But like most teenage girls, Taylor wanted her very own dress, and they were planning in March to go shopping.
“She pulled it out … I thought it was a pretty dress, but I wanted something that was mine,” 17-year-old Taylor said.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
Taylor’s mom, Shirra Branum, was killed in a head-on crash March 16, and the prom dress shopping trip fell by the wayside. Through all the trauma of losing her mother, and dealing with her brother being injured in the crash, Taylor rethought her decision about what to wear to prom.
“I tried it on,” she said, referring to the floor-length black gown with spaghetti straps and diamond-shaped cutouts on each side. “It fit pretty good, but it was a little big.”
Taylor knew right then that, with some careful tailoring, she would wear the dress to her own prom.
“After everything happened, it meant more to wear her dress,” she said. Her father, Randy Branum, knew the dress well — he went to prom with Shirra in 1998 when she wore the same dress.
“The day I told him I was going to wear it, he loved the idea,” Taylor said. “He said I looked gorgeous.”
While she misses her mother terribly, Taylor doesn’t like to dwell on the sad or melancholy aspects of life. Instead, she focuses on knowing her mother is always with her.
“I always feel like she’s with me and watching over me. Having her dress made me feel like she was there with me … I think having bits and pieces of her helped me deal with everything,” she said. “And being able to wear her dress … it helped majorly.”
So her journey of milestone events without her mom by her side physically has already started — first it was prom, then high school graduation on Saturday and moving to college at the University of Tennessee in the fall.
Taylor thought about ditching the full-ride scholarship to UT in the nursing program so she could be home as her siblings grow up — she has a 13 year-old sister and 10-year-old brother — but her extended family didn’t want to see her give up that dream.
“I was thinking of my siblings,” she said. “I feel like me being here would help them.”
Her family assured Taylor that her siblings would have all the support they might need to get through the difficult times of growing up without their mom.
So Taylor is moving on and upward, not without her mother altogether, but knowing her mother’s spirit is always with her.
The man charged with killing Branum and injuring Branum’s son and three of his own children in the crash remained at large.