Hannah Brown's life is much more than rose ceremonies and ballroom dancing.
When the Bachelorette star first announced her book, God Bless This Mess, would be released on Nov. 23, fans were hoping to receive brand-new details about her experience in Bachelor Nation. While headlines have already proven that there is plenty of tea to spill (hello Peter Weber surprise hookup), there is also much more than what meets the eye.
In E! News' exclusive excerpt of God Bless This Mess, Hannah recalled a moment in her childhood that she won't soon forget when, at just six years old, she was getting ready to perform in a recital when her father suddenly announced that he would be unable to make it.
As she would learn, her aunt and cousins—ages 6 and 4—were murdered in their home.
"When my mom told us that somebody had come into their house and ‘hurt them,' it terrified me in the deepest parts of my heart," Hannah writes. "I didn't know the whole story with all the details until years later, but coming that close to something so awful, so terrifying—it was a turning point for me."
The author added, "It changed everything. I was no longer living in the innocence of an untouched childhood."
Read more from God Bless This Mess in E! News' exclusive except below.
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God Bless This Mess: Learning to Live and Love Through Life's Best (and Worst) Moments
"My life was a complete mess, and God bless all of it," Hannah wrote in her new book. "Because it's in the messes where we learn the most—as long as we slow down enough to realize what God is trying to show us."
I'll never forget the date: Friday, May 11, 2001. It was the day of my dance recital. I was six years old, and my mom had me hoisted up on the counter by the bathroom sink. My hair was in a high ponytail, with a full set of rollers weighing my head back. My mom was doing my makeup, so I could be stage-ready to perform my jazz routine in my sequined costume.
It was the biggest night of the year for me as a young dancer, performing for a crowd of proud family and friends. My dad came into the bathroom while I was getting ready.
"Are you excited to see me dance pretty?" I asked him.
"I'm sorry, honey. I have to go help your Aunt LeeLee. I'm not going to be able to make it."
My mom and dad exchanged a look that I didn't understand, and my dad turned and left the bathroom really quick. I heard him leave the house and take off in his car, and my little heart sank with disappointment.
Why would Daddy miss my special night?
My young intuition knew something was wrong, but my mom kept putting on my pretty pink blush and black mascara. I could tell in the look she exchanged with my dad that something was wrong, and I could see in her eyes that she was not okay. Something was making her upset. But she continued to encourage me and get me ready to take the big stage.
My recital went well, and I loved being onstage so much, but the disappointment of not seeing my daddy there really bothered me. So did the way my mom was smiling, as if she was trying to force it. She usually glowed after a recital, as if she'd been up there dancing herself.
Saturday came and went, and my father never came home. It felt...it all felt so strange.
Sunday was Mother's Day, and my dad was still gone. "He's still in Hamilton," my mom said.
That's Hamilton, Alabama, where Aunt LeeLee lived with her husband, my Uncle Stu, and their two kids, our cousins Robin and Trent, in a beautiful house they'd just finished building. Robin and Trent were almost the exact same ages as me and my brother Patrick— six and four—and we were just about as close as cousins could be. They were not only our family but two of our very best friends, all wrapped into one. And my dad seemed closer to Aunt LeeLee than just about anyone else on his side of the family. Especially in those last few months, since their mom, my MawMaw, had passed away just that past December. Even so, no matter what it was that Aunt LeeLee needed help with that weekend, I just couldn't understand why Daddy wouldn't be home by now to celebrate Mother's Day with us.
I kept asking my mom about it. I knew something wasn't right.
Finally, that afternoon, my dad called. After my mom got off the phone with him, she was real upset. She gathered Patrick and me in his bedroom. We all lay down on his little twin bed, surrounded by four walls, each painted a different color—red, blue, yellow, green— and she started to tell us what happened.
"The reason your daddy isn't home—"
She paused. I could feel her body shaking as she tried her hardest to fight back tears. I was terrified.
"What is it, Mama?" I asked.
"It's because your Aunt LeeLee, and Robin and Trent, they—they are now your angels in heaven."
I couldn't understand it. I was so confused.
"What do you mean, Mama?" I asked. "Robin and Trent and Aunt LeeLee can't be angels in heaven. What do you mean?"
"They're gone," she said. "Honey, they're gone." "How can they be gone?"
My mom clearly didn't want to answer me, but I would not stop asking questions. So, she finally explained as best she could: "A bad man came to their house and hurt them," she said. "God didn't want them to hurt anymore, so they went to heaven where they could not feel it."
My mom wrapped her arms around me and Patrick, and we all sobbed together there on that little bed for a very long time. I stared out the window through my tears, staring and staring at the sky. I was waiting to see them, hoping to see them swoop down from the clouds.
It would take a few days for me to understand that Aunt LeeLee and Robin and Trent had been murdered. It would take months after that to put the pieces together, since nobody wanted to talk about it. And it would take years for me to get the whole story, once I was old enough to look it all up for myself on the Internet.
The murder of a mom and two young children, in their own home, in a quiet small town, was big news in Alabama. We occasionally saw flashes of the story come up on the news when the investigation was going on, and later when the trial was going on, but my parents always changed the channel. They couldn't take it. And clearly, they wanted us to forget about it, too.
But I couldn't forget. Even though it scared me, I wanted to know more. It's just how I am. I remained silent and blocked it out for quite a few years, but I eventually found the strength to google the case. And the clearer and clearer the story became, the more horrifying it was.
When my mom told us that somebody had come into their house and "hurt them," it terrified me in the deepest parts of my heart. Like I said, I didn't know the whole story with all the details until years later, but coming that close to something so awful, so terrifying—it was a turning point for me. It changed everything. I was no longer living in the innocence of an untouched childhood.
I sometimes still question if I'm in a really bad dream. You see someone is old and has lived a long life, but when they're younger than my dad. When they're a family member. When they're cousins. When they're Robin and Trent. When Robin was the exact same age as me.
My parents didn't believe in therapy, so neither my brother nor I saw a therapist to help with any of this. We just dealt with it, as a family.
Even though I loved God and believed that praying would keep us safe, I needed my mom to call in backup. I saw how Sleeping Beauty was protected by her fairies, and my mom said fairies gave mommies "extra fairy dust, to help little girls go to sleep." And every night after the prayer, my mom would throw the invisible fairy dust around the room to protect me and help me fall asleep to sweet dreams.
We also called on the help of dream catchers. I had terrifying dreams almost every night, and one day when I was at a little festival at school, I found out what a dream catcher was. I insisted I needed one to help the bad dreams go away, and my mom was happy to buy it and hang it up. But just one didn't seem to work. So, we bought three. I also started to look for dream catchers wherever I went. And when I saw one, I thought of my aunt and cousins, and how they were watching over me.
The only way to make it through all of this at such a young age, though, was to believe in something so much bigger than me. With- out my faith in God, and in heaven, I'm not sure I would ever have slept through the night again. I still have trouble sleeping now.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with narcolepsy, which isn't the joke they make it out to be in TV comedy shows. It doesn't mean I fall asleep mid-conversation or plop my head on a table and go out cold in the middle of dinner. It means that even when I think I'm getting a full night's sleep, I'm not. I never get the deep sleep that humans need to feel fully rested. So, I'm tired pretty much all the time.
They say the causes are biological. Maybe hereditary. But part of me can't help but wonder if it's caused by fear—if my narcolepsy is a direct symptom of the trauma of the murder itself.
I know now that there are options for kids and families in these situations. There are grief counselors I could have seen, and groups I could have joined. I just didn't know it then.
I wouldn't begin to heal until I was in my mid-twenties, in the presence of a therapist. And until I opened up about it in this book, almost no one knew about it. So now, I'm just hoping that you, and anybody else who hears about it, will take this story and treat me gently with it.
From the book GOD BLESS THIS MESS. Copyright (c) 2021 by Hannah Brown. Published on November 23, 2021 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.