May 18, 2009

Ashley's Day

One year ago today we lost Ashley.

Her mother Michele has asked that we honor her memory today by doing the things that Ashley loved best.

In Loving Memory - Ashley Brock
Thursday, May 14, 2009

As most of you are aware, I have been struggling for the past year with the death of my sweet daughter, Ashley. With the first anniversary of her death rapidly approaching on May 18th, I have been frantically searching for the most meaningful way to commemorate the occasion. Initially, the plan was to go to Maine because this is where I feel closest to her and where Ashley developed her skills and captivating personality. Unfortunately, circumstances did not cooperate. So, I was faced with the challenge of developing an alternative plan. Did I just give up and try to disappear and pretend the day didn’t exist? No, that would be disgracing her honor and everything she stood for. What could possibly be extraordinary enough to capture her essence? Initially, every suggestion seemed so trivial. So, I embarked on a journey that led me down memory lane to develop a plan to “celebrate” Ashley. Then, I realized the answer really was very simple.

Ashley taught me to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. She was passionate about so many things and truly lived each and every moment to the fullest, without any regard for others’ opinions. Therefore, the best way for me to survive May 18th was to embrace everything that Ashley was enthusiastic about and perform them with her zest for life. It would mean a lot to us, if you would do the same. For one day, put the house work, the TV and the daily distractions aside and spend time with your kids, nieces, nephews, students, neighbors and other family/community members doing the things that Ashley enjoyed. Get back to what is truly important and what’s right in our world – the children, our future.

You will have quite an extensive list of activities to choose from, as Ashley’s passions were many. She was a very active child who loved the outdoors, particularly the beach or the park. Ashley loved bike riding, basketball, bubbles, swinging, painting, reading and singing. Her favorite color was red and you often saw her wearing a fire helmet and carrying cards. She loved Baby Einstein, Mozart, tickles, dictionaries, umbrellas, dogs, balls, trains, red wagons, and balloons! Her favorite outings were to the zoo, water park, circus, aquarium and fire station. Take advantage of this day to do something that Ashley would have enjoyed and to remember all that is still good in the world.

According to Alexis, we are going to have a full agenda of going to the indoor water park and zoo, blowing bubbles, bike riding, singing “You Are My Sunshine” and releasing red balloons with our personal messages of how Ashley has improved our life. I am not sure that I am truly up for all the festivities, but I am determined to provide Alexis with stability and positive memories of her loving sister of whom she misses immensely. Please feel free to share anything special you do in Ashley’s honor. It does my heart good to know that she is remembered and valued for the truly unique individual that she was.

I would like to thank those of you who have stood by my family in this most difficult time in spite of our erratic behavior. Words cannot adequately convey the range of emotions that we have experienced – anger, despair, disbelief, depression and so forth. I know that it is often difficult to know what to say or do to support us and unfortunately, there is no perfect answer. Frankly, when it comes to grief it is often easier to indicate what NOT to do or say. Well intentioned people often feel like they need to say SOMETHING, when perhaps a hug is the best approach. Over the past year, I developed a list of “What Not To Do”. It was meant to be therapeutic, so don’t over analyze. Hopefully, it will put everyone at ease and let them know the best way to approach grieving parents.

1) Don’t avoid talking about Ashley. Sure I may get sad sometimes, but it makes me feel good that people remember her and how special she really was. I NEED to feel like she had a purpose and that my family is not the only people that miss her.
2) Don’t assume my life is easier now. This was perhaps the most shocking and infuriating thing that occurred after her death. I actually received letters inferring that I would now get some much needed rest and peace. While my life with Ashley was challenging because of her disability, I can tell you that life without her is far more empty and less meaningful. She brought laughter, purpose and unconditional love to my life.
3) Please do not indicate that she is now in a better place. While people’s intentions may be good, by doing this, they diminish everything we sacrificed to make her life the best it could possibly be. I will always be so proud of how hard she worked to learn even the simplest of tasks that both you and I take for granted. While I can only hope that heaven is as magnificent as described, I know that our home was a much better place because she was in it.
4) Don’t tell us that time heals all wounds or that things will get better in time. How can life be BETTER when I no longer have my daughter? It defies the natural order to life. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. This is a situation that cannot be fixed. We are forever altered as individuals and as a family. However, we are frantically searching for “our new normal” because life as we knew it will never be the same. I realize that this makes many individuals uncomfortable, but that is not the intent. It is simply a fact. While the “old Michele” may have disappeared, the goal is for a “new Michele” to eventually emerge with a resilience that will help Alexis realize her full potential.
5) Don’t avoid us or not invite us to activities because you assume we won’t be up for it. If you are uncomfortable or don’t know what to say or do, it is certainly understandable. You also may be correct that we either can’t or are not interested in going out; however, inviting us let’s us know that you are thinking of us and will be there for us when we emerge from our fog. Sometimes the very best support for someone who is grief stricken is simply letting them know you are thinking about them and that you care or an act of kindness. Keep it simple. More is less, so to speak.

I yearn to be able to turn back time. I have replayed the tragic day in my head more times than I can count. The what ifs are endless. I prayed to God to let it be me and not my sweet, innocent child. Obviously, that was not the plan. As I struggle to find new meaning in life, I know I do not say or show it often enough, but your support is valued and crucial to my survival. On this day, I swear to you that I WILL find a way to make Ashley’s death not be in vain and to prevent similar tragedies from occurring. If we can spare even one family from having to endure the pain we have suffered, then we may find some solace.

I beg of you to learn from all that Ashley had to teach us:
• Be tolerant and compassionate to those that are different by attempting to see the world through their eyes, for they are wise beyond their years.
• Live life with no regrets by seizing every opportunity to enjoy even the simplest of things and by following your passions.
• Focus on the present and the activity at hand instead of being consumed by the future and outside distractions.
• Love unconditionally and don’t be afraid to let others know how you feel.
• Finally and perhaps most importantly, as you are faced with challenges, remember, if there is a will, there is a way.

Rest in peace, my sweet Ashley. You have made me a better person and for that I am eternally grateful. I love you - Mommy


K Fuller said...

Beautifully written, and heartbreaking. Thank her for sharing this. We will choose singing.

Anonymous said...

I remember when this happened, and I cried when I read how Ashley was lost. That could happen to ANY of our children. My own daughter has wandered off many times... I thank God she didn't fall into a pool, or get hit by a car... she has no sense of danger. Ashley was obviously a beautiful and very loved little girl. I didn't know her, but reading her mother's words... I feel a little loss myself. May GOD bless Ashley and the family she leaves behind.

Erik Nanstiel
FAIR Autism Media

Dawn said...

But Mommy, you don't understand it quite yet....your beautiful girl is in a better place. No more tears, no more pain, just joy...and she is celebrating the day that you join her....for her it will be a fraction in time. For us, it seems like an eternity. I had a near-death experience in 2007, so I KNOW that it is real. I cannot wait to go too. I just will regret leaving my loved ones behind. Me, being the caretaker at times in the family!! Your daughter is in great hands, I hope that you know that and take great comfort in that.