Holbrooks siblings fight to stay together

With a photo of his mom on a laptop, Brandon Holbrooks, 15, sits in his step-grandfather's apartment in Glendale. Brandon and his sister Ashley, 18, moved in with their step-grandfather after their mom died, possibly from an asthma attack, during the Christmas break. Her funeral is Saturday. Their father committed suicide three years ago. They are looking to the community for help with funeral and moving expenses. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer / February 1, 2013)

Boxes were piled up by the front door, almost to the ceiling. Each of them contained memories of their mother, including a large picture frame she had received for Christmas.

In the frame, which read “Family,” Ashley and Brandon Holbrooks had included photo memories of the Santa Monica pier, prom, horseplay and the family dog.

Their mom, Tracy, died two days later.

On this Friday, the day before her funeral, the teens finished moving from their upstairs apartment to one downstairs where their step-grandfather lives.

The Holbrooks have long struggled to make ends meet, but the teens say their strong family ties always managed to transcend any obstacle. But when Tracy Holbrooks died, possibly of an asthma attack, the lives of Ashley Holbrooks, 18, and her 15-year-old brother, Brandon, were upended.

“It was just nothing I could imagine. It was terrifying. We had so many thoughts running through our heads. What could have caused this? We were freaking out,” Ashley Holbrooks said, sitting next to her step-grandfather as he wiped tears from his face.

Their estranged father committed suicide three years ago, and their step-grandfather is a lung cancer survivor. Although he's in remission, Thor Sundby, 68, said they have to prepare for the possibility that he might die before Brandon becomes an adult.

“I don't want him to become a ward of the state,” Sundby said.

Ashley Holbrooks wants to become her brother's guardian, but the Hoover High School senior doesn't know if she has the financial standing go through the adoption process.

Michael Weston, a California Department of Social Services spokesman, said although she'd have to go through the same adoption process as others, including home studies and background checks, there are ways to waive fees.

But getting an attorney to help guide them is expensive, said Sundby, who works as a light bulb salesman in Burbank.

In their step-grandfather's two-bedroom apartment, Ashley Holbrooks has one room.

Brandon has a makeshift bedroom near the kitchen. He has a twin bed, a map of the United States on the wall and three fat goldfish. They were survivors from an original batch of 16 that once lived in a kiddie pool on the patio.

He and his sister had to give away their 5-foot-long iguana, six rabbits and rat when they moved in with Sundby.

Their mother loved animals, especially wolves. They reminded her of strength, of family.

Her pictures of wolves are packed in a box, but soon they'll dot the walls of the small apartment in Glendale's Grandview neighborhood.

The move on Friday was a bit of a homecoming for the siblings. For 13 years, the Holbrooks lived in the two-bedroom apartment with Sundby — he had one room and the children and their mother shared another with two twin beds.

Tracy Holbrooks would sleep with a blanket and pillow on the floor.

“She always had us ahead of her,” Ashley Holbrooks said.