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.
Before I became pregnant with you, something deep in my soul told me I needed to have another child. Even then, I feared that something could happen to Blake or Brooke. I knew right away that my pregnancy with you was God’s plan.
You were an easy baby and your brother and sister loved to help take care of you. Brooke looked after you like a little Mommy. She changed your diapers, fed you, and put you to bed, enjoying every minute. You grew up extremely independent, determined to do everything on your own.
You had just turned six when we went to Costa Rica. Like the rest of us, you were having a blast there. You spent a lot of time with Brooke, following her everywhere and even sleeping with her at night. She never complained about having you with her so much, even though most girls her age would have.
I know sometimes you struggle with your memories of the accident that day. You were right there with us, there on the cliff, when your sister vanished, never to be seen again. Losing Brooke and then seeing me so panicked and hysterical was a lot for you to handle at the age of six. I’ll never forget how you soon expressed the fear that someday one of your own children might die.
Yet you somehow managed to comfort me during my mourning. I would tell you how much I missed Brooke and get upset and would wish I could hug her. You would simply tell me I still could hug her and to do so. We would swing on the swing set and you would tell me Brooke was right there with you. You shared your memories of her with me – the remarks she made, the fun times you had together; how well you remembered so many details — and reminded me, on my darkest days, that I never had to let her go.
You suffered through your sister’s death, but the hardship gave you resilience and strengthened you. You understand that tragedies happen and life sometimes hurts, but we still have to go on and keep fighting. You joined gymnastics after we lost Brooke and quickly became an outstanding gymnast, in part because of your lack of fear. In a short time you reached levels that many others work years to achieve.
That’s because you already recognized the reality of death. If you’re fearless, you feel you have nothing to lose. Only then can you truly attain greatness.
So brave are you that you’ve worked beside me to offer support to other bereaved parents. Because life can be dark, we must supply our own light. You’ve personally served as a light for a mother dealing with both the murder of her son and the death of her husband. You’ve accompanied her to their graves, holding her hand and whispering encouraging words. You’ve helped her to smile and laugh again.
In recognizing the reality of death, you’re also wise enough, at only nine years of age, to understand the fragility of life. Because you’ve endured so much pain, you have a vast capacity to experience total joy from the simple beauty you see around you. You stop to admire the clouds in the sky, the birth of baby birds, the sunset. You love freely with all your heart, and value your time with those you love. People marvel at your constant smile and happy demeanor.
I’m sorry your childhood has gone so much harder than those of most children your age. Thank you for always being such a trooper.
Today, I see so much of Brooke in you. How you, too, love to do good deeds without expecting anything in return. How you, too, realize there is always something to be thankful for. How you, too, see all people as beautiful.
Let Brookie live on in your heart. If you do, Peanut Butter, I promise nothing will ever hold you back as you reach for your dreams.
Love forever and ever,