one year later: the mann clan

If you've been following AGPcollective for awhile, you may know that back in May, I started the Dear Mama Project for local single moms. Whenever I sold a Mother's Day Gift Kit, I donated a free session to a local single mom, either from my pre-selected list, or a nominee of my client's choosing. When Meme Ventrella Thornton purchased a gift for her mom, she chose Brianna Mann as her pay-it-forward recipient, and fate has done the rest.

Growing up in Chester County, there aren't a lot of people I feel like I haven't met, but Brianna was one. We share tons of mutual friends but until now, we've been ships passing in the night. When I learned Brianna's story, my heart dropped to my stomach. Her husband Ian was hit head-on and killed by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle last October. Brianna describes him as the man every woman wanted to marry, the guy all the men wanted to be like. His kids, Addy and Gage, are full of life and the kind of verve that comes from knowing they're loved. 

When I pulled up to their home yesterday, I heard a little Jack White in my head as I saw their 'Think Critically' yard sign...I can tell that we are gonna be friends. 


Brianna wanted to do some photos that paid tribute to Ian without being too corny. In our chats, I learned that the kids sleep with shirts of Ian's and that Brianna had held on to most of his clothes and shoes. So we decided to play dress up and incorporate Ian in that way. I swear I won't use the pun "big shoes to fill" as a caption...I swear....

We spent some time just kickin' it at their house so I could get a feel for them as a family, and also be repeatedly licked by Rev, their gentle giant of a dog. Brianna showed me the tree where she'd carved a heart and 'Mann' on their first day at the house. The kids flexed their rope swing skills. I admired their kitchen art gallery and the many photos of Ian around the house. 

After we wrapped at the crib, we rolled over to Springton Manor Farm to do some more, because Addison hadn't yet had her fill of standing still and smiling for me.

While I was with them, I kept hearing this Robert Frost quote in my head. 

In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.

Since Ian's passing, the Mann's have been surrounded by love, and through that love, been able to cobble together a new existence. AJ has been a huge source of love and support for them all, knowing just what they need and somehow willing and able to be it. How do people like this come into our lives right when we need them? I guess that's what they call magic. I guess that's what they call grace.

Life does go on, whether we know how to make that happen or not. In our darkest times, there's always a bit of light shining, and we just have the find the strength to go chase it. Brianna and crew, thanks for shining a little bit of your light on me this special day. 

For anyone lost in their own swirling darkness, don't give up. We are all here waiting to love you if you'll let us. Here's a little something that helped me get through my darkest times, in case it makes you feel a little less alone. Click: The Obliterated Place

16. The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there.