You Smile I Smile

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Saturday - The final goodbye and funeral...

I woke up very early Saturday. Ken came over and picked me up and we went to the funeral home, and our friend Sue came with us. She is an old friend from way back, and Ken’s high school girlfriend…a sweet, fun, beautiful girl. I’m glad I know her. We decided we would drive Andy’s BMW, his pride and joy, to the funeral home/funeral. We also decided we would play whatever cd was in the stereo. Of course it was rap, and we laughed about that.

I spent a long time just standing by Andy, trying to memorize his face, not that I could ever forget that beautiful face. But I memorized it just the same. I talked to him and whispered in his ear that I loved him and thanked him for being the best thing that ever happened to me or ever would. I told him to be happy and that I would do my best to take care of things down here and make him proud. Ken and I put a few trinkets in his casket that held precious memories for us. I hugged him, said goodbye, and saw my sunshine’s face for the last time. I felt that my heart was being ripped from my chest.

We went outside and watched and waited as they loaded our beloved son into the hearse. Then we followed them to the church and listened to rap music on the way. We met Andy’s closest friends and my brothers who were all his pall bearers outside the church. My heart was so heavy for his friends. We greeted people as they walked in as best we could. Then the pall bearers carried Andy into the entryway and Ken and I stood behind the casket. I think music started playing, but I’m not really sure. And then we walked down the aisle with our boy. I had to keep my head down. This was a most profound moment for me, and I didn’t want to look at or see anyone. This moment was for me and Andy alone. The service was beautiful and majestic. Our friend Eric read our tributes for us. I am so grateful to him for doing that for us. I didn’t cry during the service. I listened to and heard every word.

When it was over, we followed Andy back out. I was very strong during the funeral, but something about walking out of the church was so final. I kept my eyes down, but broke down and cried when we got close to the door. Ken put his arm around me and was a rock for me. The bells were ringing. It was a beautiful but incredibly melancholy sound. We waited and cried on the grass while everyone exited the church. Since the funeral and cemetery were downtown, traffic and directions were going to be tricky for people so we had to stand there waiting until everyone got out so they could follow through downtown to the cemetery. So there I stood, crying, the bells ringing, and everyone waiting outside the church. I looked up and I only remember seeing 2 people…my current manager and my previous manager, 2 strong, compassionate women. Maybe I was looking to them to tell me ‘what do I do now?’ because I sure didn’t know how I could go on.

We all piled into our cars while the funeral director directed the traffic. I remember being concerned that she was going to get hit by a car. We followed the hearse to the cemetery, and yes, the rap was still playing. We all gathered at the graveside. Father Bill said a few words. My friend Gail read some beautiful memories of Andy. She was crying. I was not. I felt concerned for her and was silently cheering her on. She did a wonderful job. I even laughed a couple times. A few more words from Father Bill, and it was over. Back to my house for the “party”.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Friday - Funeral planning and calling hours...

Friday we had to be at the church early to plan Andy’s funeral. We picked out the prayers, music, readers, and pallbearers. Ken’s buddy from the gym, Father Bill, would do the service. Father Bill is a cool guy. He’s a priest who is also a competetive body builder. Ken wrote his tribute to Andy for the funeral. It was really beautiful and really long, so he and I went through it and edited it down to size. I visited with my family, his family, and our friends most of the afternoon. “The kids”, Andy’s friends, were around most of the day, and it was a huge source of comfort for me. Being with them was like being with Andy. And it helped me to be strong for them.

Around 4:30 Ken and I headed over to the funeral home to spend a little time alone with Andy before the calling hours. There was a candle burning next to Andy which felt very special to me. I spent some time alone with my boy. I had a long conversation with him. He looked so very handsome and well dressed, which would have pleased him immensely being the clotheshorse he was. I ran my fingers through his hair, hugged him a lot, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. I held his hand for a long time. If I could have stayed with him all night, I would have. Then the 2 of us spent a little more time together with Andy.  All the pictures we had provided were being screened on the wall. Oh, the beautiful pictures, the beautiful memories. I had a sense of peace that Andy was truly happy and safe in heaven and was helping us get through this.

Our friend, Eric, was the first to arrive. Eric had just lost his brother about a year earlier, and he had a lot of wisdom and experience to share with us, which we really appreciated. We spent about 15 minutes with him, and then lots of other people starting arriving. Our family was all there. I was strangely unemotional during the calling hours. For 3 hours people came through, many waiting in line for a long time. People were so kind and so patient. Some people were crying, and I felt such compassion for them. It somehow gave me strength to be able to comfort them. Ken and I are blessed with wonderful family, friends and coworkers. The people I work with are like family to me, and they were all there. Andy’s friend Bianca brought her precious little baby daughter with her, and looking at her all dressed up in black made me smile. I love that tiny little girl. Andy’s friends were all there. People got me water, I remember that. They served cookies…first time I had ever experienced cookies at calling hours, but I liked that.

After 3 hours, we were exhausted. We said goodbye to Andy, cried, and went back home to rest up for the funeral tomorrow.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Memory lapse, seeing Andy...

I have absolutely no memory of Tuesday and Wednesday. I can’t tell you anything about it other than lots of food started arriving. Spaghetti with meatballs, chicken casserole, macaroni and cheese, cakes, and on and on from caring friends, family, and neighbors. I couldn’t eat much because I still had no appetite, but it was so nice to have it for my family. I was still on my coffee diet. That’s it. The rest has been erased from my memory.

Fast forward to Thursday. Andy is ready for Ken and me to see. This day defines ambivalence for me. I wanted to be with Andy and spend time with him more than anything on earth, but I was terrified at the same time. I didn’t think I could bear to see him dead. I thought I might just die on the spot--I certainly wanted to.

But we did go. It was a terrible feeling walking up to the door and then walking in. No one should have to do this. I felt that walking through water feeling again, only now it was like walking against a raging river. They took us to a small room and let us in. I looked at him, I cried. He was still my baby, but his life force, his soul, was gone. I spent a little time talking to him, but was disappointed that it just didn’t seem like him. It seemed like a wax replica of my son. The real him, his essence, was gone. I left my note with him, told him I loved him, and we left. I felt closer to his spirit at home and in his room. I felt that he had moved on and was in heaven already. I told myself he was joyful and peaceful, and that made me feel better.

I sat in his room and wrote my tribute to him for his funeral. I remembered all the love and happy times we shared. Interestingly, my truly joyful memories were the little things…singing his song, reading him stories, kissing him goodnight, hugging him. I’m here to tell you that life is about the little moments created in love. It’s not about money, things, big vacations, fancy houses and cars, important job titles. It’s about spending time with your children. It’s about love. Andy was my life, my joy, my reason for living, my #1 priority. Looking back, I’m glad I put him before my job, my love life, my own selfish desires, at least most of the time.

I grieved that there would be no more happy times to share with him, not more hugs, smiles, laughter with him. I grieved that I would never see him spend the rest of his life with his true love. I grieved that I would never have grandchildren. Then I went downstairs and spent the rest of the night with my family. I felt that I was just a shell of the person I was only a few days ago, the walking dead. I looked alive, I talked, smiled, carried on, but I was really dead and having to fake it. The best part of me had died. To be honest, I still feel that way, though I try mightily to find at least one thing to be joyful about each day in honor of Andy. I wonder if I will always be this shell or if time really will heal the wound. So far, it hasn’t. Went to bed early--tomorrow was a big day…the calling hours.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 4 - the planning begins...

Woke up early, tried to eat some breakfast. No appetite. My diet consists of tea and coffee for now. Ken came back over and we headed off to the funeral home. It was a very surreal experience walking towards the door. I could feel myself resisting with all my might. It felt like I was walking through water.

They greeted us at the door and took us to a private room and showed us our pricing options, basically from a menu like you’d get at the car wash. I guess there’s really no other way to do it. Wow, it’s expensive and you really can’t shop around, but honestly, the last thing I cared about was the cost. I wondered what people who don’t have money do. We chose Andy’s casket from a small sample on the wall, chose the guest book, chose a cemetery, signed a million documents, talked about “outer burial containers”…i.e. a vault, chose some flowers, talked about the calling hours. They would be on Thursday from 6:00 – 9:00 and the funeral would be on Friday at 10:30. The lady that helped us was very kind, and she even had us laughing a couple of times. She made it remarkably bearable. I asked her if I could see Andy today, and she said no, he wasn’t ready for viewing yet. I asked her if she would cut me some of his hair to keep, and she said she would make sure that got done. She also asked me if I wanted the friendship bracelet he had made and was wearing. I absolutely did, and she brought it to me. I wore it all week. I’d be wearing it still, but I want to have it forever, and I don’t want to wear it out. So I’m looking for the perfect frame to put it in. I still wear it for a minute every day.

The funeral home also asked us to pick out 75 of our favorite pictures of Andy which would be displayed on a projector during the calling hours. We went through box after box of pictures, and it brought back such sweet, happy memories. Some we had long forgotten. We realized after going through them that Andy really did have a happy childhood, and he made those years precious for us. We loved our son, and he knew it. And, God, he was a beautiful little boy who grew up into a very handsome young man.

Then we left. One huge hurdle gotten over. We went home. Ken wrote Andy’s obituary, which in my opinion, was the most beautiful obituary ever written. It celebrated Andy’s life, his reason for being here, and gave everyone who read it a sense of who he really was. Just recently we found a blog on the internet by a woman we’ve never met who had seen Andy’s obituary and talked about how much it, and Andy’s life, had touched her, even though she never met him. Wow. So you see, my beautiful boy continues to touch people even now. He’s still making me proud. I love my son.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 3 - Telling Andy's friends, and the family arrives...

Headed back to my house early. My family was coming in today. The first thing we did was call UNC-CH to see if Andy’s autopsy was completed and if they would release his body. It was. I was almost hoping he wasn’t ready because I wanted to put the funeral off as long as I could. It would make everything so final. But he was, so we called the funeral home to make an appointment. They could see us the next morning.

My friends came over bright and early and took charge of the house. A word about friendship…cherish it with all your might because it is a precious gift. I’ve always known this, but during this time it came home to me like a light from heaven. My friends, I love you so!

I decided to go up to Andy’s room and write him a letter. I looked around at all of his things, and it just tore my heart out, but I really needed to do this. Its contents are too personal to share, but I made a homemade card, much like the ones he used to make me when he was younger. His cards to me always had hearts and sunshine and flowers and rainbows, so mine did too. Especially the sunshine…it was our song to each other for 22 years—“You Are My Sunshine”. And my sunshine he was, the bright shining light in my life. So I poured my heart out to him in love, sealed it in an envelope, and saved it to put in his casket with him.

Later in the day my family started arriving. I have 7 younger brothers and sisters, and every one of them showed up except one brother who was on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And I know he would have been there if he could have been. It was so wonderful to have them there. I love my family with all my heart. My Mom is 72 years young, and has a heart of gold. A beautiful person in body and in spirit. And my brothers and sisters are just as wonderful. They came, they stood by me in my grief—no--they carried me. One thing I learned through all this is that there’s no love like that of family, and we should do everything we can to show that love to each other. We visited all day and into the evening.

Around 7 PM, Andy’s close friend, Jose, called. The police had instructed us not to tell any of Andy’s friends or acquaintances anything for a few days because they needed to investigate the circumstances of his death and that the first days were crucial. So Jose called me asking where Andy was because he hadn’t heard from him for 2 days. I didn’t know what to do, so I handed the phone to Ken. And he made the decision, which I agree with, to go ahead and tell them. They needed to know. They had a right to know. It broke my heart to have to tell Jose, and I cried when Ken gave him the news and I could hear his anguish. As I mentioned before, one of their beloved friends had already died 6 months earlier, and now they had to go through it all again. Sometimes life just isn’t fair and it can be very cruel.

My sister, Laurie, and I slept together this night talking ourselves to sleep, and it was a huge comfort to me. And so ends day 3.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 2 and an outpouring of love...

The night Andy passed away, I cried a river of tears. I would be ok for a minute, and then I would have a panic attack and think “I want to die too! I can’t do this! I can’t breathe!”  But Ken, Andy’s Dad, would tell me it was ok, and it would pass. Ken was a rock for me, and for that, I will always be grateful. I found that I needed to be close to him at all times because he was my link to Andy. He’s the one who called my Mom to let her know, and I had to cover my ears because I could hear her anguish on the phone. I think I texted my friends to let them know, but it was very late by then. I couldn’t stay at the house, I just couldn’t be there, so we went to Ken’s, had tea, and cried. We both slept a little, and then it was Day 2.

We went back to my house, and the troops began to arrive. My friends are angels, I chose well. If you ever doubt there is good in people, DON’T. The love and support they gave will me carry me through the rest of my life. They took over. Gail cleaned my frig…it never looked better. Janine and Sharon cleaned Andy’s room so my family could stay up there.

And here is a funny story…Andy had just cleaned up his room a few days before. He called it “Operation Clean Sweep”, bless his angel heart. He was very proud of what he had done up there…cleaned, put up some nice shelves, redecorated with some new lamps and tables. He invited me up to see it. It looked very, very nice. I was completely impressed. He loved entertaining his friends up there, and was excited to show them the new digs. It was a special moment, and one that I will cherish forever.

So back to the funny story. Anyone who knew Andy knows that he loved clothes. He had a wardrobe that any woman would kill for. So Janine and Sharon commented how clean it was already up there…and then they opened the bathroom door…where they found a mountain--and I mean a mountain—of clothes. Andy had a habit of letting his laundry pile up until he ran out of things to wear, and then he would do it all at once for days at a time. So my friends took trip after trip between his room and the house with armloads of clothes. The washing machine ran non-stop for 2 days, until at last, all the clothes were clean.

They stayed all day and took care of everything. Gail’s husband made chicken soup for me, Sharon’s family came over with chicken casserole. I love my friends! I couldn’t do anything. I just wanted to die so I could be with Andy, and they really came through for me. They left late, and Ken and I went back over to his house where we drank tea, looked at old pictures of Andy, and cried.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The first day...

Nightmare…there’s no other way to describe what it feels like to lose your beloved child. If there is a hell, this is it. When I found my boy, he was face down, and he had clearly been gone a few hours. I wanted so badly to hold him one last time and tell him how much I loved him, but I was terrified of remembering him that way. So I didn’t. Instead, I ran and called his father. I deeply regret this now because I didn’t get to say goodbye, just he and I alone. It seems right that I should have been able to spend some time alone with him on his way out of this world since I brought him into the world. But there is no going back now.

The ambulance came, the police and the fire truck came. I waited in the living room while they went up to his room over the garage. I went out at one point and asked one of the EMTs who was outside “Is he dead?” to which he replied “Well, I don’t know.” And I thought to myself “Well, that’s a big, fat ‘YES’.”  Even though I saw him, I guess I still held out hope that he was really alive and I was mistaken. The rest of the night is a blur. I remember almost nothing. I do remember that the 2 police officers were very kind and took care of everything for us. And then they took my baby, my only child, away. I have never felt so empty, so alone, and so full of pain in my life.

I think that's all I can write about today. More tomorrow...

Friday, April 8, 2011

My journey begins...

Andy came into the world on Monday 10/10/88 at 5:06 pm, weighing 9# 1oz, 21" long. It was the happiest day I will ever have in my life. As far back as I can remember, my dream was to be a mom. The day his dad and I brought him home, I couldn't believe how blessed I was and that I got to keep this precious baby all for my own. My joy was total, I was living my dream.

He was a happy baby who never cried unless he was wet or hungry. He lit up my life with his smile. We delighted in every new milestone. We felt pride when he took his first step, sang in his kindergarten recital, won first place in the DARE essay contest (more, much more on that in future blogs), became a gifted violinist, graduated from middle school, then got his high school diploma, got 1380 on his SATs, attended college, and on and on. He was a beautiful child with big brown eyes and a smile that could melt your heart. He grew into a truly handsome young man and was loved by a large circle of friends and of course, by his parents.

Andy and I traveled the US and Europe together. He showed me around the Alps where he had been an exchange student and gave me my love of Chamonix, France. We visited Busch Gardens so many times that we knew every square inch by heart. He amazed us with his hand-eye coordination. He made us happy.

Sadly, he struggled with his sense of self (more on that later) and became involved with drugs (more on that later). But in the last 6 months of his life after the death of a beloved friend, he was really turning things around and beginning to learn to love who he was and once more became the happy, delightful person we always knew he was. He was beating the evil demon that is drugs. We always knew he would face the seduction of drugs the rest of his life, but we began to once more allow ourselves to feel hope that he could have a happy life, and so did he. Unfortunately, he was lured back in by someone I consider a monster, and on February 11, 2011, 8 weeks ago today, I found my beloved son dead in his room. And so began my nightmare.

But it is my hope that this blog can help others on this same journey. Maybe we can walk this road together. All is not hopeless, and I believe that Andy taught me and others the meaning of real, unconditional love and that he will continue to make a difference from heaven. So if you’d like to join me on this journey, welcome. Let’s see how this all unfolds.

Mother of an Angel