The Evolution of Team Brown

The evening of August 18 is a bit of a blur. I know I walked into our house a little past midnight after a four hour drive from Arlington, VA to the North Carolina home I grew up in. Our street was flooded with familiar cars. I rushed in the side door and saw a crowd of friends gathered in our kitchen, quiet with heads down and tears flowing. Everyone looked up. I zeroed in on my dad and ran to him.

Minutes later my brother rushed in. My dad and brother had a moment together. Then the three of us huddled up, only while being surrounded by a wall of friends symbolically but ever-presently reminding us we were not alone.

A little while later friends headed to their cars for what I imagine might have been a somber drive home. That night we had our first “team meeting” as a team of just three. Our minds were mush. Our eyes were clouded by tears. Our words were honest and raw. Our souls were weary after being absolutely socked. That night set the tone for so much of what was to come. We all tossed and turned in our sleep as we each claimed a couch or pile of pillows on the floor in our living room. We stayed together.

The next day friends showed up early with food, toilet paper and Kleenex. They made sure we were fed, and cared for. Still the three of us huddled together, while all kinds of friends and family shuffled in and out of our house. My dad, brother and I became a weary, yet tenacious unit. We made decisions you never expect to make, said things I never thought I’d say at just twenty-five years old. We picked out a casket, an outfit and chose songs to be sung and prayers to be read. We all went shopping together for clothes to wear to my mom’s funeral. I couldn’t even offer a polite smile back when the Fitting Room attendant smiled and said to me with a wink, “Can’t go wrong with a little black dress.”

We went to my mom’s visitation. Family gathered and prayed together before guests and friends came through. Soon we learned of a line that took two hours to make it’s way to the room we were in. We stood, shook hands, hugged. Shared tears and knowing looks of “how could this be?” We talked about her and heard stories about her. About three hours in, my dad, brother and I needed a quick break. My uncle stepped in and held the line while we took an intermission. After a quick drink and bathroom break, we looked each other over. “Hands in,” my dad said. With a fist bump, we headed back out.

We didn’t know what to say to each other but knew enough to not venture too far from one another. At the funeral the next day, we stayed close and sent my mom to heaven with hymns and immense, immeasurable love. The church was full and empty at the same time. So many people but lacking the one we wanted most.

Leaving the cemetery was the hardest part. All I wanted to do was get my new perfectly pressed, Little Black Dress covered in the dirt that my mom rest in. I just wanted to collapse on the coffin and yell and cry and scream and fight. I wanted to sit there and never leave. Instead, I moved away in what felt like the hardest step I’ve ever taken. I slowly turned my head and walked to the black limousine with swollen eyes and a quivering bottom lip.

The next day we crashed. This was when I first learned of the sheer exhaustion of grief. I slept and slept. I cried and cried.

Then people left. There were planes to catch and highways that couldn’t wait. One by one, sound by sound, our world got quieter while their lives resumed. We eventually returned to our towns and began to pick up where we abruptly left off. My brother headed down south to resume college classes and I headed back north to the city. My dad and the cat held down the fort at the house that never felt so big.

We started Family Conference Calls, dialing in each night around 10:30 to check-in with each other, to talk about everything and nothing, to hear a familiar voice. We were as close and as familiar as we could get to her so we stayed tight, although far.

We went to family weekend at USC.


We ran races.

We talked about hard things. We questioned a lot. We talked about the how the Cubs were SO CLOSE and how she’d never know the glory of the newest Adele album (maybe that was just me). We asked for strength to make it through just that one day and no more. Thoughts of time measured by more than a day were overwhelming.

We leaned on others. We tried to find our new dynamic as a unit of three without the organizer, never-ending-question-asker, the baker, the cook, the snuggler, the runner, the lover of everyone, the ever-includer.

We’ve fumbled. (Read about Thanksgiving if you need proof.) But we’ve also nearly made it a whole year together. A whole year without the woman I’ve always admired. The woman who reminded me who I am and what I’m made of. The woman that brings us to this blog on a regular basis.

The woman whose love and actions are still working and weaving us all together, a firm reminder that nobody is completely gone in death.

I need to tattoo that on my hand and permanently wrap my heart in that truth: Nobody is ever completely gone in death. 

Maya Angelou said it best: “A great soul serves everyone all the time.  A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.”

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8 Replies to “The Evolution of Team Brown”

  1. 😭😭😭😭😭

    Gosh, powerful words my friend. Keep writing. You have a beautifully poetic way of communicating these indescribable emotions. People need that.


    Sent from my iPhone



  2. What a meaningful post — and I love that Maya Angelou quote. It’s true that a life lived with love is one that never truly ends. When my friend Alex passed away from cancer earlier this year (she was 26), this excerpt by Henry van Dyke was in her obituary, and the line “Gone where? Gone from my sight. That is all,” is one I keep at my desk and read every morning:

    “I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
    spreads her white sails to the moving 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 where?

    Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
    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 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!””


  3. Love you Em. I can’t believe it has been almost a year. I am so proud to have you as a cousin. You have been amazing this last year. The perseverance and grace you have shown is an inspiration. You and your family are your Mom’s legacy. I know she has to be proud. Stay strong cousin!


  4. Emily, you speak so eloquently. Your family and mine have been entertained since your folks studied at Knox. Your mom became what my folks called, A Harper Girl. There had been several Harper Girls through the years. They were always very special students. One of the first Harper Girls babysat me when I came home from the hospital as a baby. The Harper Girls have had different impacts n my life. The one I just spoke of became my Aunt Lynn and I visited her in Oregon last summer! Another became a good friend and let me crash at her house with my cats when I went to cat shows in the DC area. Others are more just names to me, especially after I grew up and left home. But the most special Harper Girl and the one whose had the greatest impact in my life was your mother. At first she was just a name. Mary Filosa came to dinner last night. Mary got in a little car accident. Mary this and that. It was clear she was a very special Harper Girl. In 1987, I think it as, I was living near Charleston and my folks called and said Rick Brown and Mary Filosa are getting married and they are going to honeymoon at Seabrook. (Who would have ever thought how that house would intersect our lives!! But that’s another story!) Would I please go out and make sure the house is clean? I did and I think I decorated a little bit for the newly weds. My folks had me pick u some things to have in the house for them. But, I still had not physically met this special Harper Girl. A couple of years later, Chris and I had moved to Miami. We were living in an apartment waiting for our house to be built. Our son was three years old. I got news that your mom was pregnant with you! I decided Iw anted to do something for Mary’s baby because she was so special to my folks. That summer was so nice! In the mornings I took Bobby to the pool. Then home for lunch and a nap. While he napped I worked on a counted crosstitch baby blanket for you. A few years later Chris’ job was closing down. Daddy said we needed to come to the Raleugh area because of RTP. He thought if Chris got a job up here then there would be other opportunities job wise if this job should go away and we wouldn’t have to move. Plus we would be closer to them. Computers had just started being a household item but not the Internet. Your mom sent us the Sunday want ads every week!! That is how we got to the Raleigh area!! Because of your mom!! Finally, I really got to meet this Rick and Mary!! Mom and dad came up, I remember a dinner at your house in Raleigh. That’s when I learned Mary called my folks Teach and Mrs. Teach. We started getting together when my folks were in town. Daddy died the year after we moved here and your mom sent my mom a card every single week for a year after daddy’s death! We all also got together for a meal every Christmas. I’m sure you remember that. Y’all treated my mom like another grandmother and she loved you all like her own! Remember when your mom drive mine to New Port News to visit the McGrory’s? Then there were all the Knox get togethers!! When mom got sick your mom kinda blew me away with her thoughtfulness and help. Here’s where I really got to know her. She called me every day. She would go over on Sunday’s when mom was at her apartment and just sit and be there for her. Talk with her or just be there while mom took a nap. She and your dad would go and visit mom when she was in the health center, and later in the hospice room. Your mom was such a support for me! I think that’s when I started to really love your mom as a sister. She was truly my folks third daughter!! The eulogy your mom and dad gave at my mom’s memorial was so wonderful!! So beautiful! And funny! After mom died, Chris, your folks and I tried to have regular dinners. At first we aimed for once every four months. Busy schedules moved that to once in awhile but I treasure those dinners!! We aim to keep the dinners going with your Dad. I wish I could have had more time with your mom. The relationship was truly unique!! On one hand I don’t feel like I know your mom that well but on the other hand I feel like she, and all of you, are members of our family. Your mom had invited Chris and me to join their FMEN group. We joined with Facebook but never got to go join with everyone. Traffic and work interferred. I’m so sorry about that. I remember reading on Facebook through the FMEN group that your mom had died. I couldn’t believe it!! I cried so much!! It was so unbelievable!! To ths day, I still cry for the loss of your mom!! I can’t tell you how often I think of her and the wonderful qualities she had!! We had had one of our regular dinners just a few weeks before she died and she and I were talking about going to a Barr class at my Pilates Studio. We were just working on schedules. I still have our last e-mail. She will live on forever in so many people’s hearts!! You and Adam are very blessed to have had her for your mother. (You dad is no slouch, either!) I wish you all the best in learning your new normal. I think you all are on a healing path and we are blessed that you are taking all of us who loved her along. You and yiyr familybare in my thoughts so often and my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

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