Two months ago, Tanya Brown and her sister, Denise Brown, shredded 15 bags of documents from the trial of O.J. Simpson, who was found not guilty in 1995 of murdering their sister, Nicole Brown Simpson.
“We got rid of everything,” Tanya, 46, tells PEOPLE. “Even receipts. “We didn’t want to hold onto 21 years of bad memories. Who wants to remember the trial? We held onto that for 21 years. We released it. New chapter. New journey. We said, ‘We are getting rid of it all,’ and it’s gone.”
While she is trying to put the trial behind her for good, she is reminded of the case once again, now that FX is debuting The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, a ten-part miniseries starting Feb. 2.
“We just don’t want to go through it again,” says Tanya, who will reluctantly watch the series so she knows what is said about her sister and the case.
She lost Nicole, 35, on June 12, 1994, when she and her friend, Ron Goldman, 25, were found murdered in the courtyard of her Brentwood, California, condominium, the victims of vicious knife attack.
The man suspected of killing them was Nicole’s ex-husband and Tanya’s former brother-in-law, O.J. The football legend was famously found not guilty of their murders during his sensational 1995 criminal trial.
Though he was found not guilty, Tanya still believes that O.J. took her sister’s life.
“This was the ultimate act of betrayal by her dying at the hand of somebody who has been in our family since I was seven,” says Tanya.
“We were just a close family and we had fun,” she says. “O.J. always said that he considered our family his family – more than his own.
“He whispered that in my right ear at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner one year at their house on Rockingham. I will never forget that.”
Tanya learned about the beatings Nicole allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband after her death, since Nicole told few about what went on behind closed doors in her marriage. She said her sister, Denise, told her years later that Nicole kept it from her because she was so young at the time.
“Everybody equates Nicole with being a domestic violence victim, which she was, beyond belief,” says Tanya, who with her sister, Denise, have spent more than two decades speaking out about domestic violence.
“But Nicole was a mom, first and foremost. Her death doesn’t define who she was. Her kids were her life.”
A Down-to-Earth Mom
Bubbly and fun-loving, Nicole, who grew up on the beach in southern California, loved nothing better than spending time with her children, Sydney and Justin, now 30 and 27.
“She was very hands on,” says Tanya. “She just made sure that her kids were having fun and being kids.”
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Nicole shuttled them to school and to play dates and activities, baked cookies with them and always let them know how much she adored them. “She loved those kids so much,” she says. “They were her priority.”
Nicole and the children spent lots of time with her parents and sisters, too.
“We were always hanging out,” she says. “We come from a big family and when we were together, it was just always full of laughter and full of joy and lots of good cooking. Nicole was a great cook.”
Albeit, a messy one. When Nicole was preparing holiday feasts for the family, “Stuff was always everywhere,” says Tanya. “There would be flour everywhere – in her hair and on her face.”
“Then she would put on a pair of jeans and a casual top and she would look hot. She was gorgeous.”
Tanya said her big sister was as down-to-earth as they come. “Nicole was always in jeans, flip flops or shorts, chewing gum and wearing lip gloss.
“My sister was always simple,” she says. “When she was down in Laguna [Beach, California], she would always wear her bathing suit. She was a beach person. She wasn’t wrapped up in the Hollywood scene. She was a homebody.”
When Tanya and her family cleaned out Nicole’s Jeep Cherokee after she died, “we would find Happy Meal toys and french fries that were probably 20 years old,” she jokes.
“She loved taking baths and she loved her candles,” she says. “She loved vanilla candles so every time I get one, I think of her.”
“You know that Ferrari she had?” says Tanya. “She hated that car with a passion. She was like, ‘Why did he get me this car? I have kids!’ ”
She said that while Nicole lived a comfortable life, “stuff did not matter to her. What mattered to her was having a home for her children.”
Despite everything they have been through, Sydney and Justin are thriving, she says. “I am so proud of what and who they have become.”
Their father is serving a 9-to-33-year sentence in a Nevada prison after a 2007 conviction for armed robbery, kidnapping and weapons charges after he tried to reclaim memorabilia he said belonged to him. He is eligible for parole in 2017.
While trying to come to terms with the loss of her sister, Tanya suffered a mental breakdown in 2004, checking herself into a hospital for psychiatric care, spending 10 days as an inpatient and two months as an outpatient, undergoing intensive therapy.
She chronicled her journey in her 2014 book, Finding Peace Amid the Chaos: My Escape from Depression and Suicide.
“People have written to me saying that my story gave them hope and helped them get out of their depression,” she says. “If I can be a hope or inspiration for anybody, I am going to do it.”
In February, when viewers tune into the FX mini-series, she says, “I want people to understand that Nicole was a person, a human being. She had blood going through her veins. She had a voice. She had a smile.”
While she says that you never truly get over the death of a loved one, “as time goes on you learn to live life without that person and your tears turn into joy and laughter. I think that’s really important for anybody going through grief.
“Those who have passed don’t want you to be mad and bitter and sad all the time,” she says. “It’s part of a normal grieving process, of course, but you have to get to a point where you are accepting of it, surrendering to the fact that your loved one is gone. It’s not until you surrender that that healing can begin.”