A grieving Attleboro mother helping other mothers grieve

Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on Jan. 24, 2017.

ATTLEBORO – A library card from when he was 8. An out-of-the-blue phone call from a childhood friend.

In the six years since his death, Myles Brastow has left his mother more signs than she can count.

But one of the strongest signs from Myles was perhaps the most life-changing. It came during a quiet trip to the Cape: a folder with eight names. And suddenly, Melissa Brastow found the courage to start the support group she’d been looking for ever since her 17-year-old son’s fatal motorcycle accident in 2010.

“It’s taken a long time to get here,” the 47-year-old Attleboro mother said. “After we lost Myles, we had tremendous support – from family, friends, strangers, the community and his hockey family, especially. But, it was more personal for me. I found myself looking for mothers who shared the same loss and truly understood how I felt, but they were hard to find.”

She had been a part of other grief groups, but as a mother, the loss was different, Brastow said.

“Losing a child, it’s a whole different world.”

On an annual trip to Provincetown last year, Brastow found herself explaining that loss to the owner of Chrisof’s, a familiar jewelry store. She mentioned wanting to start a support group for mothers in a similar situation, but she didn’t know where to start.

“When I came back this summer the owner slid me a folder with Myles’ photo on top,” Brastow said. “It had the names and numbers of eight mothers she had met throughout the year who wanted to be part of my group.”

The owner offered Brastow the writing studio on top of her store. It was just weeks before the sixth anniversary of Myles’ death. And, six was always Myles’ lucky number – the one he wore on his jersey playing hockey for Attleboro High.

“I thought, oh my god. This is it,” Brastow said. “I finally had a list. I had a place. I had a date. I booked it. And the mothers came.”

The support group grew into a monthly event, held three times since on the Cape since September. But now, Brastow feels its time to bring it home.

In February, she’ll hold her first area support group in North Attleboro for mothers still grieving a loss.

The group is less therapy than it is just a place to listen, Brastow said.

Mothers are asked to bring a picture of their child and share their experience, followed by stories, tears and laughter. Some offer suggestions and perspectives grown from years of coping with the loss. Others just listen.

“It doesn’t get easier,” Brastow admitted. “Our child is gone. We’re never going to be the same.”

But for a few short hours they don’t have to be. The space offers relief from feigned smiles and becomes a place where mothers can feel understood without trying, Brastow said. Where they can talk about the hard days – holidays, the angel anniversary, a birthday – and the ‘what ifs.’ Where would they be now?

It’s also a space to talk about the things that made their children who they were, Brastow said. Myles was an amazing athlete, a kind and genuine friend. He loved clowning around, making others laugh, lighting up every room and always the center of attention at family parties. He touched everyone he met.

The absence of that rambunctious spirit made their home seem even quieter after he died, Brastow said. Myles was killed Sept. 24, 2010, crashing his motorcycle at Thurber Avenue and Chapel Hill Drive on a Friday morning just before school, and less than a mile from his home.

“I remember everything from that day,” Brastow said. “I remember the smell, the temperature, what I wore. Mourning the loss of a child is the worst thing in the world. And I think the second worst thing is watching your children grieve their sibling, because you know there’s nothing you can do to fix it. We all dealt with it in different ways. It’s been a journey, and it’s still a journey.”

“There’s always that deep hurt feeling inside of you,” she said. “You miss the small things – bringing home his favorite foods from the grocery store or the ‘please bring down your dirty dishes!!’ reminder, hearing his footsteps or his car start outside.”

But, talking about it helps.

“Everyone has funny stories and sad stories,” she said. “We laugh and cry and share. For me, it’s my only way of keeping those stories alive.”

That feeling drives the closing question of every meeting: What was their favorite Halloween costume? Thanksgiving dish? Christmas gift?

“We leave with the positive things,” Brastow said. “I want them to feel a smile when they leave that day. We talk through it and know that our child would want us to be OK. We know they’re looking over us and sending us signs. And we know, unfortunately, that’s all we have left. That, and the memories.”

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