August Challenges and Gratitude
Posted Aug 7, 2022 by Deborah Brackin
First - About Phil. He has made absolutely AMAZING strides in eating over the last 3 weeks. A month ago, he could t even swallow his spit. Now, he’s eating almost everything- last night had prime rib, potatoes, beets and apple crumb cake and FINISHED IT ALL!!! So great - we are thrilled.
The harder part. August used to be my favorite month. Vacations, slow summer days, all the kids’ birthday parties.
Now it is the month that Miles has birthdays he’s not here to celebrate. The month we lost him and my mom.
Yesterday was his birthday. Surprisingly, it was better than I expected. We went to his favorite pebble beach and collected rocks. We ate dinner at a place he loved. We floated 14 candles on the lake to celebrate him. It was peaceful and joyful. There were some tears, but not that many.
His friends got together at the ice cream place in town for an ice cream and a swim.
A dear friend of ours bought a Lego set for a foster child through a make a wish website in his name. (Miles would have ADORED this).
A colleague sent the most beautiful floral arrangement to brighten my week at work before all of this.
So many people texted and called and reached out.
Exactly two weeks from his birthday is the day of the accident. It will likely be a harder day than his birthday, but just like today - we will get through it. With love of friends and family. With moments dedicated to remembering him. And on that day, we will have survived the first year. And if we can do that, we can survive the second year, one day at a time. Then 5 years, and then 10. We can do this.
Slow but steady
Posted Jul 17, 2022 by Deborah Brackin
We are 5 weeks out from surgery and finally seeing some improvement in Phil’s condition. He is napping less, and starting to swallow a bit of water (doesn’t sound like much, but is a step in the right direction!) He is coughing less and sleeping better at night, too.
I have returned to work and am getting back in the swing of things. It seems better than it was in March - I am less teary and overwhelmed.
We went to our home in Maine for the first time since losing Mom and Miles - was hard, but we did find some joy there.
Starting to think about the upcoming month, with both Miles’ birthday and the one year mark of his death - what was my favorite month (summer and 3 of the kids’ birthdays) is now a month I fear. We will keep you updated of any events as we figure out what we want to do to remember him.
Pic of Phil and the twins on a walk in Maine.
Posted Jun 21, 2022 by Deborah Brackin
Today we got great news at our doctor’s appointment. Phil had healed enough and was breathing well enough that they could remove the trach! This is great because the tube going through his neck into his trachea was really uncomfortable and caused a lot of coughing and mucous. It’s the first step in getting back to a semi-normal life!
However - the swallowing - not so great. (Not unexpected, though!). Right now when he swallows his spit, more than half the time, it goes down the wrong pipe. We are hoping he can relearn how to swallow well enough to get the feeding tube out in 3 months or so. Until then, he is getting his nutrition through a PEG tube and dreaming about food every night (he tells me every morning what he ate in his dreams - last night was blueberry pancakes, butter and warm maple syrup).
On other fronts, I’ve been feeling so grateful to both Princeton Friends School and Miles’ classmates for all the love and dedication they showed to him at graduation. One of the things we’ve realized in our grief support group of parents who have lost children is that not all families are so lucky. Children with chronic medical conditions and the parents who lost their children to suicide - those children were often not as adored by and connected to their classmates. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to think that my child wasn’t missed and remembered outside the family. While I know the world has missed out from losing him, I am SO grateful for the continued outpouring of love for our sweet son. Understanding what it could have been like has shown me how “lucky” we are (if one can call anything about this last year “lucky”).
Thank you to all who provided meals these first weeks - it was lovely not to have to worry about food prep!
I almost never share picture of me, but family took care of Phil and I went to the Philadelphia flower show. And made a flower crown. Because it’s hard not to smile when you are wearing a flower crown!
Posted Jun 14, 2022 by Deborah Brackin
Surgery was last Friday - 9 hours of operating, 11 hours of waiting to see him. Phil’s brother and I spent the day walking around Philly and trying to stay busy between updates.
The surgery went as well as we could hope - they were able to do the partial laryngectomy - this removes the vocal cords and much of the voice box but keeps the connection between the mouth and the lungs, so eventually we will be able to get rid of the trach. No permanent hole in the neck, so eventually he will be able to swim and even maybe snorkel or scuba dive! Very exciting.
It will be a long recovery - he will have a feeding tube likely for 3 months and the trach for at least 6 weeks.
He has been amazing. So positive. He learned in the first 48 hours how to do all of his trach and peg care in his own. He hasn’t complained at all, even though the first night was easily the most uncomfortable night of his life (even I wasn’t prepared for just how bad the first night was gong to be!)
Now we wait for the path to see if any additional treatment is needed. Hoping for good margins and negative (uninvolved) lymph nodes.
Miles’ 8th grade graduation was the day after the surgery. I had the opportunity to give his speech. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here: https://www.facebook.com/767081543/posts/10159825974476544/?d=n (you may need to friend request me)
We are all holding up. Thanks for all the love and support.
Tuesdays opened on calendar
Posted Jun 1, 2022 by Deborah Brackin
As we navigate these new challenges, I have opened Tuesdays on the calendar. The love of our community has been so wonderful and we truly appreciate it.
Update on Phil
Posted Jun 1, 2022 by Deborah Brackin
Unfortunately, the biopsies came back showing recurrent cancer. Phil will have a surgery to remove his voice box (laryngectomy) on 6/10. He will be out of work for 6 months at least, and possibly permanently. We are both so sad and disheartened. Unfortunate timing, as Trey's graduation is this Saturday, and Miles' 8th grade graduation is the day after the surgery (we were asked to give his speech, and I still plan to do so if possible).
We are spending the time between now and surgery doing everything Phil wants to do. Eating his favorite foods that he may no longer be able to smell is a big part of this - we have an amazing meal plan for the next 10 days! We really enjoyed a day trip to Ocean City and Mack and Manco pizza last Sunday.
I am going to open up the meal train again on Tuesdays. Our nanny is going part time as of this week, but she will still help with meal prep on MWF, and I will take care of the meal on Thursdays (my day off during the week). We thank you in advance for the love and help.
I will post Miles' speech after I give it, and I will update you all on the results of surgery as it is available.
Photo of us with Trey and Anne, his girlfriend, at the Promenade before the Prom at the Pennington School.
Brackin Family Update
Posted May 26, 2022 by Deborah Brackin
I can't believe more than 5 months have passed and I haven't written at all. Unfortunately, it is in part because of new challenges in our world. (My mom always said if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all, and I was struggling to find the positives in our world). At the end of 2021, we got the news that my husband, Phil, had a vocal cord cancer. We spent January and part of February with him undergoing radiation (at my facility, with one of my partners - surreal). It was a distraction from losing Miles. Not a good one, but forced us to focus on the family that is still present.
Things looked good until recently, but now there is concern that the cancer may have come back. Phil goes to the OR today for an exam under anesthesia and biopsies. This will help us to determine the next steps and understand our options. It is (another!) hard, scary time in our lives. The friends and family we have shared this with to date all say the same thing - how much is one family expected to bear? I don't know the answer to that, but it is clear - we aren't out of the proverbial woods.
I will update all of you over the upcoming weeks as we know more. There isn't much to do for us right now, except say a prayer if you are the religious type or put your positive energy into the universe for us if not. I like to think that Miles and my mom are out there somewhere doing what they can to help this work out as well as possible.
I do want to share though - it is getting a little easier with our grief. We speak of happy memories of Miles frequently, and there are times when there are smiles or laughter and not tears. Friends tell us often how much they think of him, and it is such a balm to know he continues to be remembered and missed by so many. This was a special week at Princeton Friends School - a school wide retreat to Blairstown, where we would hike, paddle on the lake, sing, and get to know each other better. The folks who told us how much we were missed - it means so much to us - thank you. The photo today is of Miles and his best friend, Derek, on this trip a few years ago.
Speak with you all soon.
Posted Dec 19, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
First, this is the last week of meals and we want to thank everyone for the love, meals, hugs, memories of Miles and more.
The holidays are here. I have truly enjoyed posting Miles’ Christmas photos on Facebook - it has reminded me of all of the amazing holiday memories of Miles’ short, but full, life.
We did decorate for the holidays, putting up his stocking and his ornaments on the tree. This was really helpful in making the house feel cheerful and festive - it was hard to do but I’m so glad we did. (A piece of advice if you have a family member or friend with a loss in the future - maybe an offer to help decorate).
I even did some of our traditional holiday things like making a family calendar (all pictures of Miles this year - a year in his life for each month), Santa pancakes, and the drive thru light show at Shadybrook. But no takers for Rudolph, The Grinch, or other Christmas movies, and I miss them. Honestly, I miss his holiday enthusiasm more than anything. Our Christmas plan is to create new traditions that are not focused on what is missing, but what we have. It is a good thing for all of us to focus on - all that we have, just as life is today. We are surviving and grateful for all of the love and support. Happy holidays, my friends.
Posted Dec 4, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Not much to say this week. I just miss Miles.
My gratitude video I did with the hospital is ready - watch it here: https://players.brightcove.net/1009789292001/default_default/index.html?videoId=6279053836001
Pic: what says Christmas more than bubble beards and Santa hats?
Posted Nov 29, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
So we made it through our first holidays.
My birthday, Thanksgiving, a family wedding.
There was a surprising amount of love and joy that we experienced. We all wore blue and green. There was even a special blue and green dessert on Thanksgiving. We went for a Pokémon walk, ate pumpkin pie and spoke of sweet Miles with so much love and good memories. He was with us in so many ways.
There were also a few moments of the most heartbreaking, devastating sadness that I’ve ever experienced in my life. The photo show of the wedding couple as they grew up just made it so clear that Miles won’t graduate 8th grade, high school, college, go to a prom, fall in love or get married. I’ll never dance with him at his wedding.
But, we showed up. The absolute best that we were able. With all our love and all our heartbreak and all of our imperfections for all to see.
And I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
Bottom line: show up. Even if you are grieving and it feels impossible. Even if you know it will be messy and you might (will!) cry. It’s better to be there in the messy imperfection and experience the love and loss together.
Photo of Miles in his messy imperfection - creating with Swans Island clay!
Posted Nov 20, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
As always, I’m going to try to post a memory to let you get to know my sweet boy as we travel this rough road. Heading into Thanksgiving, it made me laugh to think of the Thanksgiving when all of my family decided to see who could gain the most weight on Thanksgiving day. Everyone weighed them self pre-and post meal. Miles was small at the time. Maybe six? He gained the most that day. Not in proportion to his weight. Actual pounds added. I didn’t know a little body could physically put that much food into itself. He did love the desserts!
Today’s photo was a day when everyone was picking food off his plate and making him feel like he had to protect it. Believe it or not, he is protecting chicken and potatoes. The look on his face says it all!
3 month lessons
Posted Nov 20, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Today is the 3 month mark of the accident. In the upcoming week, we have my birthday, Thanksgiving and the start of the month of December, when we started our annual holiday traditions like the elf and advent things. There’s so many things that are challenging about this and I find that I am fearful of the big emotions coming. I’m working to find ways to honor Miles this week and this upcoming month.
Of course, on Thanksgiving, we will have his favorite, pumpkin pie, which I will freely admit, I bought for him all year round when Costco had it (and Phil often made him fresh whipped cream - yep, there’s a reason he was a little squishy and extra huggable). As a family, we are going to wear blue or green on Thanksgiving to signify that we are remembering him, loving him and truly thankful for the time we had him. On my birthday, I plan to go for a Pokémon walk with my phone and his (yes, I got it working and signed in to his Pokémon app!).
I think the lesson I want to share today - I am now part of a bereaved mom group. It is hard to see women post that years after they lost children, how much they are struggling. Well, I have decided. That will not be me. I WILL get to a point where I am happy, and filled with as much joy and wonder as I was B.M.D. (before Miles died). Why? Because 💯 it is what he would want for me. And in this life, especially if we just get one, my loved ones and I deserve it.
So, going into the holiday season, I’m working to see how I can find meaning, love, joy and connection. Keep an eye on FB to see some of the ways I celebrate Miles this holiday season!
Memory of Miles
Posted Nov 13, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Miles adored stuffed animals. His bed was covered, as was the bench by the window and there was a big trunk shaped like a circus train car full, too.
He turned 13 at the beginning of August, but when we went to the aquarium, he begged for a stuffy (for him AND his cousin). Of course, I got them. His love of stuffies was an extension of his love of animals and nature.
One of the experiences that stayed with him his whole life - when he was maybe 4, we went to California to see my aunt. She lives on the coastline and took us sea kayaking. There was a sea otter that spent the entire kayak trip playing with Miles‘ and my kayak. It swam underneath our kayak, around us and even tried to climb up on the front of our kayak at one point. Miles named him Buddy, and was devastated to have to leave him at the end of the kayak adventure. He made my aunt promise to go back and check on him in the future. Sea otters became one of Miles’s favorite animals and we spoke of that time so often over the years. He had a buddy stuffy, and a sea otter Christmas ornament. When I went to buy stamps, I realized that they have sea otter Christmas stamps out right now. If you get a note for me, take a look of them!
Photo is from that trip, in a tree in my Aunt’s yard
Waves and Sand
Posted Nov 13, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
It is so interesting- grief really is like the sea. I think the grief is like the sand on the bottom. Some days, it’s pretty settled, and the waves of our days leave it unstirred.
But bigger waves knock you down and churn all the grief sand up from the bottom. I imagine that we started our grief journey along the shore we know here in NJ. The waves can be big and the bottom is always so churned up, you can never see your feet when you’re all the way in.
We have moved with our grief to the Florida Keys (metaphorically!). The water is clearer much of the time. The grief-sand is always there, but often it is settled and things are a bit more clear. You can snorkel and see other fish.
But some days are still like a tropical storm. Big waves that knock you down, all the grief-sand gets all swirled up. Last weekend was a beautiful day at the metaphorical beach. The water was almost Caribbean clear, the waves gentle and warm. We spent an evening entertaining friends, and it was great (they cooked and brought food) and I was content. We went to the Eagles game with my brother and his wife, and it too was enjoyable.
But this week - there must be a full moon causing higher tides. It’s all stirred up.
I just so miss him and want my old life back. I have never wished so much for something so completely unattainable.
I know the waters will clear and things will be easier in a few days - these storms always pass and the water calms….
Memory of Miles
Posted Nov 6, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Miles was a person that everyone loved. He was a unifying force in his class between the girls and the boys. He made friends easily, and everyone who had him with them for any length of time told us that he was a joy to be with, even if he was being joyfully naughty.
He went to camp every year at Liberty Lake in Columbus and adored it. He also had the opportunity to do a camp in Jackson Hole, WY a few years ago. One of the interesting “coincidences” after we lost Miles was that the heads of these 2 camps were chatting after a meeting and talking about the loss of a camper they had both really enjoyed - how shocking and hard to understand life is sometimes. How surprised were they to realize they were both talking about Miles??
It has been amazing to hear from so many people how Miles made them feel like they were special. It is an amazing feat for a 12 yo boy. This photo shows Miles in the middle of some of the people who loved him best, and he looks so happy.
First Holiday survived
Posted Nov 6, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
This past weekend, we survived our first holiday without Miles. I admit, it was so hard to see all the kids out having fun, and knowing Miles wasn’t among them. The pictures of everyone’s happy kids in costumes - I love them but they crush me at the same time.
Overall, though, I think life s getting a bit easier. I’ve cried less, I’m not as drained when I come home from work. I’m starting to want to go about and do things, see people in bigger groups.
I had my first dreams about Miles and my mom, and one was so real, I was confused, because I knew mom was gone, but the dream was sharp and clear, unlike the average dream. In the dream, I walked on sharp rocks to prove it was a dream (surprisingly, it hurt some, but not as much as it should!). I wished I could stay there, or come back the next night.
As always, when I need it most, someone is there to lift me up. I had a rough drive home from work and got home to find an album of pics from Mayda, Miles’ 1st to 3rd grade teacher. It was such a gift in that day. Friends from our old town brought a box of cards with memories and photos. My staff at work has also been loving me extra - bringing healthy lunches, gifts of love and more. It is all this love that continues to help us survive, and we appreciate it so much.
Memory of Miles
Posted Oct 28, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Today’s memory is a combination actually of two memories. Miles was the quintessential fourth child. Resourceful, self-sufficient, easy-going and able to sleep anywhere. When he was two, we would travel to Maine at night. We would buckle the kids into their car seats in their sleeping bags and jammies and drive through the night. When we got to Maine, they’d wake up and we go out to breakfast. That year, when we got to breakfast, we realized that Miles had no shoes in the car. Imagine our surprise when we unpacked the bags and realized that not only were there no shoes in the car, he had no shoes at all. It took us at least four days to get into a big enough town that we could buy a pair of shoes for a toddler. The only thing available was a pair of super pricey Keens and it so annoyed me to spend that much money on shoes for a fourth kid that would not get passed down. After that, Miles realized that things went better if he helped to look out for himself. He is my child who rarely forgot his lunch or coat or book bag. He is my child who when he did forget something was able to figure it out with the help of his siblings and friends.
Now comes the funny part of the memory. I told you that he was self-sufficient and could sleep anywhere. One New Year’s Day, we were all having a relatively lazy day and not doing much good parenting. Miles was really quiet and we went to see what was going on. I found him asleep in his bedroom tucked into a gift bag. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen a kid do. Enjoy the photo of this funny moment.
Missing our Miles
Posted Oct 28, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
It’s been a bit since the last update and it’s so amazing that people start to ask when the next one is coming. As always, our weeks are a combination of pretty good and really hard/sad.
This week, I was supposed to be in Mexico with Miles. I was going with my brother and his family. It was going to be the first time that Miles went scuba diving after his training. I was so excited to explore that new world with him. He would be mesmerized, I know. I had planned on getting a room with a king size bed so that I could have a little snuggle here and there, knowing that the time he’d be willing to snuggle was coming to an end as he transitioned into a teenager.
Instead, I’m at home. Working this week and missing my baby. But we had my sister-in-law and her youngest son come for the weekend. She is amazing and really has a sense of the perfect thing to say. Being with her is a balm for my heart. It’s amazing how this experience has brought me so much closer to Phil’s family. I loved them before, but I’ve never been so grateful for them to be in our lives.
Miles has been very quiet recently. I haven’t had much sense that he’s guiding me, maybe because I’m on the path that he wanted. What did happen this week was a moment where I had a sense of this amazing web of light and love the connects all of humanity. When we put love into that web, it improves the experience for more than just us and the people immediately around us. Two examples of this: today, I spent some time with a friend who has a parent with dementia. I was able to do what I do so well, which is help families brainstorm on end of life challenges. I was able as a medical person to give permission to consider comfort care (it may seem like families don’t need permission, but it so helps when a doctor says it’s absolutely time). I wouldn’t have been there except that that family has been supporting me in my loss. It was a beautiful moment and I knew in my heart that I was exactly where I was supposed to be - both giving and receiving the energy and love.
The second example of this is someone who, in reading my mealtrain posts, recognized the time and effort I spent on one of Miles‘s costumes in the past. He saw the love that went into that work and it helped him to recognize the love and care that had gone into a project that his staff had done. He expressed gratitude for that, and it opened a whole new discussion at work.
This experience had opened my heart to this: for so long, I have given that type of love to patients, to friends, to family, but I’ve not always seen or felt it coming back. Right now, We are at the middle of an amazing web of love and light with everyone’s thoughts, love and prayers helping to keep us in one piece and afloat. Thank you for the love. It is helping.
Memory of Miles
Posted Oct 18, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Miles loved all holidays. Who am I kidding, he loved almost every day that wasn’t an English heavy school day! But he got so excited about Halloween and picking a costume. It always started at least six weeks ahead. He would think about and plan what he wanted to do. Last year, he wanted a blowup dinosaur. It was a little expensive, but all of you know, I had a hard time saying “no” to him. He wanted to alter it to be the Pokémon Charmander (A cute little dinosaur with the fire sprouting from his tail). We got the costume and found a way to make it look like sparks and fire were at the tip of it’s tail. He loved it, and everyone who saw him in it loved it - you couldn’t help but watch him and laugh!
Posted Oct 18, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
I got some feedback that these posts are “too sad” and “make people worry about you”. If you find these just sad instead of sad and uplifting, please don’t feel obligated to read them - I won’t be offended. We are all doing ok, and you have no obligation to read these hunting for clues that we might not be ok. I will try to also share each week a memory of Miles that isn’t sad and label it as a memory for those who want to connect but not read the sad stuff.
For those that love them, keep on reading them 😊.
As we get farther out from losing Miles, the days get a little easier (sometimes!). I still have moments that I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that he is gone. But I actually have had 4 days in the past 2 weeks that were mostly good. Still tears but clearly more laughter than tears. I went out to lunch with a group of girlfriends, to an Eagles game, a craft show, a family engagement party and had a group of family at the house for games and food (enough laughter that coffee came out of my nose 😂) All were good, even though there were some tears at all of them.
I am starting to feel like the beautiful sunny days sometimes fit my mood. I’m wanting to put on jeans instead of just sweats. It’s progress.
My gratitude this week: a PFS teacher had a Pokémon card made of Trainer Miles - sweetest thing, but even sweeter is that when she told the artist the story, he asked if he could do it for free. Man, humans are amazing. The love we give to complete strangers . It is awe inspiring. If you learn nothing from me but this, I’ll have done my job: there is so much kindness, love and beauty in the world. We reap what we sow. Give love, kindness and compassion and it will come back to you 100 fold.
Gratitude in grief
Posted Oct 9, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
It is interesting how things unfold in grief. I want to share my experience this week with you. It has been a week with a lot of ups and downs.
Three months ago, I was asked to film a video for the hospital on gratitude. It’s some thing that I truly believe it improves our experience of our life, so I was so excited to do this. Then we lost Miles. The date drew near where I was supposed to do the segment, and the administration asked if I wanted to delay a few months. And in my heart, I know a few months is not going to make any difference. I’m still going to be missing Miles in the deepest depths of my soul. But I also know that if I can find gratitude now, how much will that move the people who watch the video in the future? So I curled my hair,put on some make up and did the segment. I think it will be amazing and I will share it when it’s released. But it reminded me that in the worst times, a gratitude practice helps us to have resilience. It helps us to see what blessings we do have.
And one of the blessings of this is realizing how many people we have touched over the years. How many people love us. How many people would do anything they could to make us feel better. How many people have offered whatever it is that they have to lighten our load. A true reminder that in this world, we reap what we sow. This has been a learning experience for me. As a physician, I am very used to giving freely, but less used to taking as freely.
In this time, friends have offered food, companionship, open arms across-the-board. But I want to share some of the amazing things people have done. It restores my faith that humanity actually is lovIng, kind and beautiful. Friends have offered yoga, Pilates and massages to help me feel better physically, and declined payment. An artist and an aspiring artist have drawn amazing pictures of Miles that somehow have given me something that photographs don’t. Friends have literally driven through flooding, or found and installed a car seat in their car to pick up family from the airport. A friend came and hung a wall of photos of Miles. People have mailed books they thought would help, collected and printed the pictures they had of Miles from years past, showed up with sushi and a case of mini bottles of Prosecco (opening a full bottle is an invitation to drink it all, which is not helpful currently). They have offered to make a quilt of his t shirts, taken me for a special lunch at a lavender farm, and brought brownies I love. Grub hub cards so we could eat what we wanted some days, and others who made whatever they make best to nourish us. Offers of their vacation homes to get away and have a break in a new place. Letters from kids that Miles had touched over the years sharing their love for him (so unbelievably priceless). The huge number of people who have donated to Miles’ memorial (truly amazing - the amount raised in such a short time!) and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting right now.
The gratitude makes this easier, but I don’t want you to think that that means that we’re good. Life feels like the perpetual twilight of a storm without Miles’ light in it. Tears are always close to the surface and overflow multiple times a day. I didn’t know I had this many tears in me.
As always, thank you to those who walk this path with us.
Still walking our new path
Posted Oct 4, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
We survived the Memorial and for me, it was a lovely tribute to Miles.
We had the pleasure of having Caroline (Au pair turned adopted daughter) and her son here from Germany for a week. It was lovely and gave us a glimpse of the joy of grandchildren someday - we were sad to see her go.
But even with the joy of that this week - we are struggling. Things don’t seem significantly easier yet. The magnitude of the loss weighs me down and exhausts me. I look in the mirror and for the first time ever, I look older than my age. In pictures with Caroline and Kian, the smile never reaches my eyes. We struggle with the realization that we are a household with just teen boys who have their own lives and will be gone literally years before we thought we would have an empty house. I anxiously await “signs” from Miles and my mom, but have not been finding them this last week. Maybe because I was busy with C&K? Hard to know.
But - as always, we are working on being “ok” again someday. We rejoice when someone brings a meal AND pictures of Miles we haven’t seen before. I guess the fact that we do find joy in each day should feel like progress. We so appreciate the calls, texts, and thoughts, even if we don’t answer them all. I worry about the time when they stop. Thank you to all who continue to help us walk this path.
My eulogy for Miles
Posted Sep 27, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Thank you all for being with us today and loving Miles with us. It was so hard to decide what to share today. I want you to know that Miles was amazing - Kind, quirky, mischievous and always loving. I want you to know that I thought he would change the world for the better - he was always interested in meaningful change on a global scale, how to fix problems that he saw. He talked to us often about things he thought he could create or build, and was thinking about what would make people happier, or the planet healthier. But I think all of you probably know these things.
So, what else do I want you to know? As parents, this is all of our worst possible nightmare. But to be sure, there is truth in the old adage, “it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved it all”. I have always felt that he was a gift in our lives, and I am so grateful to have had this amazing kid for the time we did. Longer would’ve been better, but unfortunately we don’t get to pick these things. My life will forever be better for having him in it. He was 13, but he was still a child at heart. He loved his Legos and his BaaBaa who traveled with him everywhere. He helped me embrace things just because they made me happy to do them. He encouraged me to drop what I was doing and spend quality time with him and his brothers. He taught me that you are not respected less by your peers when you wear your heart on your sleeve and show the depths of your emotions. He was quick to laugh, but also quick to cry and unashamed of it. And I look forward to the lessons he will continue to bring us as well
Esther shared this with me in a book she’s reading, and I am tweaking it a bit to fit me even more perfectly: if you truly pay attention to all life brings, you cannot help but acknowledge that the universe has allowed, even brought us, brokenness and suffering. Even if we can find gratitude for it, we must still discover how to move forward in it. Even in the depths of our own brokenness, actually because of the depths of our brokenness, the unverse can use each of us to be a gift to another broken heart. And then healing others, we find healing. It is my deep and abiding wish that we take our broken hearts, all learn from Miles and work to change the world. To be kind. To love other people, animals, nature and our planet. To live in the moment, and not be in a rush to grow up, or if you’re an adult, allow yourself some of the lost joys of childhood. You don’t always need to be adulting. I plan to take our greatest loss and heartbreak and turn it into joy that I put out into the world in as many ways as I can imagine and he can whisper to me. Miles, yesterday, today and tomorrow, I love you as much as it is humanly possible to love. I will miss you every day. But I will do my best to live in a way that makes you proud, and keeps your memory alive. I love you, sweet baby.
Miles’ Memorial Details
Posted Sep 25, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
You are invited to a Zoom webinar.
When: Sep 26, 2021 01:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: Miles Brackin Memorial Service
Please click the link below to join the webinar:
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Who do I want to be?
Posted Sep 24, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Rough day today. It’s the last day of work before Miles’ Memorial. Today, I saw a patient who had lost her seven and nine-year-old children in an accident many years ago. She reassured me that things do get better and easier, and that there is more joy ahead of me. But I also saw a patient who lost her son three years ago yesterday and she is literally crumbling before my eyes. Worse than when I saw her six months ago.
I was pondering this as I was writing what I want to say for the memorial. Who do I want to be? The woman who is crushed and destroyed by this? Or the woman who works at it and finds joy and reassures other people that they can survive?
100%, Miles would want me to be the one who finds joy. Not just despite this, but because of it as well. Because I had him in my life. Because I have so many amazing memories. Because of the outpouring of love for us from friends, family, acquaintances and near strangers. Because he was SO LOVED and I never realized how truly and deeply by so many until he was gone and they began to tell me. People telling us how he touched their lives - I can’t even describe. Here is an excerpt from a letter I got today:
“We were only a few days into first grade when Kaitlin started talking about a new friend. It wasn't long before Miles‘ name was coming up again and again as she shared bits and pieces of her school days with us. In the weeks and years that followed, Kaitlin's stories painted a picture of a caring, curious, and engaging young boy who loved his pets and his family. A boy who was so enamored with his new puppy that he gave each of his classmates a plushy that looked like Milton, so they could share his happiness. A boy Kaitlin thought of as one of her "real friends," who helped make PFS a place where she felt safe, happy, and so very welcome.
Even as the kids got a bit older and "the girls" and "the boys" started to spin off into more distinct social groups, Miles had a way of letting Kaitlin know that he was still a friend she could count on. He'd drift away from the "annoying boys" to play imaginary games in the woods with her and Maggie.
When Kaitlin came home from Williamsburg, an adorable stuffed otter was tucked into her backpack, courtesy of Miles. There was nothing in the Williamsburg gift shop that he wanted. He could have held onto those dollars and purchased something for himself another day, but he gave his extra spending money to Kaitlin, so she could get something she wanted.”
Unsurprising that he gave her his spending money - it wasn’t the first or the last for that. It helps to know that Miles has touched other people as deeply as he has touched us.
I’m going to be the woman who still finds joy and reassures other moms that they will also survive.
PS - thank you all so much for all the amazing food and Grubhub cards - I’m hoping I will get out thank you notes, but it may be a while!
Photo of Miles and baby Milton
Posted Sep 19, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
I spent today with my sister-in-law Melissa, my nieces, my best friend Esther and a dear family friend, Sue. We worked on the photo boards for Miles’ memorial.
It is so very sad to know that the photos we have are all there will be. When I walk in the pantry, where we mark everyone’s height on the wall on their birthday, that Miles will not grow and catch up to his brothers. That there will be no speech to watch at the end of what should have been his 8th grade school year.
But I am so grateful I took a MILLION pics over his 13 years. There were so many good ones it was so hard to pick our favorites. I loved looking at all of the smiles, adventures and love of the last decade.
I miss him. I still can’t believe he is really gone. But our friends will help to keep his memory alive. The robotics program will be his legacy. And for him, I will find a way to enjoy my time on this planet, even though he isn’t here with us.
PS - Miles left something for his dad this week. I scooped up a random pile of Pokémon cards to give out to Miles’ friends at his memorial. As I went through them, I found a hotel key card from the Snake River resort. It was from a few days away in Jackson Hole with his just dad. In with some of his Pokémon cards - a treasured memento. It now resides in Phil’s wallet - a memento to him that Miles treasured that time with him.
Pic of my favorite sushi lunch companion
What is normal?
Posted Sep 14, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
In the last week, I have continued to look for (and find!) blessings from the universe. I will tell you a bit about them in a moment.
But first I want to tell you, I seem strong to many of you, but I cry multiple times every day. I miss Miles so much sometimes I feel like I can’t even breathe. If you are in the midst of grief, or if you are just missing Miles like us, don’t feel like you need to be strong. I have realized that so many people miss him dreadfully, and that they feel that they don’t have a right to be as sad as they are when he wasn’t their child. He was amazing. You can be as sad as you need to be. You being sad honors us and him.
But now I’d like to share a few of the miracles I found along the way.
I stopped by the site of the accident the day I came in to see my staff before I was actually working. I just couldn’t imagine driving by the scene of the accident every single day and wondering what was there. I stopped, and there was plastic and glass and pieces of our car, but sitting bright and shiny on the grass, (amazing since we’ve had huge rains and significant flooding) was our National Park entry card. I’m not sure what I hoped I would find, but nothing in that car could’ve told me more definitively, "I want you to keep living your life. I want you to travel and have fun". Miles, it was a great thing to pick to leave for me.
I’m trying to listen for Miles. He speaks to me in whispered thoughts in my head, mostly in regards to things that will help his friends.
Miles had a beach towel embroidered with his name. For days, it has been sitting in the middle of his bedroom floor. It was breaking my heart. We can’t use it - it’s too sad. We can’t throw it away. What do you even do with something like that?
Yesterday, his friend Benny came over to drop off food with his mom. I had this moment where I was certain that Miles wanted me to give him the beach towel. At the time, I’m like what the heck, Miles, really? Isn’t that a little strange to give to a kid? It was almost a compulsion to give it to him. (And when I went up to grab it, He’s like, oh yeah the Snorlax night light, too).
Here is what Benny’s mom wrote today when I asked if Benny was put off by getting a towel:
It was literally perfect. Ben has been a competitive swimmer since first grade. Lately things have gotten harder and Benny had struggled with anxiety around swimming,even considering quitting. When he got in the car he said that he feels like Miles is watching over him and cheering him on. He said he can do hard things. I'm not sure an old towel could mean more to anyone. We love you guys. Thank you for thinking to comfort Benny. Miles must be very proud of the care you are showing to those who loved him even while dealing with your own pain. ♡
Look for miracles
Posted Sep 10, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
In life, we can think that things are just lucky coincidence or we can see how the universe intervenes to place everything where it needs to be for the best outcomes.
You might be surprised to think that I see miracles in this. Truthfully, there are so many. I was in Maine when I got the call about the accident. This might seem terrible, but it was actually exactly where I should be. It gave me seven hours in the car to think and pray and compose myself so that I didn’t arrive freaking out, a screaming, weeping mess. I was calm and composed and that was so much better for my husband and all of our children.
I had flown to Maine to be with mom. When I got the call, I immediately checked flights and there were no flights home that evening. What to do??? My mother has two brothers. One is a minister and was there praying and supporting my mom. The other had arrived to Portland almost on a whim. We told him there were very limited visitors and he likely would not be able to see her at all. He said he didn’t care, he just felt that that was where he needed to be. He is the one who stepped up and drove me from Portland to the front door of CHOP where Phil was waiting for me, arriving around 2:30 am.
I had Miles’s birthday party the weekend before I went to Maine to be with my mom. It was not the party that we usually have with tons of food and games and fireworks. It was slapped together by a worried daughter, but it happened. If I had waited until my mom was better, it would not of occurred at all. I’m so grateful for the memory of the kids laughing and playing and splashing and being together that day.
I came home in the middle of the week when my mom was in the hospital. I was home only 24 hours, but I spent a lot of time with Miles that evening and that morning. As I dropped him at camp before I went to the airport, I hugged him as he got out of the car at camp. That was unusual. Usually we didn’t hug as he got out of the car but something prompted me to stop him and give him a huge hug. I’m so glad my last vision of him before the accident was hugging him and seeing him run excitedly to camp for LARP week.
Yesterday, I picked up the paperwork to release the car from the impound. I asked Miles as I got in the car, “ should I go by? Should I see if there’s anything of yours in the car that I want? What should I do, Miles?“ I thought he told me no, but I told him, “well I’m going to drive and if I see Kuser road, I’m going to turn on it and go and look at the car”. As I drove on roads I know, Kuser Road was missing. Maybe I looked away from the sign at the last moment, maybe the sign was missing, who knows? But Miles made sure that I didn’t go to look at the car. He wanted to protect me.
Our masseuse came last night and did an amazing massage at no cost - just from her love for me and Miles. He was in the room, approving of her making me feel better physically, and the whole time, I felt such peace and love surrounding me.
He somehow brought one of his donors to our doorstep.
He prompted a teenager from our old town to write a letter reminding me of their amazing relationship, when Cameron was 10 or 11 and Miles 6 or so. His phrase “Miles used me as a human jungle gym” was so absolutely on point that it brought this vision to my brain that I had completely forgotten. The gratitude we have for that letter is immeasurable.
I look forward to the ways Miles and my mom continue to touch our lives.
Photo from his last day of camp in the LARP war wearing my crabby hat 🦀
The good and the bad
Posted Sep 8, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
The days continue to pass - 2.5 weeks since we lost Miles. It seems like a different life. How much can change in a few weeks. We have ok days and really down days. I feel like I should share some amazing wisdom - Everyone comments on my strength and grace in this. I don’t see it or feel it today.
This week, we said goodbye to my mom, received Miles’ ashes and started a new school year with 3 highschoolers, instead of a with a 4th in his long-awaited 8th grade year at PFS. I like to think he will enjoy this year in spirit with his friends.
The good I want to share - Miles’ pancreas
recipient reached out to us through an intermediary. This is not supposed to happen until months and months down the road. It’s supposed to happen in a very structured and limited way. I had been asking for a sign that Miles was still with me, and someone reached out that she knew who had his pancreas. I have no idea how he found me - we share no friends. But he reached out to tell me thank you and that he was thinking of us. My two prayers, that he would be a kind and loving person and a father are both fulfilled. I hope and pray that Miles’ pancreas will help him to live a long and healthy life.
Phil and I have started grief counseling together. We both are 100% committed to keeping our marriage strong and healthy. The small places where all of you touch my life help - the texts, cards, messages - even if I don’t answer them, are read and appreciated.
And for all of our meal train people, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Photo of Miles and some of his best buddies at Blairstown.
Eulogy for Mom’s Funeral
Posted Sep 5, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
I spoke at my mom’s funeral today. I wanted to make it through with no tears, but just couldn’t.
I shared this poem, which has been in my heart since we lost her:
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says;
"There, she is gone!"
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;
"Here she comes!"
My first thought when I found that my mother had passed was “I’m so happy for Miles and my younger brother Ben (passed about 4 years ago) that she is with them!” My second thought was how sad for my dad and I that we have to walk this path without her.
It was such a non-issue that many of you may not know - she was not my biological mother. She adopted me in court the week of my 21st birthday. It was a decision to formalize what we had in our hearts. And what a mother she was to me. She loved me as her own, supported me in everything I did. When Phil and I were residents and got engaged, we wanted a New Year’s Eve wedding. New Year’s was less than six months away, and impossible for a pair of residents to plan in time. She came and lived with me for several months to help organize the wedding of my dreams.
When my children were born, she stayed with us for six weeks to help, making sure I got at least a few hours of sleep not listening for a crying baby, cherishing the time she had with just her and them.
She always prepped our house in Maine: beds made, fridge filled, so we could relax after our drive up. Anything she could do to make life easier for her hard-working daughter was done with love and joy.
She was always up for a game - cards (Garbage or Hand and Foot), a board game (Settlers of Catan or Chick-a-pig with Miles), a heart-to-heart chat over a cup of tea or a glass of Prosecco, anything that let us spend time together.
Mom, I will miss you so deeply. All my love today and always.
Gratitude for Trey
Posted Sep 3, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
It’s in my heart today that I not speak about Miles. So many of you have told me that you looked at the pictures of the accident. I have not. Unfortunately, Phil was on the scene and saw it in person.
But what I want to tell you, Trey being here with us is a gift. It was truly the universe knowing that I couldn’t survive losing both my oldest and my youngest. I have told you that Miles was a miracle. I have not told you how Trey was an equal miracle.
He was my first after years of infertility. For some unknown reason, on the day that they were replacing the embryos after our IVF procedure, the doctor broke protocol and allowed us into the lab. She let us see Trey under the microscope when he was 10 cells. I literally saw my child as a cluster of cells, felt him grow inside of me and gave birth to a person from those 10 cells.
The pregnancy was initially triplets, but we lost two of the babies early on. Soon after that, we found out that Trey had a two vessel umbilical cord (should be 3 - 2 arteries and 1 vein), and a heart defect. They told us he would need open-heart surgery soon after his birth. In that moment, I rejoiced that he was not in a uterus with two other babies, taking some of his nutrition and possibly forcing him to come early. Obviously, he survived his heart surgery and has thrived since then.
In the accident, Trey sustained a concussion, multiple lacerations and significant bruising. He has lacerations on his shoulder close to his carotid arteries and an additional laceration close to his femoral artery. A matter of inches could have meant that he bled to death on the scene. He has a lump on his head that is the size of my cupped hand when I place it gently on his head. He had a scalp laceration that went from his hairline in front clear to the back of his head. As a physician, there is no reason that this child walked away from this accident.
Thank you, God or the universe or whoever else was watching out for us that day. We are so grateful.
Posted Sep 1, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
This is the hardest thing I ever imagined. We miss our sweet Miles so desperately. I realized yesterday that he is the one who comforted me most often. He just knew if I’d had a bad day, and would just hug me until I was ready to stop. It always made me feel better. If this had been another of one of our children, he would have been the one I turned to the most. While this makes his loss so hard, it is an opportunity to grow that relationship with my other boys, Phil and our dear friends.
I find comfort where I can. I sleep with his BaaBaa stuffie. I wear his blue fleece jacket (one of many iterations of this over the years, always a blue zip up fleece with the same whimsical name of "Blue Boy" - How many times over the years did I say, “Miles, go get blue boy and we’ll go for a walk”?).
I am grateful to all of you who are keeping my teen boys fed (as well as feeding Trey’s girlfriend and her best friend, who have all but moved in here supporting and loving Trey). There have even been some meals that tempted me to eat - one of my biggest challenges currently.
And to all who have donated to Miles' Memorial Fund, I am so grateful. It lets me know how much he (and we!) are loved and supported.
Much love to all of you,
One day at a time
Posted Aug 30, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
We have made it though the first week without Miles. It terrifies me when I think of feeling like this for another 50 years.
So I am following the advice I give my breast cancer patients as they start a year of therapy for breast cancer. Often this will include six months of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. I tell them it’s too much to imagine a whole year of procedures and tests and feeling sick and being scared. Just figure out how you’re going to get through today and the first part of treatment.
I am following this advice. I am not trying to imagine how I’m going to get through 50 years, I’m imagining how I’m going to get through this week as I plan my mother’s funeral and open my home to my grieving father. If I stay present in today, it is easier. Phil went back to work today, and I acutely miss his presence. The comfort of his arms when I cry.
We have had many people donate to Miles’ Memorial fund, and one of the things I look forward to most are the updates from the school - the people who donated, imagining what we can create in his memory with the money. It is a balm on my grieving, battered heart. Much love to all of you who have contributed.
The boys are doing well. Eating, spending time with friends, going to football practice where they can be distracted.
Posted Aug 28, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
I don’t even know what to say. Some people know that I was in Maine with my mother who was critically ill with endocarditis (an infection of the lining of the heart) when I got the new about Miles’ accident. My mother soon figured out that something was critically wrong in my life, knowing that only something tragic would take me from her side. She felt that losing Miles made her stronger and more determined to live, as she had lost a son in his 30’s to a heart attack, and wanted to walk this path with me. She underwent emergent surgery to repair and replace two infected heart valves. She survived the surgery but there were postoperative complications and she lost her fight last night.
Of all of this, the hardest is telling my children and seeing the renewed grief and desperation in their eyes. I know that all of you will now be doubly worried about us. We are OK. Each and every one of us has made the commitment to stay and deal with this together as a family with the utmost of love and support for each other.
As you have likely come to expect from me, I have to admit, I am grateful that my mother is now in heaven taking care of my baby. It had been very hard thinking of him there without people he knew well. I know that they are exploring together, delighting in all of the things that they find, and also searching out the game room, which I’m sure has a version of chik-a-pig, Miles’ favorite game to play with his grandma.
So many people have reached out - calls, messages, flowers, food, letters. An old PFS teacher, George, surprised us with cinnamon raisin bread that he made. We had made this in the past with him as a family through a fundraiser at Snipes farm. A beautiful letter came with pictures of Miles’ last day at Liberty Lake. Every flat surface in our home is decorated with beautiful flowers, and fruit and treat baskets arrive daily to try to tempt all of us into trying to eat. Thank you for showering us with love.
If you are considering sending something at this point, please consider donating to Miles’ Memorial Fund - it brings us great peace and joy to know that there will be something lasting for us and him.
I will continue to update you and let you walk this path with us.
Posted Aug 26, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
Before I lost Miles, I couldn’t imagine the grief - I thought it would overwhelm me and drown me. But applying what I have learned over the last 5 years, I understand that what drowns you is resisting the feelings. Trying to force them down (they just grow if you do, like trying to keep a beach ball under water). Arguing with reality.
I am letting the feelings come. They come in waves, and if I don’t resist them, they roll through me and leave a blessed peace. I am not afraid to open fully and grieve, but I’m also not afraid to open and let joy in.
Even now, there is joy. Having family we rarely see just here in our home with us - hearing their small stories of their day to day life that never get shared in a hurried visit with lots of family around.
Watching my son’s girlfriend love on him and take care of him. Reading the letter that arrived with dinner from Miles’ meeting partner (a Princeton Friends Tradition where older students are matched with younger and guide them through school activities).
I feel the love and support of the vast communities I am part of - PFS and the Pennington School, my work family, and a vast network of doctor moms that support each other in times of crisis.
I am working on creating a legacy to help
Miles live on. Phil is working on getting all of us the help we need from professional grief counselors. Our children turn to each other when they grieve, and hold each other tight when they cry. The sound of sobs brings people running to hold the person up. It is terrible and beautiful.
Posted Aug 25, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
I want to spend a moment speaking about gratitude. I will post a podcast that I creates in the past extolling the virtues of a gratitude practice.
Today, I am grateful for two amazing meals over the last two days. Lasagna, homemade bread and brownies were exactly the comfort food my children needed the night before last. Last night was a delicious meal of salmon and veggies with a lot of vegan options that were perfect for my sister-in-law who is staying with us from Los Angeles and is vegan.
I am grateful that this happened at the end of the summer, after we had had several months to enjoy Miles‘ company. I’m grateful that it’s almost time to go back to school to help to distract my older children. I’m grateful for all the love, support and outpouring of faith from our community. We got word that they were able to take M Miles’ pancreas, liver and kidneys. Due to trauma in the accident they were not able to take his heart or his lungs, so we get to keep his loving heart, and the lungs that breathed life into everyone everyone around him.
We plan to establish a robotics lab at Princeton friends in his honor, so in lieu of flowers, hold for a link to donate there.
Posted Aug 23, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
We got through the first day after the news. We had our family here - both the born family and the chosen ones. They helped us to cry a bit, laugh a bit, remember fun times.
I played cards with my sister in law and nieces and the boys made up a game at the end of the table like quarters where you had to bounce a ball and balance it in the center of a roll of toilet paper. They thought this was great fun. This gave me a glimpse of how we will survive this. There will still be real, full joy. I had always thought that every future moment would be tempered with sadness, but even yesterday, the first day, there were instants that were just joy. It makes me hopeful.
Food arrived from the Wittenburg’s and several other sources and all of us ate at least a little.
Pic is Miles the week of his first birthday at our home in Maine
Posted Aug 22, 2021 by Deborah Brackin
We are struggling, deeply grieving the loss of one of the bright lights in our family. But we are pulling together. Reaching out to each other with open arms when the waves hit us and threaten to drag us under.
We have had a huge amount of family support - a great outpouring of love, with all of our siblings dropping everything and coming to be with us. There are moments when we laugh together that I can see an inkling of how I might get though this- a moment of true laughter, a real smile, a few seconds I can breathe without it feeling like such a struggle.
I look forward to seeing friends come with food, thank you all for this gift.