The photo arrived at just after 11 o’clock on Friday night.
“He’s remembering our angel,” the message accompanying the picture said.
Marianne Millard took a closer look at what her close friend, Donna Veach, had just sent along as curiosity transformed into disbelief.
Here was Donna’s son and General Manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, Brett Veach, holding an “I Cheer For” card for the camera in anticipation of the Chiefs’ “Crucial Catch” game at Arrowhead Stadium that coming Sunday.
And on that card, Veach chose to remember Marianne’s daughter, Brianna, who passed away in 1994.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Marianne recalled.
It was a decision rooted in Veach’s upbringing in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, where Donna and Marianne have been close for years. Marianne even taught one of Brett’s brothers in school.
And when six-year-old Brianna fell ill with brainstem glioma, Donna did whatever she could to help.
“When Brianna was sick, Donna was coming over with different foods that she liked. She liked clam chowder, and Donna would always make her clam chowder,” Marianne explained. “It’s just the kind of person that Brett’s mom is.”
That support included forming a prayer group with friends at their local church – something that’s persisted to this very day despite Brianna’s passing.
“They still meet regularly,” Lauren Millard, Brianna’s sister, added. “They get together monthly to pray for my sister, but it’s also become a community thing to support cancer patients and to just pray.”
The group, “On Brianna’s Wings,” even features a monthly email update and as October’s newsletter arrived late Friday night, it included the photo of Brett honoring Brianna for the world to see.
“It sent chills up my spine with I saw Brett holding that,” Lauren said. “She meant so much to us, so to see somebody like Brett do something as little as writing her name on a piece of paper meant the world to us.”
“Words couldn’t even express it,” Marianne added. “It’s just enormous for Brett to remember my daughter after all these years.”
Emotion soon turned into action, as the Millard family decided that Marianne had to make the trip to Kansas City. It was an opportunity that they simply wouldn’t allow her to miss.
“My cousin called and said that we had to send my mom,” Lauren said. “We got online, found some tickets and flew here as fast as we could, and Brett and his mom put us in a suite. If you would have told me 24 hours ago that I’d be here, I wouldn’t believe it.”
Veach invited Marianne and Lauren down onto the field prior to the game and even had them stand in the tunnel as the Chiefs ran out onto the field for pre-game introductions.
“That was surreal. There are no words – it was so cool,” Lauren said. “Just to walk through the locker room club and onto the field, then to watch the players was amazing. They came over and gave us high-fives and I was just blown away.”
Veach was there for much of that interaction despite the hectic nature of a game day for the general manager of a professional football team – all to spend time with the people that were there from the very start.
“I was actually telling Brett that everyone walks around in Kansas City gear in our small Pennsylvania town – all to support Brett,” Lauren said. “He gives back to the community and, on a whim, he made this happen. We’re so proud of him, the town is proud of him and he’s really a local legend – but he’s not above it. He’s so personable and cares about everybody.”
Before parting ways, Veach gave Marianne the card that began all of this, and as tens of thousands honored loved ones at the end of the first quarter by holding up their cards, Brianna was represented.
“My mom is just overwhelmed,” Lauren added. “This means so much to her.”
It was a special weekend that all began with the simplest of gestures – and one that the Millard family will surely never forget.
“As time marches on, Brianna’s memory fades for a lot of people except for us,” Lauren said. “To see something like this – years down the road – where somebody remembered someone that we lost…it’s just all very touching.”