Note: This story, and many others on the April 27, 2011, tornado, aired during WVUA 23’s 1 and a half hour special program “Faces of the Storm” on April 27, 2016. If you’d like to watch the whole series, click here.

The death of a child is the worst pain a parent can feel. On April 27, 2011, Ashley Mims was just one of the parents who got a call revealing her child wouldn’t be coming home.

Mims’ daughter, 21-year-old Loryn Brown, was attending college in Tuscaloosa, living in the Beverly Heights neighborhood, just over the bridge from Alberta.

“If you would have told me on April 26th that I would have faced what I faced on April 27th, I would have said just shoot me,” Mims said. “Put a bullet in me, I will never survive that. There’s no way I will ever survive losing one of my children. There’s no way.”

As the tornado approached Loryn’s house that day, she called her mom for comfort.

“She said, ‘Mama, I’m scared.’ That’s the only thing she would say,” Mims said. “And I would say, ‘It’s OK. It’s OK.’  I heard one last ‘Mama, I’m scared.’ I screamed ‘Baby, get your head down. Get your head down.’ ”

There was one last, “Mama, I’m scared,” and then the phone cut off, Mims said.

Loryn’s family’s life is forever labeled as “Before April 27,” and “After April 27.”

“It feels like you are carrying a jagged rock in your pocket,” Mims said. “A heavy, jagged rock. You feel that weight all the time. It never goes away.

“Every once in a while you’ll have a good day or you’ll laugh and something will happen and it’ll poke you and you feel it there. It stops you and it makes you slow down. On the days that are especially difficult, it is good for us to have something positive to do.”

Since Loryn’s death, each holiday and special occasion is incomplete for her family, but nothing hits harder than her birthday each year in March.

“On her 22nd birthday, we decided to do 22 random acts of kindness,” Mims said. “Paying for coffee for the person behind you at the gas station. Something small like that. Each year we add one to it.”

Holly Mims is reminded of her big sister each time she catches a glimpse of herself. Their resemblance is striking. Holly said she also strives to mirror her sister’s kind heart and selfless actions.

“I just try to remember her and the memories we used to have with her,” she said. “And sometimes I forget and try not to let those fade away. It’s hard. She was a great person. When you were around her you couldn’t be sad. She was always happy. It was great.”

Over the past five years, Loryn’s family’s perspective on life has changed. They know now firsthand that every moment is precious.

“As a mom, you always try to assure your children that it’s OK,” Ashley Mims said. “It’s just what a mom says. My children know that it’s not always OK. They know that it could be bad. It wasn’t OK when sissy didn’t come home, and that’s just their reality. Our reality.”

Until they are united again with Loryn one day, her family clings to the memories and reminders they have.

“So many times you just feel her around you,” Ashley Mims said. “And there will be a reminder. I call them God stops. There will be something that will just stop me in my tracks and make me think yeah, she’s there. She’s with us.”

After living every parent’s worst nightmare, Ashley Mims preaches this message:

“Don’t ever let your child leave you and you not tell them that you love them. Always tell them you love them, because we are not always promised tomorrow. We don’t know that we’ll wake up the next day and we don’t know that our children will be here tomorrow.”

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