When LaDawna Cherepovich found out she was pregnant with her third daughter, she was taken by surprise; after all, her two older daughters were already 9 and 11.
Cherepovich and her husband, Glenn, were in for another surprise when Brooklyn McKenzie Cherepovich decided she was ready to come into the world eight weeks premature.
LaDawna Cherepovich said she and her husband had a difficult time conceiving, so they had given up hope before Brooklyn, or “Brookie,” was born.
“And then she finally decided to come along after lots of waiting and prayers,” she said. “So she’s our little miracle.”
The Cherepovich’s community, made up of neighbors and church members, supported them by watching their two older girls so LaDawna and Glenn could visit Brookie in the hospital after she was born. Friends also donated clothes, changing tables and other baby things.
Thankfully, despite being born premature, Brookie didn’t have any other health problems. It was a different experience for her mom though — LaDawna Cherepovich explained that preemie babies, unlike babies born closer to their due dates, don’t like to snuggle as much.
“Sometimes, you’d hold her and she’d just be so fussy and I’d be like, I don’t know what to do,” LaDawna Cherepovich said. “And then I’d lay her down on a blanket and she’d just be so happy.”
Brookie maintained her independence as she grew, with her mom describing her as “sassy, energetic and independent.” Although she was born early, LaDawna Cherepovich said Brookie didn’t have any developmental delays — in fact, she learned to walk and talk fairly early, and unlike her older sisters ended up being quite the climber. She was also quite tall, her mom said, so people constantly mistook her for being older.
Brookie loved to sing and dance. One time, at an outdoor concert, she danced so hard she actually fell and broke her leg.
“She entertained us a lot with her dance. And even with her broken leg, she learned how to scoot very quickly,” Glenn Cherepovich said.
On Sept. 6, Brookie was found unresponsive in her home and taken to the hospital, where she later passed away.
The next day, LaDawna Cherepovich said, her family was just in a fog. But then a little light broke through: their neighbors.
Neighbors showed up to mow the Cherepovich’s lawn. They came to visit with the family. They cleaned their house and did their laundry. They brought meals — Glenn Cherepovich said their freezer is stuffed with homemade meals from neighbors.
Friends and even strangers have brought flowers and gifts to the Cherepovich’s door. Church members were able to get necklaces featuring a pendant with Brookie’s thumbprint made for the whole family.
One of the major ways the community came together was through a benefit concert for the Cherepovich family. LaDawna and her family have been friends with singer-songwriter Cherie Call and her family for several years, dating back to when Brookie was first born. Before Brookie passed away, LaDawna Cherepovich and Call were planning to have a neighborhood get-together where Call would perform. After Brookie’s passing, Call and her husband told the family they were going to take over the planning and turn the event into a benefit concert to help with medical and funeral expenses.
Call wrote and performed a special song for Brookie titled “Remembering an Angel,” which is available to download with a small donation that will also go to benefit the Cherepovich family. Call also invited Hillary Weeks to perform, and the Cherepovich’s niece Brooklyn — Brookie’s namesake — also sang and performed one of Brookie’s favorite songs, “The Middle.” Local bakery Fillings and Emulsions donated macarons to be served at the concert as well.
Approval for the concert was cleared with the city quickly — Glenn Cherepovich said he isn’t entirely sure how it happened, but it happened. The city also promoted the concert on its local news channel and sent someone to film it. After the concert, the city ran clips from the performance on the local channel and invited people to donate. A few days later, Chick-Fil-A reached out to the family and offered to do a fundraiser for the family as well at their closest restaurant.
The Cherepoviches have also connected with complete strangers who have also lost children. Glenn Cherepovich visited the bookstore at Brigham Young University on business, and met a man who he learned also had an “angel baby” pass away. He said they ended up talking for the better part of the hour, exchanging tears and hugs.
“Through all this horrible tragedy, the good part of it has been just seeing the ... overwhelming love and support that’s been given to us,” LaDawna Cherepovich said. “It just makes us want to be better. To give back to others when they’re in need. Hopefully they don’t go through something like this. But it’s just showed us a beautiful example of just how to be there for people in their time of need.”
In a way, the continued support of family, friends and strangers — even if they don’t know what to say, just being there is the best way to honor Brookie’s memory.
“Brooklyn ... she would always be conscious of others. She could always sense when somebody might not be feeling well,” Glenn Cherepovich said. He described how, at the funeral of a family member earlier this year, little 4-year-old Brookie went and sat by the family member’s daughter at the graveside the entire time.
“Even at a young age ... knowing to take that extra step,” he said. “It’s taught us a lot.”
Spunky, “boss-of-the-house” Brookie made a lot of memories that still make her parents laugh, like when she would bang on the piano and sing, or use an American Girl doll cello as a “biolin” so she could be like her older sisters.
Glenn Cherepovich said they used to joke that Brookie waited nine years to join their family, she could have waited eight more weeks to be born — but now, they’re glad they had those extra eight weeks with her. And they’re grateful for the ways her memory will live on. Brookie’s heart valves and corneas were saved to be donated to another child in need, something Glenn Cherepovich said he had zero hesitation in doing.
“It’s not even a question. Anything you can do to help another person or child,” he said.
People who have lost a child and different grief counselors have told the Cherepoviches this first year will be the hardest — the first Halloween, the first Christmas, the first birthday. But with the support of their community, they’ll make it through.
“There’s nothing that you can do to make it better. But I like it when people just come to talk to me about anything other than (Brookie’s) death,” Glenn Cherepovich said. “A lot of people will say, ‘Well, I felt like I should go see you, but I wasn’t sure.’ If you feel like helping somebody who’s going through something ... it’s never going to be bad to show your love and support for someone. So if you feel like doing it, just do it.
“We celebrate her life, we have so many incredible, great memories of this 4-year-old girl, and several of the people that were with her when she passed, were with us at the hospital when she was born. So that’s just a testament of friendship.”
A GoFundMe for the family is live, with more than $12,000 donated.