LAST November, Limerick was shocked by the killing of 11-year old Brooklyn Colbert.
In her first interview since her son’s death, Sonia Aylmer tells David Raleigh of her plans to honour Brooklyn by giving back to those who helped provide a pathway out of homelessness and of her hopes of helping others through the trauma of losing a child.
Sonia Aylmer smiles as she recalls how she would playfully tease her son by constantly taking photographs and videos of him on her mobile phone, so she would have a lasting collage of memories recorded of him growing up into the man she knew she would be proud of.
“I’m so glad I have all those photos and videos now. Brooklyn was very caring, he was like a protector, he had a great heart, he was very soft,” says Sonia.
“He loved animals as well; He thought his dog ‘Buddy’ was his brother, he loved the dog, they were always together.”
She raises a smile remembering how Brooklyn and Buddy, were thick as thieves, planning their adventures together.
Brooklyn was a dedicated Liverpool fan, and after hearing news of his death, the Premier League Club’s Chaplain Bill Bygroves sent Sonia a letter of “sincerest condolences, on behalf of everybody associated with Liverpool Football Club, the directors, manager, players, and staff”.
“It was lovely to get, it was a surprise, I didn’t know I was getting that. It just shows the impact that Brooklyn had,” Sonia says.
“Brooklyn was ill when he was a baby. He was born with a cleft palate, and so he was up and down to Temple Street Children’s Hospital for assessments, and I got a letter from them as well.
“They remembered Brooklyn and his personality, and they wrote me a lovely letter about the memories they had of him, and the things he had said to them. He was a very funny child and very witty.”
The letters are nice, she says. They confirm what she already knew, how Brooklyn would have “a great impact” on anyone who met him.
“He had such a lovely aura about him, a lovely personality. He’d be delighted with Liverpool now they’re doing so well,” she adds.
Sonia says the past ten weeks, following Brooklyn’s death, have obviously been “horrendous”.
However, with the help of her friends and family members and the Novas organisation, she has been “taking baby steps”, as she tries to process and cope with such heartbreaking loss.
“I just feel Brooklyn is giving me strength from somewhere,” she says.
That strength shone out from Sonia’s and Brooklyn’s shared love of running.
The 36-year-old has her sights set on participating in the Great Limerick Run next May, an event which the Limerick mother and son have taken part in on a number of occasions together.
“The main reason is for Brooklyn, because myself and Brooklyn always took part in it. Brooklyn loved to do the Kids Limerick Run. One year he did it twice, so he got two medals that day. He loved it, he loved training.”
“He also loved training with his Dad. They’d go running along the riverbanks. He was a very energetic child, and it was something he loved to do. So this is to keep his memory alive and for me to do something positive for Brooklyn,” she adds.
“Himself and his Dad had a great relationship, and they used to always be training together, running together and they’d go for a swim. They were like best friends, so he is heartbroken as well.”
“I’m focusing on the Run and training, and, knowing that I have to do it to make Brooklyn proud. It has been good for my mental health as well, I know he’d be very proud of me to do it.”
“Brooklyn was into his sports, he played with Pike Rovers and Ballynanty FC, and he did some boxing
We used to box together in the Hub in Thomondgate, and he was better than me with the moves. We’d often partner up together as well. It was lovely.”
Sonia also wants to run in order to raise awareness about the Novas charity, which helps people who have become homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
It’s a cause close to her heart.
“Myself and Brooklyn were in our home for five years and we became homeless as our landlord wanted to move back in. That was about two years ago. We were fighting to stay in our home as long as we could,” she explains.
“I got in touch with Novas and they put me in the right direction, they were very good to us.”
Sonia and Brooklyn ended up living in a hotel for about two months, but their “unbreakable bond” ensured they remained resilient in the face of their adversity.
Thankfully, Sonia says, Brooklyn took the ordeal mostly in his stride, joking he was like the movie character “Kevin”, played by then child actor Macaulay Culkin who finds himself staying in the five-star Plaza Hotel, New York, in the 1992 adventure comedy “Home Alone 2: Lost In New York”.
“Brooklyn was a very easy going child so he never complained about it. We were in the hotel for about eight weeks, and while we were there Novas helped us with our washing and provided tokens for the launderette. You spend a lot of money in a hotel as well, so they gave us vouchers to get our dinner cheaper in Our Lady of Lourdes community centre.
“Novas were very helpful with ringing landlords. They were brilliant in every way, and since Brooklyn has passed, they have been a massive help to me.”
Sonia singles out Julie McKenna, a senior project executive with Novas, for special praise.
“Julie has been helping me, and being there for me, she got me through Christmas, she got me over it,” Sonia says.
“At the time we were made homeless, we didn’t know where to turn to. I didn’t know where to go, and we didn’t have anywhere to stay. My family live in England, and so me and Brooklyn…well, Brooklyn had his dad… but in terms of stability for me and Brooklyn, I didn’t have anywhere to go.
“It was a blessing that I had Novas to do that for me. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving back to them and to try to do the fundraising for them.”
“I know Brooklyn would love to give back, I know he’d love that, that he’d have something to do with giving back to Novas. He wasn’t embarrassed hat he was homeless. He told his friends and his teacher at school, he was very grounded, very happy.”
No matter where they lived, as long as they were a pair, Sonia and Brooklyn were “happy”.
Their hopes were answered last October when they secured a home with Novas’s help, through Limerick City and County Council.
The celebrations were poignantly short-lived with Brooklyn’s untimely death on November 3.
Sonia says: “We got the house in October but I still haven’t moved in yet. I’m finding it kind of difficult to move in and start another chapter without Brooklyn, but I’m in and out of it doing it up.
“Last week I took a step forward by going back to work, so maybe in the next few weeks, I’ll take another step forward by moving into the house.”
“Brooklyn was in the house and he picked out his bedroom so I will still do up the room up for him and there will still be a part of him in the house.”
Sonia’s work as a mentor with Limerick Sports Partnership, helping others move on from trauma and their own individual experiences through exercise, has also helped her own mental health.
She continues to battle the “bad days” and greets the good days with a positive smile.
Sonia says her “whole world crashed” when she was told Brooklyn had died.
“Brooklyn was more than my son, he was my best friend, he was like the other part of me, we were inseparable. It was like my whole world ended.”
“I have a good circle of friends and they’re getting me through it, and my uncle who reared me with my nana has been a massive support too.”
Prayer has also sustained her faith that Brooklyn’s spirit remains close to her.
“I go to the church most days and I talk to Brooklyn and I light a candle. Me and Brooklyn used to light candles in the church, it was a thing that we did. I have his picture in the Augustinians Church, so I go in there and I light a candle and I have a chat with him.”
“It only came to me the other day that the Great Limerick Run finishing line is just after we pass that church, so it’ll be nice. It will mean something to have it finished outside the church, where his picture is, it’ll be nice, it’ll be special.”
“I feel him with me, I still do. We had so much of a bond. The bond we had can’t just be gone, it can’t just be broken. I believe we still have that bond, and I think he is guiding me stronger than ever.
BROOKLYN Colbert wasn’t the only child to benefit from the work of Novas over the last two years with 2018 ranking as the worst year on record for the number of children helped by the Limerick charity.
Novas senior project executive Julie McKenna said it was the first time they worked with over a thousand children in Limerick, Tipperary, Dublin, Cork and Kerry.
“In Limerick, alone we supported 592 children and these were children who were homeless or at risk of being homeless.”
“We really are up against it and we are really humbled that Sonia would consider to give back to Novas despite everything that she is experiencing at the moment, and that she wants Brooklyn’s memory to live on through giving back to Novas.”
“We are very thankful for that, and very thankful for everybody that is supporting her, and gathering momentum, and getting involved in the race as well including Limerick Sports Partnership and her friends.”
Paying tribute to Sonia and Brooklyn’s courage, she addds: “We are so thankful and very privileged to know Sonia, and to have known Brooklyn and worked with him. He was a kid with a spark about him and he left an impact and a memory wherever he went. So, it’s lovely to be involved in this and keeping his memory alive.”
“We will continue to support Sonia, I know her a long time, and I would have went to Sonia on the night Brooklyn passed away, and we would touch in and out with one another, and that will continue as long as she needs it.
I’m proud to be part of an organisation that does that, it’s the least we can do,” Ms McKenna added.