A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss & Life Beyond

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Local author Jennifer Scalise's first book is a masterpiece of creativity, from the included family photos and drawings and letters from her daughter to the moving passages of raw emotion. Jennifer manages to take the reader along on her voyage of self-discovery without becoming maudlin or overbearing; she tells the horrific story in almost a matter-of-fact voice yet, just below the surface, you can feel the deep pain and loss.

In July , Jennifer and her children were vacationing in Costa Rica. On a near-perfect day, as described by the author, at the end of an ATV tour, year-old Brooke missed a turn and drove off a foot cliff. Jennifer came upon the scene within seconds, and her life changed immediately and irrevocably. Brooke was gone. In the days that followed, Jennifer, her two surviving children Paige and Blake, their father, grandparents, extended family, and friends endured overwhelming grief and pain as they questioned, investigated, and searched for answers. Jennifer leaves out almost nothing in this story of love and suffering.

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 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. Only then can you truly attain greatness. Because life can be dark, we must supply our own light. 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. 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, Mommy. Dear Blake,. 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 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.

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 were only 14 years old.

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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. 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.

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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. These events enable me to feel close to you.

They make me feel your presence. I have to confess that at times I feel selfish. I wish more than anything that you were still here, living your life. Even so, I set aside quiet time each day to connect with you. To do this, I close my eyes and reach inside myself and feel our love and cherish the wonderful memories from our 12 years together. I remember our joyous times and create new times. Sometimes doing something as simple together in my mind as locking arms and spinning in circles in a beautiful meadow puts me in Heaven with you. This process helps me feel happy even when I am sad.

This gives me strength I never new I had which has helped me find peace so I can heal. I have learned our hardships awaken us to new understandings we could never see otherwise, shaping us into the people we are meant to be.

Jennifer Scalise, "A Mother's Journey of Love, Loss & Life Beyond"

Through this lesson I have found out who I really am, my true being, my soul. You have taught me that in the worst of circumstances, it is up to us to reach out to God for his hand to give us the strength and courage to survive. I know my purpose is to share your story. Thank you, princess, for guiding me.

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Today, your legacy lives on, mainly through my book and your foundation. The Brooke Scalise Foundation has awarded church camp scholarships in your name. I receive emails and letters from people all around the world — family, friends and strangers, including other bereaved parents — whose lives you have touched. You are my sunshine, princess, and I will always love you.

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

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After lunch, we hopped on our ATVs and headed back. 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 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. 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.