You Smile I Smile

You Smile I Smile
Sonshine: My Journey After the Loss of My Son

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in the mountains...

Ken and I decided months ago to spend Christmas away from home in the mountains. It was the best idea we ever had. So here I am, day 6 in Asheville in a cozy little cabin. The fireplace is burning, my Christmas tree-scented candle is burning. It's COLD outside, but it's warm in here. This could have been the worst time of my life...first Christmas without my baby, but instead it was relaxing, healing, and maybe even a little bit happy. Yes, there have been some tears, but overall, it was a nice Christmas. And Andy was certainly here in my heart.

I'm just reminiscing about Christmases past. First Christmas was only 2 months after Andy was born. We got his picture taken in a cute little Christmas outfit given to us by one of my co-workers. He was such a happy little guy, and we got a great picture. Other Christmases that followed brought Duplos, rattles, a pounding peg bench, stackable doughnuts, push popper, rocking horse (that was a favorite), plastic snap beads, . And of course, his favorite present of all time, Spuddy, the white Gund bear given to him by my sister Laurie. Spuddy was a permanent attachment to Andy for many, many years. His name was really Snuffles, but Andy couldn't say it, so he became Spuddy forever more.

Ah, and all the books. My sonny bunny loved to read and be read to from the time he was a tiny little boy. We bought him scads of books over the years. When he was little he would chew on them and eat part of them if we weren't watching. One time we went to Barnes and Noble and got him one of those chunky cardboard books which he wanted to hold on the way home. Well, by the time we got home, he had eaten most of it. What a funny, fun memory! Some of his favorite books as a little boy were "Are You My Mother?', "The Very Best Home for Me", and "The Little Red Hen". A couple of weeks ago I was going through my filing cabinet at work and found "Patsy the Pussycat". It had the signature chewed up corner and was taped together. I cried at the memory of him sitting on my office floor on an afghan reading that book after having been sent out of SAS daycare with a small fever. He spent many days sitting on my office floor playing quietly with himself never making any fuss. He was such a wonderful, easy little boy.

Later Christmases brought Beanie Babies, Dance Dance Revolution (to see his coordination on that was a sight to behold), Legos, Beadie Buddies (I still have a Beadie Buddy he made of our cat hanging in my room), art sets. Later still came ipods, phones, stereos, electronics of all kinds. Can you see the escalation in expense here? Haha!!! He was a genius with electronics.

Every year I would make orange rolls and coffee for our Christmas breakfast. I didn't have it in me to do it this year...too much for my heart.

Anyway, I am so thankful for the multitude of beautiful Christmas memories I have, and no one can ever take them away. I sure missed spending Christmas with my boy this year, but in reality, he's been here the whole time in my heart if not in person. Thank God for that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Christmas Miracle...

Signs…do you believe in them? I’ve said many times that I don’t think there are any coincidences, and I do believe in signs. Let me tell you a story. It starts with sadness and discouragement. It ends with a sign and what I believe was a little miracle courtesy of Andy.
Three days ago I raced to the cemetery after work to get a few minutes with Andy before they locked up the gates for the night. I sat with him for a while and just felt so lost and alone. Hopeless, really. I guess the holidays brought it on. I sat there and thought "Hell, why do I even come here? He's not here anyway and who am I kidding thinking he can still see and hear me?"  I was even doubting the existence of God. I mean, I was having a real pity party. I got in my car and sobbed.
The radio station has been playing all Christmas music, and I swear if I hear Mele Kalikimaka one more time, I'll scream. So as I'm sitting in the car wiping my nose, what comes on but Mele Kalikimaka ugh! And I thought, who sings that awful song anyway? My radio shows what song is playing and who the artist is. So I looked at the display, and up pops "Andy" and I thought it must be Andy Williams, though it didn't sound like him. And it just stayed there...Andy...for a good 10 - 15 seconds. And THEN it said Bing Crosby. Over and over it said Mele Kalikimaka Bing Crosby. And of course, Bing Crosby was singing the song. There was absolutely no reason for Andy to show up on the display.
Was it Andy telling me he was indeed around and could see and hear me? I believe it was, and just when I needed it so much. It would also be like him to show up with that song to tease me. My whole outlook changed. I felt...HAPPY! Thank you Andy! I love you more than life And yes, I believe in signs and I believe in miracles. After all, it’s that time of year, is it not?
Wishing everyone a beautiful Christmas. May it be filled with love, friends, family and joy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sadness and happiness...

Sad is...
Losing your only voice connection to your child when his message gets erased
When your Christmas tree is located in the cemetery
Waiting for your boy to walk in the door but he never comes
Feeling like an empty shell
Not feeling any purpose anymore
Not knowing who you are anymore
Feeling so homesick for your baby you wish you would die but you don't
Wondering what you did to deserve such sorrow
My life.

Happy is...
The loving support of family and friends
Cherished memories
Bird on the windowsill
Yellow flowers and butterflies
Sunshine on your face
Knowing you have an angel looking out for you
Hearing the music of "Andy" come out of someone's mouth
Wondering what you did to deserve 22 joyful years with your child
My life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Worldwide Candle Lighting...

A special event will be taking place on Sunday, December 11 at 7:00 PM. It is a beautiful and deeply meaningful event that is held around the world.  From the Compassionate Friends website:

Anticipation of a very special and memorable day grows as the 15th Worldwide Candle Lighting December 11, 2011 nears.  The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting unites family and friends around the globe in lighting candles for one hour to honor and remember children who have died at any age from any cause. As candles are lit at 7 p.m. local time, creating a virtual wave of light, hundreds of thousands of persons commemorate and honor the memory of children in a way that transcends all ethnic, cultural, religious, and political boundaries.
Now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the Worldwide Candle Lighting, a gift to the bereavement community from The Compassionate Friends, creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held and thousands of informal candle lightings are conducted in homes as families gather in quiet remembrance of children who have died, but will never be forgotten.
The Worldwide Candle Lighting started in the United States in 1997 as a small Internet observance but has since swelled in numbers as word has spread throughout the world of the remembrance. In 2010, information was submitted to TCF's national website on services in 15 countries outside the United States including more than 530 services, as this special day continues to grow.

I am blessed that there will be a formal candle lighting at Apex United Methodist Church, and I will be there. I would ask everyone to light a candle next Sunday at 7 PM in remembrance of Andy and of all children who left us too soon. And please hug your children for me as well.

Children we remember
Though missing from our sight
In honor and remembrance
We light candles in the night...

We will not forget
And every year in deep December
On Earth we will light candles
              As we remember

    ~Jacqueline Brown

Monday, November 28, 2011

Really good advice from The Compassionate Friends...

How Can I Help?

A child has died. Regardless of the child’s age or the circumstances of death, as a person wishing to give support, you feel empty and helpless. What can you say that will ease the pain and help to mend the hurts?

 What Can You Do to Help?

There are no easy answers, no standard approaches that are universally helpful. There are no magic formulas that will make the pain go away. It is natural to feel helpless when the child of a friend or relative dies. Remember that showing your loving concern can be very comforting to a grieving family. Please don’t avoid them because you feel inadequate. Families are more likely to reach a healthy, positive resolution of their grief if they receive continuing support and understanding. The following suggestions may help you provide that support:

 — Don’t try to find magic words that will take away the pain. There aren’t any. A hug, a touch, and a simple, “I’m so sorry,” offer real comfort and support.
— Don’t be afraid to cry. Your tears are a tribute to both child and parents. Yes, the parents may cry with you, but their tears can be a healthy release.
— Avoid saying, “I know how you feel.” It is impossible to comprehend the depth of the loss when a child dies, and to say you do may seem presumptuous to the parents.
— Avoid using “It was God’s will” and other clich├ęs that attempt to minimize or explain the death. Don’t try to find something positive in the child’s death, such as, “At least you have other children.” There are no words that make it all right that their child has died.
— Listen! Let them express the anger, the questions, the pain, the disbelief, and the guilt they may be experiencing. Understand that parents often have a need to talk about their child and the circumstances of the death over and over again. It may be helpful to encourage them to talk by asking a gentle question such as, “Can you tell me about it?”
— Avoid judgments of any kind. “You should . . .” or “You shouldn’t . . .” is not appropriate or helpful. Decisions and behaviors related to displaying or removing photographs, reliving the death, idealizing the child, or expressing anger, depression, or guilt may appear extreme in many cases. These behavior patterns are normal, particularly in the first years (not months) following the child’s death.
— Be aware that, for parents with religious convictions, their child’s death may raise serious questions about God’s role in this event. Do not presume to offer answers. If the parents raise the issue, it would be better to listen and allow them to explore their own feelings. They will need to arrive at an individual philosophy about this.
— Be there. Run errands, help with household chores, provide child care, and help in whatever way is needed. Don’t say, “Call me if there is anything I can do.” That call will probably never come. Be aware of what needs to be done and offer to do specific tasks.
— Give special attention to surviving children. They are hurt, confused, and often ignored. Don’t assume they are not hurting because they do not express their feelings. Many times siblings will suppress their grief to avoid adding to their parents’ pain. Talk to them and acknowledge their loss.
— Mention the name of the child who has died. Don’t fear that talking about the child will cause the parents additional pain. The opposite is usually true. Using the child’s name lets parents know that they are not alone in remembering their child.
— Be patient. Understand that grieving family members respond differently to their pain. Some verbalize, others may seem unable or unwilling to talk, some withdraw, and others strike out angrily.
— Sharing fond memories of the child through statements such as “I remember when she . . .” or “He had a wonderful gift for . . .” can be reassuring to parents and show that you appreciated their child and are aware of their sense of loss. Relate amusing anecdotes about the child. Don’t be afraid of laughter. It helps to heal the hurt.
— Remember the family on important days such as the child’s birthday and death anniversaries. Send a card, call, or visit. Let them know you remember, too.
— Gently encourage a return to outside activities. Suggest a lunch or movie as relief from the isolation of grief. If your invitation is declined, don’t give up! Ask again and again, if necessary. The third or fourth time you call may be just the day that an outing would be welcome if someone took the initiative.
— There is no standard timetable for recovery. Grief usually lasts far longer than anyone expects. Encourage bereaved families to be patient with themselves. They often hear, “Get on with your life; it’s time you got over this!” Those demands are unfair and unrealistic. When parents express concernabout being tired, depressed, angry, tearful, unable to concentrate, or are unwilling to get back into life’s routines, reassure them that grief work takes time and that they may be expecting too much of themselves too soon.
— Be sensitive to the changes a bereaved family experiences. Family members will adopt new behaviors and roles as they learn to live without the child. This is a painful and lengthy process. Don’t expect your friends to be unchanged by this experience.
 — Refer a grieving family to The Compassionate Friends. Many types of support are available, both online ( and through the nearly 600 TCF chapters in the United States which are ready to offer friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved families. Call the TCF National Office toll-free at 877-969-0010 for chapter referral information and to request a no-charge customized bereavement packet.
 — Continue your contact with the family. Grief does not end at the funeral or on the first anniversary. Stay in touch often, and in conversation, as easily as you would mention any other member of the family, don’t forget to mention the name of the child who died.

 On behalf of all families involved in The Compassionate Friends, we thank you for caring enough to want to help. Your loving concern makes YOU a compassionate friend.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It’s been a dreadful year. The worst I’ll ever have. Yet I am filled with gratitude. Yes!

Of course my greatest gratitude is that I was blessed with 22 years with the best son God ever created. How I got so lucky, I’ll never know.  Thank you, Andy, for the best years of my life. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. You brought a joy to my life that will sustain me for the rest of mine. I didn’t know such love or happiness was possible until you came into my life. I know you will be sitting with us at Thanksgiving dinner, and I will celebrate the wonder of you! And, of course, I will have green bean casserole and cherry pie in your honor.  I love you, Sonshine, and I can’t wait to see you again!

I’m grateful to Kenny for being there every step of the way. The one person who truly understands the enormous loss and with whom I can cry any time and not feel sorry or embarrassed or worried about making him uncomfortable.

I’m grateful to Andy’s darling friends for staying in touch still. Being with them is like having a piece of Andy with me. They are great kids, and I can see why my son loved them so much because I do too.

I’m grateful for the incredible people I work with who showed love, compassion and understanding. I didn’t see how I could even get out of bed in the morning, let alone go to work. But they have stood by me and supported me every step of the way.

I’m grateful for my friends, old and new, who have shared this journey with me with compassion and love. Some I haven’t even met that I’ve connected with online who have also suffered the same unimaginable loss. They gave me support and hope, and soon it will be my turn to help those new to this terrible path.

I’m grateful to my family...Mom, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles for loving me, standing by me, and giving me the support only family can give. I love you so much!

Andy, thank you for staying near and letting me know you are there helping me. My loss is immense, but I feel your presence, your love, and your help every step of the way. Thanks for the pennies from heaven--they bring a smile to my face every time.

I have been shown the best in people, and I believe that people are kind, loving, and just trying to do the best they can.  Life is good, and we can all have profound impact on other people’s lives. I know this because so many people have helped me and created huge positive ripples in my life this year. So give thanks and spread the ripples of love!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Beating the Clock

I still go to the cemetery most every day. I know Andy’s not there, but it’s the last place I left him, and I like being where his body is. I talk to him, tell him about my day, and meditate in the sunshine. It’s so peaceful and full of wildlife. I see birds, butterflies, foxes, and even deer. If it’s raining, I bring an umbrella. It’s a very special, sacred time for me, and much like the mailman, neither sleet nor rain nor heat of day can keep me away.

It hasn’t been a problem getting there…til now. Once Daylight Savings Time goes away, the gates close an hour earlier at 5 PM. I guess I understand why it has to be gated at night. Sadly, things get stolen, bad people do bad things, and kids get into mischief at night, but it makes it really hard for me to get there before they close. And it's not dark by 6:00, so why not stay open til 6:00? If I don’t leave work by 4 PM, I don’t get to go. It’s added stress knowing I have to leave work by a certain time, and there are quite a few days when it’s just not possible. It makes me really sad, and it hurts my heart.

So what do you do? I don’t know…think outside the box, I guess. There is one gate that is not locked, but it’s not big enough to drive my car in. I’ve been thinking I could park outside the gate, walk in after hours, and walk over to Andy’s grave. Good exercise, if nothing else. The thing is, he is on the complete opposite side of the cemetery from the gate, and it’s a very big cemetery. Will I be able to walk that far in snow or ice and be out of there before dark? I don’t know, but that’s the plan for now. I will find a way! You see, I would do anything to spend that special time with my beloved boy. Gosh I can’t wait to see him again!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Memories of Halloweens Past...

Andy always loved Halloween. He was born October 10, so he celebrated his first Halloween at the tender age of 3 weeks old. We got him a little pumpkin outfit, and he looked absolutely precious. Over the years he dressed up as many things...Superman, Vampire, Zombie, Cat. But the one that really stands out is a Mummy.

We went out and bought yards and yards of rolled-up gauze, and I must pat myself on the back here for the idea. I rolled round and round his body from head to toe. It took forever, but when we were done, he was the best Mummy ever. Andy was always such a skinny little kid, and even with clothes on underneath, he looked like a little beanpole. He was delighted with the result and so was I. The picture I have of him is one of my most cherished possessions. Take my money, my house, my job, but I will die before I let that picture go. Someday I'll scan it in so I can post it.

He was just beside himself with excitement. I can still see the delight and anticipation in his little face. We walked around the neighborhood...sprinted really. Is there any night more exciting to a child than Halloween? He carried his haul of candy from house to house. Everyone commented on his great costume, which please him to no end.

There is one unfortunate incident that night that I will never understand. We went to one house (porch light was on). When the woman answered the door, she said to my excited little boy "We don't celebrate Halloween. We're Christians and Halloween is of the devil." Of course, Andy was completely confused and didn't have a clue what she was talking about. I told her to turn her damn porch light off then. It's almost like she wanted kids to come to the door so she could chastise them and their parents with her holier-than-thou attitude. "Christian" indeed killing the joy and fun of little kids. I have strong thoughts about so-called "Christians" like her, but that's for another time.

Anyway, I told him she was an unhappy lady who didn't know how to behave as well as he did, and he was ok with that. Off for more fun and candy! We came home sometime later and inspected the haul. It was a good one. He was well pleased. We ate a few pieces, ate pumpkin seeds I had toasted, and watched a movie together. Then I tucked him in bed to dream of his exciting night.What a beautiful memory! I'm so blesssed to be able to go back to that memory whenever I want to. This year my baby was an Angel for Halloween, bless his sweet soul. Love you forever, Beautiful Boy!!!

I'll end with my favorite quote about Halloween:

Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in your flight
make me a child again
just for to-night!
~Elizabeth Akers Allen

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Sonshine!

Twenty-three years ago today, Andrew Edward Katchuk came into this world. It was a Monday. I remember because I thought, "oh yay, I don't have to go to work today!" They said "It's a boy" and I heard his first cries...oh, what a beautiful sound! Then they placed him in my arms for the first time. It was instant love, absolutely instant! Then they whisked him off, and after pressing on my stomach for what seemed like forever (ouch) and a few stitches, they sent me to my room.

I was absolutely starving, so they brought me a huge tray of food. I ate every last bite, and yes, the hospital food tasted like the best meal I had ever eaten. I was also exhausted, and I fell asleep with a full stomach and a heart full of love for MY new baby. It was just too good to be true. Truly it was the best day of my life (except for all the days and years to come with my precious son).

Some time later, I woke up, probably because the epidural was starting to wear off. I thought, "Oh, this is starting to hurt a little." And as the minutes clicked by, and it eventually wore off all together, it really, really hurt. I remember telling Ken, "Wow, nobody warned me about this part." But I didn't care, I was ecstatic. One of my friends from work had had her baby the day before, so I walked down to see her...very sloooowly walked down haha! Later that day, they brought Andy in to stay with was so wonderful. I was sitting in bed just crying my eyes out. The nurse asked me what was wrong, and I said "I'm just so happy!" Can you say "hormones going crazy?"  :-)

Fast forward to 22 years of being a Mom. They were years filled with love, joy, and some pain...but overwhelmingly joy. I had the best son a mother could ever ask for and I am so deeply grateful that I got to have this handsome, loving, intelligent, wonderful person in my life. It's so hard now, but it was all worth it, and if I knew then that he would die so young, I would still do it. Thank you, Andy, for the best years of my life. You are forever in my heart, my soul, my memory. I can't wait to see you again. What a wonderful day that will be. I love you sonshine.

All my love,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reflections on a beautiful day...

I woke up this morning to the sound of wind chimes. I bought these chimes in memory of Andy. They say “When the wind blows, know that I am near.”  It was such a pretty sound, and I knew my baby was near, so I woke up with a smile on my face. This was important because every day I wake up happy but then it goes away. In those first few seconds of wakefulness, I forget Andy is gone—I’m happy--but then I remember, and sadness immediately falls over me. Today was different. It was like he was waking me up and saying “Good morning Mom! I’m here!” He’s been on my mind so much lately because his birthday is in a few days. Today it’s like he’s sticking close to me all day. Thanks baby!!! I noticed, and I love you with everything I am. And it’s such a gorgeous day!! The sun is bright, there’s a chill in the air that is so welcome after such a long, hot summer. I think it’s going to be a great day. 

I’m reflecting on so many people and how they have loved me and carried me through these awful months. 

·        My family, always there, always reaching out to me. I have the best family and I love you! How blessed I am to have 7 incredible brothers and sisters who love me unconditionally and have always been there for me. My mom, the best mom in the world. To know her is to love her. She is an amazing, compassionate, beautiful woman. My Dad, whose presence I feel helping me from heaven. Lexi, who graciously spent Mother’s Day with me and made it bearable.

·        Andy’s friends and their parents, who have stayed in touch when you didn’t have to.  Kids, I couldn’t love you more if you were my own children, and I have officially adopted you. You are my link to Andy. You are so wonderful, and I’m proud that my son chose you as his friends. I will be here for you always, I love you, and I believe in you. Reach for the stars—I look forward to all the great things you are going to do in the years to come.

·        Hanna’s parents, who showed their support by coming to the calling hours and funeral despite their still-fresh sorrow. The compassion you have shown us touches me to my soul. 

·        My coworkers who so graciously and kindly helped me adapt to being back at work. Kim and Crystal who carried most of the burden at work and never made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough, bless their hearts; who let me talk about Andy, shared their kids’ stories with me. Loved the noodle necklace! It has a place of honor in my room. Paula who eased me back in with such compassion and who continues to look after me still. My whole team and extended team who have just been angels and have dealt with my mood swings and forgetfulness (can you say asking the same questions repeatedly?) with kindness and a blind eye. My work friends, you are family to me.

·        My dearest girlfriends, sisters in spirit--Gail, Janine, Betty. I love you and wouldn’t have gotten through this without you!

·        Ken, the one person on earth who truly understands my pain and is the person who, with me, created such a beautiful son. You got me through the first dark days and carried me, comforted me, cried with me, shared memories with me. You carry me still, and I am filled with gratitude and love for you. I believe I might be dead now if not for you, the pain has been too great. Thank you for saving my life.

I’m reflecting on why I thought some things were important--money, prestige, wearing the right clothes, being “important” at work, having a spotless home, day-to-day noise. It truly perplexes me. I was so clueless, but I am a different person now. Now I appreciate the sunshine, kindness, friendship, lending a helping hand, health, nature, a roof over my head, a laughing child, my dog greeting me like she hasn't seen me in a year when I come home, time alone, making *others* feel important, faith that there is a God who is looking out for me and will reunite me with Andy one day, precious memories that can never be erased.

I still cry, but I’m also able to see the glimmer of hope. And that glimmer is very strong today. Thank you beloved Andy for waking me up this morning!! Love you forever Sonshine!!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

One foot in heaven...

Last week I took a wonderful trip to Italy and Switzerland. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing. I went with one of my friends who had to go there for her job, so I had a free place to stay. I used my frequent flyer miles to get there, so the trip cost almost nothing. Don't you love getting something wonderful for almost nothing? I was very ambivalent about going, but I'm so glad I did. I've come back with a sense of peace and awe that I haven't felt since Andy passed away.

The Grand Tour:

Parma - home of Parmesan cheese and prosciutto ham. Parma has a cute little city center with cobblestone streets filled with cafes and shops. Probably the best part of Parma was the food. Food is everywhere there! You go for a drink, the bars have all kinds of food set out...incredible paper-thin ham and salami, cheeses, pastries. Breakfast is a vast buffet of meats, cheeses, yogurt, fruits, fresh-baked breads and pastries. It was truly breakfast fit for a king. And the coffee--just incredible, full of flavor, a great way to kick off your day. The good news is you walk so much that you don't gain weight! Parma was my introduction to Limoncello--nectar of the gods! It is a liqueur made from sugared lemons. It is very tasty and the most fun buzz I've ever experienced. The people there were so nice to us. I don't think I paid for more than one drink the whole time I was there. People bought us champagne, Limoncello, Prosecco wine. We had so much fun getting to know the locals, and though we didn't speak Italian and they spoke very little English, I felt like I made some great new friends.

Florence - city of art. How do I describe the beauty and awe of Florence? Everything there is ancient and on a grand scale. There is something sacred about seeing the great sculptures of Michelangelo. They were so big and so intricately detailed. It was absolutely incredible. I was just amazed that a human being could possess such talent and ability. Although Michelangelo was also an incredible painter, it is said that his true love was sculpting. Truly a great master.  And then there were the cathedrals...huge works of art that in some cases appeared to be 4 blocks wide and reached high into the sky. They were towering structures, full of color and sculptures built into the facades. How did they do it??? We went into a monastery sanctuary. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, candles were burning on the altar, it was truly a holy place. The ceiling was an intricately carved mahogany work of art. I sat there for a long time with my eyes closed just drinking in the quiet and sacredness. I felt as close to God as I ever have. Then down into some neighborhoods, where there weren't a lot of tourists. The cobblestone streets were winding and narrow. People had their laundry hung out just like in the pictures you see. I loved it!

Lugano, Switzerland - my favorite place of all, and we ended up there totally on a fluke. One of our drivers told us not to go to Milan "just a big city" and go to Lugano instead. Boy, was he right. Lugano is an incredibly beautiful little town in the Swiss Alps. We went by bus, and as we were waiting, I got stung on the neck by a bee. Some sweet lady pulled a vial of some liquid out of her purse and poured it on my neck. It really helped!  We passed through Lake Como and Bellaggio. I looked out the window with tears running down my face because Andy had been there as an exchange student and we had gone to the Alps together on vacation. I was filled with his spirit and a heart full of love and deeply precious memories of our time there together. I felt that he was right there beside me holding my hand and saying "didn't we have a wonderful time here, Mom?" It was one of the most precious moments of my life. You get to the center of town by walking down incredibly steep, curvy cobblestone streets, no cars allowed. There are hundreds of cute little shops and cafes. It felt like something out of a fairy tale. And the view!!!! Imagine a backdrop of the majestic Alps with homes, a whole village really, built into the side of the mountain, all overlooking the most beautiful, big lake. It felt like I had one foot in heaven.

I have felt like I have one foot in heaven since Andy died. Part of me, and half my heart went over with him, never to return. Being in this awe-inspiring place is the best way I can describe to you what I mean. And being there brought me a sense of peace and understanding of the grand scheme of things. I feel like part of a veil has been lifted for me...the veil that separates us from heaven. I understood that Andy can reach through that veil any time, and he does. He is not gone, and if I let my mind reach through, I can touch him and be near to him any time. Thank you Lugano for giving me this life-changing gift of understanding. I am truly at peace now, and I think I can go on and make it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I Hate You, Go Away...

Well, grief has reared its ugly head again. I guess it all started on Friday. I felt sick all day at work and then by the end of the day got really sick. I was supposed to go to Gail’s house in Hampstead this weekend. Felt better, physically, on Saturday, but didn’t go…just wanted to be alone. I cried and cried all weekend. Grief has come back for a visit. I HATE you grief. I’m sick of you. Just go away once and for all. I want to SCREAM at you “GET OUT OF MY LIFE!” How long do I have to put up with you? You steal my joy. You remind me over and over that I’ll never have grandchildren, I’ll never be called Mom again, my life won’t be what I dreamed it would be. I HATE YOU!!!!!!

That was Friday, Saturday and Sunday, ah, but today is a new day.  I decided to get up early and do something productive. I went to Logan’s and bought some tulip and iris bulbs and some Lantana to plant at Andy’s grave, and headed off to the cemetery. I put on my gardening gloves, took out my trowel, and got to work, all excited. Stuck in the trowel and discovered this earth is like concrete…I mean, seriously, and I’m thinking this is going to take a lot more time and energy than I expected.  Dig, chop, twist, dig, chop, twist. I’ve planted a lot of flowers in my life, and never worked this hard. The sweat was pouring off me. So I got this idea to pour water on the dirt. Not only did it not soften the dirt, but it created huge mud puddles in the holes. Then it started to rain. But I was a woman on a mission, and frankly the rain was a blessed relief from the heat and humidity.

I was bitching to myself and telling Andy, “I hope you appreciate this!” Haha! We had a good laugh about it together, and I smiled for the first time in 3 days. I hung in there, and stubborn determination took over my mind and body. I felt no pain and time passed without my noticing. Two hours later I was done, and I’m pretty sure I heard the theme song from Rocky coming down from the sky J  Hurray!!!!! I hope hope hope everything is planted deep enough, but I dug as deep as was humanly possible today. So maybe at some point I’ll have to go back and deepen the holes, but that’s for another day, after prolonged heavy rains, and with much coffee in my system.

I stood up, enjoyed the beauty of the newly-planted yellow Lantana, smiled, and told Andy I loved him. My hair and clothes were dripping wet, I was covered in mud, my knees and back were killing me, but I felt GOOD! I think I got a lot of anger and aggression out today, and it helped a lot.  Bye bye grief…don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!

I know this is a roller coaster, and grief will be back again, but for now it’s gone. May it stay away for longer and longer periods of time because it sucks worse than anything on earth. Grief, I HATE YOU!!!!!!!!! And that’s ok.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random thoughts...

Sad day. One of the moms in a grieving parents group I belong to committed suicide this week. She was 2 years down the road in her grief journey. How can this be? It scares me because she seemed like she was doing well. I must say, though, that I totally get it and I'm happy for her. I hope she and her son had a joyous reunion. I cry for her family though. I know she was really trying to go on with her life. I am more determined than ever to try to go on and find joy. Every day I tell myself that when one door closes, another opens. I'm keeping my heart open to the love and happiness that I must believe are still possible. Please say a prayer for her. Her name was Susan.

Some random thougths that are running through my head today:

How is it possible for you to be so devastated and yet your heart keeps beating?

Tell your children you love them every day. Don't sweat the small stuff. Be grateful for every precious moment you have with them. Do it for me and do it for you.

Life is short. Live every day and make it count.

Take lots of pictures!

Most things that seem important aren't usually that important.

Be compassionate. Be kind.

Say Andy's name. It's music to my ears. Don't be afraid to talk about him because you think it will remind me he's gone. Trust me, I haven't forgotten. He's on my mind every single second of every day. It makes me happy to hear his beautiful name.

Please know that I'm not "over it" yet. I never will be, but I'm trying hard to go on in joy. If I seem distant, it's just that I'm still trying to work things out in my mind and heart. It's still hard to be around groups of people. I do better one-on-one or around a few people.

Try not to feel bad if I cry in front of you. You didn't cause it, and the tears are healing. One of the greatest gifts you can give me is to let me cry unashamed and just be there or even cry with me. The tears sneak up on me at the most unexpected and inopportune times...the grocery store when I see his favorite foods, when I hear certain songs, when I find some of his artwork in a drawer at work. Last week my realtor's associate, who was showing me houses in his absence, asked me if I had children. When I told her I have a son, but he passed away in February, she cried and hugged me and told me she couldn't imagine losing her children. She probably doesn't know this, but she couldn't have handled it more perfectly. She didn't feel bad about asking, she didn't clam up. She just shared my pain for a moment, and I was deeply touched. You'll probably never see this Rebecca, but thank you. You are a kind, compassionate woman.

Share your children with me. Tell me all the wonderful things they do. Ask me to babysit them. Show me their pictures. Tell me funny stories about them. Your children and their lives make me happy, not sad.

Thank you for letting me talk about Andy. I don't have any new stories, but I have precious memories that I love to share.

I love my friends and family. They are such a gift.

There are people in this world who love you and need you. Be grateful for that and love them back.

Live with conviction and fearlessness.

Give people the benefit of the doubt.

I am blessed.

I hope you all have a beautiful day!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Just Say 'No'...

WARNING: If you support D.A.R.E., you probably won’t like this post. Just warning you up front.

Just Say No…

You may find this hard to believe given the fact that my son died of a drug overdose, but I think all drugs should be legal. The “War on Drugs” is a dismal failure, and in my opinion, just some feel-good rhetoric pretending to be a drug resistance program. It is a huge waste of money.  Let’s start with the D.A.R.E. program. My sweet young son won first place in the D.A.R.E. essay contest. He read his essay in front of the whole school. He won an impressive looking medal and certificate. He was never going to take drugs, no sir! The truth is, it doesn’t work, and there are plenty of studies to support that fact.  One example of such a study was done by Dennis Rosenbaum, head of the criminal justice department at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Dr. Rosenbaum’s study tracked over a thousand students at 36 schools for six years. His study found that Students who receive D.A.R.E. are indistinguishable from students who do not participate in the program.” There are plenty of other studies that show the same thing.

Several cities across the country have already dumped or are looking to dump the program--Minneapolis, Boulder, Houston, Oakland, Seattle and Omaha, to name a few. And guess what, DARE is hugely expensive. Despite its ineffectiveness, the program receives millions of dollars in support, and you and I are footing part of the bill.  Yet kids and young adults all across America can’t get any health or dental care because they or their families can’t afford the insurance.  What is wrong with this picture? In my opinion, it would be far better to legalize drugs, and likely wipe out most gang activity and illegal drug trafficking immediately.

Further, we need to treat the addicts with compassion and provide treatment, not throw them in jail.  Does anyone honestly believe people like being addicts? Even ultra-Conservative, “I’m always right”, Rush Limbaugh had himself a big, fat drug addiction to Oxycontin.  He got addicted because of back issues. This can happen to ANYONE. Nobody says “I think I’ll become a drug addict.” Oxycontin kills plenty of people, and it doesn’t care if you are rich, poor, lazy, wonderful, hateful, liberal, conservative, or from the best family in America.  I read recently that there isn’t a heroin addict out there that didn’t start with Oxy in some shape or form.  And how about a Good Samaritan law?  So many lives are lost because people who are at the scene could call for help but don’t out of fear of being arrested. I believe my son would be alive today if we had such a law.  NC does not have one. What a shame. We have to start treating addiction as the disease it is or I see a lot more problems in our nation’s future.

You can think I’m wrong, you can disagree with me. That’s ok. But I have lived this nightmare, and I wouldn’t wish it on any parent. Drastic times call for drastic measures. I’m mad as hell, and I won’t sit back and support useless feel-good crap programs like DARE anymore!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What I’ve Learned So Far…

People are Amazing. The kindness, compassion and love I have been shown and continue to be shown just blow me away. There is so much good in people, it’s almost hard to believe. My friends, family, work family, Andy’s friends, and new friends I’ve made who have suffered the same loss have truly made all the difference. I don’t think I would still be here if not for all of you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have a long way to go, but your support sustains me every day. You rock!

What’s Important. Love, that’s what it’s all about.  It’s not money, it’s not fancy houses, it’s not expensive cars or big job titles. What’s important is family and showing love and compassion for each other and making any positive difference we can. To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

I am a Different Person Now. Completely different. I'm more introspective, calm, compassionate. I have a weight that I will carry the rest of my life, even on the best days. It’s a literal weight like carrying a load on my back. I have come to realize that this weight is a permanent part of me now, some days lighter, some days heavier, but always there. But, very importantly, this weight is a constant reminder of the meaning of life. In a way, it’s a gift. Things that used to bother me don’t even faze me anymore because they are simply not important nor part of my reason for being here. Besides, nothing worse can ever happen to me. All else pales in comparison. There’s something freeing knowing that the worst thing that could happen to you already has.

I am a Strong Person. I have sustained the ultimate loss, yet I still breathe. Not only that, but I strive to be happy and find a reason to go on.  We’ve all said “I don’t think I could go on if I lost my child.” I’ve said it many times in the past.  But the truth is, I can and I will. I owe it to Andy. I’ve learned that it is possible to thrive amid the most insurmountable pain.  There is nothing I can’t overcome. I am woman, hear me roar J

Gratitude. So much gratitude. For those who carry me through these dark days, for being given the gift of understanding what counts in life, for being more open and in tune with the present and seeing the beauty all around me. That our last words to each other were “I love you.” That my baby is incredibly happy in a place of peace and unconditional love. And my greatest gratitude is being given the privilege of having my beloved Andy for 22 beautiful years. He was incredibly special and gifted and wonderful. They were the best years of my life.

Andy's and My Bond is Forever. I loved my son with every fiber of my being. Still do. And he loved me too.  His love is a beautiful legacy he leaves me. Sometimes I feel his love surrounding me so strongly that it brings me to tears.  I can feel him cheering me on and helping me. I will carry my love for him for the rest of my life. He is with me always, part of me, part of my heart.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Say it LOUD and a special request....

Something special happened to me yesterday. I stopped at the drugstore after work to pick up a few things. As I was checking out, a cute little girl was asking the lady in front of me "Are you are a mom?" The lady distractedly said yes and left the store. Then the little girl walked over to me and asked me "Are you a mom?"  I thought about it for about one second and said "Yes, I am." Then she said to me "Say it, say 'I'm a mom'." So I did, and it brought a smile to my face. Then she said "Say it LOUD. Say 'I'm a mom' REAL LOUD." So I did! She got a big smile and said "that's how you do it!"  It made my heart soar to say those words and say them out loud. You see, although I do not have a living child, I am still a mother. I have a beautiful angel child who made my life complete and made me ecstatically joyful for awhile while he was here. I am the mother of an angel. I AM A MOM forever. I felt like she was a little angel on earth sent to give me that reminder. Out of the mouths of children. She and her mom don't know this, but they made a total stranger so so incredibly happy, and I'm filled with gratitude for that interaction. I am a mom, I am a mom, I am Andy's mom! It was real, he was real, and I will see him again someday. 

Which brings me to my request. I am a huge proponent of small random acts of kindness. We don't know the hearts and struggles of all the people we see each day, and we never know what small act of kindness can help someone who really needs a ray of sunshine. Just like that little girl did for me. So I thought about it, and I have decided to share something I started doing and ask you to join me. I wanted to do something to honor Andy's memory, so I made up little cards to give out with a small gift. It doesn't have to cost anything. It could be something as simple as a flower you picked or a picture you drew. Or if you have a little money, maybe a $5 gift certificate to a store or coffee shop...anything like that. Use your imagination! I print off the card, write a little note inside, and attach it with a ribbon to the gift. Sometimes I wrap the gift, sometimes I don't. Leave it in a public place...a bench at the mall, the chair at the doctor's office, on someone's windshield, anywhere! I promise you, it will make someone's day.

The "technical" part:
Click on the upside down text below. It will take you to another window. Select File/Print and print off. Cut down to size.  Fold on the dotted line so "To Any Finder" and the heart are on one side and the message is on the other side. Write a message inside if you like, or not. Leave it with the gift and smile as you walk away. Don't let anyone see you do it...make it anonymous. 
Please let me know if you do this and how it made you feel! Help Andy and me share the love.  Thank you!!!!!!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

She cooks!

Yesterday was 4 months exactly since I lost my sonshine. I haven't been able to cook since the day he passed away. It was simply too painful to make dinner for just myself and not for me and Andy. I don't know that I'll ever be able to make Hamburger Helper again. I still have 3 boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Krispies in my cupboard. God knows I won't eat them, but it gives me comfort having them in there. A little piece of my old normal, I guess.

So last week I told myself I couldn't live on takeout food forever. It's not healthy and it's not as good as mine.I decided to try to dip my toe in the water and cook 2 meals a week for awhile to get myself used to the idea. I decided to make something nice and have Ken come over and eat with me. I made a ham recipe I found that was coated in brown sugar and cooked in a sangria/pineapple sauce, mashed potatoes, and fresh peas from the farmer's market.  What can I say? It was fabulous! Now, Andy and I both detest(ed) leftovers. They are the worst! So I froze the rest of the ham to use later for ham and cabbage or scalloped potatoes. But cooking that dinner was an important milestone, and I have bought a week's worth of groceries this week for the first time in 4 months. I believe I have broken the negative feeling by forcing myself to cook something. Leftovers are still going to be a problem...can't do it...won't do it. But maybe I can learn to adjust recipes. We'll see. I'll worry about that later. For now, I'm focusing on making at least 2 home-cooked meals and maybe more!

I'm really trying to take baby steps forward, and here's why...something important was confirmed for me yesterday. Andy wants me to be happy, and he needs me to be happy. A couple weeks after he died, I was having a conversation with him, and I clearly heard him say to me "Lighten up, Mom. It's going to be ok." I was literally drowning in grief at the time and it just wasn't possible, try as I might. I was just trying to breathe. Each day breathing becomes a little easier despite the cavernous lows I still feel on some days.

Anyway, I was reading the blog of a bereaved mother yesterday. Her son had been gone a year, and she had recently had a major breakthrough. Let me first say that we grieving mothers are able to feel our chilren's sprits and have conversations with them. That's because there really is no death, just another realm. The woman's son told her that he really needed her to be happy in order for him to be completely happy and he further said "Lighten up, Mom." Sound familiar? I was blown away that she heard the exact same message from her son that I had heard from Andy. Later I went to Ken's to cook out. He had had a very bad several days in the abyss, but he seemed much better. When I asked him why, he said he had felt Andy's presence helping him and telling him "Lighten up, Dad!'  THREE times "lighten up" called to mind in one day. There are no coincidences.

So, my life's goal moving forward is to lighten up and try to enjoy the rest of my life, even though it's not as good as it used to be and never will be. I have said from the beginning, "Andy, if you are happy, I can be happy, so please be happy!"  I now understand that I must be happy for him to have the total joy he so deserves, and by God, I will do it. I waited 30 years for him the first time, and I will wait as many more as it takes to be reunited with him. I'd wait on him forever if I had to. I will honor him by being the best I can be and by fulfilling my mission here on earth, whatever that may be. I believe it will be revealed to me in time if I listen to my heart. I will still have horrible days, but I will not let them stay or take over my life. It's all for you, Andy. I love you like no other. You are my sunshine now and forever. Not goodbye, but  'til we meet again on that joyful day. Until that day, may you every moment have the joy of children.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tears and more tears...

Tears and more tears…

Crying…it’s getting old. Kleenex loves me, though! I really didn’t expect to still be crying every day at this point, but I am. Well, not always, but if I don’t, it’s hell for days after. I cry in my office, I cry in my car, I cry in the kitchen, I cry at home watching TV, I cry in bed at night.

But--Here’s what I’ve figured out. If I cry a little every day, I do much better.  Sometimes I’ll go for a few days tear free…usually when I’m away with friends or family. And I’ll think, “Ok, I’m getting better!”  But then I cry uncontrollably for 2 or 3 days after that. It’s exhausting. Whereas, if I just go ahead and cry a little every day, I’m ok after a few minutes. I guess every tear is going to come out one way or another—pay me now or pay me later. I think I prefer pay me now.

I’ve also figured out that this is going to take a long time. Guess I’m in it for the long haul, like it or not. The first time I went to a Compassionate Friends meeting (about 4 weeks after Andy died), I told the group “I think I’m doing really well, and I’m going to recover really quickly.” And they just said “Oh no, you won’t. This takes at the very least a whole year, and usually more.”  I didn’t believe them at the time…I thought I was different. Wrong! Andy is still in my mind every second of every day. I try to focus on all the happy times and how lucky I was to get to spend 22 years with him. It helps. It also helps to see people who are years down the road…they still have a big empty hole in their heart, that never goes away, but they are able to feel joy again. They are always sad on some level, but they are not the living dead either. They have adapted to the “new normal.” That gives me hope.

I read a quote recently “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love."
~ Washington Irving

I think that says it all. Go forth in joy and power today…