In Print: When the worst thing that could happen … happens
It was “just” a reading, right? An author’s event, a meet-and-greet. But this reading had the energy and vibe of a rock show and, strangely, just below the surface, a memorial service. The room, the black box stage at the Actors Studio, which has seen a lot of drama and raw emotion over the past two decades, was choked with emotion, the talk punctuated with joyous laughter and cathartic tears, with thundering applause and encouraging hoots that shook the walls at times. There were a lot of friends there, Compassionate and otherwise, and family, connected biological and emotionally, all gathered to remember a young man ripped from the world much too early, to share, with his mother, his life and her decade-long journey to heal and reconnect with the world and with her son, to move beyond the grief and embrace the love.
This was the official launch for Barbara Hopkinson’s “A Butterfly’s Journey … Healing Grief After the Loss of a Child,” designed to guide bereaved families through the emotional battlefield of grief – how to get back to “normal” when the worst thing that can ever happen to you happens. These were hard-earned lessons that came over the confusing years following the tragic loss of her son Brent Delibero, 21, a University of Arizona ROTC student who was training to be a pilot, who, she says, “had his whole life planned out,” in a motorcycle accident a decade ago.
But “A Butterfly’s Journey” is not a story of grief and loss, she says, although that is how it began. It is the story of love, and the journey that forced her to question everything in life and beyond, including the teachings of her own faith.
And it is more than that.
“Barbara Hopkinson has done something extraordinarily generous here,” says Port resident and bestselling author Andre Dubus III, one of the speakers at the reading. “She has taken her bottomless grief and shined a hard-earned light through it, the light that never dies, a parent’s love for her child.” The book, he says, “is an important and timely contribution to the literature of spiritual and life-loving resilience.”
“This is a book that will really truly help people,” says Actors Studio founder Marc Clopton, a friend of the family who gave Brent acting lessons and, ironically lost a brother in a motorcycle accident 33 years ago. “It’s bold, it’s brave, it’s honest and full of insight — and full of great guidance. She shares her journey with brilliant self-awareness and piercing insight.”
Twists of fate/Twisted fate
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In 2002, Barbara Delibero was 51 years old. She had enjoyed a successful career in technology sales, including 10 years as an IBM exec. The future she envisioned, before the call, was pretty much retirement and grandkids. She was in New Jersey, on a business trip, when the she got the call from her husband, Robert Delibero: Their son Brent had been in a motorcycle accident that morning. Hard facts were scarce, but it was serious. They didn’t know it at the time, but by the time they were informed by police, brain dead.
Their orderly life unraveled. The marriage collapsed, her secure job suddenly changed, piling on financial insecurity on top of devastating grief. Essentially she ended up starting out all over again, on her own, when she was 51 years old, when she should have been looking forward to the quiet life, a time for spoiling expected grandchildren. “It was quite a shock,” she says, “but it makes you very, very strong.” Eventually. “The lesson is, as horrible as it is, you can survive.”
Brent’s seemingly senseless death “made me question everything in life,” she says. She was raised a Catholic, but had gotten away from it. “It changed my views on everything. I’ve come to believe that our spirits live on,” which, she admits, is not that radical a concept. It’s an article of faith in many religions, in one form or another. But, Hopkinson takes it further than that — much further. She believes that, not only do the spirits of our loved ones live on after death, but we can have a relationship with them. They make themselves known. Brent has been particularly active. Four pages in the book come directly from him, through a medium, she says. He’s also responsible for the theme song, a complete song channeled, too complex to make up on the fly.
She formed the Greater Newburyport chapter of Compassionate Friends right around the first anniversary of Brent’s death. On the other side of grief, she found happiness again with her second husband, James Hopkinson, her remaining son, Brad, and three adult stepchildren: Melanie, Matthew and Christopher. Brent is not here, but is never far away. “I don’t question his presence,” says Hopkinson. “I have no doubt at all.”