Just one day at a time.
That's how Missy Brooks and her three children have been coping for the last year and a half. She admits that life will never be the same for any of them.
"I lost my husband, and my children lost their biggest playmate," lamented Mrs. Brooks, just a day after a jury of eight women and four men convicted Michael Johnson of murder for the Nov. 22, 2006, shooting of Jeremy Todd Brooks at Mr. Johnson's mobile home off the Wrens Highway near Thomson. Shortly after the verdict was returned, Mr. Johnson was sentenced to life in prison plus five years.
Even though the long-awaited trial is behind her, each passing day is a struggle, Mrs. Brooks admitted last Saturday during an exclusive interview with The McDuffie Mirror.
"All four of us are still in the process of grieving," said Mrs. Brooks. "I still have times when it's real tough to cope, and there are times when the kids don't have good days either. Growing up without their Daddy and going hunting without him just about kills my sons."
The Brooks' children include: Payton, 12, a sixth grader; Porter, 8, a third grader; and 4-year-old Phoebe, a pre-4 kindergarten student - all of whom attend Briarwood Academy.
She compares what the family is going through as a life sentence without so much as the possibility of parole.
"I realize that Todd is not going to walk through the front door from work anymore," said Mrs. Brooks. "He's not coming home to his family anymore, and that's really hard for us to deal with. It's painful, too. He was such a big part of our lives. And he thought of us as his world."
Mr. Brooks worked hard to provide his family with the things they needed, as well as the things they wanted, said Mrs. Brooks, who works as a medical assistant at Augusta OBGYN Specialists.
"I have to go on - that's for sure," said Mrs. Brooks. "I'm forced to move on. I don't have a choice. I'm the bread-winner now, a Mama - the person who has to keep my family together."
Mr. Brooks owned his own business and worked as a volunteer baseball coach with the Thomson-McDuffie Recreation and Leisure Services. Mr. Brooks also was a volunteer coach with the Mighty Buccaneers football team at Briarwood Academy.
Mr. Brooks had a special relationship with the youngsters that played baseball and football for him.
"Kids just enjoyed being around him so much," said Mrs. Brooks. "Kids seemed to connect with him. He could get on their level. He loved kids."
She recalled that Payton and his Daddy always enjoyed playing catch - whether it was throwing the football or baseball.
"Whatever the season was, they would play catch with each other until dark," said Mrs. Brooks.
Striving for justice
What has transpired during the last year and a half should never have happened, she contends. There have been so many times that she has reflected over what life would be like if a deer had not run into her car on the night of Nov. 22, 2006, near the driveway entrance of Mr. Johnson's residence.
"I've thought about that countless times," said a teary-eyed Mrs. Brooks. "It's been like a nightmare to me in a way. You want to wake up and everything be just like it used to be."
Looking back on the trial, Mrs. Brooks commends the work of Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis C. Sanders, who prosecuted the case along with Chief Assistant District Attorney Durwood "Woody" Davis.
"Mr. Sanders fought for us," said Mrs. Brooks. "He gave it his all."
Another person in the district attorney's office also was praised for all of her support - Victims' Assistant Coordinator Marie Johnson.
"Mrs. Johnson was wonderful to me," said Mrs. Brooks. "She always let me know anytime that there was a pre-trial hearing or something going on with the case. She never let me down. She was somebody I could go and talk to, and I'll never forget her and she went out of her way to help me and my family. She wasn't just doing her job. She did what she did, because she really cared."
Last Friday when jurors returned with their verdict, Mrs. Johnson was on a vacation cruise, which had been booked months before. Although she wasn't in the courtroom, Mrs. Brooks said Mrs. Johnson texted her and that she later texted her back to let her know "we won."
Relying on God, family and friends
Not only was Mrs. Johnson instrumental in comforting Mrs. Brooks as a crime victim, but so was a Christian counselor that she has been seeing since the fatal shooting. God, too, has played an immense part in helping her cope.
"Only God can give a person the strength that is needed to get through something like this," said Mrs. Brooks, who attends Sweetwater Baptist Church - the same church she and Todd married at on Aug. 22, 1992. She said had she not been a Christian, that the anger that she has felt over the tragedy that she and her children have been through would have consumed her. "I couldn't let anger do that to me, because I have three children who need me, now, more than ever."
She is most thankful for her extended family members and the fact that she has so many close friends.
"My family and friends have been so supportive to me and my children," said Mrs. Brooks. "They have meant the world to me. Because of all of them, I haven't had to go through all of this alone. They have been with me through it all, because they loved Todd so much."
Mrs. Brooks realizes she's not the only person who has ever had to deal with losing a spouse.
"I know things like this happen, but you never think it's going to happen to you," she added. "I don't think of myself as poor, pitiful Missy Brooks - you're husband is dead, and your life is over. But I do think that if somebody walked in my shoes for just one day, they wouldn't want to wear them again."
One last dance
The memories of their life together are still fresh to her.
In fact, she remembers the last time that she and her husband went out, argued and then made up with a special dance."Todd took me to Outback Steak House in Augusta earlier in the same month that he was killed," remembered Mrs. Brooks. "We had a good time until we disagreed about something and then didn't speak to each other for half way home."While traveling along Interstate 20, Mr. Brooks pulled his vehicle into the Georgia Department of Transportation Weigh Station. His wife had no idea why. She said her husband turned the radio up to a country song, then got out, opened her door and took her by the hand.
"We then slow danced to that song," said Mrs. Brooks. "That's the way Todd was. He could get upset, but he couldn't stay upset. I'll never forget him doing that with me."