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My oldest daughter and I were unpacking my office yesterday, singing along to the radio and finding old pictures and mementoes from years ago. I found a keychain that I had gotten signed by R. Kelly on January 2, 1997, when my friend Brooke and I were working at the mall together and he happened to walk past us. I quickly snapped a picture on my cell phone, posted it on FB and tagged Brooke with a caption that read “Look what I just found. Remember this Brooke?” Not even an hour later, I received the worst message ever…

OMG what happened to Brooke?

Brooke was one of my best friends when I moved to Orlando for college. We met when I got a job at a kiosk in the mall. She was 17. I was 19. We worked one shift together and instantly became best friends. We were inseparable. I can’t remember a day when we weren’t hanging out. There was something about her energy, her spontaneity and love of life, even as a teenager, that drew me to her.

We developed a daily routine where we would go to Checkers to get a banana milkshake and a burger, or to 7-11 to get a Mountain Dew Slurpee and sunflower seeds. Then, we’d head to the park where we would hang out with her friends until it was dark. It was the most simple of things, but I looked forward to it every single day.

She was a bad influence on me. Probably the worst of everyone I’ve ever met, if I’m totally honest. But it was because of her influence that I was able to experience things that I may never have. She introduced me to everyone she knew and I quickly became a part of this world that I never knew existed. Even though I was over 300 miles from my family, she became my family.  She was so much like a sister, encouraging me to do things I was afraid to do, taking me places I would have never gone and pushing me out of my comfort zone to explore life in a new, exciting way. And because of that, I am who I am today, living life with no regrets.

As I sat there, on the floor of my office, shaking, I quickly went to her Facebook page where I saw posts from other people like…

Rest in Peace sweet girl.

RIP my friend. Love you always.

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. RIP you will be missed!!!

What?! I just kept saying it over and over again. What?! What?! What?! This is a cruel joke. I JUST tagged her in a post so we could laugh about meeting R. Kelly. I just got a message from her two weeks ago on my birthday, with the same thing she told me for the last 22 years, “Happy Birthday Duck. I miss you!”

OMG what happened to Brooke?

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My mind couldn’t comprehend what I was reading. She couldn’t be gone.

I immediately messaged everyone that had commented on her wall, as well as her brother. I needed to know what happened to my beautiful friend. I waited and waited. And in the meantime, I googled everything I could to try to get some answers, but found nothing.

I tried to remember the last time we saw one another. She showed up at the hotel we were staying for my daughter’s dance competition. We sat in the lobby for hours and caught up on life. She told me about her daughter, who had recently graduated high school. She was so proud of her. The way she spoke about her, it was like she knew that she was the best thing she’d ever done in her life. I think it was the first time, in 22 years that I had ever really seen that side of her. She seemed to really have her life together. She was happy. I loved seeing her that way.

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I was told she was in a car accident early Saturday morning. I’m not sure how or what happened, but the news spread quickly as people posted pictures and memories and shared their disbelief that she was really gone.

I’m still processing it all. I break out in tears throughout the day, thinking about her. I think about our next trip to Orlando where we probably would have met up, as we always did when I was up there. I think about her family and what they must be feeling. Most of all, I’m sad that she wasn’t able to do the everything she wanted to do before her time ran out. She deserved a full life. She deserved to find the perfect guy. She deserved her happily ever after.

Brooke will never be forgotten. She will live on as a piece of every single person whose life she touched. I’m lucky to have known her and will always love her. Rest in peace, Duck. Until we meet again.