reneenickell_familyphotos-01.jpg

I was born in Fort Belvoir, VA, when my father was stationed there as he served in the Army.  My family moved to Pennsylvania to a small town named Dauphin, two years after I was born.  The majority of my favorite childhood memories with my brother, Sam, occurred in this mountainous region of PA, where we could always find new adventures.

After my parents divorced, my father moved us to North Carolina for a new job, while my mother moved to South Florida to start her career as a new Registered Nurse working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Shortly after graduation, I met my husband, Gentry, in Cary, NC. We soon married and had our first child, Kayla.  Life was very difficult as young adults with a new family and no college education.

After 9/11, Gentry decided to join the Air Force, which would move our family across the country to Phoenix, AZ, for three years, then settling in Crestview, FL, in the panhandle just minutes from the Gulf Coast’s most beautiful beaches.  During this time, we had two more children, Bria and Little Gentry. While my husband served his country and obtained his BA degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, I not only was a stay at home mom, but also homeschooled our children.

Gentry and I experienced tremendous spiritual growth together as a couple, as our marriage was tested through trial after trial. We also developed the most trusted and loved friends to this day-friends that would see us through some of the most difficult times of our life.

With the encouragement of his superiors and my brother Sam, Gentry went on to get commissioned as an officer in the Air Force.  This would be the last time Sam would visit us.  Just a year later, Sam was killed in Afghanistan, right before Christmas 2011, completely devastating our family.

After picking up the pieces as best as we could, Gentry’s job transferred him to Fort Worth, TX.  This is where we found a wonderful church to serve in youth ministry, as well as small groups and holding weekly Bible studies in our home.

We welcomed a fourth baby into our family…Margaret-Ann Hope, or Maggie, as we affectionately call her in June of 2015.  Gentry went on to get his Masters Degree and another Bachelor degree in Aviation.

I soon became desperate to discover if I was capable of anything beyond being a stay at home mom.  I have always been passionate about being a mother and wife, but needed something to fulfill my own hopes and dreams.  I wanted to use the hardships I overcame to make a difference in the lives of others.

There was always that little voice inside that desired to write a book, but I knew nothing about writing, until I wrote an impromptu Eulogy for my brother Sam, and gave it to about 1700 people.

This is where it was my mom who told me I had a gift of writing and a way with words.  I put the idea of a book on the shelf, until we went to visit close friends of ours.  Amanda and I were headed to a Women’s Conference and she asked me when I was going to write “that book.”

I felt that I had a lot to say on sibling loss and I was in a place that I could begin to write about my journey.  My brother’s death completey changed who I was as a person.  He was my best friend for 34 years of my life. I wanted to give other siblings hope that there can be healing after such a tragic loss.

I began praying and writing. Each time I’d write, I’d pray for God to only allow me to tell what should be told…the stories that will be helpful in conveying what I’ve been through without “telling too much.”

Within four months, I had written an entire novel length non-fiction memoir, even after many publishers told me to expect it to take years. Through divine circumstances, I began meeting people, editors, and publishers, finally settling on the one I felt would best support the story I needed told.  LifeWise Publishing and my editor Charity Bradshaw, has helped propel me into the author I never dreamed possible for myself. She said, “Lets get this book written. You need to just rip the Band-Aid off and not drag out the pain for a long period of time.” It really was her constant encouragement and accountability that kept me writing and writing and writing.

My husband, my children, my mom, and my closet friends have continued to support me on this journey of the telling of my story about a girl who once has a big brother, and because of his death, she had to completely evaluate everything she ever knew.  With my faith, I found healing, hope, and forgiveness when I did not think it would ever be possible.

Now, I’m looking forward to the world learning who my brother was, sharing in my journey, and praying that someone, somewhere will find the strength they need to carry on through the pain and loss.