My son Did exist.
I have been noticing recently that assorted people do not talk about Andrew – I don’t know if this is a recent thing, or just something I am becoming more away of. I notice this at some dinners we have been at, or even over lunches. It is not at every meal that I expect him to be brought up in stories, I understand that. It is nice to talk about him, or have others talk about him.
Many times we are out with our closest friends or family and they will tell a story of my son. They will talk about him like he is still with us, recalling him fondly, recalling him with love. At times they tell us stories that we have heard a hundred times before, but it still brings a smile to our faces. The time Andrew cooked fish with Uncle Roy and had to shake them first as part of the ritual. Or when he would ask teachers questions that were impossible to answer. Or when Todd, Greg, Nicole, Andrew and I went on our annual summer water park trips and how we managed to cut every single line – Andrew was not one for waiting on lines. I have heard these stories so many times, but I still love to hear them.
Once in a while we will also hear a new story, one that we never heard before, one that makes us laugh and teaches us a little bit more about Andrew. Matt tells us stories from the hockey locker room – some that we really can’t share. Wally tells us about Andrew in school, or just hanging around town. The time they wore pizza boxes on their feet because they could not go into the restaurant without shoes. We are so happy to hear them – but what brings us joy is the fact that people are talking about Andrew with us, they are not forgetting him.
But all too often we do not hear about Andrew. We are with other couples or friends and they talk about their kids, what they are up to and about their college or sports. They talk about Nicole and hockey and Salve. But they do not touch on Andrew. I am sorry to say, it feels to us like he never existed. It feels like he is forgotten and people have moved on.
I talked about this to a couple of close friends and they thought of it in a different light. They thought of it as people not wanting to upset us. Or people just nervous to bring up Andrew around his grieving parents. They are not forgetting him, but in their eyes, they are protecting us from the pain. Trust me, the pain is there whether you talk about him or not. Being silent does not ease the pain; it does not lessen it, or make it go away. It only hurts more. We want to talk about our son. The son we will never see again, the son we will never hold again. We want to keep him in our lives, in our stories, in our hearts. Don’t be afraid to bring up something that you think we are trying to get over, or you are afraid to remind us that our Andrew is gone. We know this. Even through tears it brings us pleasure to talk about all our children, including Andrew. You do not need to walk on eggshells around us.
We know you want to tell us about your children, and we want to hear about them. Don’t be afraid to share your joys, your celebrations, your stories with us. We are here for that, and we want to listen. But in the same conversation, please let us all talk about Andrew, and let us share, too. Yes, we have no new stories; there is nothing new for us. We may have told you this story or that story before, but that is all we have right now.
And when we smile, as Pam expresses it so eloquently, it is not because we are over it, or that we are better, or that the old Perry is back. It is because we are happy to be with our friends, and happy to be talking about our son.
This goes for anyone who has passed – whether it is a child, a parent, a sibling, or cousin. Talk about them. Share your thoughts and your joys and sorrows with their family. That is what they want. Not just today, tomorrow, this week, or next month – but from now on. Keep them in your hearts, in your minds and in your stories. That is what we want. More than hearing about your sympathy for us – we want to hear your joy when you talk about our lost ones.
Epilogue… By coincidence, Dorothy & I went out for a burger after temple Friday night to a place far enough away from home that we would most likely not run into friends. But as luck would have it, we did. We ran into a pair of hockey parents from Andrew’s Mariners days. Parents of someone he had as a teammate for several years, and who we spent countless hours at rinks with, at restaurants and hotels with, but drifted apart as our kids went their separate ways.
It was sort of awkward at first. We had not seen then for several years, long before we lost Andrew. They got up and hugged us, and told us how sorry they were about Andrew. They said he was a good kid and that they were shocked, as was everyone. We talked about hockey and about Nicole, and about their kids. It was very nice.
But more important, that is what we needed. Instead of ignoring us, or just waiving hello, they got up, hugged us, and talked to us about Andrew. Yes, we cried. But it was a good cry. Someone talked about Andrew with us. Someone who did not need to, or have to, but wanted to. Someone who knew him, and still has him in their hearts.
Because he did exist – my son did exist, and he still does.
The Elephant in the Room (with liberties taken with the name)
By Terry Kettering
There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with, “How are you?” and, “I’m fine,”
and a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather; we talk about work;
we talk about everything else — except the elephant in the room.
There’s an elephant in the room. We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds. For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all, but we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please, say his name.
Oh, please, say “Andrew” again.
Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about his death, perhaps we can talk about his life.
Can I say, “Andrew” to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me alone
in a room—with an elephant.