Author Archives: admin

A Special Bar Mitzvah

Today is an interesting day. It started off by attending the Bar Mitzvah of a special child, and will end with Christmas dinner with the family.
mia1This morning I was privileged to escort a friend’s daughter to the Bar Mitzvah  of a schoolmate of hers. My friend had to work today so she asked me, as her closest Jewish friend, to take her daughter to the occasion, and maybe help her understand what was going on in temple. I was glad to help her out – as she has helped me over the years. It was the first Bar Mitzvah I have attended since losing Andrew, so I was not sure how I was going to react – especially considering that this one was for a special child – Zak.

To clear things up, and to cover my ass somewhat, I am not sure what this young man has, or what has made him special, or if that is even the correct politically acceptable term this month. But after meeting him and attending the affair, and observing him, it is obvious that he is a “special” child – not in any way derogatory or judgmental, just setting the stage for the story. And if I offend anyone by using this term, especially his parents, or anyone else, I apologize in advance. It’s not the first time I have inadvertently, unintentionally offended someone; and let’s face it, it won’t be the last.

Back to the story.
Andrew BMBeing Proud. I proudly recalled, while I sat there at the beginning of the service, Andrew’s Bar Mitzvah. How proud I was that my son reached this glorious date in his life. How he worked hard to learn the prayers, to learn the haftorah, and to write the obligatory speech thanking everyone. We pushed him to study and learn over those preparatory months, but he worked very hard on his own. He was on the ice four or five times a week, went to Hebrew school two or three times a week, went to regular school every day, and still managed to learn his Bar Mitzvah obligations. It made us both proud that he accomplished all this.

mia2And then I looked up at the bimah this morning. This young man had not prepared much, it was beyond what he could handle. He did not write a thank you speech or read from the Torah. But as I sat there, and he ascended to the bimah for the first time in his life with that gorgeous innocent smile upon his face, I was just as proud of him as I was of my son.  I looked over at Zak’s father, who was sitting next to his father, and the two generations were as proud as any parent I had ever seen at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. For them, this was the Bar Mitzvah of a lifetime. Zak stood up there smiling and holding his mother’s hand as the cantor and rabbi read from the Torah, as his mother said the prayers, and as his older brother stood next to him. That little bit made them just as proud of their son as I was on the day I got to stand next to Andrew when he was called to the Torah for his Bar Mitzvah; so different, and yet the same proud feelings.

Later that morning I was thinking of the proud moments that I had with Andrew in his short life, as well as so many of the proud moments that I will never get to experience with him. I both smiled and cried on the way home.

I was also thinking of Zak. Chances are his moments will be different from Andrews, or from many of the children whose parents read my journals. Many of my friends and colleagues were proud parents when their kids got their first job at an investment bank, or got into medical school, or joined their first start-up. The posted it on Facebook, called the family, and mentioned it when I was with them.

I don’t think that Zak’s parents will have these same moments as we have had. But, in their way, they will be just as proud, if not more proud, of special mile markers in his life. For Zak has to work harder, and be more focused, than our kids did to pass a test, or to graduate from school, or even to make friends. His parents get to share his joy and his innocent love just as we do, and they get to be just as proud of his accomplishments and his mile markers as we do of our children’s.

andrew senior gameMany of our children are near one end of the perceived spectrum – getting that job at an investment bank at 23, buying their new Audi at 24, and taking their parents out to Peter Lugers – just because they can afford it now. Many special children are at the other end of the spectrum, where their mile markers don’t include big financial accomplishments, but emotional accomplishments, physical accomplishments – moving out on their own one day, or getting a job at Target or Walmart where they fit in and love greeting people as they enter the store. For some, that greeter job is the chance of a lifetime that they can smile and welcome strangers, for hours at end, just saying hello and making people happy as they enter the store. It brings them great joy and happiness to have that job – probably more than the investment  banker or the lawyer. And for their parents – they are just as proud of their son’s accomplishment of being a greeter as any parents I know whose child works elsewhere. For Zak, I only met him for a brief couple of hours, so I have no way to knowing what the future holds for him. But on the proud parent’s spectrum, I think his parents have surpassed most of us with what their son has accomplished so far in his thirteen years.

The point? What’s the point of this journal? I am not sure exactly. Does there have to be a point or a lesson as there usually is? Maybe this is just an observation. Or maybe it is something that we can all reflect upon. I know I am proud of what Andrew did accomplish in his 21 years – and I know I told him that very often. I am also very proud, and continue to be so proud of what Nicole has accomplished, and what she continues to accomplish in her life – and I tell her this as well.

Maybe that is the point. Share your proudness (if that’s a word) not just with your friends, and not just with your family, but also with your children. That is what is important. Make sure they know how proud you are of them – every single day. Not just of the big events, but that you are proud of them in everything they do. This goes for not just our young children, but even if your “child” is 30 or 40 or 50.

I can sleep at night knowing that my son knew, up to his last night, that his mother and I were very proud of him – because someone once told me what I am saying here now.

 

The Book of Andrew- Is the story over?

DSC_3424

 

Dorothy & I have a three ring binder that we keep in the living room entitled “User Manual – Andrew.”  This was actually the manual binder for a software program that a client used several years ago, and when he retired the program, I acquired the binder.

Why don’t all kids come with a personalized user manual?

 

DSC_3429The book is filled with momentos from Andrew’s life. Over the years we have collected school portraits, hockey team pictures, awards, diplomas, some school test results, 8×10’s you get from vacations, and so forth and placed them in this one book. We kept it chronological, in nice clear page inserts. It is the story of Andrew. It is the story of Andrew’s life. We have had it since he was three or four and have kept it up to date, all the way through to his acceptance to CU Boulder. It has been a source of happiness and pride for us over the years. When he was away at college we often looked through the binder and smiled. It was nice to look at the pictures from grade school, or his perfect attendance award, and recall how simple life used to be.

When Andrew passed, the book was over. I thought that was the end of the proud moments and the stories of my son that we could add to the book – the end of the story. There was nothing more to add. There were no more pictures; there would not be a college diploma, no nothing. I even thought it would be a healing gesture for me to place on the very last page, Andrew’s death certificate – closing out the book, ending the story. Making the book complete from when he was born, through the end of his life seemed appropriate.

But I never did put it in; I just left it in my drawer.

But as time goes on, I see that the Book of Andrew, the story of his life, didn’t really end with his death. His physical existence here is over. His presence, his voice, his gorgeous smile are all gone. But the story of Andrew is not done. The final chapters are not yet completed. There is still so much more.

DSC_3427Andrew touched so many people during his lifetime, emotionally and spiritually, that his presence and effect on so many still carry on. I still speak to his close friends who think about him often. A couple of his closest friends changed their college majors two years ago to Psychology – they want to work in this messed up world as therapists. Andrew helped them by spending hours listening to them. They talked about their life, their parents, their problems, and he just took it all in. Then at some point he would respond with just a few pearls of wisdom, and their problems wouldn’t seem so insurmountable. He would give them these moments of peace and solutions that they could not find within themselves, but to Andrew they seemed obvious, simple, and easy. These friends told us that whatever they were going to do with their lives was not going to be as rewarding and satisfying as being able to help others the way that Andrew has helped them. We heard from so many people that Andrew would have made a great therapist. He would listen to his friends for hours, and just being there for them was helpful. I agree. I think he would have made a great therapist and his desire to help others was so great.

DSC_3432His life also exists and continues on through my writing. I am told how my personal journey of pain and healing, my continued writing, my journal, has helped so many people deal with their own grief. I see how it is shared when I post it, how many people read it and are affected by my writing about my son. I get e-mails every day from people I have never met but who are touched by my on-going relationship with Andrew, and who are moved by what I write. Some people say that the reading is therapy for them. That they have experienced the same situations, the same emotions, the same people, but have no outlet to tell their story. They think that they are alone with their feelings of remorse, their feelings of regret, but after reading my journals they realize they are not alone. That makes me happy that I am helping others along their own journeys – the way Andrew would have helped his patients one day.

Andrew will also live on in the foundation we are setting up – Andrew’s Equipment Closet. He was a very compassionate person who cared about and wanted to help others. The foundation will help those less fortunate participate in sports programs and activities. We will supply boys and girls with sports equipment when they cannot afford it. A child should not be unable to play a sport just because they can’t afford to buy a pair of sneakers, or a stick or a helmet. In Andrew’s name, and in his memory, we are going to raise money to make these purchases, we are going to take kids shopping for what they need, and then we are going to watch them be happy playing alongside their friends. It is our hope to raise enough money for the foundation that it can really make a difference in many kids’ lives, and be a perpetual source of hope and charity for these underprivileged children.  Maybe one day we will tell the kids who receive these gifts about Andrew, and they will remember him as we all do.

DSC_3433There is also the Annual Never Forget Andrew Hockey Experience Weekend that started this year – many of you have read about this on Facebook. A dear friend of ours took 11 very deserving people to a hockey game. They were treated with the works, including meeting the players, upgraded hotel rooms, etc. – all in Andrew’s honor and memory. They were told about Andrew, who he was and how he was affected by a small unexpected gift. They were all very affected in a positive way. We were told that after the event, word spread and more people wanted to get involved and help out financially in the upcoming years. She is looking to double the number of participants next year – and keep this tradition going far into the future.

We also have Andrew’s memorial hockey game this weekend. His teammates get together every year around his birthday and play a friendly game of hockey, and they smile the entire game. They are not smiling because they love the sport, or because they are happy, but because Andrew was always smiling whenever he played and he made others smile along with him – and they know he is smiling over them playing in his memory.

DSC_3431So, as you can see, Andrew is still a large part of our lives. His story is still continuing, his love and empathy are still affecting so many people. His soft spoken words and his cheerful smile are still seen by so many. When it comes time for me to leave this world one day, I will know that my son’s name and his legacy will still be here long after I am gone. That is what any father wants for his son. Andrew’s user manual remains a work in progress.

 

 

 

 

I Really Didn’t Expect that

I was driving home this evening after dropping the dogs off at the sitter, it’s about an hour ride. I usually listen to talk radio, the news, politics, something that is pretty generic when I am in the car alone. Today I was listening for a while, but with the crap that is on the radio these days, I just could not listen to it anymore so I turned it off. The radio crap was getting into my mind and bothering me for a change.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

I have enjoyed the silence that being in the car alone has brought me for the past couple of years. It gives me time to be alone with my thoughts. The silence and the alone time has helped me deal with the loss and the pain. The silence gives me time to be alone with my grief. Time that I can cry, talk to Andrew, talk to myself – even talk to my invisible friends. I usually like my time alone. But today, I just could not take it.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

After a while I turned the radio on again, tuned to FM and scanned for a country music station. I figured that would not hurt me. For years now Nicole has enjoyed listening to country music. That’s all she has playing in her truck, yes – her truck, not car. She also tunes the radio to country music when we are in Dorothy’s car together. We all sit and listen and enjoy it together. We actually are getting to enjoy her selections of music.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

Back to today. I was listening to the country music station for a while. I have listened to country music once in a while for the past year or so with some interest and enjoyment. When I do, I think of Nicole and how she enjoys the music and especially enjoys her life, which makes me very happy. She used to listen to alternative rock with Dorothy, or the Beatles with Andrew. But now she has turned into a diehard country music fan.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

When I do, on occasion, listen to other music stations, I feel okay for a short period of time. I might even sing along for a few songs and enjoy it. But then a Beatles song comes on, or Eminem, or some other song that I know Andrew would have liked – and I emotionally lose it. I listen to the words and my mind drifts to my beloved son, and I just can’t listen to the music anymore – it hurts me down to the soul.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

Today was different though. I had on that country music station, and after several songs I realized it was more of a soft rock station. As they went from the country songs that I don’t know very well to some soft rock songs that I do know -I quietly mouthed the words and eventually sang along softly with the songs I knew. And I didn’t cry, I didn’t feel sad, I just quietly sang along.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

It lasted for a while and I was happy. I almost smiled a little when I softly sang the words that I used to sing out loud not too long ago. I listened to a few songs and thought of Andrew, and some songs reminded me of Nicole. I looked forward to the next song, and I was getting lost in my soft singing, for the first time in a very long time.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

Then I got home and turned off the truck- and the music went dead. I sat there alone in the darkness, again in my comfortable silence. And I thought to myself, Andrew would be happy. He used to listen to me when I sang, and maybe, hopefully, he was there today, seeing me, listening to me and seeing that I am not so sad today, maybe even a little happy for a very short while. And I cried, all alone.

I really wasn’t expecting that.

And a little voice came into my head. “Hey, you were happy there for a while. You didn’t feel as sad and lost as you have for so long.” That voice was right. Maybe I have cracked the shell. Maybe I can see something down the path. Maybe, just maybe my life might be turning a corner, an ever so gentle corner; maybe I can start to think about living again, maybe I can start to control the path for a change.

I don’t know what to expect next…

Inspired by the song Wasn’t Expecting That by Jamie Lawson

Educating People – Educating Others

A friend of ours lost her son a few months ago – which happened to be over the summer. She is a school teacher and has decided it is time to return to work, now that we are in November. The school year is in full swing; it’s been three months and she is ready to face her colleagues, her friends, and her students. Without consulting her, the principal sent out an e-mail to the staff about how to treat her, how to greet her in the hallway, how to react to her. It was a very thoughtful gesture on his part. He had great intentions of educating the staff about how to deal with a bereaved mother. I do applaud him.

What he is doing is something that all bereaved parents have to do – educate others. We cannot rely on common sense – there is no common sense when it comes to the loss of a child. We cannot rely on a book or an article – there are so few of them out there. We have to do it ourselves – for our own sanity and for our own sake. We have to let people know that they can interact with us, and that we need that interaction – but the interaction needs to be on our terms and our needs.

There are so many other parents who tell me that their friends don’t know what to say, they don’t know if they should hug them or just smile. Many of our friends and family don’t know how to react when they see us, and even wonder if it is better to avoid seeing us to avoid the potential crying. I know from my own experiences with family and friends that many people just don’t know how to approach me – if at all. They are at a loss as to what to say, how to act, to mention Andrew or not. So it is up to me, as well as the other parents in my situation to educate those whom I care about. How do we do that?

Unfortunately, I will not give you the answer, there is no answer. There is no right or wrong. Everyone and every situation is different. What I can do is offer you some guidance that I have learned over the past two-plus years, not just from my own experiences, but from the dozens of stories I have heard from other parents in groups I attend.

Some time during our first year Dorothy and I were shopping at the local supermarket. As we were a few feet down an aisle, we noticed an old acquaintance/friend enter the aisle from the other side. We didn’t make eye contact, and I am sure she did not realize we saw her. She slowly and purposely backed out of the aisle and went on her way. We did not see her the rest of that shopping trip – nor since. That, my dear friends, is not the way to deal with us. I have also heard very similar stories told at least a dozen times by other parents, so this friend was not alone in her loss for what to do.

Andrew Greg Todd Hugging

Hugging your best friends.

All we ask is a simple “hi, how are you doing?”, “I am thinking of you.”  Something nice and sweet, that is all we ask. If you want to hug us, that’s great, we live for meaningful hugs these days. “I wish I had the right words for you, just know that I care.” That works.  You can tell us that we are in your thoughts and prayers – we always appreciate that. There are so many positive sentiments that we enjoy hearing.

Silence is golden. That’s crap. Silence is the last thing we need now. We have a deafening silence caused by our children that we will never hear again – we don’t want that from our friends and family.

Giving us our space. Another crap thought. We don’t need our space. The space that exists now between us and our child is more than we can bear. We need to know that people care. We need to see people and to talk to them. We need to hold your hand and feel your love. If we are uncomfortable and need some space, we can walk outside, or go to our room. But that is our choice. We have all the space we need, come into it and show us you care.

Andrew Nicole KateDon’t imagine how we are feeling. Don’t think about how we are doing in our situation. Just ask us. We might not give you the answer that you are looking for. The answer might not be a happy one or a positive one. That is who we are now. But please ask, and truly listen to our answer. As time goes on, our answer will be a better one. As time goes on we do start to heal and we do start to smile. And we need you there then as much as we did in the beginning. We need people to help us heal and to be there for us, to share in our lives and to share in whatever joy or happiness we do have.

We know that you don’t know what we are going through – and we never want you to know our pain. We know that you are lost in how to treat us and how to talk with us – your are not the only one who doesn’t know what to say or do. We know all this. And yet we still want you near us, we still want you to be our friends, we still want you to hug us. We might cry at times, and if that makes you feel uncomfortable, we are sorry. But you also make us smile, and so few things make us smile these days.

Andrew smilingIf you are ever with us and the air become stale, the tension is great, and you are at a loss as to what to talk about – mention our son or daughter’s name, talk about our children. Tell us a story – even if you told us the same story a hundred times. There is a saying of Facebook i read and it is so meaningful – “I heard the sweetest word today – someone said my son’s name.”  That is true. You can always ask about my son, I love to talk about him. Or  you can talk about him, we love that as well. Mention his name and we light up.

That’s all we ask – just be there for us, reach out to us, and let us know you care.

 

 

Punched in the Stomach

I got punched today, real hard, in the stomach.

IMG-20130709-00004I was driving my car in town this morning when a teenager, about Andrew’s size and height, wearing a tie dye shirt like Andrew used to wear, hair just a tad too long like Andrew had his, and blue jeans with a few tears in them, rode right past me on a skateboard. He didn’t know me, but when he saw me watching him, he nodded and waived to me – just like Andrew would have. Just out of the kindness of his heart. And I had that deep empty feeling in my gut; another punch in the stomach that I was not ready for.

The week before that I was doing okay. Well, as okay as I ever am. Then Friday came, and although I was avoiding looking at it, I looked  at my datebook and saw this entry for Friday evening – “8:00 Temple for Andrew’s kaddish.” And there it was again. Thud – that punch to the stomach that sent me sitting down and almost doubling over in pain. I knew it was coming all week, but there it was. Today was Friday and I was going to temple to say kaddish for my son – for my only boy. His name was read that evening, along with the other yahrzeits. The Rabbi paused for just a millisecond when he read Andrew’s name, i took a deep breath, and I felt that punch. I could barely utter the words of the prayer, and was so grateful for the few close friends who joined Dorothy and me that night, who picked up the slack and said the words that I could not.

Andrew with Uncle LarryIt has been two years now. And i still get punched in the gut every so often – more often than I care for or that I can take. It is not as often as it used to be in the beginning, when it would be every day, sometimes a few times in a day. Out of the clear – whack. I would get that ever so painful punch deep in my gut that would bring tears to my eyes, prevent me from saying the words to finish a sentence, or just make me sit down and gather myself together and catch my breath. I read something recently about the waves of pain. As we get further along in our journey, the waves that were a hundred feet tall, and twenty feet apart, become thirty, forty, or fifty feet apart. Maybe every one of them is not a hundred feet tall. Maybe some of them are ninety, or eighty, or seventy feet tall. But they are always there. They keep coming in, one after another. Just like the punches.

As I said, the punches get further and further apart for me. Or maybe they are not that far apart, maybe I am just learning to accept them more. Maybe they are not as hard and concentrated as they once were. Or maybe I am just getting used to being beaten in the stomach. Whatever it is though, the punches are still there.

Andrew & Mom at a Red Sox gameI know it is not just me. It is all of us. I see Dorothy gets punched as well – and that hurts me more than my own pain – knowing what she is going through. We were food shopping this past weekend, driving on Central Avenue, and I looked over to see her holding her gut, and tearing, and sobbing. There was nothing I could do; I don’t know what set it off. All I could do was just watch her pain, comfort her with a few soft words, and hope it would ease soon. Knowing that nothing I could say or do would really help much. It had to pass by itself. She had to accept it and deal with the pain in her own way – as she has done for the past two years.

Many years of karate lessons have taught me so many blocks to so many different punches – but the years never taught me about this kind of punch. The punch you never see coming; the punch that is brought on by your own memories and pain. You may learn how to block one of the punches once in great while or how to avoid one every now and then, but more often than not, they get through – straight to your gut, straight through to your inner soul.

Andrew was always happy when he wore his hockey jersey

As I tell other grieving fathers, and hear from others, the pain never goes away. The punches keep coming. You can expect that. But with time, a long time, they get further apart, less intense, and the pain gets lesser as well. I am only on this path for two years now, and I can tell there is a difference now, as I enter my third year. I have spoken to fathers who are five, six, or ten years into their journey of loss and they also say that the pain never goes away – ever. The gut wrenching punches are always there – our children as still gone. But you learn to deal with it more, you learn that every punch does not have to send you doubling over in pain. Every punch does not have to take your breath away, gasping for air. You learn to recover faster, and maybe you learn to be thankful for what you had.

 

 

The Paradox of Healing

andrews wellThe Paradox of Healing is that it is both holding on and letting go.
We hold on to memories, and we let them go.
We hold on to feelings, and we let them go.
We hold on to an old way of being because the self we still are resides there,
And we let go to a new way of being, so the self can live on.
     Poem by Molly Fumia (through our dear friend Emily)

I read this poem and it touches me so deeply – it is so meaningful. We all want to and need to heal. We all want to keep moving forward with our lives – even after the loss of our children. But we don’t want to forget them, and we want them to be there as we forward with our lives. We want to keep them in our hearts and in our minds, but we don’t want our memories and love of our children to debilitate us, stifle us, and stop us in our paths. We want people to know that there is a permanent hole in our hearts, one that will never heal or get better – even with time. But we also want to love others and be open to love with our entire unconditional heart.

When we smile and laugh, some people seem to think we are better. But we are not. When we sell our home and move on to another home, people say it is good that we are leaving those memories behind. But we are not. When we have another child, people think the new child replaces the love and pain we have for our lost child. But it does not.

We are like a broken statue or torn painting. They can be glued and fixed, retouched and repainted, fixed to the point of looking new. But it is still broken and damaged. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, it will still be in need of repair, and will forever be damaged.

CCI09272014_00019Healing. Healing from a wound or an injury is something that can be measured. Healing from a car accident or from a fall can be quantified, measured and tracked. That type of healing is a trip. It has a beginning and hopefully an end. It can be short, or very long, but there is an end in sight, and a person can achieve healing. After it, you can go back to who you were, and put it behind you.

But the tragedy that we have endured, the loss of a child, is not a trip. It is a journey. A journey that we will be on for the rest of our lives. Struggling with for the rest of our lives. There is no end. There is no cure. There is no mile marker 0 at the end of the road that we wish to see one day. It is an endless journey of grief. Of course the grief lessens over time, we cry less, we open up more, we learn to live with our loss. But we never heal. The road that we are on has no happy ending, no happy ever after, it doesn’t end.

During the never-ending healing process we have our memories and our feelings. Some of them fade over time, some of them we learn to cherish more and re-tell them as often as we can. But we also make room for more memories, newer memories, newer feelings. We try not to push out the old, but we have to make room for the new. We don’t want to forget, we don’t want to move on – but we learn that we cannot live if we cannot make room for love and for new memories in our lives.

DSC_0843That is the paradox that we live with every hour, every day, every month, every year. What can we remember, and what can we chose to forget. Or do we choose not to forget anything, and just make more room in our lives for the new?  Those who do not make room for the new will never heal, unfortunately. Those who stop living the day their child died – have died as well. We want to move on in our children’s honor, and to honor their memories – that is what they would have wanted. We need to honor their lives, cherish their memories, and put our pain and sorrow into a pocket, or a cubbie,  that we know is always there, but that does not stop us from living the lives our children could not. That is the paradox of healing.

 

A Gift from the Choir

jcca

 

When we go come to Shabbat services on Friday evening, the services are held in the small ancillary sanctuary off the lobby. It is smaller, more intimate, and holds no memories or images for Dorothy and I. we enjoy that service, and rarely do we miss Friday evening services. it is a safe place for us. We enjoy the spirituality, the prayer, and of course seeing the hand full of regulars we have come to know well.

But when they have services in the large sanctuary, it is more difficult for us.

MUSICWe sit together in the main sanctuary for the high holidays and we look up front, below the bimah, in the space before the stage where the Rabbi and Hazan chant from. What we see there now in this space is the beautiful holiday choir. We think of the music and joy that these five young men bring to bring us, and the entire congregation. We listen to their songs and melodies. We see the smiles on their faces, and everyone there can tell that they love to sing and to spread their joy of music. They move with the music, their bodies sway and their hands follow as they sing. We sit there and smile, as everyone does, while we listen to them sing.

This year we watched as one of the members of the choir, before they started to sing, went off to the side of the sanctuary to greet and kiss his wife and to hold and kiss his young baby.  It was the look and the love in his eyes only a father can have for his daughter.

And then we also tear.

For in this very spot, in the spot these young men, not much older than Andrew was, stand and sing and bring joy to everyone, that we saw our beloved Andrew for the last time. It is in this spot that we sat as our friends and family came up to us and hugged us and said how sorry they were. It was where we sat and stared at his plain pine box with a Star of David carved on the top. Where the Rabbi talked about how it is a tragedy when someone so young passes, and how he and Andrew talked about hockey and exchanged hockey stories. Where Uncle Roy talked so emotionally about his memories of Andrew growing up and cooking with him, and how we were all robbed of so much by Andrew’s passing. Where his friends and family talked about their special memories with Andrew and how he would be missed for the rest of their lives. We were numb that day, as we were for days and weeks and months afterward.

Now we look at that same spot, and we listen to this beautiful music coming from a few young men so much like Andrew was. You can see they are all full of life, they love what they do, and the joy they bring is a wonderful thing. I smile knowing that Andrew did get a chance to hear them sing a few years ago before he went off to college. If they were not there singing and brightening up that very spot, I don’t think Dorothy or I could sit there looking at that blank void space on the floor. I also smile knowing he is there somewhere right beside us, still listening to their music, still holding our hearts, still a part of our lives. I just want to thank the holiday choir for bringing joy and peace and music to a spot that holds such a dark spot in our lives.

 

Black, and the New Year

PG3_2063I am sure you have seen them, and maybe even wear one or two – those different color silicone awareness bracelets – and they all have their own meaning.  Camouflage to support the troops. Orange for Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus and Melanoma. Silver for Dyslexia. And on and on.

Black, the color I focus on, is for mourning, POW/MIA, and for some reason Restless Leg Syndrome and Colitis.

Matt and I were talking about the black bracelet and what it means to us, the bereaved parents, and why black. But we both agreed it was very appropriate.

Black is the color of death. It has long been associated with mourning, with death, with the end, with the unknown. There is a very long Wikipedia page on black:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black
and it is very interesting, you should read it some time.

But to us, the bereaved parents, black has its own meaning. It is the color that you can look at and it does not have anything to give back to you. There is no reflection, no tonal changes, there is no joy, there is nothing there.  That is the way most of us see our lives after the loss. A very precious and dear part of our lives has been taken from us and we have been left with a void. A very large, black void. We look into it, into our future, into our hopes and dreams, and nothing looks back. We see just that – black.

Our children, who were our rainbow of life, are now gone. And with them they took the blue from the sky, the green from the trees, the yellow from the sun, and the red from our hearts. And what was left behind is black hole. Our lives are now just shades of grey and black.
CCI06012015_00003 But as time goes on, and we live past the initial shock, past the numbness that embodies us, past the deep, deep crevices that we try to crawl out of, we start to see something. For some of us it is months, for others years, for some many years. But we all do start to see something more. We start to remember the joy our children brought us. We start to remember the pink in their smiling faces. We recall the green lawns that they played on as a child and enjoyed for soccer. We see them swimming in an ocean of blue water, or sliding down a tan water slide.

 

 

 

andrew hockey 3We remember their blue hockey jersey, and their orange soccer shirt, and their red band jacket. We see pictures of the colors of their graduation gown, or their first, and maybe only baby blanket, and the colors of their bedroom.  We start to recall the colors that were their life. We recall the color of their favorite clothes. We can see them drawing with a crayon and recall the colorful picture. We somehow remember one day what their favorite color was, and we all of a sudden cherish that color. We even remember them when we see their same make and model and color of their car.

A green or red or white VW Jetta means nothing to me. But a dark blue one, any year, and I remember him. I see him driving his first car again in my mind. I feel so happy and at peace recalling how he loved to drive his blue Jetta. It brings a tear of joy, and sorrow to my eyes. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, his last car, his favorite car, the one we searched for and almost went to Florida to purchase, the one with the most memories – was black. But I’ll get over that.
We all learned something that seemed so insignificant when we were kids that is so important now, that means so much. What really is black? What is black made up of? What happens if we decompose black? It is made up of all of the other colors. It is not just black – there is no such thing as black. It is a combination of all of those colors that were our children. It is Andrew’s blue jersey mixed with his maroon graduation gown, mixed with is tie dye concert shirt, mixed with his orange lava lamp, mixed with his red hair, mixed with his blue blanket. It is all of Andrew, all that Andrew was, just mixed together.

005_5For some of us the black that has painted our lives is still too wet to touch, still to hard to penetrate. But for others, we have to start to un-mix the black. It my job, our jobs, to start to separate those other wonderful colors from the black. To come out of the black – or to look deeper into the black and to see what really makes up the black that has immobilizes and encases us and embrace it. Yes, I will always miss Andrew, more than anyone can really comprehend. I will always cry for him and mourn his loss and have that hole in my heart forever.

But instead of seeing black, instead of staring into a void of nothingness, instead of just black, I can separate the black and see the colors that were Andrew. And I can smile and be happy that he was such a colorful person.

This New Year will bring colors. This year, grandma’s Christmas tree will be green again with an overflow of colorful lights and tinsel. The menorah candles will be blue and white with their dancing orange flame. The snow will fall white. The sun will be yellow. And I will see Andrew in all of these colors. And I might smile, maybe, once again when I think of him.PG2_4929a

 

Fading memories

I really cannot call them fading memories – they are more like fading memorabilia.

0285

He looks like such a gentleman in this picture.

There are so many things around our house and around my office that remind me of Andrew; things that I see, things that I touch, things that I can hold every day. Very specific things like his skateboards, his trophies, his paintball gear, even his body wash. These are not really memories, but seeing them and smelling them elicits very fond and endearing memories of my beloved Andrew. But as time goes on, we are giving some of them away, donating them, using some of them, while making quilts with still other items. Little by little they are disappearing from our lives.

Let me explain a little.

There is a colleague of Dorothy’s that was talking to her about her teenage son getting into paintball. They would have to rent not so great gear every time they would go to the paintball fields. Also, without his own gear, he could not play in their backyard or in the nearby woods. Andrew has quite a collection of paintball equipment – a few markers/guns, canisters, gloves, etc, all of it just sitting in his room, collecting dust, getting older by the day. More importantly it is not being used for what it is meant to be used for – having fun! I am sure he would not want his stuff just sitting there. So last year Dorothy and I put together a bunch of Andrew’s paintball equipment and gave it to this boy. He was so happy. He uses it all the time, has a great fun with it, and they are so grateful for it. And I am sure Andrew is smiling down knowing that someone is having such fun with what he used to love to do.

IMG_0128The same is true for his beloved long board. I saw a Facebook post a while ago about a boy going off to college who was looking for a used board to learn with and to get around campus on. I don’t think it was a financial thing, they were just seeing if someone had a used one sitting around. That night I contacted the mother and we talked a little and that weekend they came over and picked up Andrew’s long board. It was a custom built board that Andrew purchased on-line at Sector 7 and had built to his specs – special wheels, special bearings; all the stuff that personalized it for my son. But it has been hanging on the wall in his room since we lost him. No one was using it, no one was enjoying it, and it was just getting older and dustier. When they came to pick it up, the boy was so thrilled to have the board. He reminded me so much of Andrew and the way Andrew was so happy when he got the board. And once again, I am sure Andrew is smiling down on him, watching him fly on the board the way Andrew did, enjoying the long board the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

DSC_2698Then there is the shampoo. Many of you know I have a slight OCD issue. On one of our many trips to Vail for skiing, I sort of accumulated some number of small shampoo bottles from the hotel. Well, enough that I have been using those little bottles for two years now. Unfortunately I am running out of them, and it pains me to say I am about to start my very last bottle of Vail Mountain Lodge Shampoo. Every day when I shower. I reach for that little bottle, and it instantly brings back the fond memories of our family skiing in Vail. Of the closeness we experienced and the fun we had when we went skiing there. No matter how rushed or tired I am, every time I see that bottle I think of Andrew flying freely through the snow; no pain, no worries in the world – it was the happiest smile he could ever have when he talked about his skiing. I look at the bottles and I smile. It is a piece of him, a piece of his history, that I am about to run out of. I think I have to finish that very last bottle – I don’t want to just leave it there. I have to finish it; it is part of my healing process for a wound that will never ever heal.

There are other things as well. Last year we decided to move the stair climber from downstairs into Andrew’s bedroom – but had to remove his desk to make the room. I gave that desk, the one he never used for homework, just to store his stuff on, to our landscaper of twenty years. He said his grandson, also named Andrew, could use a new desk, rather than to do his homework on their crowded kitchen table. Guillermo was so happy for his grandson to have a new desk, and it made Dorothy and me happy knowing it would be put to good use. Later that year we gave Guillermo two of Andrew’s suits that where just hanging there in the closet. He said every time his grandson wears the suits, he says a prayer for my Andrew. Knowing that the suits are being used, especially to wear to church and to special occasions, makes us proud that we found a good use for them, and gave them to someone who means so much to us as a family. I remember Guillermo crying with us and holding us so close at Andrew’s funeral.

Little by little – that is the process. Eventually I will find a place to donate Andrew’s trophies too. There are so many worthwhile charities that cannot afford to purchase new ones that would love to re-purpose Andrews for their events. And to know that some child will smile and be as happy to get that trophy as Andrew did when he got it brings a tear to my eye. Why just leave them there to get old and dusty when they can bring joy and happiness to another hockey player somewhere who deserves a shiny new trophy.

DSC_2705There are so many other things, but where do we draw the line? Andrew has about 250 Beanie Baby bears. My client made the plastic “beans” in them and sent us a dozen or two at a time and Andrew seemed to have collected all the bears. They are all sitting up on his window valence just staring at an empty room now. Wouldn’t they be happier being loved and played with by a child in the hospital, or opened up by an underprivileged boy or girl around the holidays?  That would bring joy to everyone knowing that they are bringing joy and happiness back into someone’s life.

This is my way of healing; my way of spreading the joy that my son had in life with others. It is not for everyone, i understand that. Some grieving parents hold on to everything, and I can appreciate that. It is hard to give away what we have left of our children. This is something that Dorothy, Nicole and I talk about once in a while. Some of Andrew’s things that are so precious to us that we will keep them forever – his ice skates, his team jackets, his gauge earrings and his necklace that I wear.  But we also get great relief and happiness in spreading his valued possessions out to others who will appreciate and find joy in them. They will never know Andrew, they don’t really know where their gifts came from, or how meaningful that they are to us, but that is not important. What is important is that they are happy with Andrew’s toys and that Andrew is looking over each and every one of them and smiling.

 

I have the answer!

That’s crap – but it’s a nice eye catcher.

Many people search for the meaning in life, or their place in this world, or they want the answer to some very spiritual question. They spend their lives seeking it, as if one answer to one question will change their destiny. Sometimes, just sometimes, they might get that answer to that one question in their lives. They may feel enlightened.  They may feel a heavy weight has been lifted from them. But how long does it last? Until the next question of life comes up?

Is he still smiling and laughing and as happy as he was here? What a happy smirk he had on his face.

Then there are the rest of us, the vast majority of the masses that are searching for an answer, or many answers. The group that I hear the most from is seeking different answers. We no longer care about the answers to life’s big questions; we are no longer seeking the ultimate answers to life. All we want to know is about our lost children. We need to know where they are. We need to know how they are. I know many people who go to bereavement conventions, bereavement counselors, spiritual leaders, psychics, readers, even travel to Tibet to meet with the monks – all in search of a few questions that are new to us. Mainly one or two questions – and not even about ourselves.

Why did my child have to die? Is he happy where he is now? Will i join him some day? Is she with my other passed relatives? Is she at peace? And the list goes on. We are no longer concerned with ourselves; we have no more questions about our life, our place on this earth, or our peace. All we want, actually all we need is to know about our lost children.

pick-flower-beautiful-beautyFor me, I may not be at peace now, but I realize that I can go on. That I can live my life, function fairly well, and not know the answers to all of these questions. I don’t know why Andrew was taken from us. Of course we can read the Facebook pictures like this one, and hope it gives us some peace. But it really does not answer the question – it only is a thought. Why was he taken? Why, of all the tens of millions of children that get to live their full lives, have families, and grow old, was my son not allowed to? Is there really an answer? is there any answer that would really let me sit down and say I understand?

A close friend of mine said Andrew completed what he was put here on earth for. He fulfilled what G-d had in mind for him. Was that to give a childless couple the chance to love and raise a child of their own? Was it to change the lives of his close friends, give them a reason to turn their lives around? Was it to give a couple of his close friends the enthusiasm and courage to change their direction in life – to change their major in college and to go down the path of becoming a therapist / psychologist and to help other? He did all of this – but is this all he was here for?

Another close friend, someone who has a strong religious faith, said that G-d actually saved Andrew. There was something down Andrew’s path of life. Something that was bad. Something that would have caused him pain and suffering and he was saved from that. G-d did not want this gentle young man to experience that pain, so he decided to make him an angel now.

Is my son at peace where he is now? Is he happy? I have to believe he is. It would hurt too much not to believe this. But that’s not the answer. That is my hope. Everyone hears about how peaceful the other side, how we live there in eternity in peace with our loved ones. We all need to believe this and believe this is the answer about the afterlife. It lets us sleep at night.

IF

I hope that Andrew is with Aunt Flo – and that she is still teaching him Yiddish.

Some parents need to hear it though. They go to readers, psychics or mystics. They want to hear it from their loved one’s that they are at peace, that they are with other loved ones, that they hold no grudges or feel no pain. This is the answer for them. They connect to their lost relatives and hear that they are peacefully resting. They hear through the psychic that their children are not in any more pain and that they feel no anxiety. They hear that through the psychic that they want those they left behind not to cry for their lost children, not to morn forever; but to go on with their lives, to go on and smile and laugh and they will meet up again someday. This is their answer that they find peace in.

Still others find the answer in a butterfly passing by, or a beautiful cardinal landing on their porch. They see the signs that our lost children send us. They see a rainbow when we are on the way to the cemetery, or a butterfly on their birthday, or when we are just sad. They see a ladybug on the window when their son’s favorite song is playing, or the lights flicker when we look at their pictures. Some of us are lucky enough to smell their fragrance when we are alone, or feel their touch when no one is near. This is the answer we seek. We feel such peace when this happens, and feel blessed that they are able to communicate in a way others cannot understand.

So do I have the answers that you seek? Probably not. But what I can tell you is that you have to be open to the answers; or you will never be at peace. You have to be open to the psychic, to the flickering lights, to the beautiful ladybug. You have to be able to dream and listen for what you are looking for. Will your child communicate with you? Can they communicate with you? Who knows? But if you shut the possibility of it out of your life, you may never find the peace you seek, that we all seek. I am not saying to believe in psychics, or to believe in a rainbow, or to dream with a purpose – those are individual beliefs. But what I am saying is the answers are where you let them be. The answers are only behind the doors that you let open for you. The locked door will never help you. You have the keys, now go find the answers.