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They’re Happy

Dorothy, Nicole and I went to an off-Broadway show this week called Spamilton with some other dear friends. It was the first show we have been to since we lost Andrew. And I watched it in such a different light than other shows I have been to before. I was listening to the words of the songs and the melody of the music, but what I was more focused on was the actors. We were sitting at a table that was literally up against center stage. We were just a few feet from the actors (and actress). We could see into their eyes, and hear their voices versus the speakers.

Spamilot1What grabbed me was how happy they were. They were all Broadway actors acting in an off-Broadway production that is in a limited run. The show is a spoof not just of Hamilton, but the entire Broadway show industry. If you get a chance, go see it. But that’s not the point here. These actors are in a small play production – but they were so happy. They were visibly thrilled to be on the stage singing, acting and dancing. Their enthusiasm was contagious not only to each other, but the entire audience. Regardless of where they were, what play they were in, the size of the room – these actors were happy being on stage. They were doing what they loved to do, what they were trained to do, and what they are living to do. And it came through, from their inner most emotions, through their soul, and out their smiles.

I don’t know if they have day jobs, or if this is the only way they make a living, but anyone can see that they loved being on the stage performing. They are so happy doing what they love to do; I am sure any of us would be jealous of their ability to do what they love so much.

And I sat there and thought. Would Andrew be so happy doing what he wanted to do in life? I sure hope so.

I surf Facebook during the day, as many of us do, and I see this kind of happiness. Especially through Andrew’s friends.

Mikey2One of the players I coached several years ago went to college, then moved to Florida and starting fishing, and got a job many people would be envious of. He is now working as a production and marketing manager for a national fishing show. The show he produces has been seen on NBC Sports & The World Fishing Network. But what I see it this – I look at Mikey’s pictures on Facebook and he is smiling ear to ear in everMikey1y single one of them. He is holding up a fish here or there, riding on a fishing boat in clear blue waters, and is shaking the hands of others in the industry. Did he go to school for fishing? Probably not. He probably went for communication. I am not really sure how Mickey got the job, how much he is making, or anything else going on in his life – but what I see is that he is so thrilled to be doing what he is doing and where he is doing it. And it comes through in every picture he posts, every interview he does, and every show he produces. And it makes me smile knowing that he has found such a great place for himself in life.

Nolan2On the other end of the work spectrum, whatever spectrum that is, I see Nolan – I think he goes by the name Makk now. I also coached Nolan for many years on and off. Nolan calls me Mr. Grosser, even after i told him that was my father and to call me Perry, or coach. But he has been taught by his parents to be respectful and he was always respectful of me, as well as any other adult, he just naturally called me Mr Grosser. He helped out whenever he could, he did his chores at home when he was growing up, he wore a button down or collared shirt most of the time, and always finished his homework before his dad would let him come to practice. He was also a good friend of Andrew’s before they went their separate directions in school. But Nolan too has reached a place in his life where he is happy. He is a DJ – if that is what they still call them. He plays music – loud, very loud, in late night clubs until all hourNolan1s of the morning. There are the lights flashing, the 20-somethings dancing and screaming, and the blaring music that Makk plays to his throng of followers. Way out of the realm of what I ever thought Nolan would do when he got a job. He is loving it – and it shows. He has some serious tattoos, stays up all night to work, and plays music. I hear he is a great DJ, very well respected, and has a loyal following. I look at his Facebook page and see him in a white button down shirt in his family pictures, then in a t-shirt behind a neon monster of a DJ table in another. Here again, what comes through is that he is happy. He is doing what he wants to do, I assume he is making a decent living, and is in a very happy place in life. I am captivated by his success and comforted in my life from following Nolan.

I look at these pictures, along with the images in my head of the actors from Spamilton and think. Would Andrew be this happy in life? Would he be doing something that he loves to do so much? Would he come home every single day happy and thrilled to talk about work? I like to think so.

Andrew wanted to be a therapist. He wanted to help others deal with their problems in life. He helped several of his friends in his last few years. He helped them get through their problems, listened to their issues, and offered some advice – even if it was from an untrained ear. Several people told me that they would sit and talk to Andrew for hours and hours – and he was a good listener. So I sit here and hope that he was happy doing that. I sit here and hope that if he did chose to go into that field to make a living, that he would be happy helping other, listening and offering help and support.

I thank the actors from Spamilton for opening up my eyes to this and making me smile. Although I went to see a play, I came away with so much more. And I thank Mikey and Nolan, not just for being happy in their lives, for letting me hope and believe that if their teammate and buddy Andrew was still here with us today, that he would be as happy and smiling in life as much as they are. Thank you guys.

 

We need to talk

I was up in Salem, MA, a suburb of Boston, this week for business. One evening the people I was with wanted to go out to karaoke, but being in the state I have been in, I was in no mood to join them in their festive singing. So I called my cousin Phil, out of the blue, around 8PM and asked if I can come by and say hello – Phil lives in the next town over from where I was staying. I have not talked to Phil for a year or two, but he had e-mailed me about my writing a while back, and we were close when I was growing up. I just needed to go and hang out with someone who was family, and Phil was more than glad to have me over.

I got to their home in Peabody around 8:15 and was greeted by Phil and his wife Claudia with hugs and smiles. I knew I had made the right choice rather than going out and being miserable, or staying in the hotel alone and being sad.

andrew at party2

Andrew and Todd talked a lot about life – never thinking it was going to be their last conversation.

We started talking about work, what I was doing in Boston, and life in general – all pretty safe subjects. Eventually we talked about Nicole, how she was doing, about her school and her hockey.  We talked about Dorothy, about her work and her family. We talked about a lot of stuff. In hindsight though, much of the conversation was related to Andrew – about his school, about his son and about Jovi, about my new tattoo of his signature (I will write about that soon, I promise). We talked about Andrew’s funeral, and they shared some stories about that week that I didn’t remember, or chose not to. We talked for almost five hours. I cried here and there during some of the stories, I got choked up more times that I care to remember. I shared pictures of Andrew’s son, and stories I had not told in years. We covered so much and went from topic to topic.

We talked about family, and of friends. About the ones we still talk to, and the ones that have moved on with their own lives. We talked about those friends that have stepped up and have helped us through this ordeal, as well as those who have disappeared from our lives for one reason or another. They shared their perspective, as well as listened to mine.

It was pretty late. Claudia had long since gone to bed, and it was time for us to hug, say goodbye and hope to see each other again some time.

On my way home, as I started to write this essay in my mind, like I always do, I came to realize that I had done much of the talking. Well, maybe most of the talking. Well, maybe Phil was able to get a word in here and there. When I left their home after hours of talking, I felt pretty good, almost relieved. We had talked about so much. I had gotten a lot off my chest, I bitched about people, I moaned, I expressed my feelings in ways I have not been able to, to a person I felt very safe to be with. Phil didn’t judge me, he didn’t interrupt me, and he made no judgments about what I was saying. He just let me talk – he could see that I needed to talk, and he would throw in a pearl of wisdom here and there. But more importantly, and the most important thing – is that he was there to listen to me.

I thought he would always be there for me to talk to…

There is a reason why I titled this journal We need to talk, instead of I need to talk. I hope this journal speaks not to my fellow bereaved parents or bereaved siblings, but to our family and friends. We need to talk. I found that out this week. We need you there to sit and listen to us. No matter what we have to say. Not to make judgments about us or our grief, not to analyze us, not to try to make us feel better – just to listen. Just to let us let off steam, let us cry about our children, let us bitch and moan if we need to, let us talk about what we need to. You don’t have to council us, we don’t expect you to understand some of what we say, or to understand or appreciate our grief. We know that. We hope and pray that you never truly understand how we feel, or what we are going through without our children in our arms. We just need someone to talk to.

Let me repeat that – that is how important it is.  We don’t expect you to analyze us, or provide us with some amazing feedback that will take our burden away. We don’t expect or want anything from you but a soft smile, caring eyes, and love. Just like what Phil did so perfectly.

I wish you all find your own Cousin Phil.

 

Losing my safe place

Everyone has a safe place. Someplace they can go and be safe – whatever that means. For some that place is a place to hide, to be alone with their thoughts and fears, but be safe – like their bedroom, the woods near their home, or in a cemetery near their loves ones. For others it might be a place they go to read and have a tea and be around people, but feel safe – like Starbucks or Borders. For others, it is a place that brings back memories of a happier time – like an ice rink where their child used to play, walking around the mall where they used to shop, or a restaurant that their loved one used to enjoy.

For me, it is this last one.

For most of our lives, New Year’s Eve was a time spent with our immediate family. Early on, the four of us would go to small gatherings at friends’ homes and enjoy ourselves with others. But as life went on and changes happened, those invitations slowly stopped. We then had a few people over our home for a few years, and it was nice. But what really comes to mind, and with happy memories, are the last several years when the four of us just went out to an early dinner together.

open door

An open door is always an invitation to a safe place.

We chose this particular restaurant, Via Vanti in Mt. Kisco, for many reasons. First, they had been a client of mine since they opened in 2008. Over the years, Dorothy and I became close friends with the owners, Carla and Scott. We had been there many times together, with the kids, and we have taken many of our friends there. We never had a meal there that was not amazing. We had gotten to know the wait staff and the managers – and it was so great when we walked in and they all knew our names…sort of a Cheers thing.

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Carlas famous Gelato tasting

So when we had nothing to do for New Year’s Eve several years ago, Via Vanti was the first place we thought of. We had an early dinner, around 8PM, so we could be home before the drunks hit the road, and we could watch the ball drop from the comfort of our living room. I can’t recall what we ate for dinner that night, but what I do remember is that Andrew and Nicole were raving about the meal. The real treat was after dinner – gelato. Carla’s gelato counter is famous. She has won numerous awards for her gelato; the highest ratings from Zagat’s, Best of Westchester, and many more. You could get as many tastes of the various flavors that you want. Andrew and Nicole were in heaven, but making their final choices was always hard.

One thing lead to another, and Nicole eventually worked there. She was known as the gelato girl in the beginning. With her smiles and giggles, and her eagerness to give out free samples, she was always a hit when she worked there for the summer. Then for another summer, and then for a third. Always being able to work around her hockey schedule and her camps. She learned to bus tables, serve food, and was even a bartender before she could legally drink. Andrew could not wait for her to come home after work for she usually bore gifts.  Pasta with Bolognese sauce, pizzette with wild hog sausage, figs, and cheese, five cheese ravioli with roasted pears and pistachios – there was always something left over at the restaurant at night and Nicole seemed to be the one who got it. And it was usually accompanied by a scoop of some devilishly good gelato. Those are the memories I have of when Nicole worked there. She was always happy to bring home food for her brother, and he was always more than happy to eat whatever she brought him.

 

After we lost Andrew, we too were lost. New Year’s Eve followed Hanukkah, Christmas and Thanksgiving. All very difficult times for us. Andrew’s birthday was December 30th. What could we possibly do the following evening, for New Year’s Eve that would not leave us devastated? I am not sure who brought it up, but when the idea of Via Vanti for dinner came up, it seemed such a natural choice for us. For it was not only my safe place, it was a safe place for all of us. We knew the owners, we knew the waiters, and they all had known Andrew. And we had been there for New Year’s Eve a few times already – in happier times.

So that is where we went, to our safe place, for New Year’s Eve. And we went there the following year, and it was even nicer. They did not come out with party hats for us, they did not come over to the table with laughter and cheer. They knew why we were there and they made us feel so…well, safe. We did not intrude into others celebrations, nor did we share our sorrows with them. Scott sat with us for a long time and talked about life, about what he was up to. He asked about Nicole’s college and her hockey, and Dorothy’s work. It was one of the first times we went out and were able to not cry, but to enjoy being with ourselves, and our friends.

Via Vanti has also been the place I run to when I get upset during the day and I am not near home. There have been times that I received an e-mail from someone who knew Andrew, and they tell me how much he meant to them, or they share a story about my son, or they just want to reach out to me. I love receiving these e-mails, but it makes functioning and focusing for a few hours afterward difficult. Many times over the past three years these e-mails have forced me to take a break and run and hide. But instead of being alone, I head over to my safe place and hang out in the office with Scott and Carla, and share with them what I have received or what I just heard. More than once we have all teared up while talking about Andrew.

But now I am losing my safe place. After eight amazing years Via Vanti will be no more. Their landlord has not renewed their lease and are forcing the closing of Via Vanti at their present locale. And I am selfish in this. I don’t want to lose my safe place. I don’t want to not be able to go there, where everyone knows my name. Sometimes I go and stand near the gelato counter and stare at the table where we sat and had our family dinners. We smiled and laughed and talked so freely about so many things.  I stand there and recall Andrew asking Nicole for more and more samples, just to tease her, but she was always eager to hand them out. I recall the pasta, and the burgers, and the pizzettes that made my children smile and happy to eat. For whatever Carla had on the menu, they loved.

It was at Via Vanti during dinner where, after watching Bar Rescue one afternoon, Andrew had a realization.  I remember he asked us a very simple question he could not understand such an obvious answer to. He asked “so if waiters and waitresses are nice to their customers and smile at them, the customers give them bigger tips and they make more money – why wouldn’t they be nice all the time? I just don’t get it.”  Such a simple thought for such a complex kid who had to analyze everything.

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An empty wine rack and missing pictures off the wall, what a sad sight.

And that is how it is ending. Such a simple place, a restaurant, that has given my family and me so many happy memories of being a family, of eating together, smiling together, and loving food and family together. I will forever hold these memories in my mind, and in my soul, Thank you Carla, thank you Scott. Thank you Sal, Alex, Andi, Greg, and Andrew (the last person Nicole trained to take her spot when she went off to college, pretty ironic, huh?), and everyone else who has touched us and kept my safe place for me.

Hopefully, as time goes on, I won’t need that safe place as much as I have for the past few years. But it saddens me that this one won’t be there anymore.

Perry

bereavement  child loss

 

A Thousand Days of Pain, and a Thank you.

A Thousand Days of Pain, and a Thank you.

Last week it was a thousand days. One thousand days without my Andrew. One thousand days ago my life changed dramatically, tragically, and irreversible.  24,000 hours, 1,440,000 minutes. Every one of them painful, without my son. But you all know that already. You have read my posts, you have sat there and cried with me, you have held me up and supported me.

In hindsight, and in his memory, I also have to be thankful. And it is in this letter to Andrew that I have to thank him. Will he read it? Who knows. I am writing it for me, to my only son, and I am grateful that whatever I am writing here I have told him already during his short, amazing life.

 

Dear Andrew,

It seems that with all my writing, all of my crying, all of my trying to keep moving along with my life, there is one thing I never did. I never did thank you for the twenty-one years of happiness and joy you gave your mother and me.

I am so grateful for the time that we did get to spend with you. We had twenty-one amazing years. I was there when you came into this world…a scattering of your mother’s red hair, gorgeous blue eyes, and tender soft skin. Your mom held you for the first time and we knew our lives had been forever changed. The dreams, the hopes, the future, they were all there for you. I stayed with you and Mom for a while – until they took you to clean you up, weigh you, and give you your first test/evaluation (yes at only ten minutes old and they were already evaluating you). Then I went to tell the others. I remember crying when I hugged Aunt Laurie and told her that I have a son – the first time I cried since I lost my father some twelve years before. Everyone was overjoyed – especially Poppy, who had his first grandson.

You would come to spend thousands of hours with Poppy and Grandma. They fawned over you, they held you most of the time, and proudly shared you with their friends. Grandma could not wait to kiss you and hug you and feed you every day, and you spent more time with Poppy in the garden than anywhere else. You learned to plant, grow and pick vegetables, and to make your own salad before most kids knew what chicken nuggets were. You sat on Poppy’s lap when he mowed the lawn, and when Nicole was there with you, he towed you around the property in a trailer he bought for the tractor – just so you two could be with him all the time. And no matter how wonderful of a day you had, your eyes lit up when Mommy and I came to pick you up, and Grandma had to relinquish her precious Andrew for the night.

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Fifteen years later…

I remember you going to pre-school. You had so many friends and the teachers loved you – obviously they loved you more than the other children in class because you were such a great child. How could they not? I watched as you graduated from one group to another over the course of a couple of years at Tutortime. Every day I would pick you up and just stand watching you from the window playing before you knew I was there. Then I would come inside and you would run over and hug me, and we went home to Mom. Elementary school was wonderful as well. We watched you learn to read, to write, and bring home those special gifts of art almost every day. You had birthday parties, play dates, and spent whatever free time you had with Greg and Todd. The three of you were inseparable over the summers.

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Then Nicole came along. And as Grandma had fawned over you – you worshiped and protected your little sister. You held her, rocked her, and fed her. You shared your teddy bears and kissed her goodnight. You even insisted on bringing her to show-and-tell in first grade. The teacher said it was the first time a baby was brought in for show-and-tell. But you passed her around and showed everyone in your class your beautiful baby sister you were so proud to have.

I remember your birthday parties. You had a few at Leaping Lizards – where all your friends ran around and jumped into the pits full of foam, feasted on terrible pizza, and shared your ice cream cake. Then you graduated to ice skating parties. Then one day, all of a sudden, and to our dismay, you announced that you were too old for parties. But you still allowed us to take you and your friends out for pizza or ice cream to celebrate you birthday.

Apple PickingApple picking was always a fun time. You and Nicole insisted on taking Greg and Todd with us. The four of you didn’t have to climb the trees or use the poles – you just stood on the roof of my truck and we drove under the trees and you all dropped the apples through the sunroof. I think it was way too much fun because we could never eat all of the bags of apples we bought. But we did finish the apple cider donuts, a lot of them, which came with the apple picking. I also remember taking days off over the summer when you guys were still young to take you to the Bronx Zoo, or the Brooklyn Aquarium, and spend the day at the beach. These little day trips eventually turned into our famous multi-day road trips. I had so much fun when the five of us, along with another friend or so, took our multi-day sleepover trips to all the great water parks in the area – one after another, for several days. We ate so much crap food, drank so much soda, stayed in so many hotels, and we were so exhausted at the end of each and every day – but were ready to go out the next day to the next park. Six Flags, Hershey Park, Dorney Park, and the list got bigger and longer each year. I was so upset when you guys outgrew that, but the four or five years we did it were the best trips of my life.

I could go on and on. This is barely a smattering of memories that I now cherish. Memories that I need to put into writing and to memorialize so that we can relive them and remember them as we get older. Memories that Nicole can recall as she grows up, and that she can share with her children one day about their Uncle Andrew – that they sadly will never meet. Memories that Uncle Roy can share with Andrea as she grows up, so she knows more about the great person she was named after.

Andrew SoccerSo, I thank you, Andrew. Thank you for the thousands of happy memories, the tons of smiles you gave Mommy and me, and the love and adoration you poured onto your little sister. Thank you for making my life, for at least twenty one years, a better life. For teaching me things I would have never learned, and for being there when I needed you, and for letting me be here for when you needed me. You made me the person I am today.

I will live the rest of my life without you, in pain and despair over the loss of my son. But I have to also remember the good times that your life afforded us over those twenty one years we held you in our arms.

Thank you, Andrew.
Goodnight, my son.
We love you and miss you.
Daddy

Was it my Fault?

Italian CemetaryI met someone a few weeks ago who had lost his daughter recently in an accident. He was, like we all are, distraught over the loss. He wondered how he was going to go on with life, and was at a loss to answer so many questions he had. One of the questions that he focused on and kept repeating was “is it my fault, is it something I did?”

I think we all ask this question at some point, but he was obsessed with it. Let me describe him – 6′ 4′, 260 pounds, leather jacket, tattooed knuckles, black bandanna on his head, and other numerous tattoos on his arms, hands and neck. Heavy leather biker boots, etc. Got the picture? He talked gently and was a very decent person. But he talked about his past. He was not very specific, and I think we are all grateful for that (the less-you-know-the-better kind of situation). He said he was a rough person – did many things in his past that he was now remorseful over. He said he was the person that you crossed the street to avoid, and if you didn’t, you wished you had. He talked about hurting other people, and not leading a very productive life, and about serving time in different places, and taking revenge on people. I think you get it.

pathHe was so concerned that his daughter was taken from this earth to punish him for what he had done, for the life that he had led up to that point. He also pointed out that he had changed his life a few years prior to her passing and was working now, helping out re-building a church, and doing outreach to gang members. But he was convinced that he was being punished for the life he had led. He even shed tears talking about it, and his words had an impact on all of us who were there to listen.

It took us a long time to convince him that it was not his fault. That no matter what he did, or didn’t do, his daughter’s fate was her own, it was not his karma. We believe that there is no almighty decreed correlation between the lives we lead and what fate belies our children or for that matter anyone else. Many people lead very positive, productive lives and still face tragedy. Many bereaved parents are church/temple goers, philanthropists, pillars of the community – and yet their children are taken from them. I am not sure if we really did get through to him, if he found any relief in our get together, or was the thought so ingrained in his conscience that it will haunt him the rest of his life.

A few other interesting points came out in this conversation that led to many other conversations.

If he was right and that his daughter was taken from him because of his personal transgressions – what does that say about the rest of us? Were our children taken because of the lives we lead, or what we said or did, or didn’t do? Did we cause this to happen as well? None of us know why our children were the one’s G-d chose to take early, but we live with the belief that it was not our fault, that we did nothing to precipitate this terrible situation. We have all done some things in our lives that we regret, but nothing worthy of such a terrible tragedy.

And is death of a child the only way we would be punished? If G-d was vengeful (and I have to base this entry around Him because of the concept that our children were “taken”), wouldn’t there be a different way to punish someone – other than the death of a child?

Andrew in PJsThe other point someone brought up was the ripple effect – not only was Andrew taken from me, but he was also taken from his mother, his sister, his grandmothers, his cousins, and countless friends and teammates. If you accept the premise that a child’s death is a result of what someone did – us everyone who suffers because of the loss culpable as well?
No, our children, no matter how old they were, no matter what kind of life we led, no matter what our own personal karma is, were not taken from us because of some fault or transgression.  They were taken from us for some unknown reason that maybe, hopefully, one day we will find out. Was their purpose here on earth fulfilled and now it is time for them to move on? Was there a tragedy, a suffering, that was ahead of them that they were spared from? We don’t know. But we still have to live our lives, we still need to carry on, we still need to honor them.

I don’t know if this will bring peace to anyone, but I hope it does. Especially the crying father in the ragged leather jacket…

Italian Cemetary

 

I am asking for your help

Two years. I have been writing about Andrew, about our loss, and about how we are dealing with it for over two years now. Some of what i have written has been in the form of introducing you to Andrew. Other writings are about what bereaved parents feel and go through on a daily basis. Other writings are about how we interact with others, and how you can help us to heal. I have never asked for anything other than your compassion and your willingness to read and learn. But this one is different. After seventy-five posts, I finally have something to ask of you.

My religion, my temple, my Rabbi, have all been a strong part of my healing in the last year or so. Religion is a stronghold for many other as well. Many people find their faith to be the cornerstone of their morals, or their lives, of how they treat others. Some people don’t follow religion at all, or maybe not consciously, but morally. But for us, it has always been a part of our family.

And every time we are in temple, we open our prayer books to the page the Rabbi announces and we follow along, we sing the prayers, we red in unison. As does everyone else. Then, at some point during the service, as does everyone (admit it, we all do), we turn to the inside cover of the book and look at the label posted there. These individual stickers show the person or family that sponsored the book. They show who the sponsor is honoring, memorializing, or thanking by sponsoring that individual book. The label is read by hundreds of people over the lifetime of that prayer book. The love that the sponsor had for their mother, their father, their spouse, or their child’s Bar Mitzvah, is forever memorialized in just that small indicia.

This is where I come in, with your help. Our temple, the Jewish Community Center of Harrison, has just purchased 400 new prayer books. They are new and unsponsored at this point in time. There is no dedication of love, no memorializing of a parent, no honoring of anyone in them. i would like to change that.

How wonderful would it be for people to open up the book and glance inside the front cover and read this:
                     In Memory of Andrew J. Grosser
                     www.NeverForgetAndrew.com

And not just one person. But one person every single week of every single month of every single year for the next ten or fifteen years. For them to think that someone thought enough about Andrew Grosser, someone loved him enough, someone cared enough to sponsor this particular book. Then to look at the next book, and the book after that and see the same love from book to book.

I might not be able to raise enough money through you – my friends, my family, my readers, Andrew’s friends, teammates, coaches, and teachers – to sponsor all 400, so I am starting with a modest 100. Hopefully this first set of 100 will sell out in a few days, or a week, or a couple of weeks. Then we can see if we can sponsor more. Maybe the first 100, with any luck and tremendous support, will sell out in a day or two. Then I can add another 100 after that.

The cost of each book is $38 ($36 for the book plus the crowd funding fee) If you can sponsor one of the books, I would be forever grateful. If you can sponsor two or three, I would be thrilled. Whatever you would like to do would be greatly appreciated in this effort to memorialize Andrew in this meaningful effort.

Think of how proud and honored Dorothy, Nicole and I would be to go to temple Friday night and look inside our books and see our beloved Andrew’s name there.

Thank you for your help. Thank you for your love. And thank you for your support.

We are using a crowdfunding site called www.YouCaring.com for this – the direct link is below. They accept credit cards to make a secure payment on-line. Or if you would like, you can contact me and send us a check directly if that makes you feel more comfortable.

https://www.youcaring.com/prayer-books-at-the-jewish-community-center-of-harriso-555587

Again, thank you

 

Does anything help?

Now that it has been over two and a half years, I am seeing more and more parents who lost their children much more recently than I have. They ask me once in a while, as do some other friends, “how do you get through each day, or each week, or each month?” We talk about that a bit, but then they ask the more personal question that affects them – they ask me, “does anything really help?”  What can they do to help get on with their lives one day, to give the rest of their lives meaning, and to keep their children’s memory alive?

Does anything really help?

gameAndrew’s friends, teammates and coaches get together once a year for a memorial hockey game in December. They play a friendly game/scrimmage in my son’s memory and in his honor. They talk about him, they laugh about what he once said, they tell a story about him, and they recall his jokes in the locker room.  We hug each other, have lunch together, and take pictures to memorialize the event. This helps all of us. It helps his young friends. It helps everyone come to terms with the loss, and we can all deal with the loss together for a few hours. As his parents, these few hours helps us tremendously, knowing that his friends don’t want to forget our son, and  they come together from all over for this one annual event to remember their teammate. And for a few hours we are happy.

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I wonder why they were smiling so much…

What else helps me? I write a lot, as you can see. It helps me to remember the good times I had with my son. It helps me to recall in words and in pictures the twenty-one years I spent with him, that he grew up before my eyes, that he laughed and smiled, and I recall all the memories we made together as a family.  It also will serve as a permanent record. One day when my memory is not so clear, when I can’t retell those stories, I can still read them and remember the good times we had. My writing also introduces my son to those people who never had the chance to meet him and to experience all that was Andrew. It also painfully reminds me that I can’t make any more memories with my son. My writings help others as well, I am told, which in turn helps me to heal a little bit. So yes, writing is one of those things that help me keep moving my feet forward.

We have been working on setting up Andrew’s Foundation, and have already given equipment out to needy players. The time and effort that we put into this is really healing time. We know that with every piece of equipment the foundation purchases and gives away, every pair of skates a player laces up, every stick someone shoots with, a piece of Andrew is still alive. This helps to keep his name, and his number 17, alive and his passion of helping other alive. We smile every time we do some good in his name – and this helps us.

Andrew’s true love of the game of hockey.

One of the most compassionate people we know, Lonya is sponsoring the annual Never Forget Andrew Hockey weekend. This soon to be annual event is an amazing overnight trip that helps deserving children and their parents spend time together and introduces many of them to their first hockey game. They get to stay overnight in a great hotel, having fun eating their meals together and they go to a hockey game – just what Andrew would have loved for an overnight. This event helps keep Andrew’s love of the game alive and it spreads the kindness and the generosity that defined Andrew. Lonya is putting a lot of time and effort into something that she alone started, in his memory. Dorothy and I browse the pictures of the kids smiling, their families spending special time together, and the joy that this hockey trip brings – and yes, this helps us. Knowing, that with the pain we are experiencing with the loss of Andrew, so many children and their families are experiencing joy and attending an event that they might have never experienced had our loss not happened. It is a bittersweet smile, but a smile nonetheless.

Another popular thing that bereaved parents do is to spend time and effort setting up foundations, scholarship funds, and fundraisers. One family we know has set up their foundation to raised money for a music scholarship – as a tribute to their daughter’s love for music. They use the money as a scholarship to a college student who is majoring in music. Another set of parents we are friendly with who lost their son in a mountain climbing accident, has set up a foundation to sponsor student’s educations who are interested in the outdoors. Another family has spent countless hours working to reduce the speed limit in NYC, and to make the streets safer after their son was tragically run over and killed by a NYC bus. And yet another mom has set up a foundation to teach about co-occurring disorders. She has not just set it up, she has become certified in many areas, speaks all over the country to schools, to students and professionals about co-occurring disorder, and has made it a life’s mission to educate. Maybe her efforts will save one child’s life – but more likely it will save many lives. This is what helps us, each of us, to get through our loss. It helps to focus our children’s memories into something positive, to help others, or even to prevent others from experiencing what we have experienced.

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I’d like to go back one day when it doesn’t hurt as much

There is a movie, The Way, about a father who lost his son. The father’s way of dealing with the loss is to do something that his son was unable to complete – hike the Camino de Santiago, a spiritual 500 mile pilgrimage in Europe. His son was going to make the journey but died along the path before he was able to complete it. So the father, along with his son’s ashes, took his place. I am not there yet, but it does bring tremendous peace to many people. Walking the Pacific Coastal Trail, or even taking a long daily walk helps many. I think one day I might want to take a solo trip somewhere just to think and be alone with my thoughts (and my laptop) – maybe in Boulder.

Now the question still remains – does it help? The truth is – no. It does not help. It does not ease the ever-present sorrow. Andrew is still gone. Seth is still gone. Harris is still gone. The foundations, the memorial games, the helping of others – nothing will bring them back into our arms. Nothing will stop us from the crying or take away the pain that defines our lives.

But – what it does do is to help us get through the day, every day, which we need. It helps us keep their memories alive. It helps us to spread the kindness and joy that was their lives. It helps us to know, because of what we are doing, it might prevent another family from getting that call, and from knowing the tragedy that is our lives. It helps us to know that by the loss of our children, kids are getting experiences, education, or an opportunity that they may ever have received. That is what helps.

 

Welcome to the club

“Welcome to the club.” That is what we were told by a close friend of ours who was already in the club. None of us wants to be in the club, none of us expects to be in the club – it is a terrible place. But because of what has happened, you are now a member of our club; we all hate being here and we are so sorry you have joined us.

1Losing a child, your child, is something that the human mind is not designed to comprehend, or even understand. In reality, it will take your mind three to six months to fully understand and accept the fact that you have lost your beloved son or daughter. It is what we have all gone through, and we do feel for you. And the hurt gets worse, and the hurt gets deeper, once your mind really lets it sink in. But that will take some time.

Are you still able to sleep at night? Most likely you can forget about that for the foreseeable future. I sleep about four or five hours a night, tops. And it’s a pretty light, shallow sleep. Which, from what I hear from other parents in our club, is the norm. And the sleep is not deep nor steady; it is broken up by tears and thoughts. Andrew is the last thing I think about when I eventually fall asleep at night; and every morning when I awake – it is like losing him all over again. I catch catnaps during the day to help out, but everyone in the club has unfortunately acquired terrible sleep habits.

Crying? Yes, you are crying a lot now. We all cry in the beginning. Sometimes we cry when we see a picture of our son, other times we cry when someone mentions his name, or we see something that he would have loved. Sometimes we cry at work, or hide in the bathroom or a stairwell so we don’t bother others. Sometimes we don’t know why we are crying, but we just lose it and cry. Crying is now a real part of your life, and will be for a long, long time. There are triggers that set us off, and there will be triggers that set you off as well. We can try to avoid them sometimes, but we can’t avoid them all the time. So let yourself cry, let your feelings out, it is the healthiest thing to do. You will learn that crying lets you move forward, and lets you carry on with your life.

Your friends will change too.  Not just their relationship with you, but who your friends are. No matter what they say and no matter what you do, they change. Those closest to you now may or may not be your friends in a year or two. Yet some of those friends on the periphery of your friendship circle may end up being your closest and most supportive friends. Some people cannot deal with the loss of your child and do not know how to deal with it. They will unfortunately back away from that formerly close relationship. But don’t worry, others around you will step up. They will make sure you have food in your refrigerator. They will be someone to talk to late at night, they will call you just to say hello and listen to you talk, and they will cry with you. Those will become your true friends.

The same goes for family. Some people in your family will find it too difficult to be around you and to understand your loss. Some people in your family are just too fragile to handle your loss. It has happened to all of us in the club.  There is little you can do to help them. But like your friends, some distant relatives, some relatives you never really befriended over the years, will step up and become your new close family and your support. For some blessed reason they can relate to your situation, they can feel for you, they have the compassion and love that makes them reach out to you.

2Don’t be upset with those who do not call you or reach out to you; don’t harbor ill will or animosity towards them. Don’t obsess over why they have walked away from you. I did for a while and when I let it go, it really helped me to step forward. You have enough pain, loneliness, and heartache in your life now, don’t take on more. There are a lot of people who just don’t know what to say, don’t know how to react, don’t know what to do – and their way of dealing with your child’s death is to recoil, hide and move on with their lives. And what I have learned, what everyone else in the club has learned, is to let them be. When they feel like approaching you, they will. If they don’t, then it is their loss. You will find friends and support from those who reach out to you, not by trying to reach those who are stepping back.

Stay seating in your chair, it is your safe place, it is your comfort zone. Let your circle of support form around you. Whether that chair is in your home, or in your office. It can be at Starbucks or it can be at Via Vanti – but it is your safe place where you feel comfort.

One last word about other people. Listen to what they mean – not what they say. People don’t know what to say, they really don’t. They may say something that is incredibly insensitive, or something that just churns your stomach. But it is not their fault. Remember that they are trying to say something to help you and to reach out to you. There is no animosity or cruelty meant in their words, it is just that they are blessed not to be in our club and don’t know what to say.

So again, I am sorry that you have joined our club. Please read other posts that I have written, it will help you. Read books, read other blogs, go to meetings – do anything that you need to stay sane, to find a road to peace in your life, and to learn to deal with this most tragic loss. But most of all talk to others. I promise, as other have promised to me, that you will one day smile again, The thoughts of your son or daughter will one day make you smile and their memory will bring joyful tears to your eyes. But you will learn to live again – not in their memory, or in the shell of a person you once were, but you will learn to live to honor them and to live the life they never had the chance to live.

 

I am still alive!

I have received several calls and e-mails inquiring as to why I have not posted a new journal in the past few weeks; worried that I am okay. I do appreciate you reaching out to me, and it makes me happy to know that so many people read my posts and that you look forward to them. This journal has grown and spread so much due to you – thank you.

Italy to visit Nicole. A wonderful trip.

I am doing okay – actually pretty good. The last post took a lot of emotion and breaking through walls to write, and I received a tremendous number of private e-mails and comments after the post. I thought I would take a couple of weeks off after that to re-center myself, get my thoughts together, and start to write again. I have done that, my mind has cleared and received a sort of re-boot, and I have learned that I have so much more to write about.

I have a few journals started. Welcoming advice to newly bereaved parents, what parents do to help deal with their loss – and does it help, a post about missing the person I was, and some other ideas. The next one to be published is about welcoming newly bereaved parents. As I write it, I don’t think it has the same emotional depth as my other writings, but I think it will help specific people who are dealing with issues that they think others have not; a more concise writing, but targeting to a very specific audience.

It warms my heart to see them smile.

Also, I have been working on setting up Andrew’s memorial foundation. We are filing for a NY state corporation and then the IRS charitable designation. Hopefully, with the right help and a little luck, we can get this done in the next few months. I am working on getting Never Forget Andrew published into a book. I think it would be a very thoughtful gift to those who are grieving, as well as a legacy that will last forever for Andrew.

One day, those who knew him will be gone. I will be gone and my love for my son will be no more. The memories of Andrew will not be in anyone’s head anymore. There will be no proof he was ever here, or that he was loved by so many and that he touched so many. This book, once published, will be read by others, and hopefully, long after we are all gone, someone will say “Andrew was a wonderful person, I am sorry I never got to meet him.”

 

What happened…

It has been two and a half years now – two and a half long years.

I meet people every so often who do not know about my son. Some of them are new clients, new friends, new colleagues. Some are old friends or Andrew’s teammates we have not heard from or seen in years. Whatever the situation, they don’t know, and it is so uncomfortable to tell them face-to-face. It puts them in an understandingly very difficult position and I can see that.

So this is written for you – my new friend, my new client, my old friend who just does not know, or who has not had the courage to, or who has had the compassion not to ask me what happened.

The bottom line is that on August 25th, 2013, my son, Andrew, went to sleep. Just like any other night. He crawled into bed, watched television, took his meds, and went to sleep. But he never woke up. He passed very quietly in his sleep due an unforeseen reaction to the medications he was on. His breathing became more and more shallow during the night, and eventually his lungs shut down. There was no pain, no suffering, he just passed very quietly. We have done a lot of work on this for the past two years, and through talking to many doctors, the medical examiner, an attorney, and others, we have come to accept the fact that no one was at fault. There were no known interactions to what he was on. There were no red flags. No one messed up on a dosage. It was a combination of the stress of school starting the next day, the lower level of resistance he faced because of the kidney issues, and the fact that he was pretty thin kid. It was just a bad combination of factors that caused his body to react to the medications.

This is the story of his last few days. It is personal, and tells a lot about him that most people do not know. But I felt it was important to tell this story about my son.

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Andrew and Jovi. They were always happy when they were together.

Andrew was entering his senior year at Colorado University at Boulder (CU Boulder). He loved the school; he loved living in Boulder with its 360-degree views of the Rocky Mountains, and most of all he loved to go snowboarding almost every weekend at Vail. He had made a few close friends there, but most of all he loved Jovi, with whom he was living with for two years.

We had a great time most of that last summer as a family. We sat and talked by Andrew’s outdoor fire pit, we took walks with the dogs, went out to dinner quite often, and hung out together. Andrew worked for me during the summer, visited my clients and resolving their issues, and spent time with his friends. During the summer he was unfortunately involved in a roll over accident with my truck, and because the officer found his bottle of Concerta in the truck, he issued Andrew a summons. He was prescribed the medication for his ADD. He took the proper dose, and kept the bottle with him so if he was out he would not miss his medication, and the medication was still in the original bottle with his name on it – but the officer felt compelled to give him a summons for it. Did he have to? Or was he being a prick? We will never really know. Andrew showed no signs of being under the influence of anything. The accident was in the afternoon on a wet winding road. The toxicology results from the urine sample they took when they issued him the summons that came back months later showed that there was a very low dose of Concerta in his system – well under the therapeutic range, and nothing else in his system. Whatever his motivation was, the officer issued him a summons. This really bothered Andrew and caused a certain level of stress. We hired an attorney, pleaded innocent, and we were all pretty confident that the charges were going to be dismissed once we had our day in court – but the stress and aggravation that it caused Andrew was still there hanging over his head.

A few weeks later I brought Andrew back to Boulder – on August 12th, 2013. I stayed in a lovely local artsy hotel that Dorothy and i had been at many times before. Andrew stayed in his apartment with Jovi. His lease was up that week and we had to move out of the old apartment, but the new place would not be ready for a few days. So we loaded everything into a rented U-Haul, parked it on the street, rented another car, and the three of us spent several days traveling and hanging out in the Boulder area. It really was a nice vacation for all of us. We sat at the pool, went out to eat every meal at a different place, and went to the movies. We talked a lot about school, about what he wanted to do when he graduated, and Jovi talked about how happy she was that Andrew was back.

Andrew was pretty relaxed that week. He was with Jovi, who brought him love, and she also brought him a sense of peace.

Unfortunately, Andrew also had kidney problems. Over the past three years, he had a couple of instances of kidney stones, inflamed and infected kidneys. He was on a mild pain killer for the pain, as well as an anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and something to help his kidneys function better than they were. He had been in and out of the hospital for kidney stones, countless urologist appointments here and in Boulder, and was dealing with it as best he could. Dorothy or I made many trips out to Boulder to take him to the doctor, or to spend time with him when he had the stones blasted out of his system. It was a long hard road for him to travel, as well as for us to see him in the pain his kidneys caused him. He tried to be strong about it, not wanting to take a semester off of school, and not wanting to worry Dorothy and I too much.

We finally got them into the new apartment. He was happy, she was happy; school was starting in a few days. Jovi went to spend a few days with her mom so Andrew could get his schoolbooks and focus on starting school. This gave Andrew and I time alone together. We went to get him a new skateboard he wanted, we went to the movies and had dinner together.

Andrew and I also went to see a major vendor of mine who had relocated part of their business to Denver. He met a few people in their technical support group, someone in quality control, and a manager, and after a couple of hours of meetings and talks about his knowledge of ACT!, he was offered an internship for the school year, which might lead to a permanent job upon graduation. It made him so happy, and it took so much pressure off of him for his senior year. He had such a big smile when we left their offices, he had to call mom right away to tell her. (Several months later, after we lost Andrew, the manager at Swiftpage sent us a company issued briefcase with their logo sewn on it – the briefcase that Andrew was supposed to get when he started working there the week after we lost him. It was very touching and I have it sitting on my night table to this day.)

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Andrew took a picture from the menu to send to Dorothy.

It was a great father-son few days we had together. The next morning I packed up, checked out, we did some food shopping, and had breakfast together. He asked me what the chicken fried steak was that he saw on the menu – and I told it how bad can breaded, deep fried steak be? It was the first time he ever had it and he absolutely loved it. I dropped him off at the apartment and headed home. I hugged him just like every other time I left. Little did I know.

He was so happy. School was starting in a day or two, he had to get some books, some other odds and ends for the apartment, and say hello to old friends.

He called home Friday evening with some news. He was riding his new skateboard and for some reason someone walked out in front of him, and to avoid hitting them he swerved and fell off the board, injuring his right hand. He was not sure how bad it was and decided to wait until morning. Morning came and it was hurting him a little more. After a visit to Boulder Community Hospital, the hand was put into a caste; he had broken his pinky and sesamoid bone (the little bone in the hand attached to the pinky). The hospital gave him another painkiller for the pain, another anti-inflammatory pill to keep the swelling down, and told him he should see an orthopedist on Monday to reset the bone better and recast it. The hospital knew all of the medications he was on; we can see that in the records. They knew this from their prior records, from the forms Andrew filled out, and from their on-line records. The list was very complete. He went home from the hospital Saturday afternoon, we talked a few times that night to check on him, he took his medications, all of them, and went to bed. He was doing okay.

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Hopefully the three of them are once again together, enjoying each others company as they always did here.

We talked Sunday as well. He told us he made sushi with the salmon and rice I had bought him that week. We bought him a new rice maker, sushi rolling mats and chopsticks that he was so happy to have. He rolled himself a few salmon and avocado rolls and had a very quiet peaceful night at home. Jovi was still away at her mom’s house and was coming home Tuesday or Wednesday.  Andrew called us, told Dorothy and I how excited he was for school to start, and that his senior year was going to be fun – especially now that he did not have to worry about a job later on. Who knew if it was going to lead to a job, but it made him happy to know the option was there. We said we loved him, he told us he loved us too, to kiss the dogs goodnight for him, and that misses everyone already. We hung up, and he went to sleep, for the last time.