The Heck/Leedy crew began on a cold January afternoon in 2002 from a family of 3 (Heck) and a family of 5 (Leedy) to merge into one big Brady Bunch family of 8! We are so proud of our “eight” that many of us have a tattoo with the number 8 representing who we are. Some of us have an infinity sign (8 sideways) and others a Roman Numeral VIII, signifying our strength as one unit. More will come into our family and some will leave us, but these tattoos are forever etched in our hearts, significantly memorializing the life and loss of a beautiful daughter and loving sister.

Dani frequently said to me that she would have loved to be an only child. From the time she was my only little girl, until 10 years later when her second baby sister was born, Dani had dreams of life with just her, a Mom and a Dad. The thought of being the center of our world, without competition or distractions simply appealed to her. It had nothing to do with her love toward her siblings. But having a childhood friend who was an only child inspired this fantasy from time to time and Danielle never failed to share that with me.

It’s funny and ironic that she occasionally felt that way. Danielle loved to be the center of attention-no matter where we were. Being part of such a large family gave her a built in audience at all times and a friend when loneliness creeped in. The feedback and laughter that followed one of her performances became a catalyst for her to share more and more with us. Dani’s storytelling, animation and incredible laughter drew so many people into her world. No matter how much fun that was, she always relished her alone time.

We often have dreams of wanting what we don’t have. The city boy wants to live in the country. The girl with two left feet dreams of becoming a dancer. The only child wants siblings. And this girl of mine, who was once one of four kids and then one of six, soon realized the “only child” concept was nothing more than that, a concept.

The last Thanksgiving holiday we had with Dani was November of 2018. She had moved from Florida to Washington DC in the spring of that year. This move enabled her to drive to visit family instead of flying. Family became more and more important to her as the years went on. However, on this particular holiday, Danielle was the only one of our children who was able to be with us that entire weekend. Her other siblings had out of town obligations and one was even out of the country that week. Dani’s brother popped over for a short one on one visit but Dani finally was able to experience her dream. She was our “only child” for this holiday. Dani could choose the meal, the entertainment, sleep in whichever room she chose, relax without any obligations and just hang with her mom and step dad. Alone. A perfect scenario, right? Well, not exactly.

Dani sent a voice message to her 5 siblings on Thanksgiving Day telling them had it not been for her, “our parents would have been all alone on Thanksgiving.” “I finally went from the estranged Danielle to numero uno!” What joy we felt spending quality time with Dani. We did have a lovely weekend with her laughing, telling stories and discussing her future hopes, dreams and ambitions.

Dani’s message to her siblings. Thanksgiving 2018

One memory I treasure from that 2018 Thanksgiving weekend is of Dani lying with her head on my lap, letting me play with her gorgeous long hair as I listened to her plan her future business goals with Jeff and I. This “only child” moment gave us the opportunity to have such amazing one on one time with her, time we would forever treasure for the rest of our lives.

When Danielle drove home that Sunday evening, she left me a message that I still listen to when I need a dose of Dani. Of course she loved the special time with Jeff and I, but she finally decided she did not want to be an only child. She missed her siblings, nieces and nephews so badly that weekend that she ultimately grasped the beauty of what it’s like being an intricate piece of an entire family unit and knew she wouldn’t trade it for the world.

This Thanksgiving weekend as you gather with family and friends or sit quietly by yourself, pull up a treasured memory of moments captured in years gone by, and hold on to it with your entire being. We can’t get back these moments in time, just like we can’t get back a child or loved one taken away too soon. But we can bask in the feelings of warmth and peace remembering that our loved one was here laughing and dreaming, and we can choose to be thankful and give praise to God for the time we did have together. Happy Thanksgiving my friends.

Happy Heavenly Thanksgiving, Dani. You are loved and missed but will forever remain in our hearts. 💙💜