Fulfilling a Promise

Earlier this month, I finally fulfilled a promise I had made to Bri. In 2001, we spent 10 wonderful days of our honeymoon in Maui and both absolutely fell in love with Hawaii. The lush, tropical beauty of the islands, the riotous color of the fish and warm, clear water touched us both deeply. We felt right at home. Even more than that, there was a palpable vibrancy of the natural world that was more pronounced than any place either of us had been before.


Within a few days we both settled into the relaxed island pace so well that locals kept assuming we lived there. I am fairly “ambiguiously ethnic” in appearance (my father is African-American and my mother is Caucasian), and once my tan darkened to a deep chocolate, several native Hawaiians assumed I was Hawaiian. This struck both of us as humorous since in California, people always assume I am Hispanic.

After our honeymoon, we promised each other we would visit the islands again, and even had fantasies of moving there one day. Our financial situation did not allow for that though. And when Bri began her losing battle with cancer, we never had a chance to go back.

After she passed away in late October 2008, I felt compelled to scatter her ashes in Hawaii. I didn’t know where the money would come from, but it would be the best way for me to say goodbye.

I was surprised when a bunch of friends and family members got together and presented me with a check to help pay my way to Hawaii. I felt so grateful and relieved. Throughout this whole experience I have been surprised over and over again by people’s generosity and compassion.

My brother David and my friends Brian and Tom came with me for a week on the big island of Hawaii. It was life changing. We snorkeled almost every day, dove off of 30 foot cliffs into the ocean, swam with 10 foot manta rays and sea turtles, and hiked across the steaming crater of an active volcano.

sea turtle

Apparently it is common for people to ship the ashes of their loved ones to Hawaii to have them scattered at sea, but that just seemed too impersonal. I finally found a charter company that allowed us all to go out on a catamaran for the ceremony. I booked it for the fourth day we would be on the island, since my brother was following us out later and I wanted him to be there.

He arrived and we picked him up from the airport, took him to the store to buy some snorkel gear and spent the next few hours in the tropical water. That evening, Brian suggested that we go swimming with manta rays. Apparently, there are several charter boats that go out at dusk and allow you to snorkel or scuba dive with mantas. They anchor at this spot where people have installed underwater lights that attract the plankton the mantas feed on.

manta trip
From left: Brian, Tom, my brother David and me

I thought snorkeling at night might be a little scary. Even though it was only 30 feet deep and the water was clear enough to easily see the bottom, we were in open water. My trepidation was totally unfounded and all doubts evaporated the moment I hit the water and took in the remarkable view.

A ring of scuba divers encircled the lights at the ocean floor 30 feet below me. Streams of bubbles from their tanks shimmered like Christmas lights as they floated to the surface. Schools of fish swam in formation amidst the bubbles. Then with silent grace the mantas approached. Slowly flapping their 8-14 foot wingspans they wove in and out of the lights. It was spectacularly beautiful. It really is something you must experience to appreciate. Even in the dark you always knew where to look because a cacophony of muffled shrieks and laughter would erupt through the swimmers snorkels with each approach of the graceful mantas. It was thrilling to see these massive, yet gentle, creatures doing balletic back flips an inch or two below my chest as I floated at the surface of the water. It was one of the most awe inspiring experiences of my life!

Here is a link to a manta dive video. I know it must be the same place we went, since I recognize one of the mantas, called “Lefty” because it is missing a cephalic lobe.

A couple days after that expedition, we went out to scatter Bri’s ashes. We were all surprised to find I had unknowingly chartered the exact same boat for the ash scattering trip. The captain said that there are 20 or so different charters that do the manta dives. We just happened to pick the one that also does ash scatterings.

I made a play list of some of our favorite songs on my iPod and brought my external speakers to take out on the boat. The captain took us a mile offshore. I read some tributes from Bri’s friends and family. Tom read an incredibly touching and heartfelt tribute that moved us to tears. I scattered her ashes and the four of us sprinkled fresh flower petals over water. The boat slowly circled the spot before heading back to shore.

I read the following:

“When Bri and I first began our relationship, she asked me ‘is it better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?’

I wish I had the vision to see where our spirits go when we die. I wish I knew why Bri had to suffer pain and disease. Sadly, I do not. What I do know is that Bri lived her short life with her heart open. She uplifted those around her. She was courageous and loving and showed grace and gratitude to the end.

The weight of our unrealized dreams weighs heavily at times and I am overcome with grief, but I know that I have been unusually blessed to have loved so deeply. She met me fully at all levels. We walked our paths side by side, honoring, respecting and cherishing our partnership. Encouraging each other to grow spiritually along the way. Now I must walk on alone. Bri gave me the gifts of integrity, courage and optimism to help light my way…wherever it leads.

Bri, thank you for every moment. No matter what, I know I have loved and been fully loved in return.”

Here is a slide show I put together as a tribute to her. The voice at the beginning is her singing as a kid.

Briana Brownlow Memorial Slideshow from Marc Brownlow on Vimeo.

Here is the eulogy her uncle Walt gave at the memorial.

Eulogy for Briana Brownlow by Walter Kopp from Marc Brownlow on Vimeo.

Bri dying at only 31 years old has radically shifted my view on life. It is no longer acceptable to push off the dreams I have to a future that may never come. I have always wanted to travel and so far this year I have spent 3 weeks in Germany and Switzerland working and visiting with friends and family, a week in Hawaii with my brother and two best friends and am just about to embark on a month long road trip across the USA with Brian. Life is too short to postpone my dreams, I am looking forward to many more adventures.

36 thoughts on “Fulfilling a Promise”

  1. Dearest Marc, I’m so glad you could return to Hawai’i with loved ones to celebrate Bri and that you shared it with us. Thank you for that – your words brought tears to my eyes. Do let us know if you come through Colorado on your road trip. *hugs*

  2. Marc, this is beautiful and very inspiring. I am so glad you were able to go back to your and Bri’s special place, Hawaii, to scatter Bri’s ashes. And, like Jen said, please let us know if your road trip brings you through Colorado. Much love to you.

  3. What a beautiful story, you are an inspiration, I hope it helps to know that you’re a wonderful reminder to people to follow their dreams and not to put things off until the future.

    I’m lucky enough to be going to hawaii at the end of this year, and I thought the manta dive sounded too scary, but I might just give it a go.

  4. Thanks for the kind words everyone.
    Jen & Manisha – I am going to be in Carbondale and Charolette. If you can email me your addresses, I will try and stop by.

    Jennywenny – The manta dive was incredible and not scary at all. I give it my highest recommendation! There are boats all around and lots of people too. The mantas are gentle and you can tell they are having fun and playfully swimming through the scuba divers bubbles. DO IT! You won’t regret it. 🙂

  5. I don’t know what to say or how to express the feeling that reading your words brought to me, but what you did and have always done in supporting Bri is immeasureable and so touching. It is heartwrenching for me to think of losing a loved one so young and I commend you for determination and willingness to continue living her legacy.

  6. Marc, I am so happy that you were able to make the trip and with family and friends. How perfect. I completely understand your new slant on the future. I realized that when I was in my 20’s and a bunch of neighbors where I grew up died in a very short time. All of them had all these plans about what to do when they retired. Same with my mom. She and my father had retired and begun to rekindle their lives as a couple when my mom was killed. What a shock. So, I say, “Smell the roses today, tomorrow and everyday.) Have a blast on your trip and if you come to Santa Barbara, remember to stop by.

  7. What a beautiful tribute indeed, I’m also at lost on what to say but wanted you to know you are in my thoughts. God bless.

  8. I have no words, except that it was one of the most heartfelt loving tributes I have ever read.

    May all of us turn our dreams into reality.

  9. She was, is and will always be a beautiful person – you can tell that just by looking in those eyes. We share the same birthday…I will keep you and her family in my thoughts especially on each December 16th.

  10. Not sure why or how I came across your blog, but it has touched me. You and your lovely Bri. Peace and Blessings.

  11. Marc:
    You are one very, very special young man. Bri was so very lucky to have you as her husband. Sounds like you both loved more in your short time together than a lot of couples do during a long marriage. May the Peace of the Lord Always Be With You.

  12. Dear Marc,
    What a beautiful tribute to Bri. I’m happy that you were able to take this trip with your brother and friends. Your absolutely right Marc, life is to short, so follow your dreams and wishes and enjoy your adventures. I love you my friend. Ron

  13. What a lovely tribute. Life is so very fleeting – we must make the most of every minute and am so happy for you that you are doing so. Enjoy everything!

  14. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad that you are pursuing your dreams. Bri must be so happy for you as she looks over you.

  15. Marc,

    This is a beautiful tribute to your love, Bri.
    I’am very touched by your ability to articulate you feelings and share them with the rest of us. I hope you are enjoying your trip.



  16. Marc

    Thanks for sharing. I was so glad to hear that you were able to do this. I am glad to hear that you are traveling and hope that you find lots of new and wonderful experiences. Let us know when you get back into town. we would love to see you

  17. Thank you all so much. You are so sweet! I am a week into my trip across the USA and have been camping hiking and biking in Zion National Park and Yellowstone. It is amazing, beautiful and inspiring.

  18. Marc
    What a beautiful and inspirational tribute to your wife. Thanks for sharing Bri with us. I’m happy that you were able to fulfill your promise to her.

  19. Marc,
    What a beautiful and loving tribute. Bri’s heart shines through the photos you compiled. Thank you for sharing your love and your grief so honestly and with such courage. Love and blessings on your travels.

  20. I stumbled across your blog tonight in the wee hours, and sat and sobbed for your loss and a life cut too short. Its a terrible reminder of how backwards our priorities are in this world, where we spend millions of dollars on frivolous things, but can’t do enough to find a cure for something so heinous. Inspiring that you’ve taken life on without your sweet wife, and that you were able to fulfill the promise to her. I wish you only the best and hope UT was good to you on your trek across the country! Best of luck!

  21. Hey Marc – Bri was one of my earliest blogging buddies when I started working on Herbivoracious.com. I was just thinking of her because I was doing some research on roasting heirloom tomatoes and saw her old post… and then I saw this beautiful piece from you as well. I’m glad you were able to do that for her, and for you.

  22. Marc,
    This is so beautiful. It was such a joy to see you in Santa Rosa – however brief. Live large my friend…live large!

  23. Marc,
    When I first found out about blogs, Bri’s was the first I came across (it’s the fig connection!). By then, she was already battling cancer and I sadly followed. You have given her a beautiful tribute and she will live long in many hearts.

  24. Marc,

    Watching your beautiful tribute to Bri, a very special and remarkable individual, cannot be put into words for me. I found it through my subscription to the using real butter blog and your love for her touched me deeply. I am a cancer survivor and although what I went through was nothing like Bri’s experience, I am glad you wanted to share that part of her life with others. I don’t know if you plan to come as far as New York City, but please feel free to let me know as my husband and I would be more than happy to welcome you should you stop by.

  25. Thanks for the beautiful comments. I just got back from my roadtrip around the USA. I visited Zion, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks along with Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, South Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. It was a much needed break from the routine and helped give me some perspective. I appreciate all of your support.

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