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…

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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.

 

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?

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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