The feather-patterned blue dress with mid-length sleeves was something Chelsea Brownfield would have never picked out herself.
But as the widow prepared to attend her husband’s funeral service Saturday, there was no other outfit that seemed more appropriate.
“As I finish pulling myself together, I can’t help but feel a tiny glimmer of hope and happiness,” she wrote in a photo caption on Facebook. With closed, teary eyes, she gently placed her left hand, which displayed her wedding bands, over her heart.
“This dress is something I would have NEVER picked out in a million years,” she wrote. “It was a gift, and when Brandon saw it he pushed me to [at least] try it on. Turns out that this dress is one of his favorites. So today I honor my husband. His life and his memory will live on in his girls and in me.”
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Brandon Brownfield was one of six people killed when a Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapsed on March 15; drivers were waiting under it at a red light at Southwest 109th Avenue and Southwest Eighth Street.
Brownfield was on his way home from work when his Ford pickup was abruptly crushed by the 950-ton structure. His vehicle remained buried in the rubble for days and was the last to be pulled out.
On Saturday, more than 100 people gathered to honor him at a celebration of life service at First United Methodist Church in Homestead.
“We are counting down the minutes to the biggest gathering of family and friends I never wanted to plan,” his wife wrote in the post. “How do you prepare yourself for a day like today? My heart hurts, and my soul is cracked.”
Brownfield leaves behind his wife of 3 years and 11 months, as well as daughters Leah, Bethany, and Danielle, who are between the ages of about 10 months and 5 years. The couple moved from Virginia to Florida about five years ago and had just recently moved into a home in Homestead and were making it their own. As of Saturday night, more than $92,000 had been raised for Brownfield’s daughters.
The Maxim Crane Works technician — who was not working on the FIU bridge — had left for work at around 5 a.m. According to his supervisor, Mike Bair, the team had been prepping a crane that was slated to be used to erect a 28-story building in Broward. The workday ended up being a slow one, so Brownfield’s usual 12-hour shift was cut short.
“There was nothing much to do at that point, so I sent him home early and he was on his way to go see his girls,” Bair told the Miami Herald. “If you look at most of Miami, Brandon probably had a part in it. What breaks my heart is that he climbed cranes, some as high as 86 stories, every day, but then he gets killed on the ground. Why? How?”
The more Brownfield climbed, the more he thrived, his family and friends said Saturday. In a brief video posted on Facebook, the sunset lover boasts about a typical day at the office. Behind him is a picturesque landscape of downtown Miami.
“He loved it up there. He was always reaching for the stars,” Bair said. He noted that some recent developments Brownfield worked on include the EAST in Brickell, the Miami Hotel and the Panorama Towers — the tallest building in Florida.
Brownfield’s job consisted of assembling, fixing and disassembling tower cranes, the tallest type of crane.
“He was part of a small group of men and women that climbed high in the sky and built this beautiful thing called America,” said Charles Pettie, who hired Brownfield more than a decade ago.
“Besides being a man of the sky, he was a true daddy and a husband, a trait that I hold in extreme high regard. He provided for his family by going into the air. He saw many beautiful sunrises and sunsets high above the chaos of the crazy world we live in today.”
At the funeral service, photos of a smiling Brownfield, along with the hardhat he wore on the job daily, came together to form a centerpiece at the altar surrounded by flowers. After a brief preaching, “Amazing Grace” was played on the piano.
“Each of the days that pass will bring new challenges and new reminders of Brandon’s absence. With that, one question echoes in all of our hearts and minds. Why?” asked Randy Duncan, who pastored the Brownfields in Virginia. He then asked the Brownfield family to turn around, to gaze at the crowd behind them. “You are not alone.”
Brownfield’s widow peeked over her shoulder and began to weep as her grieving family embraced her with a hug.
Brownfield, 39, was described as gracious, adventurous, energetic, intelligent and a funny, loyal friend. He enjoyed fishing, hiking, cliff-diving, concerts, snowboarding and camping.
Mike Rebich, Brownfield’s best friend, told stories about Brownfield’s escapades. One time, he took his tiny fishing boat six miles out into the ocean. The crowd chuckled as Rebich recounted how frightened he was.
“That was Brandon — an explorer, a thrill seeker,” Rebich said, choking back tears. “I just don’t understand all this. My mom said they must have needed a skilled crane technician in heaven.”
But those anecdotes and adjectives just aren’t enough, his wife said.
“How do you encompass the life of an extraordinary man in a matter of a few minutes? Truth is, you can’t,” Chelsea Brownfield said.
“My heart is heavy and broken. But like a ship out to sea, I will weather this storm with my girls and we will find peace on the other side. With every sunrise and every sunset I will feel the warmth of the sun and know that he is with me — and now he just has a better view.”