I want to demonstrate to my children and the world that politics does not have to be angry or partisan to be effective. I want to be an example of integrity and putting the needs of others before my own.

Colleen Brennan

Both sides of my family arrived in Omaha in about 1900 with the wave of immigrants pouring into the city from all over the globe. Omaha was a rough and tumble place in those days, and my family played, shall we say, an active role. My grandfather, a somewhat renown boxer in his day, was an “enforcer” for the Irish faction of Boss Dennison’s Machine, and on the other side of the family was Frank Kawa, the founder of Johnny’s Café and Omaha’s most prominent bootlegger.

I grew up in Holy Cross Parish at 48th and Poppleton. My mother, Marilyn, was a nurse at the old St. Joe’s Hospital and later at Bergen. My father, Terry, worked at MUD and was a well-known lead guitar player and vocalists for several rock bands, most notably Bittersweet.

In 1984, my family moved to Millard and I graduated from Millard North High School in 1989. I was a fine arts major and Alpha Xi Delta at UNO but transferred later to UNL. On weekends I could generally be found at Howard Street Tavern, Arthur’s or, of course, The Dubliner.

I was married my senior year in college and my real life began. I never did get my degree and it still bothers me. I made a deal with my husband that after I put him through college, it would be my turn. My turn never came. I had four children. One was born with non-verbal autism and epilepsy. He was profoundly disabled and required constant care and attention, which I was honored to provide. He was the love of my life. September 21st marked the fifth anniversary of his death. I also had two children with nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Both turned out to be remarkable kids, with great character and love in their hearts, but their formative years required more than their share of fear and accommodation. And, I have one beautiful daughter who tries my patience with her adolescent proclivities, but she is my dream girl.

When you go through the raw and painful challenges of raising a profoundly disabled child, it changes you. I loved my music and art, but when your world hinges on life and death issues, interests become much more basic. Real life pushes everything else into a pile labeled “no time for fiction,” So, I began to study news, history and politics, and I guess you’d say I became somewhat of an activist, although I prefer to look at it just as a mom taking care of her family.

You see, in those days, families like mine didn’t have many options or much help. So, I did what mothers do every day. I did my research, scraped away all the nonsense and solved the problem. I started by talking to State Senators and other families like mine. I got organized and gathered support, and after three years, LB254, the Nebraska Insurance Reform Bill, was enacted into law on January 1, 2015. It was one of the first health care reform bills of its kind in the country. For my efforts, I was honored by Autism Speaks with their national “Parent Advocate of the Year Award.”

Not surprising, my husband and I didn’t make it too far after Mattie died. So much of our life was just putting one foot in front of the other. On my own, medical bills, no job, bankruptcy – it finally all became more than I could handle, and I committed myself to a mental hospital for “rest.” You can’t imagine how difficult it is to say that out loud, but I don’t feel any real shame. It’s more like a badge of honor that I even survived – many don’t.

Today, I’m whole and as happy as I’ve ever been. My partner and my best friend, is retired, but back in the day he served on the Republican policy committee in the United States Senate and later as an appointee in the Reagan Administration. A lot of people ask me, what it’s like being married to a Republican. I tell them, it’s really no big deal. After he finishes talking, I just explain to him where he’s wrong. Together we have a family of six – three in college at UNL, one in high school and two in middle school. They’re all pretty wonderful kids in their own way.

A lot of people ask me what life has taught me. It always surprises me that people think I have something worth sharing, but I guess there are three things I try to remember. First, there is absolutely nothing in life you can control, so thank God at the end of every day for what you have. Second, forgive yourself and others for not living up to your expectations. And third, hold on as hard as you can to the truth and doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. If you do those three things, the world makes a little more sense with each passing day.


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Paid for by the Colleen Brennan for Omaha Committee.

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