Jan Broom has had nearly 20 years to contemplate the unthinkable: how to live after you've lost a child.
In 1998, her 23-year-old daughter, Shannon, died in a car accident. While sorting through Shannon's belongings, Jan and her husband, Jim, came across her gratitude journal, which she had been writing in daily, thanking the universe for everything from good egg salad to ChapStick. Jan credits this discovery with saving her life.
She and Jim took excerpts from the journal, coupling them with their daughter's art, and created bookmarks for friends and family to commemorate their late daughter. Word spread, and soon people who never knew Shannon were requesting bookmarks. With each bookmark created, Jan found hope. "It became bookmark therapy," she said when she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000.
Twenty years after her daughter's death, Jan continues to see Shannon's impact on the people around her. Looking back on the reaction to her Oprah Show
appearance, Jan says, "Here were all these wonderful people sending us letters by the hundreds, telling us their personal stories, telling us that Shannon had inspired them."
Jan says she learned two things in the wake of her daughter's death. First, everyone grieves differently. "Everybody's journey is different," she says. "You just have to let your heart guide you."
The other major realization is that you never stop missing the loved one you lost. "I have come to the conclusion that sorrow sort of settles into your bones, and it can either make you weak or it can make you stronger," she says. "I have been blessed in knowing that loving [Shannon] is stronger than missing her, and carrying that, I think, I hope, most days, makes me stronger."
Jan says she still feels grateful for every letter her family received in the years following the tragedy. "I hope they still think about us every once and a while," she says. "Maybe they run across one of Shannon's bookmarks and it lightens their load a little bit."
Jan continues mailing bookmarks across the country to honor Shannon's legacy. You can reach her at MyAngelShannon@aol.com