This is a post that has been bumping around in my mind for a few months, but I was never sure about wanting to write it. Perhaps I am far enough away from the events now to be able to write it, and perhaps it was this little nudging from Dawn this morning that caused me to want to write it today.
As many of you may remember, I work in a middle school as a paraprofessional with sixth grade students. Three years ago, I had a charming girl who had battled leukemia as a young child as a student. I don’t remember how many years her cancer had been in remission by the time she came to us as a happy and sweet 11 year old girl.
Near the end of her sixth grade year, she came to school on several days complaining just a little about some pain in her leg. Sixth graders, I can tell you, change an awful lot during this year of school. “You must be having growing pains!” many people said to her. And she certainly was growing into a lovely young lady.
When we returned to school after our summer break, we heard the sad news that Brielle’s cancer had returned, this time in the bones of her leg. She would be unable to start the school year in 7th grade due to her surgeries and chemotherapy.
Near the end of her 7th grade year, Brielle made some appearances in school. As co-advisor to the student council, we made the decision to dedicate that year’s student-faculty basketball game to Brielle, with all proceeds going to Brielle’s Brigade, a team of cyclists started by Brielle’s uncle who ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge and donate all funds generated to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
[SIDE NOTE: I did not realize that this year's Pan-Mass Challenge was taking place this weekend when I began writing this post. The cyclists ride today from Sturbridge MA to Bourne MA, then from Bourne to Provincetown tomorrow. I guess something out there was really nudging me to write today.]
Students and teachers wore t-shirts in purple, her signature color and decorated in butterflies, which had come to be known as her symbol in her battle against cancer. Brielle made an appearance at the basketball game, on a walker, and was received with thunderous applause.
Near the end of the school year, Brielle started coming to school for a few hours a day, with the help of an aide and sometimes a wheelchair. She wore brightly colored bandanas, often purple, on her hairless head and proudly showed off the scars on her leg from her surgeries. One day, a day I will always remember, Brielle found me and the special education teacher that I work with in the school library. She sat and talked with us and told us about her surgeries and recovery and her summer plans.
Only a few days before school was to begin again in what would have been Brielle’s 8th grade year, we received the very sad news that she had lost her courageous battle. The bone cancer had spread to her lungs.
When my student council co-advisor and I met to make plans for the school year, we both felt strongly that we would like to do something to honor Brielle’s memory. Our school principal came to us to tell us of the local Girl Scouts’ plan to create a memory garden in our school’s courtyard, and would the student council be willing to lend a hand in fundraising and planning?
We jumped in right away and successfully fundraised. Later in the spring, my co-advisor and I found ourselves handling much of the planning and designing of the garden. With the help of our student council and the local girls scouts, we cleared away a very overgrown area of the court yard, planted new plants such as butterfly bushes and bleeding hearts, added statuary and decoration and arranged for the donation of memorial stepping stones.
This is what the finished garden looks like:
One warm afternoon, after I had spent a good amount of time working on the garden and was feeling quite dirty and tired, I was walking back to my car, carrying my garden tools. At that moment, a single butterfly flew quite close to my face and fluttered in a circle around me. I watched it fly away, and felt quite certain I had been visited by Brielle’s spirit.
I’m sitting here now, brushing away a few tears, as I get ready to hit that “publish” button. Maybe I’m not as far from these events as I thought I was. If anyone who knew Brielle happens to find their way to this blog, I hope you will find this post to be an appropriate and respectful honor to her memory.