There’s a scene from the Tom Hanks movie, “Forrest Gump”, where Forrest watches Jenny throw rocks at an abandoned house that represents a painful memory from her past. In a moment of seemingly simple minded analysis, Forrest realizes that no amount of thrown rocks will ever undo the hurt that has been done.
This past weekend, Brothers Before Others hosted a memorial dedication in honor of 5 year old Delaney Gaddis and her grandmother, Deborah Limmer, who were both killed in July of 2018 by a 22 year old intoxicated driver as they took a morning walk on the sidewalk. At the request of Delaney’s mother, Jennifer, those who attended the dedicaiton hand painted rocks to be placed at the memorial. As I stood and looked at the hundreds of heart-felt beautifully painted rocks, in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel exactly like Forrest. Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.
As any police officer can testify to, crimes or calls for service that involve children are among the most stressful calls we are asked to answer. Similarly, the losses of Delaney and Deborah have impacted our charity, from the top down.
When Brothers Before Others traveled to Baltimore late last year and met with Brian and Jennifer Gaddis in order to deliver the portrait of Delaney done by Philadelphia Police Officer/Forensic Sketch Artist/BBO Partner Jonny Castro, the plan for a memorial was set in motion.
For Brian and Jen, there was only one obvious location for the memorial: Spring Lake Park in Timonium, Maryland. The park holds a special place in their hearts, as well as the hearts of members from both of their families, resulting from the countless memories that have been tied to that location.
With the help of Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr., the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens , and funded by countless sponsor and member donations, BBO was able to have a one-of-a-kind plaque and bench placed in the park, mere feet from rocks that Delaney herself often climbed on.
The quote on the plaque reads, “In an ocean full of fish…be a mermaid”, and was specifically chosen by Brian and Jen. The plaque also contains a few photos taken from those supplied from Brian and Jen as well.
Attended by Brian, Jen, members of both of their families, County Executive Olszewski, Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt, the Baltimore County Police Color Guard, the Bergen County Pipes and Drums, over 20 members of BBO and approximately 200 members of the local community and Delaney’s classmates, the memorial was full of emotion and remembrance.
During the ceremony, there was a special presentation on behalf of BBO Partner, Blue Line Bears. Megan O’Grady, the teenage daughter of Cape Coral (FL) Police Sergeant Patrick O’Grady, has been hand-making teddy bears using the uniform shirts of fallen police officers since she was 14 years old. To date, she has made approximately 560 bears which have been distributed to 220 families.
When she heard about the tragic loss, Megan created bears using articles of clothing belonging to Delaney and Deborah. Megan made a bear for both Brian and Jen in honor of Delaney and then a larger bear for Jennifer in honor of her mother, Deborah.
Following the dedication, all of those who attended each placed individual rocks and/or flowers around the plaque.
Led by a marked Baltimore County Police unit, the Color Guard and the Bergen County Pipes and Drums, the attendees then set off on a short memorial walk from the park to the crash site, where a second wreath and painted rocks were also placed.
The nature of the work we do as a charity has exposed us to countless families in the midst of a storm. The people we have connected with have been some of the most amazingly humble and strong individuals you could ever meet. Brian and Jennifer Gaddis, along with their families, are no exception to this. What they have been asked to endure, as parents, is among the most unnatural things you could face. There is no road map when it comes to healing. However, Brian and Jen are walking proof that it can be done; and done with grace and determination.
This memorial was a tangible example of what Michael Burke had hoped to create when he founded Brothers Before Others in 2014. In regards to the dedication, Mike stated, “Our Baltimore County family has suffered an unimaginable loss. We try not to think about it because we don’t want it to be true. The Gaddis family does not have that luxury. However, what they have collectively shown us is that, in darkness, you CAN find light. That light was never more present than this past weekend. Our members and our charity will never be more than a phone call away for anything that either Brian or Jen could need.”
There are many people who believe that, when you see a dragonfly, an angel has come to visit you. The belief is that the extra set of wings allows the angels to ride on their backs. Spiritual or not, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to some of the signs that are right in front of you most days. As we set up for the memorial this past weekend, and during the service itself, we were visited by the same dragonfly that seemed to never really leave the area. In fact, it made its’ way into numerous photographs, at one point landing on the wreath placed next to the plaque. What does that mean? I’ll leave that for you to decide for yourself. For me? Well, let’s just say that I firmly believe that Delaney and Deborah see their loved ones…still…and are more proud of them now as they were a year ago.
Forever rest in paradise, angels.