Brooke the Sun Goddess


Cemeteries are filled with interesting stories. Some of them are triumphant, many are tragic. My sister and I stumbled upon the latter the other day when we wandered through St. Fridolin Cemetery. We were almost to the end of our meander when we spotted the grave of Brooke Elizabeth Thompson. She was born in 1980 and died at age 22. A plastic container stood next to her grave. It had a notebook inside, tucked within a resealable plastic bag. The note on the container invited visitors to leave a message. “Open it up,” I said to Kris. “Let’s see what’s inside.”

We found a series of letters to Brooke, most of them neatly handwritten by her mother, Lori, and several were written by Brooke’s daughter, Taylor. One was even written by Brooke’s father, who admittedly didn’t write stuff like that because his daughter already knew what was in his heart, but at the urging of his granddaughter, he poured heartfelt words onto the page that day.

The dates in the notebook started in 2009, which means a few other notebooks are probably archived somewhere. It became quickly apparent that Lori regularly visits her daughter’s gravesite, at least twice every May – once for Brooke’s birthday and the other for Memorial Day – and again on August 14, the anniversary of Brooke’s death. We flipped through the pages quickly, and the entry that jumped out at me was dated August 14, 2012. Lori said it had been ten years since that monster took Brooke away from her.

That evening, haunted by the notebook, I Googled Brooke’s name and found her story in the “2002 Femicide Report of Women and Children Murdered in Minnesota,” published by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Sure enough, the monster who had murdered Brooke was the boyfriend with whom she shared an apartment. Taylor, five at the time, had witnessed her mother saying “stop” as the man, who had a previous record of assault and drug charges, repeatedly banged Brooke’s head on the bathroom floor. The suspect pled guilty to second-degree intentional murder, and in court he gave no reason for this heinous act. According to Lori, Brooke no longer wanted a relationship with him. “That’s what this was over,” she said. “This never should have happened.”

After reading Lori’s letters to Brooke, it’s evident a mother’s grief over the loss of a child never gets lighter to carry. Life goes on, but it is always shadowed by a lurking darkness. Lori often writes about how much Taylor is like her mother. On beautiful, sunny days she reminisces about how Brooke, a sun goddess, would have enjoyed sun bathing. Her letters always end with lots of X’s and O’s. The grave is adorned with a butterfly wind chime, courtesy of Taylor. Her mother loved butterflies, and whenever Taylor sees them, she thinks about her.

The day after my sister and I discovered Brooke’s grave, I went back to read the notebook in its entirety. It was a beautiful, sunny day. As I knelt to take a photo of the wind chime, something tickled my hand. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes: it was a butterfly.

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For a poem on the topic of domestic violence, see my blog entry The Beat Goes On.

Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote an excellent commentary titled “Why does she stay with a man who beats her?” (published in the Star Tribune September 15, 2014)

 

Butterfly Wind Chime at Brooke’s Gravesite

 

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