Guest Columnist Jennifer Scalise: The Day My Life Went Off A Cliff — and How I Climbed Back Up

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Jennifer L. Scalise, a former Fortune 500 executive, is a single mother who lives in St. Charles, Missouri with her two children, Blake, 17, and Paige, 9. To honor her daughter Brooke after her death, Jennifer established the Brooke Scalise Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that has awarded more than 120 church camp scholarships to junior high school youth. She is the author of “A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss, and Life Beyond,” the inspirational true story of her fight for survival after the tragic death of her daughter (http://jenniferscaliseauthor.com/jenniferscaliseauthor.com/INTRO_PAGE.html). She is a member, speaker and writer for several national grief organizations; raises awareness about the dangers of traveling to third-world countries, and is a spokesperson for Concerned Families for ATV Safety.

Dear Brooke,

Up until the accident, those last days we vacationed together in Costa Rica in the summer of 2009 were perfect. All week, you were so carefree and happy, laughing and playing, determined as usual to live life to its fullest.

We saved our biggest adventure, the rainforest zip-lining/all-terrain vehicles excursion, for the end of our trip. Our long-time family friends the Bietschs, your siblings Blake and Paige, and my significant other George as well as his son Little George were all there with us enjoying the fun. We stopped for lunch and you danced in front of the camera smiling and laughing. I captured what would be the last images of you alive.

After lunch, we hopped on our ATVs and headed back. You were on the ATV in front of me, and Paige and George were on the one behind me. As we neared the bottom of a steep road you stopped for a moment as if you somehow knew what was ahead. The back guide had strangely disappeared and we trailed so far behind the guide in front that we could no longer see him. We sped along the steep road with no warning signs of danger or guard rails for protection from what lurked below.

As I rounded the sharp turn just a few seconds behind you, I saw your life-long friend Emma standing in the road screaming hysterically. The rest of the group had driven on without realizing you had missed the turn and gone careening off the 260-foot drop. I began to panic. I had no idea what to do. George pulled up behind me, immediately secured his ATV and took off to find a way down the cliff to you.

My brain struggled to process what was happening. Something inside me felt different and my heart told me you were gone. I was terrified to look over the edge of the cliff for fear of what I was going to see. As I slowly peered over, all I could see was the ocean sparkling far below. I kept screaming for help as I literally rolled around in the middle of the road in worst pain imaginable. Instinct took over and for some reason I called Daddy back home and told him, I knew I needed to let him know.

Everyone was trying to figure out how to get down to you. I saw George walking back up the road looking completely deflated. His body language said it all. He could barely look me in the eyes. I asked him if you were gone, and he nodded. I begged him to take me to you.

Once we finally made it down the cliff, the police, who had come by boat, were there, guarding the site. They refused to let me near you and they did nothing to try to help you. I sobbed and pleaded for them to let me hold my baby. After being ignored for 30 minutes, I sent George back up the cliff again to get more help and to bring the camcorder to prove that they were doing nothing and keeping me from you.

All I could think was, “What if you are still alive?” I screamed hysterically until I could only whisper hoarsely.

Then George came back with the EMS workers and they coldly told us you were gone. I rolled in the sand in misery screaming for them to let me hold you. It started to rain. Unable to make it back up the cliff now, we had no choice but to leave by boat. Leaving you there that day was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. At first I refused, throwing myself into the ocean, but the Coast Guard pulled me out and forced me to leave.

I dealt with the Embassy, trying to claim your body and see to it you were returned to the states, all of it a nightmare. It was so hard to come home without you. I was in disbelief. Surely this was happening to someone else.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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