by Amber Bradbury
One midsummer night on July 1, 2013, life as I knew it shattered. All it took was a knock on my door. Behind it stood two police officers sadly notifying me, the “next of kin,” that my mom was the victim of a fatal knife attack by her mentally deranged neighbor.
Although this same scene plays out on television and in films, my mind, body, and soul couldn’t process such real, devastating news. I started screaming, “No! She’s not dead!!” before running out of the room and calling the rest of my family hysterically. We all called my mother’s phone, praying she’d answer, alive and well… but she never did.
As the reality of losing my mom began to sink in, I dreaded the heart-wrenching challenge ahead. How could I tell my children, only three and five years old, that their beloved Grandma was gone? We’d never even discussed the concept of death, let alone how it felt to lose someone they loved.
Then, almost miraculously, an angel helped out as I did the painful task of cleaning out my mom’s apartment. There was an angel figurine that bore a striking resemblance to my mom sitting on her coffee table. It gave me a sense of peace and encouragement during the most difficult time of my life.
The angel became a catalyst for explaining my mom’s death to my children. I was able to assure both of them, and myself, that their grandmother’s love and spirit would always be with us, even if she wasn’t physically here. After our talk, my son drew a picture of my mom as an angel, showing all of us linking hands, and said:
“We are all holding hands so Grandma can help us fly.”
Perhaps it was that very illustration that would one day inspire me to create something that would, in turn, inspire and comfort other grieving families.
After my mom’s untimely death, my two kids and I moved from New Jersey to California to be closer to my extended family. It was a true blessing because once there, I went back to school, pursued a degree in Human Services, and even took up outdoor photography, a much-loved passion of mine. We spent many days at Lake Tahoe with my dad, immersed in all the beauties of nature, which helped the healing process. Life felt worth living again!
I even reconnected with my eighth-grade boyfriend Nate, who was located in New York, and we started a long-distance relationship. During a visit for my birthday, we spent the day in San Francisco. We went to the John Muir Redwood Forest and then watched my kids fly kites at the Golden Gate State Park while the scent of eucalyptus trees filled the air. It was a special, magical time, but that magic didn’t last, as tragedy would again strike my family.
The next day, May 5, 2016, I received a call from my dad. I delayed answering, but I did when he immediately called again. He told me, through heavy breathing and crying, that his mom and dad, my beloved grandparents, had been in a terrible car accident. My grandfather, though seriously injured, survived, but my grandmother was killed.
I was inconsolable.
My grandmother and I had just talked on the phone a few days earlier, planning to paint together in August. My family had arranged a reunion to celebrate my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary. We were both looking forward to seeing each other.
The next day, Nate and I flew out together to help my hospitalized grandfather deal with his sad new reality — life without the love of his life. I wondered how I’d help my children through this newest loss. And once again, despite — or perhaps because of — my own grief, an idea began to grow…
Despite my grandmother’s sudden, tragic death, echoing the equally tragic death of my mom, our family decided to gather in August. We wanted to honor my grandmother’s memory, and beautiful life, and still celebrate their 60th anniversary.
I knew she wasn’t physically there to see it all, but I felt her spirit, giving me hope that everything was falling into place. My boyfriend Nate, who’d been with me throughout this difficult time, while at the family reunion, and I felt my grandmother’s joy.
Our beautiful daughter was born shortly after our marriage. Her middle name, Priscilla, honored my late grandmother. I was reminded of all the incredible women I’d grown up with — including two great-grandmothers, two grandmothers, and my mom. It hurt my heart knowing they would never know my youngest child, nor she, them.
And as my children grew, I wished they shared the same memories, like little treasures of time I’d had with my late loved ones. I wanted to do more than just tell them stories. I also wanted to create a way to help grieving families like mine talk about death. And that’s how my children’s book, If Grandma Were Here: A Book of Memories, became a reality. Its beautiful, diverse characters, based on my mom, grandmother, and three children, portray the fun things I used to actually do — or imagined my children could do with them now — if they were here.
My sincere hope is that If Grandma Were Here will not only inspire others to enjoy and take comfort in this story but share their own family’s stories. And remember to cherish those special moments with loved ones because that’s what matters most in life.
For more information about Amber, you can check out her website.
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