilant in our efforts to increase autism awareness, educate our communities, and advocate for services so that we can ensure the safety and future of all these children. If we are able to use this tragedy to save just one life, then Ashley’s death will have not been in vain. We can make a difference. We do make a difference, and if there is ever moment when you doubt this for even a second, just repeat it 87 times until the doubt fades away.
I will miss you dear Ashley. While my Wednesdays will no longer be the same, I know for certain that your voice, your gifts, your lessons and your challenges will forever be a part of my life. I know I have many more lessons to learn. But yours are really simple to learn if we just remember what is truly important in our lives.
1. Celebrate the love, the joy and the magic in even the simplest of things.
2. Find your passions and embrace them with each new dawn.
3. Sing with sheer abandonment even if it is a Christmas Carol on a warm spring day and wear your fire hat if you feel like it.
4. Use your voice. Say “no” when you need to, even if it’s not what others want to hear.
5. Remember to Practice saying your “I Love You cards” everyday, even if someone else forgets to say theirs to you.
6. And never, ever forget, that as we journey through this life, no matter what the challenge, remember always
“Where there is a will…
there is a way.”
Rest in Peace, My Sweet Ashley.