When I first met Shelley Brouwer on Instagram I felt her warmth instantly. She was genuinely interested in my daughter and happily cheered on each of Avery’s little victories. At the time I had no idea what Shelley had been through. Then one day she messaged me to say she had written a book about life with her daughter.
She asked if she could send me a copy of Because She Was.
I was hesitant to read it at first—through Shelley’s beautiful Instagram posts and blog, I’d already discovered the ending. I brought the book with me on a road trip and read it from cover to cover in a few short hours. I couldn’t put it down. As my husband drove and the kids were busy with tech and snacks in the backseat, I read and cried intermittently along with the windshield wipers. At one point my husband said cautiously, “Lis, I don’t know if you should be reading this…”
He was worried because of the tears. And yes, parts of the story are heartbreaking, but I was completely drawn in. Shelley’s beautifully written story weaves forward and back in time, outlining the history of her family’s remarkable life. And though I knew what would ultimately happen, I couldn’t help but wish the story would somehow have a different ending.
I’m an advocate for finding humour and joy in the darkest corners and Shelley does just that in this heart wrenching, but heart filling book. As I read, I folded pages that reminded me of my daughter. Looking back through the book now I’m astounded at how many pages are dog eared. If my daughter Avery had met Hallie, they most certainly would’ve been fast friends. Despite their age difference, they have more in common than anyone I can think of.
If somebody is sick or sad or celebrating or for any reason at all, Avery will excitedly create a special card for them. Hallie did that too.
Hallie mixed up and combined words in a way that resulted in awesome Hallie-isms. Like hers, Avery-isms are a constant source of delight. “When Hallie sang, she sang loud and proud. Listening to her practise a song for choir class it was clear as a bell that Joshua was fighting the battle of ‘Cherry Coke, Cherry Coke, Cherry Coke.'” Avery sings her own version of the Canadian national anthem. She sings it loud and proud too…and hilariously wrong.
“Oh Canada, our home and naked land. True painted love, in all the Santa’s land.”
I can never sing it the correct way now after that.
From their shared middle name, to their passion for making iPad slideshows for people they care about, these two fuzzy robe loving girls have so much in common—including the fact that they will always be fiercely loved.
Though this is a mother’s story of her child with disabilities, it’s a story that every parent should know—it will inspire you in ways you might not expect.
Shelley describes the ups and downs, the good days and bad. Reading her words is like sitting on the front porch, chatting with a trusted friend. She explains that as time goes on she’s able to look back over her daughter’s life with gratitude. This brought me great comfort. I spend far too much time worrying away the days and obsessing over the what-ifs. Shelley’s story is a timely reminder to enjoy every moment. That sounds cliché, but it’s a truth that needs repeating.
Though I’ve never met Shelley in person, I feel strongly connected. Her story confirmed that I’m parenting in the right direction. I’m steadfast in my commitment to doing everything I can to ensure my daughter lives her best life—whatever that might look like. Even when unthinkable happened, Shelley has gone on to teach others the lessons her daughter taught her.
I would be remiss not to mention that Shelley can write like nobody’s business. She tells it like it is with a handful of self-deprecation, reflection, and happy dose of humour.
The emotion and revelations in this story will encourage you to become a more present parent, and a more kind, inclusive, and grateful human.
If you’re somebody who loves a child with differences (a parent, a teacher, a coach, a friend), “Because She Was” is a must-read book—“a book that came into being out of a longing to read a parent’s honest account of what it feels like to raise a kid with a disability, and what it feels like to lose her. The book is not a how-to, and it’s not a resource guide- it’s just an “Oh my gosh, this is hard, and sweet, and terrifying, and powerful, an uncomfortable, and beautiful, and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but the rewards are different and unexpected, and sometimes they hurt.”
Visit Shelley’s website and find out where to get a copy of her book HERE:
You can also link to her blog from there. “So Familiar” is particularly moving and it made me admire Shelley even more than I do already.
“It happens like it always does. I see a family with a child with disabilities, especially an adult child, especially an adult girl child, a child who reminds me of the girl I still miss everyday, and my world freezes, I can’t take my eyes off the family. I want to get closer. I want to know more. I want to be included in their world. I want to talk to them. I want to hug them. I want to tell them I “get it.” Read the rest HERE.