A Tale of Two Sisters - Caroline Bryan & Ellen Boyer
Words by Cara D. Clark
It’s strange how some people can spend decades on the planet, then shuffle off this mortal coil with barely a ripple. Brett Boyer was in this world for less than a year, but her life was like a sparkling stone dropped into a pond, creating an ever-widening spiral of love and remembered joy that continues to expand and seep into the lives of others, blessing them with her cherished memory.
For her parents, Bo and Ellen Boyer, and everyone whose hearts had been changed by their time with Brett, the loss took them on a journey beyond grief. And through that inexplicable joy of love and tragedy of loss, Brett’s aunt, Caroline Bryan, memorialized the ebullient spirit that left such an impact through Brett’s Barn, a labor of love and haven for animals in need of rehoming.
It all began with finding a white pony promised to an infant Brett, fondly known in the family as Queen Bee. Brett earned her royal title with her infectious smiles and her constant bravery. Before she was born, Brett was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and a congenital heart defect. Her parents knew their daughter’s path would not be the traditional one, but they never imagined her life would be so brief.
Born July 8, 2017, Brett was a blessing to Caroline’s brother and sister-in-law, who had tried to get pregnant for six years. They were less than 12 weeks into the pregnancy when they received the Down’s diagnosis.
“It took time to wrap their head around her being different,” Caroline says. “Then Ellen found out Brett would have to have surgery on her heart. When she was about four months old, she became ill and underwent her first surgery. Something went wrong, and her body didn’t adapt to the surgery. She fought and fought, but at seven months old, she passed away.”
Caroline and her husband, country music star Luke Bryan, set aside a portion of their property outside of Nashville, Red Bird Farm, for Brett’s Barn.
“My only way of coping was remembering I had promised her a white pony when she was a month old,” Caroline said. “I decided to keep that promise. A friend of mine found one at a rescue shelter, and I said I wanted it.”
Caroline had been looking for miniature horses and ponies but hadn’t approved of some of the breeders she met along the way. When the white pony suddenly appeared at the shelter, Caroline saw providence at work and completed the adoption, bringing the mare, Kilo, home within three days. To ensure the pony wouldn’t be lonely, the Bryans also adopted another pony, a pig, and a goat—all in need of TLC.
Many residents of Brett’s Barn have been starved or abused in other ways. It has become a haven for the animals and a source of joy and therapeutic outdoor time for children with heart conditions, cancer, or special needs.
The star of the farm is Pekka the llama, whose personality is as dynamic as the myriad expressions on her comical face. While it’s difficult to choose a favorite among the pigs, goats, ponies, and even kangaroos, when pressed, Caroline confesses to having a weak spot for that silly llama. But there’s not much about her that’s weak. She and her husband have overcome terrible tragedy.
“I never expected Brett’s Barn to be what it has become,” Caroline said. “It’s kind of grown on its own. It’s helped our family as much as it has helped these kids. It has shown us this world we wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for Brett. When you see these children who are coping with illness, it puts life’s small stresses in perspective. Things we once thought were stressful, we just laugh at. It opens your eyes to what some of these families have to go through after I watched what my brother and sister-in-law had to go through.”
Visiting children love the opportunity to enjoy the country air and the interaction with the animals. Caroline began working closely with Children’s Hospital and now sits on the board.
“The animals have been blessed with a second chance, and I’ve loved it,” Caroline says. “It’s a lot of work, but I have great help. It’s been amazing. It’s so helpful for the parents who bring their kids out, and for the animals, who have gone from being abused to being completely spoiled.”
Because Brett’s Barn is on private property, visits are invitation-only for the time being, though Caroline is working on finding a nearby location to set up the farm and expand its reach to the public. With 20 animals and possibly more, when Caroline learns of a critter in need, there’s plenty of love to share, but the accompanying red tape slows things down. “It’s a long process with paperwork and insurance and making sure the kids and animals are safe,” Caroline explained.
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