The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

How my life changed in 10 months

November 19, 2014

I will never forget the fullness of the church at my father’s funeral. Or at my grandfather’s. Or even at my little brother’s.

I will never forget the stories of their lives—the stories of how they impacted so many other people’s lives.

I won’t forget my father’s co-workers telling me what an inspiration he was for them.

I won’t forget the stories of my grandfather’s childhood and how people said his memory will forever burn in their hearts.

I will never forget my brother’s friend telling me how he helped her stop using heroin. I won’t forget how she said he was there for her when no one else was, how he stood up for her and took her under his wing.

I won’t forget how people saw them each as their father, grandfather or brother too; how they considered them to be part of their families. I won’t forget the intense impact that they had on every person they met.

But most of all, my brother was an inspiration to not only me, but everyone his life touched.  His youthful spirit, caring heart and intense love for everyone he was around really impacted my life and changed me in a way that is hard to put into words.

My brother really did live every day to the fullest.


 

To live like you are dying – what a cliche. We have heard song and song again telling us that we only live once, trying to beat it into us to live life to the best of our ability.

What does that mean to live like you’re dying? Does it mean to live life to the fullest? Does it mean to do things you normally wouldn’t do?

Maybe all of those things, but maybe it really means to leave a lasting impact on those that will still be in this world when you leave it.


 

Brook and her father, Jimmy, pose together at her parents wedding.

Brook and her father, Jimmy, pose together at her parents wedding.

My father passed away instantly from a massive heart attack on Oct. 26, 2013. I remember sitting in my dorm room at 7 a.m. wondering why my mom had called me so many times. I remember the hesitation in her voice when she realized I was at my dorm alone. I remember how I regretted not mending my broken relationship with my dad.

My grandfather passed away June 28, 2014. I was in the hospital when it happened. My grandfather had suffered from health problems for years, but that did not make it any easier. I was surrounded by my family, including my little brother.

And one week to the day, almost to the hour, my brother was killed in a horrible car accident in Oldham County, Ky., on July 5, 2014. I was at work in Northern Kentucky which is about an hour and a half away from my home. I had almost a dozen missed calls from my Mom and her boyfriend. I had a text from my grandmother asking me what was going on. I had a voicemail from my Mom of her crying and asking me to call her back. I remember crying with my mom on the phone after she told me Ben didn’t make it. I think about that day a lot. I think about how unreal the whole situation seemed to me.

How could my baby brother be dead?

I wish I could say I have completely finished the grieving process of these three tragic deaths of family members. I wish I could say I was at the point where I felt like I could help others.

However, I don’t think I can say that.

But I am writing this in hopes that I can affect or help at least one person out there who knows the pain I’m feeling.

To be honest, I don’t think I will ever finish grieving the deaths of these men in my life. I think their deaths will be with me every day and every second. So will the memories I have of them.

Personally, I am under the strong belief that everything happens for a reason. And even though I don’t know those reasons, I believe all three of those men were too big for this life. They were so full of life, so full of passion and happiness. All were stubborn and did things their own way.

I feel that all three of them were too young to be taken from this world, I am grateful that they lived their lives with full hearts and had an impact on people around them.

And I am filled with peace some days because I believe with all my heart that they are together and in a better place. A place so glorious, I can hardly imagine.

There are a few other things that have helped me get through this hard time in my life.

I am immensely thankful for the following people and communities: the Oldham County community who came together to raise my Mom and I up when we could barely function. To my sorority sisters who dropped their plans to drive to my home to attend my brother’s funeral service, my brother that they had never met. To members of The Northerner who drove up to make sure I was okay. To NKU Greek Life as a whole who made sure to send me flowers to my brother’s funeral home.

Brook and her brother, Ben, go to dinner after Brook's first week of college at NKU.

Brook and her brother, Ben, go to dinner after Brook’s first week of college at NKU.


 

“Are you okay?,” “How are you feeling today?,” “What can I do to help?”

I don’t know. I am not feeling okay, but I don’t want you to pity me. I honestly can’t think of one single thing you can do to help me besides treating me like you always did.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that you have no idea what to say, I don’t know what to say either. I’m sure if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t know what to say.

But it’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like to be in your shoes. I am excited about your engagement. I will rejoice with you about your job promotion. I will give you a high five after you win your intramural game. I will still celebrate your 21st birthday with you.

Yes, I care about your boy drama. Of course I want to hear about the fight you got into with your Mom. I am the same person I have always been.

I want you to continue on with your life. You don’t need to change who you are for me. I have to continue on living, so I want you to do that, too.

The best thing you can do for me is to include me in your everyday life. To treat me like you always did.

Don’t hesitate to ask me how I am doing or how I am feeling. I may not always have an answer for you, but I still appreciate the gesture.

And no, you are not going to remind me of my loss. To be honest, I never forget. There isn’t one part of my day where I’m not thinking of my father and grandfather and my brother.

“I understand what you’re going through.”

I appreciate you more than you can imagine. But I don’t think you understand. I am sorry for any loss you have experienced, but no two experiences are the same.


 

There are a lot of things you can do to help cope with your loss. Little reminders of things that make me feel the presence of each one I’ve lost really helps me deal with the reality of my situation.

After my little brother, Ben, passed away, I got a tattoo. It has really helped me in a lot of ways because it really makes me feel like he is always with me. Although I’m almost 100 percent my Dad and Grandpa wouldn’t approve… I know Ben would. My brother always wanted a tattoo and he never got the chance to get one. In fact, over a dozen of Ben’s friends got tattoos in remembrance of him and so did my Mother.

Brook and her grandfather, Roy, dance together at his 50th birthday celebration. (top left)

Brook and her grandfather, Roy, dance together at his 50th birthday celebration. (top left)

Since I don’t live at home, when I get the chance, I always visit Ben’s grave when I go home. I think it helps me immensely because I really feel his presence there. For my grandfather, driving past his body shop reminds me of all the times I spent in that office with him while I was growing up. Looking at old pictures of my father really helps me, too.

Having an outlet helps. I have gotten back into the gym and it definitely is a place for me to forget about my life outside of the gym walls. The gym isn’t for everyone, but it’s important to find something like that that can distract you from your reality, even if only for a little while.

My friends help me every single day. They are sometimes literally the only thing that helps me get out of bed in the morning and attend classes and meetings. They will never ever understand how much their love, support and encouragement means to me.

Talking to my mother helps the most. I try to speak to my mom daily, and at least a couple times a week on the telephone. I don’t get to go home to see her a lot, but speaking to her makes me feel close not only to her, but to those we have both lost.

Mainly, I think it is important to talk to people about your losses, to talk to someone else who understands your pain and feels it just the same. I would be completely lost without my mother. I would not be able to make it through these terrible and tragic losses without her by my side.


 

I think it’s important to know that there are a lot of things you can’t do after you lose someone.

You can’t talk to them. You can’t send them a text message to ask them about their day. You can’t call them after a long day of class or work, just to say hi. You can’t visit them when you go home from school or see them on the holidays.

You can’t get mad at them. I know this might seem trivial, but I hadn’t spoken to my father in over five years when he passed away. I was angry with him for a number of reasons that now don’t matter. My brother and I fought about silly things constantly because of our extreme personality differences. I miss those stupid arguments all the time.

Everyone knows. You can’t run away from it. Some people ask me how often I think about them. To answer that, it is every day. Every minute of the day. There isn’t anything I do that doesn’t remind me of them.

You don’t always have someone to talk to. Not a lot of people understand, even though many will tell you they do. You know they would listen and try to comfort you, but they still wouldn’t get it. You would also run the risk of upsetting them.


 

But I also think it’s important to look at what you can do. There are so many things you are more enabled to do after such tremendous loss.

You realize how strong you are. People tell you they don’t know how you could possibly continue on. They tell you they don’t know how you can even get out of bed in the morning. Well… me neither. But I do. I go to class. I go to work. I go to meetings. I do everything I would have done before all of this happened.

You have a different outlook on life. This one is up to you and it can be a positive or negative thing. But personally, I think it has taught me to be kinder than necessary to everyone I come in contact with. You realize that anyone could be fighting any kind of battle at that very moment.

You get to live for that person. I have decided that I no longer want to devote my time to things that don’t make me happy or that I’m not passionate about. You get to change your whole perspective on life. There is nothing more important to me in this world than to honor my father, my grandfather and my brother.

Like I said, I will never forget the fullness of these men’s funerals. I won’t forget the fullness of their lives. I won’t forget the stories people told. I won’t forget the impact they made on others and how they made others feel.

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I don’t want people to forget how I made them feel. I want to live every day to make others happy, to live my life in a way that makes a mark on theirs. I want to live like those I have lost in this life did. To live every day I have on this earth to the fullest I possibly can and to not take any moment or experience for granted.

I know my father, grandfather and brother definitely wouldn’t.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Clifford

Brook and Ben at a young age after picking pumpkins, a family tradition they continued to do as they grew older.

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