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 (www.JenniferScaliseAuthor.com). 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.
It’s hard for me to believe you’ll be turning 18 in just a few months. I see it as the end of your childhood years, but I know you must feel your childhood ended that tragic day in Costa Rica in 2009. It’s hard to believe, too, that what seemed the perfect family vacation could turn out to be such a nightmare. We were having so much fun on the ATV tour that day. And then the guide led us up the dangerous road and your sister Brooke missed the turn.
No child should have to endure what you endured. You had to wait and wait after I went down the cliff to look for Brooke. You had to hear your worst fear confirmed, and then leave before I came back. You had to return to the condo without her, alone in a foreign country, with no phone, no family, still in shock over the accident. It’s beyond my imagination how awful you must have felt.
And yet during those hours alone, you got on the computer and posted a PowerPoint on YouTube asking others to pray for our family. You had the presence of mind to notify Brooke’s best friends online about what had happened. You were only 14 years old. You stepped up to lead our family at a moment when your father and I were broken and frail.
Thank you for that, buddy.
Later, you reassured me Brooke was fine, pointing out that this life is short compared to eternal life. You were there for Dad, too, spending many nights by his side caring for him as he suffered a severe emotional breakdown. Your encouraging words gave me strength. Your faith was stronger than ours at that time. Your support for Dad and me left you no chance to grieve properly, and a year later you suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Before you were even born, my first child, my love for you had already surpassed any love I had ever before experienced or imagined. I would spend hours in the rocking chair in your room singing to you and imagining our life together. Maybe because you were born premature, weighing only three pounds, two ounces and requiring extra care and attention, I’ve always felt especially protective of you. You were so small, so very small. You had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for three weeks. I had to leave the hospital before even getting to hold you for the first time. But then we brought our miracle home. After the first few months, you turned out to be an easy baby. We knew we wanted another child soon, though, because I had hated being an only child until I reached 13, and Dad had always loved being so close in age to his brother, your Uncle Jeff. By the time you were nine months old I was pregnant again. I felt guilty, secretly thinking I could never love another child as much as I loved you. But when Brooke was born, I realized I was mistaken. A mother loves each of her children uniquely.
You and Brooke bonded instantly. Even at only 18 months old, you did everything you could to help with your baby sister. You would rub her head affectionately. You would put her pacifier in her mouth. Later, when Brooke was only one year old, you pushed her around the kitchen in her grocery cart. You buckled her in beside you in your play Jeep and drove around.
You and she made quite the pair. One minute you would both be wearing football helmets and jerseys, and the next – because she would get her say, too – you would be decked out in Princess dresses. We seldom called out your name without hers, too, or hers without yours. “Blake and Brooke! Brooke and Blake!”Your younger years had so much fun and love and laughter. We had a perfect family.
Then your Dad and I got divorced. And Brooke died. Your childhood ended too soon, much too soon. All I had ever wanted to do from the very first was to protect you, and I was unable to. I am so sorry, Blake.
Yet you’ve survived tragedy a better person. You appreciate life now more than most people do, including all the so-called little stuff others take for granted. Your pain has strengthened you, your sadness taught you to value happiness, your tears made you braver.
You’ve also become far more confident in yourself, and know you’re capable of achieving whatever you set your mind to. You’ve gained a sense of independence, and have even decided to attend college in another state, where you literally know no one. There, you’ll get the fresh start you need, and have the fun you must have missed in high school.
You’re an amazing son, and I’m proud of you, more so than you can ever imagine.
Soon you’ll be away. My wishes for you are simple. Live life to the fullest. Love freely and take chances. And please, please, let us always remain close.
P.S. – Please see part 4 tomorrow.