On April 23, 2010, Brooke DiPalma’s father, Joseph, drove her to school as he did most days.
Before she jumped out of the car, he said, “I love you.” Brooke quickly responded, “I love you, too,” slammed the car door behind her and ran off to school.
Her father committed suicide later that day.
“Those were his last words to me,” said DiPalma, 15, of West Islip. “They mean so much. Whenever anyone says ‘I love you’ to me, it just brightens up my whole day.”
DiPalma, a sophomore at West Islip High School, described herself as a “really positive” person who always has a smile on her face. She admitted that her initial reaction to her father’s death was typical -- she screamed, she cried, she was devastated -- but she quickly found her way out of the darkness.
Today, West Islip High School will celebrate the second annual P.S. I Love You Day, an event thought up by DiPalma and organized with her fellow class officers for the Class of 2014.
On P.S. I Love You Day, the entire school is asked to wear purple in a show of togetherness and acceptance to counter bullying, rally around those suffering from depression and “ultimately, end suicide,” DiPalma said.
“We want to let everyone know that when they see purple, they are not alone,” she said. “They are loved and needed in this world.”
Additionally, the Class of 2014 organized the “Love Out Loud” concert on Tuesday, where five local bands performed for a crowd of more than 100 at West Islip High School.
Performers and audience members lit candles for someone they’ve lost, or in support of other families that have struggled with a recent death. DiPalma invited on stage members of families in the community who have lost loved ones recently to suicide or other sudden death.
Heather Pupke, of West Islip, whose son Brian died in July when he stepped in front of a moving train, thanked the crowd for their support and for remembering her son.
“It means everything for them to be remembered,” she said, calling the event “beautiful.”
Proceeds from the concert, which included money raised selling tickets, purple rubber bracelets and purple ribbons, will go to the Class of 2014 for future P.S. I Love You events. A portion will also be donated to suicide prevention, said Jen Burlandi, co-advisor of the Class of 2014 and an English teacher at the high school.
Burlandi said the beauty behind DiPalma’s idea is that it can be interpreted differently for different people, which she thinks has attributed to the school’s widespread support of the message.
“On the actual day [last year], it was so cool to see students who you never thought would be interested wearing purple,” she said.
DiPalma’s goal is to make P.S. I Love You Day a national movement. She took to YouTube this year to further that goal, posting a 3-minute video of herself holding up notecards that tell her personal story and explain the creation of P.S. I Love You Day. To date, the video has more than 30,000 views.
One of those viewers was Joanne Williams, of North Babylon, who found the video through Facebook friends. She emailed DiPalma, whom she had never met, to let her know she wanted to help spread the message. Then Williams set out to her local schools to see if they would step on board.
First, she went to her daughter’s school, Marion G. Vedder Elementary School, then the rest of the North Babylon School District. Then she went to Lindenhurst and Hauppauge -- armed with purple rubber bracelets. In total, she estimates more than 7,000 people outside of West Islip will also be wearing purple on Friday.
“I don’t know this family, I’d never met Brooke,” said Williams, 46, who attended the “Love Out Loud” concert on Tuesday and met DiPalma for the first time. “But how could you watch that video and not want to do something?
“She inspired me,” Williams added. “I don’t think I would have handled it the way she handled it.”
Debra DiPalma, Brooke's mother, said she was proud of her daughter and happy to see a community come together over an issue so close to her family.
“They did so much for our family,” said Debra, whose older daughter Jaimie, 19, attends SUNY-Cortland and is thinking about starting P.S. I Love You Day there. “This will help a lot of people and make more people aware of the issue. This is not a community that is hiding it, or pretending that these things don’t happen.”