When you are about to lose your only child, all you can do is hope and pray for a miracle. Parents Jan and Jules Broom did just that. Their prayers were answered, only not as they envisioned. Although their daughter Shannon’s physical presence left this world, she is present in very many real ways.
Shannon was an intense young woman of 23, passionate about art, and loving to her family and everyone’s children. She had a zeal and love for life, which she chronicled beautifully in the gratitude journal discovered after her accident. The journal is a testament to Shannon’s too short, but very full life.
Strangely, it was her mother Jan who woke up on a May morning sensing her own death. Shannon was at her grandmother’s home, preparing to make the one-hour drive back home to Fredericksburg, Virginia. Jan called her daughter that morning. As they closed the conversation, Shannon was first to say, “I love you,” the only time she ever beat Jan to that pledge. Later, a message was left on Jan’s voice mail that said “Julie Brown” had been involved in an automobile accident. Though the name was incorrect, Jan instinctively knew that it was Shannon.
When she saw her daughter in the emergency room, Jan knew she had “left,” the term Jan still uses for Shannon’s death. Still, she hoped for a miracle. Exhausted, Jan waited in the hospital’s family room down the hall from Shannon’s. Through her exhaustion Jan saw Shannon laying in the bed and Jesus standing at her side, holding her hand and lovingly touching her forehead. Jan knows this vision was real, and believed it to be the miracle that would bring Shannon back. But the miracles would come later.
After Shannon died, Jan felt her daughter was still close and still giving her inspiration. Jan told a hospital chaplain she intended to deliver the eulogy at Shannon’s memorial service, although she was not a public speaker and no rational logic would normally have encouraged this mother to volunteer for such a task. Then, a music CD, which Shannon had recently bought, simply fell off the shelf as Jan passed by. Shortly after this, another of Shannon’s journals was discovered which recorded her heartfelt beliefs in life after death. Shannon’s memorial was ready, written in her own words, with her own choice of music.
Jan also describes the comfort found in a disorganized closet. The Brooms have a walk-in closet, but it is too cluttered to walk in it. Over three years after the accident, Jan traveled the same route as Shannon had through a fierce thunderstorm. The memory brought Jan back to her deep pain of loss, and she whispered a request to Shannon for a sign of her presence. The request seemed to be met with a thump from that closet.
After wading through the storage, Jan found that a huge box of photos had fallen. Inside the box was a gift bag that belonged to Shannon. The bag was embossed with a message that said, “When This You See, Remember Me.” In addition to the photos, which had not been seen in years, was a lock of Shannon’s hair, a special gift Jules had wanted since Shannon was in the hospital. The Brooms had no idea when Shannon prepared the package, but it was certainly received at the most appropriate time.
Jan and Jules Broom have each passed through their individual experiences of grief. Jan describes the pain at the core of her grief as a deep haze through which her vision was obscured and clouded. Yet, she has never been angry. Sad, lonely and lost, but never angry. Jules, however, felt like someone grabbed his heart and squeezed. The situation feels unfair and terribly wrong; he wishes he could take Shannon’s place because children should never die before their parents.
Although to Jules it still feels as if a cog from their family wheel is missing, he has found his comfort, too. He makes beautiful bookmarks of Shannon’s artwork and writings. His “bookmark therapy” has helped him with the pain, and they are offered to others who have found inspiration in them.
Indeed, the inspiration they see offered to others by Shannon’s life and death is like the light breaking apart clouds after a thunderstorm. They find themselves living in that intensely beautiful light and welcome each new day of opportunities.
The Broom family often talked of God, the afterlife and things spiritual. Their faith and belief in the spiritual universe was strong. Shannon, especially, was open to every path of God and knew that humanity is interconnected. The Brooms believe people are able to survive a loss only through a deep and abiding faith in a spiritual realm, and for them it has been their safety net.
The miracle Jan prayed for in the hospital came in the form of organ donation. As bad as the pain of the loss was, the organ donation offered the possibility of something incredible coming from their tragedy. Shannon and her parents had previously discussed organ donation, so there was no doubt of her wishes when Jules and Jan were asked for their consent. In their daughter’s mind, the body was just a temporary container.
Shannon’s heart, liver and both kidneys saved the lives of four people. The Brooms have corresponded with several of Shannon’s organ transplant recipients, and regularly write or see two of them. The Brooms still enjoy hearing from these people and their friendship reinforces a desire to help others whenever they can. The Brooms have partnered in the development of a website which tells Shannon’s story, and they receive e-mail from grieving people across the country. They have created an Angel Tree Garden at their home where they display laminated photos of loved ones sent from families they have met.
The Brooms have the comfort of knowing Shannon did not cease to be. They believe her memory lives on in others who are touched by her life, her story and her organ donation. They continue to receive the strength that comes from 23 years of intensely loving someone. It is a wonderful journey through never-ending love!