I Smile My Best Smile

We all have moments in our lives that change us- strengthen or weaken us, whether they be good or bad.  They can be meeting someone, having a new experience, hearing a song that stops you in your tracks, achieving or not achieving a goal, and for many, death.  In my late teens, two of my uncles died- one from cancer and the other from a heart attack.  These back to back deaths, unfortunately, made me no stranger to the death of a beloved family member. However, nothing could prepare me for the back to back death of my brother and father.

On August 23, 2011, the northeast experienced a rare earthquake. This was also the day that my whole world was shook and partially destroyed- it was the day my only sibling, my big brother, was killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of 28. He was everything I wasn’t and my absolute biggest fan. It wasn’t real- it couldn’t be.  I called every tow truck company in the area trying to get an answer, and we waited for hours in a police station to hear it officially from the officers on the scene. My parents had to bury their child- something a parent should NEVER have to do. Almost 19 months later, on March 17, 2013, which was 2 days before my birthday, and 6 months before my wedding, my dad died while traveling on business.  He didn’t get to walk me down the aisle or dance with me at my wedding. Within 19 months, half of my family was ripped from my mom and me.

I am in a club that I don’t wish on my worst enemy- the dead brother and dead father club. I am one of the lucky ones though, I guess… I got 25.5 years with my brother and almost 27 with my father. In those moments, when we got those phone calls, time stood still. I could tell you exactly where I was, and that feeling of denial. My heart was broken, I was angry, sad, reclusive, and daily functioning was a struggle (and some days, still is). My friends and family became my lifelines.

My story is my strength. As broken as I felt (my mom as well), we kept our heads above water because we would be failing them if we didn’t. I got married and now have two absolutely beautiful children.  The fear of having a child and/or a spouse I may have to bury one day was debilitating and took a toll on me and my relationships. Let me tell you though, my babies were absolutely hand-picked for me from heaven. My brother and my dad were the strongest and best men I have ever known.  They taught me to be strong, brave, independent, and never wanted me to be unhappy. Because of them, and their love, each day, I smile my best smile.

For six years now, my mom, husband, and I have hosted a benefit in their honor to carry on their memories the best we can. Since discovering Family Lives On, we have donated 100% of our proceeds to them. My mother began working for them, and I became a volunteer. We never want any child to feel alone or that their parent(s) and their traditions have been forgotten.

Purchase tickets for the Final Balls and Beer Benefit for the Bragg Boys here

Melissa and Chris

Melissa and her dad, Darrell

Melissa and her family