When Brett Bramble’s 28-year-old sister, Brittany Bramble-McNatt, died of a drug overdose on March 15, 2014, he decided to walk across the country to raise awareness about addiction and keep his sister’s memory alive. What he didn’t realize at the time, was that this walk would be the very thing he needed for himself to heal.
In March 2015, after 9 months of training, Bramble, 32, armed himself with a stroller (with all his supplies) and his dog Domino, and embarked on the walk, keeping fans and supporters updated along the way through his blog and Facebook posts.
And while he originally set out with statistics and information to share with the world, he found that it was his sister’s story that resonated with people the most. Ultimately, it was he himself who was the most affected.
“I learned a lot about myself,” Bramble, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, tells PEOPLE. “I learned I still had a lot of grieving to do. There were times I would look down at the picture of Brittany on the stroller and just break down crying.”
But he kept going. “Quitting was just not an option,” he says.
Throughout his journey, Bramble was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people whose lives have been affected by addiction. As he walked through different states, he spoke at schools, town meetings and gave over 100 interviews — all which helped spread his message and garner more support. And most importantly, gave him the strength to keep walking.
Bramble recalls one particular moment during the summer when he was walking through Kansas and received a message from a guy who was addicted to PCP. Various people had tried to help him, but it was Bramble’s story on the news that really resonated with him. He told Bramble that if he could do this for his sister, then he could get clean for himself. “You literally saved my life,” he wrote to Bramble. He entered recovery and keeps Bramble updated on his progress.
Bramble says he finally found a sense of peace as he was wrapping up his journey in Nevada on what is referred to as The Loneliest Highway in America. Without seeing anyone for days, he says he felt Brittany’s love and knew she had been right beside him on his entire trip.
“Her love transcends her life on earth,” he says. “It was a beautiful moment and in a beautiful place.”
Now, a few months after he finished his journey and on the three-year mark of Brittany’s passing, Bramble is still grieving, but he also feels proud of himself.
“I did what I set out to do,” he says. “I know Brittany would have been proud. She would like that her story was able to change people’s lives across the country.”
Eight months, 3200 miles, five pairs of shoes later, he says he felt an overwhelming sense of joy when he reached his final destination: the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Domino was a real trooper throughout the journey, but the extreme heat in the summer just got too much for the 3-year-old dog. Supporters Bramble met along his walk rallied together and got Domino back safe and sound to Georgia. And she made the trip back out to California so she could finish the final point and cross the Golden Gate Bridge with Bramble.
Bramble now has plans to to lead a local grief chapter of GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing). And he is currently working on a book chronicling his journey. He is also keeping busy speaking to teens in drug court and at various prisons. He breaks out the old stroller and shares his personal story of how addiction took his sister’s life and offers ways to get help.
“Brittany may not be here to see and to hug, but I still have her love,” he says. And her legacy and story will continue to change lives.”