Susan Braley, a Florida mother to over 300 foster children, has died of COVID-19 at age 66.
Braley and her husband, Dennis Braley, both tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago. The Davenport, Florida resident succumbed to the disease over a week ago on Jan. 20, while Dennis remains hospitalized. Over the past 20 years, the couple, who are originally from Bangor, Maine, became foster parents to a total of 309 children and then adoptive parents to seven of them.
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Carianne Braley, the couple's biological daughter, told TODAY Parents that her mother began fostering children at 46, the age she herself is now. She said her mother was moved to foster when she saw Carianne's biological brother Craig and his spouse struggled to get pregnant and she always tried to keep siblings together whenever possible.
"My mom said, 'We have a home and we have love to give, so why not?" Carianne said in a phone interview.
It didn't matter if a child stayed two days, two weeks, two months or two years — they were all treated well and given the love and support they had been missing.
"You’d walk into the house and it was always immaculate," Carianne recalled. Her mother was the leader of the family and her experience as a regional director in corporate America meant that she was adept at providing kids with structure and an organized home. "That’s why those children thrived, because of her structure. She gave that consistency," Carianne said.
Susan was known for taking children with behavioral issues and giving them the support they needed to turn their lives around. She took in a young girl with autism who came from deplorable conditions and couldn’t speak. "My mom worked with Layla one on one, giving her reinforcement," Carianne explained. "Within six months she was carrying full sentences." Layla is now 7 and Carianne says she is thriving.
Another one of the children Susan fostered ended up getting adopted by the principal of the school she attended.
Because of Susan's work, she was able to provide a good home for the children she took in, always decorating their rooms and giving them things they had never experienced before, from a new comforter and room decorations to trips to Disney World and Sea World.
"They were financially stable," Carianne said of her parents. "They didn’t do it for money, they did it for love."
Susan and Dennis were willing to adopt children whose parents were deceased or had encountered difficult situations. Even when she was 64, Susan didn't shy away from adopting yet another child who needed a home. "She told me, 'It’s not like we want to be parents all over again, it's that we have a home and stability,’” Carianne remembered.
Knowing her mother's giving nature made it even more difficult for Carianne to cope with her sudden death. She and her brother and all of the children got a chance to say goodbye to Susan when they learned that her health was rapidly declining, but like so many other COVID-19 patients, Susan was only with hospital staff in her final moments.
"She said, 'Make sure you get in church and take care of these kids,'" Carianne said of their last conversation. Susan also told Carianne's adult son, Thomas, to do the same thing.
Carianne and Thomas are now doing their best to support Dennis as he struggles with COVID-19 and to keep all of the adopted children, who she considers her "siblings slash children" in their home.
"The biggest worry is making sure everything is maintained," she said. A friend of hers has started a GoFundMe campaign to help.
"She wasn’t that pushover grandmother," said Carianne of her mother. "She was amazing at teaching them how to be adults — how to cook, how to clean, how to talk to people."
Whenever Carianne asked her mother if she was taking on too much, she always had the same answer.
"She said, 'We’ll be just fine.'"