Shannon SmilesPhoto by Jackie Murphey-Miller

January 21, 2014

It has been almost fourteen years since this article appeared in our local paper.
Since then our Angel Tree has grown.

There are 238 "Angels" in Shannon's Remembrance Garden. Family members and friends we have known and loved for years, as well as those we only know by our heart's connection are there with Shannon, visible reminders of how precious each moment is.

The garden continues to be my safe haven and I feel incredible gratitude for the families who have blessed us by sharing their loved ones with us.

Our Garden will always be, and if adding your loved one feels appropriate to your experience,please let us know.
Together we will always remember with tenderness and with hope.

Coping With Grief
By Laura Hutchison
The Free Lance-Star

"Angels" flutter in the breeze at a house on Castle Court in Spotsylvania County.
There's an angel smoking a cigar, an infant angel, an angel wearing a football uniform, a beautiful girl angel, a boy angel with a dog. Each angel is someone's child, taken from this Earth too soon. They were victims of car wrecks, violent acts and disease.
"I know where each family comes from, the circumstances of each one's departure, their brothers and sisters, how they're all faring," said Jan Broom, who created the angel tree with her husband, Jules.
"I remember everything about these families." The Brooms have a story of their own.

Their daughter, Shannon, died May 1, 1998, from injuries she suffered in an automobile accident. She was 23.

The Brooms made the first angel tree in a potted plant on their front porch just before Shannon's birthday this year. It included about 20 pictures of children Jan met through a Web site for mothers of organ donors. Most of the people represented on the angel tree were 25 or younger when they died, but not all. There's a grandmother on the tree- the woman's family heard about the tree, sent her picture, and the Brooms felt it was appropriate for a grandmother to watch over the other angels.

"Everybody is somebody's child," Broom said. "The loss is the same whether you're dealing with a baby who was stillborn, or a brother-in-law."
The angels moved to trees in the yard when the Brooms dedicated a memorial garden to Shannon in May.

"We sit here and look at their little faces and think about how far we've come, how much these families have meant to each other," Broom said. "I may never meet the families of many of these children, but I love them with all my heart. I know they're with Shannon."

There are 53 angels on the tree now, but only five are from Virginia. Others come from just about every state, Australia and New Zealand. Broom wants local people to know about the tree- that it's a place for their children to be remembered, and for families to mourn and be comforted.
"Nothing has been as uplifting as celebrating all the love we have because of these children," Broom said. "It would be nice if local people could share it with us, too."

People have found out about the angel tree from Web sites about dealing with grief, from organ donation sites-Shannon was an organ donor-and from the "Oprah" show Web site. Oprah Winfrey featured the Brooms on her show, during a segment about gratitude. Shannon kept a gratitude journal. After her death, her parents combined entries from the journal with Shannon's artwork to make bookmarks, thousands of which have been distributed around the world.
"I don't feel like the idea for the angel tree was mine," Broom said. "I got one of these whispers from my angel that this would be a good thing to do. Anything I can do to alleviate some of the sorrow they're living with, find some peace with all this, it feels like what I'm supposed to do."

Those who've sent pictures said the Brooms made the right decision in creating the angel tree. Each time someone sends the Brooms a picture of a loved one, they scan it into the computer and create a small ornament, with the picture, the person's name, and his or her birth and "heaven" dates. Each ornament is laminated and strung with colored ribbon to be hung on the tree. The Brooms take a picture of each ornament and send it to the person's family.

Among pictures on the tree is one of Patricia Canadays's sister, Julianne, who died of melanoma after being diagnosed at age 20. Canaday, who lives in West Los Angeles, has been friends with Broom for years.
"The angel tree has been an especially important way of honoring Julianne and Shannon for me," Canaday said. The memorial garden "literally hums with the music of life in all its forms. There is no better place for an angel tree and the spirits of its angels to live, and no better caretaker of this magnificent shrine of love than Jan."

Linda Miller's son, Nicholas, lost two of his best friends in separate car accidents within ten days last year. The pictures of both 21-year-olds, Shaun Andrews and Russ Wolford, hang on the angel tree. Since Miller didn't have original photos of either, she sent copies of their yearbook photos.
"When I told Nick that his friends were going to be memorialized on the angel tree, he was almost speechless," said Miller, who lives in Maryland. "He was thankful that there was such a place, and that his friends would be among other young people and not forgotten."

Sue Kightlinger found out about the angel tree on Shannon's Web site, after the "Oprah" segment. Her son, Sean, died in 1997 at age 27, from a first-time use of heroin. "One of my greatest fears-and I think for all parents that lose a child-was that everyone would forget Sean," said Kightlinger, who lives in Texas. "When I saw the angel tree, I thought, Sean would love the idea of this, being with other children always outside, breezes moving through the tree and the music of the wind chimes. "It gave me a lot of comfort to send his picture to Jan and know she would know what I was feeling. Parents whose children have died think almost the same thoughts, and have so many of the same feelings."

Helping other families heal also helps her family heal, Broom said. "People tell me they don't know how we can do this, because it's so sad. But there's nothing sad about it- I know that sounds bizarre. I don't even believe it when I say it," Broom said. "But for me, doing something positive to remember them doesn't seem tragic to me."

Jeanette DelPilar brought ther granddaughter, Justine, to the angel tree so Justine could hang a picture of her father. Marc DelPilar died at age 24, after he was shot by a stranger. "What beautiful people they are to have done something like this, " DelPilar said. "I couldn't tell you the feeling. It meant more than anything." Broom said seeing Justine put her father's picture on the tree filled her heart. "She was really little when her dad was shot," Broom said. "When she placed that picture on the tree, she had the biggest smile on her face, because she was doing something for her dad." As the leaves fall off the trees in the garden, the angels will be moved to plants on th front porch. The plants will be strung with lights, and the angels will remain there until spring, when they go back into the garden.

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