Parents don’t expect to say goodbye to their children at age 13. The unexpected death of Gracie Brasseaux in August 2019 brought Ashley Wichlenski to Catholic High School Oct. 25 along with copies of her book, “The Keeper of My Heart,” an inspirational message for female students from 6th through 12th grades. Although the author personally autographed gift copies of the book for 7th and 8th grade girls, what they will more likely remember is the girl whose face and autograph fill the inside front cover. This story is for Gracie, for her parents, Lori and Patrick Brasseaux from Acadiana, who found comfort in the teen inspirational journal and began a legacy to help students at their daughter’s school to know how much they are loved.
How did you come to be at Catholic High School from Tampa, Florida?
A mother of one of the girls we recently lost contacted me because she ordered the book for her daughter, but they never got to read it. She found it on Facebook and loved the book and wanted to donate it to classmates of their daughter.
Did you self publish?
Yes, because it was a moment with God. I saw the title, the cover artwork and all these letters, and it was like, “I’ve got to write this book.” This is His book, so I couldn’t just go to a publisher and say it has to be hard cover, and look like this, so
I just did it. I tell everyone its God’s book.
Tell me a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Clearwater near Tampa. This is my first book, but not my last. (She plans to write a similar book for boys) I’m a wife and mother of an 8-year-old boy. I’m a Florida native.
What do you want to say about this book and the journey it has been for you?
It was born out of a time when I didn’t realize who I was in Christ. When I completely surrendered my life to Him, that’s when He showed me. That’s how this book came to be.
More about the book and gifts
The black and white pages filled with “color me” illustrations are arranged by word themes such as love, precious, beautiful, things that God sees in each young girl who has doubts about her identity. Wichlenski elaborated about the meaning of each word and spoke of her own insecurity growing up. Even though she was a homecoming queen, body type is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for young girls, no matter what they look like, she said. As part of her message from God to young girls, the author wrote letters to the reader about each of the words “The Keeper of My Heart” feels toward his princesses. Then lined journal pages follow allowing the book’s owner to express her thoughts to the Keeper of their Heart. Gracie’s mom then shared her daughter’s story.
Tell me about your family?
LORI BRASSEAUX — We have four children. Gracie was 13 and she has a brother 33, sister 28 and a 22 year-old brother. She was smart, talented, an artist, a cheerleader, soccer player, she wanted to be an architect. You name it, she was good at everything.
What happened to Gracie?
LORI BRASSEAUX — She had a bad temper and she got angry with us because I took her phone. She said, “I’m going to die without my phone,” and I said really Gracie? A beloved teacher hung herself in April and we think that’s where she got the idea — but — she was excited about starting school. She would be a cheerleader again this year. Her uniforms were hanging in the closet. We even got her signature because she came to get me to sign a paper a half-hour before this happened. We think she was trying to manipulate us to get her phone back, to scare us, but she didn’t think a shoe string would work. She had belts in her room, ropes outside, but she used a shoe string. The investigators don’t believe she intended to end her life. It was an accident. A child of that age, could not think it was dangerous, or permanent. We lost her, but she is an organ donor. Four people have received her organs. Her Facebook page has 2,000 friends. We hope these books, will give hope to girls. Gracie was hard on herself, but that’s not why she did it. She was mad at us. We’re just getting through it. She’s giving hope to others. We’re going to do these books every year for 8th graders from now on. Gracie knew her faith. Something she wrote in 6th grade said, “I’d love to know when God’s coming back.” I just found it today.