Brooke is remembered as ‘a gift to the world’

The sunset was a striking orange as dozens of balloons were released in memory of Brooke Mulford, in a touching celebration of the life of a gentle child whose strength taught far-reaching lessons of faith and joy.

The 12-year-old, who died June 12 after an eight-year battle with neuroblastoma, will be remembered for her endearing pleasantness, said her mother, Amy Stanford Mulford, as she wept at the Celebration of Life last week. Family, friends and members of the community who followed the little girl’s story for years sat on blankets or lawn chairs in the James M. Bennett High School field as Kellie Fox Noonan, close family friend, stood on the podium and told them Brooke loved a party.

“She’s up there now with her party hat and her streamers. She’s gone but she’s definitely not forgotten,” Noonan said.

Wearing a party hat, Noonan pulled the string on a confetti popper.

“It is all so fresh and raw. How can I ever do my amazing child justice? Brooke had a smile that quite literally lit up the world, a smile cancer wasn’t able to steal,” Mulford said.

A few years ago, after her daughter had been in remission, her mother broke the news that her cancer had returned. After thinking for a moment, the child said she wasn’t sorry because so much good could come from the disease.

“She was the most loving person I ever met. She loved deeply and unconditionally. I was so blessed to be with her when she took her first breath and I was blessed to be with her when she took her last,” Mulford said, struggling through tears.

All around, others dabbed at their eyes and embraced one another.

“She started as a gift from God to me and ended up as a gift to the world. Thank you all for loving my sweet angel,” Mulford said.

The Rev. George Patterson, in prayer, offered thanks “for this most beautiful and courageous child” and reminded those in mourning of the Bible verse that quotes Jesus as saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

“Brooke was a precious, precious child. Little Brooke lived in faith and she died in faith,” he told those in the audience, most wearing purple, the color that represents neuroblastoma. Some were in Team Brooke T-shirts, with a child’s handprints on the back.

Patterson remembered Brooke’s performance in a church play.

“Isn’t it interesting that her part was the part of an angel? She had her little halo on. She had her wings on,” he said.

When he visited her at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she was treated and admitted several times, and where she died, he watched her kneel by her bed, fold her hands and repeat The Lord’s Prayer.

“And she did it perfectly. She was so brave.  We all know she always managed to provide a smile,” the pastor said.

Addressing Mulford, the pastor praised her for being “an amazing mother” as those in the audience said, “Yes” and “She sure is,” cheered and applauded.

“You covered your daughter. I can’t even imagine the many hours. And so many amazing things she got to experience,” he said.

Brooke posed for countless photos, fearlessly spoke before crowds, easily made friends with those from around the world, threw the first pitch at a baseball game, met celebrities and had the song “Never Ever Give Up” written for her by contemporary Christian singer Matthew West.

“Someday she will be back in your arms,” the pastor said.

Daria Brumbley of Salisbury Christian School, where Brooke was a student, fought tears as she recalled 4-year-old classmates so excited to see Brooke return, and so understanding of her fragile condition, that they eagerly cleaned the room with antiseptic wipes, even the legs of tables and chairs.

“We had the best smelling and cleanest room in the school,” she said.

Brooke, she said, wasn’t shy and loved music and dancing at a sock hop.

“We have 560 students in our school and every child has prayed for Brooke  … I saw students hugging each other and calling out to God, ‘Please, heal Brooke.’ Amy, it was beautiful,” Brumbley said, her voice breaking.

The last time Brooke was at school, before she and her mother moved to Philadelphia to be closer to family and to the hospital, she gave Brumbley a purple, toy monkey that still hangs in her office.

Dr. Jeff Anderson, on behalf of the Brooke Mulford Foundation, presented the child’s parents, Amy and Rob Mulford, with a check for $10,000, which will be donated for research to find a cure for neuroblastoma, Amy Mulford said.

Kim Tucker, who photographed the inseparable mother and daughter, talked about being at the hospital a few days before Brooke died to capture them one last time. Despite her illness, and although she had been sleeping most of the day, Brooke, who enjoyed being in front of a camera, opened her eyes and turned her head toward the sound of the shutter.

“Amy, I know you feel like you died in that room with her that night, but you didn’t … We need you here to keep our connection to Brooke and we will always be here to support you and Rob,” Tucker said.

Ashley Wood and Addison McCutcheon, Brooke’s friends, read their composition Poem for Someone Extraordinary. It ends with the words “When I look up to the sky, I see you flying high.”

And then, before photographs and singer Mandisa’s song Overcomer, featuring Brooke, were projected on a large, inflatable screen, it was time to release balloons and blow bubbles from miniature plastic bottles everyone received. Some looked at the sky, where they said they saw the shape of a heart in a cloud. One woman was overheard saying she remembered Brooke as a toddler, before she became ill.

Earlier, children were invited to write messages on the balloons. As they floated skyward and music played, the audience was encouraged to stand and move to the beat.

“Get up and dance,” Noonan encouraged. “Brooke would want you to dance.”


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