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?
Andrew’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.
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.
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.
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.