It's been four months since Melissa left us, and I wanted to give you all an update on what's been going on with our family.
The pain of loss, the pivot to single-parenting, and a dozen other significant life changes have made this the toughest four months of my life. I lost my father when I was five, my mom when I was 28, and a few other family members along the way. Many of those losses were life-altering for me. This is another one of those moments. But the grief that comes with losing your soulmate of 21+ years is difficult to put into words. I know this pain will never go away, yet it will become more bearable over time.
Amid this grief, we've also felt the loving arms of support from many of you. The constant words of encouragement, gifts, cards, flowers, meals, and hugs have all been a welcome balm to our grief. This is a hard road to walk, and I'm grateful every day we're not walking it alone.
I've found that continuing to live life (and live it to the fullest) is one of the best ways to honor Melissa. It's also been healing. I've highlighted some of the most joyful times of the past four months in the photos below.
In late April, we held a memorial service in our home with close [masked] friends and family. It was an emotional time but an overwhelmingly joyful service. Our close friends pulled together an amazing way to remember Melissa's life.
A few weeks later, we held another service with friends and family in Warner Robins, GA. The service was in memory of both Melissa and her late father, Don, who passed away last October. It was a beautiful service full of laughter and tears and some stories none of us had ever heard! Sandy Neal, Melissa's former high school principal, also announced a new annual scholarship awarded to an outstanding senior who has spent their time at Houston County High School in service to others. The Melissa Brown-Browning Scholarship will be awarded through the Partner's Club, a service organization Melissa helped lead from 1991-95.
Eagerly anticipating the opportunity for air travel again, Melissa booked a May trip to Mexico about a month before she passed away to celebrate Olivia's 10th birthday. We wanted it to be a complete surprise to Olivia, so I waited until the day before to break the news. Even though we had to change up the cast a bit, the trip was an exciting and healing time for us. The day before we returned home, we had a small ceremony to spread Melissa's ashes in the ocean.
In July, Olivia went to PASSPORTkids Camp in Greensboro, NC. It was her first overnight camp experience, and she made a few new friends along the way. She also danced her heart out to "Shake it Off" at the variety show!
After PASSPORTkids, we spent some time with family and friends in North Carolina. It was a joy to spend some downtime with family and reconnect with friends at their lakeside cabin. I also threw in a brief visit to the house I grew up in and my elementary school for Olivia to see.
The New School Year
No summer's end would be complete without a pool party. The week before the start of the new school year, Olivia spent over four hours hanging out with her friends — most of which she hadn't seen in over a year.
For the past year, we've been eagerly awaiting the start of the 2021-22 school year. Olivia is a student at Smoke Rise Elementary, and they've been building a replacement school that just opened. Olivia will be the first class of 5th graders to graduate from the new school.
Her school's PTO held a fundraiser for the new school building, and donors could choose a message to display on the lobby wall. I anticipate this next school year being difficult for Olivia (and me) without our favorite teacher, so I donated to the fundraiser in Melissa's memory. The plaque is the first thing Olivia will see each morning when walking into the building.
Grief is a mixed bag, and no two days are the same. But without fail, if I was feeling especially down one day, getting outdoors swung the pendulum the other way. Being outdoors has been so good for the soul. We spent much of the summer by the fire, hiking, kayaking, swimming, and on some weekdays, I took my work outside too.
I don't know what the coming months will hold, but if the past four months are any indication, I'm hopeful for continued healing. Since March, I've mostly stepped away from work (some amazing humans are keeping things running) and will slowly ease back in this fall. Olivia is getting into her new rhythm with school. My fingers are crossed that we don't have to go back to virtual learning soon! I’m already starting to plan for fall travel, including some time alone and with family and friends.
Many of you have been very generous in giving to organizations and causes close to Melissa's heart. I'm so grateful that you are helping to continue their work. If you've not done so already, I encourage you to give to Africa Exchange and Reforming Arts. Your donations to these organizations will help make this world a more just place.
Melissa's website will be transformed over the coming months into a place to remember her incredible gifts to this world. We'll also post videos of both memorial services. Please check back later this fall at melissabrowning.com
This will most likely be the last post through PostHope. If we're not already friends on Facebook, please send me a friend request so we can continue to stay in touch. I would also love to have your mailing address to include you in any future Christmas cards, newsletters, etc.
Thank you friends for being with us on this journey.