anniversaries….

remembering and going on…..balance, we never want to forget yet we want to go on in a healthy way, how do you do both?  Tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary of Andrew’s death, that means that five years ago we were at his bedside in the ICU in Bangkok, Thailand. Our dear friends, David and Lara, were with us, helping us. It was a time of difficult decisions and good byes that we never imagined saying…..

Five years later we still mourn, the wound remains, but indeed it is less raw. We keep reminders of Andrew around us, we integrate him, his essence, his spirit, and his values into who we are and into our memories of him. We tell stories, we laugh, we share, and sometimes we cry. I love some of the tangible ways we have found to honor and remember Andrew….at Peter and Michelle’s weddings he was present: his picture on EJ and Michelle’s head table, a softball picture/button worked into Michelle’s bouquet, a hummingbird that lingered during Michelle’s ceremony….everything yellow during Peter and Jula’s wedding: yellow roses places in a vase in front of the groomsmen, Jula’s yellow shoes, yellow flowers at the reception, the poem he wrote for Peter’s 20th birthday on the program, the groomsmen’s converse tennis shoes with his initials in yellow, and the yellow wrist bands with his name on the candy bar at the reception. Melissa’s presence at both weddings somehow represented him. To this day Melissa shares memories, things he told her, she became his voice for awhile after he was gone….what a blessing. In our home we have his quilt, pictures, and stuffed animals that were in this hospital bed during his illness.

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Andrew’s baby dedication May 1991

Very soon after Andrew’s death another Mom who lost a child many years ago shared her story with me and shared a passage that was key to her healing and moving forward….that verse is II Corinthians 1:3-4, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. This passage has in turn been central to giving me hope for the future. Early on it was important to me that somehow this experience could be redeemed, that some value could come from it, that Andrew’s death wouldn’t be wasted. This passage was like a peek of light through the clouds showing me that a piece of the value would be my being able to comfort others with the comfort that I was receiving from God.

time markers…..

When your child precedes you in death you remember them at the age they were when they died and you also treasure precious memories of them in years past….I know that I was incredibly blessed to have seventeen years with Andrew, I have lots of memories to hold in my heart. Every so often an event or just a happenstance meeting with one of Andrew’s friends reminds me of how old he would be today (22 years old), or what life events he might be experiencing. I love seeing Andrew’s friends and knowing what wonderful people they are growing up to be, I like to think (and have been told) that Andrew had a part in who they are today. In April 1991 I gave birth to Andrew on the 11th and the next day, the 12th, my sister-in-law gave birth to twin girls, how many families have three babies in two days? My parents weren’t sure what direction to go, my Mom was in California with us and Dad stayed in Oregon with them. Anyway…..this Saturday the first of the twins is getting married! This is one of those bittersweet time markers. We wish Andrew had lived to marry his sweetheart and we wish he was here to witness his cousins weddings. Our reality is that we know that God is a good and loving God and even when we don’t understand why things happen we accept that Andrew’s early death is part of God’s plan for him and for us. We are so happy for our niece and can’t wait to celebrate with her, her new husband, and their families this weekend.

The picture included with this post is of one of Andrew’s favorite days….in 2007 my brother and is son (Andrew’s cousin) visited us in Cambodia, as part of that trip we visited Koh Kong and the guys went on a motorcycle ride into the hills one day, all of them reported having a fabulous time. Later that day while the motorcycles were still rented Andrew and Zach went riding around the little town of Koh Kong, I kind of relaxed (I’d been “on alert” earlier in the day concerned about the possibilities of accidents/injuries). I was half asleep in a hammock by the pool when I heard one motorcycle come back, I immediately felt something was wrong knowing that they had left with two…..I jumped up, caught my foot in the hammock, tripped getting out of the little hut, knocking over a waste basket making all kinds of noise, the owner of the resort, our friend, heard me and ran to help me…..I couldn’t speak, just pointed to the boys, Andrew was “passed out” leaning against Zach as they rode in. While they were riding around town a dog had ran in front of Andrew causing him to fall. Other than some bumps and bruises he was fine but it was quite an experience….one of those memories…..Image

ramblings…..

Today I was driving down the street and out of the corner of my eye I saw a tall, slender young man with a yellow tee shirt and short hair walking in a crowd of teenagers just after the high school dismissed, for a second I caught my breath and wanted to call out, for a second I imagined that was Andrew in the yellow Fox Racer tee shirt he wore so often. How many of you that have lost children have had this experience? I suspect that there is something in our DNA as parents that will cause us to continue to “search” for our children even though we know they’re gone….it’s a reflex, like breathing.

While Andrew was ill in the hospital we prayed, thought, and discussed his case with doctors all day, every day…..my mind really never stopped trying to figure out how we could “fix” this and bring healing to his body. After he died I would have dreams in which we were discussing different ideas and trying treatments…..feeling hopeful and then I would awaken and remember that he was already gone….all the thinking and strategizing in the world couldn’t bring him back.

Dreams: in the beginning I had dreams about him, I mean dreams where he was present, talking and interacting with me, they were precious and I wished they wouldn’t end. As time went on the dreams became less and less frequent. I hardly ever have dreams like that now and I’m certain that’s normal but I miss them.

Awkward questions: people have a difficult time knowing how to approach you after you’ve lost a child. I applaud anyone who tries, who doesn’t ignore the person that is grieving. I think it is important to be able to just “be” with your friend who is experiencing loss, to be comfortable with silence at times. One statement that I find particularly offensive is: “well, at least you have other children” (or something like that)….each of my children is an individual and I would grieve them equally whether I had one or a hundred.

A question that has been hard for me to figure out how to answer is “how many children do you have?”, that used to be such a simple question, with a simple, direct answer but now, even five years after Andrew’s death I’m unsure how to answer it. Sometimes I say four, sometimes I say five, sometimes I say four living children….depends how much I want to reveal. If I say four I feel like I’m betraying Andrew, if I say five I feel like I’m lying, if I say four living children I’m afraid I’ll upset the person asking the question by implying that one of my children died….after all they just asked a simple question and didn’t ask for a deep story.

The picture included here is our family in 1997 or so, Andrew was about six years old.

These really are just ramblings shared mostly because I suspect that others who have lost children may feel some camaraderie and the rest of you may get a little peek into our hearts. Image

significant thoughts…..

I appreciate your response to my sharing my heart about the loss of my son, Andrew. It is gratifying to know that being transparent about this experience has helped some of you in your journeys. Today I want to share a couple of thoughts that were important to me during the time that Andrew was ill in the ICU. I know that I haven’t yet shared the whole story of his illness and death from beginning to end….in time I will.

When Andrew and I arrived at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok his blood sugar was greater than 1000, he was in DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis), an insulin drip was started and as the insulin drove his blood sugar down his potassium also became dangerously low causing him to have multiple cardiac arrests in the next 12 hours, CPR was performed and he was revived but lived on life support, suffered from multiple organ failure, and swelling in his brain as a result of anoxia during the cardiac arrest. I paint this picture to show you that in human terms the situation looked pretty grim. Despite the seriousness of the situation we prayed for Andrew, talked to him, and treated him as if he was going to recover. Some openly questioned how we could be so hopeful, perhaps worrying that we weren’t realistic. My answer was emphatic: the last gift we could give our son was HOPE, reality had nothing to do with it, we kept hoping for recovery until it was clear that his healing would only come in heaven.

When the doctors were urging us to make a decision to make Andrew a DNR (do not resuscitate) I struggled, not because I doubted the final outcome but because I didn’t want to be “in charge” of the timing. It is hard for me to remember just what was going through my mind during those days but I know I was asking a lot of “what ifs”. At that time a passage from Psalm 139 gave me an incredible peace:

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16

This passage told me that before Andrew was ever formed in my womb God had already counted the days of his life, God knew the length of his life before Andrew’s conception, before Andrew’s birth, before his illness, and before we were being asked to make those difficult decisions. Having said this I know that it potentially brings up more questions….like what is the use of medical interventions if God already has everything figured out, I’m not suggesting that we should have done anything less than everything but I’m sharing with you something that gave me comfort when all of those interventions had been exhausted.

death denying society…..

I’m a nurse and through previous experiences I had already formed the opinion that our society has a problem looking death in the face and really experiencing and feeling it, instead we want to sweep it under the rug, hide it, even run from it. I have met families who choose not to have funerals or memorial services, families that choose not to view the body after death, families that feel it is more important to “get on with life”. I’m not judging but I knew when Andrew died that I wanted or needed to walk THROUGH the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4) not around it. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, and even now nearly five years later can’t say that I know how it should be done, one thing I know is that for me to have ignored his absence would have never worked. In the earlier days of our society people wore armbands or black clothing for a set amount of time as an outward sign of their grieving. I think this must have accomplished two things, it honored their loved one and it also was a warning to those they came in contact with to treat them gently. In the first months after Andrew died I felt compelled to tell my story as I came in contact with people who didn’t know…..I wanted people to know this about me, as if you couldn’t have known me in that time without knowing this fact about me: that I had lost Andrew. Many years ago I had a miscarriage, that is even a tougher situation because the baby you lose isn’t regarded fully as a child, people don’t know what to say and life really does just go on…..except inside your head. Since that time I have tried to make it a point to speak to women who have experienced miscarriage, validating their loss. it is important for us to recognize loss, look it in the face, experience it, share it, learn from it and integrate it into who we are. For me this is part of honoring my son.

memories……

ImageWow, I began this blog with kind of a vague feeling that I wanted to “do” something…something to remember Andrew, some grief work for myself, and something that had potential to help others but that was about all I knew, beyond that I had no idea what direction it would take. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the world of blogging either, well….here I am not even a week later and I have written some things that are really significant to me, I’ve met some new people and heard their stories, and connected with people I already knew on a different level……all of that is good, wonderful even, but the best and perhaps most unexpected part is that this process is giving me the opportunity to “look” through all my memories of Andrew and choose which ones to share with you. I feel like I’m in a shop with rows and rows of beautiful glassware and fragile items. Each memory is to be handled with care, taken down, polished, turned around, admired, and shared, then set carefully back on the shelf. Thank you for taking part in this journey with me. The picture I’m including today was taken in 2007 (?) in Kutasat village, Andrew’s father’s home village in Cambodia. I’ve always thought of Andrew as a “gentle giant” he was so tall, so big, but so kind to everyone he met. The little girl you see with him in this picture is his cousin’s daughter, Chantea, her father died before she was born, leaving her mother with two young daughters to raise…life has been difficult for them. Whenever Andrew saw Chantea and her sister, Chanty, he would be sure that he had Cambodian currency in his pocket and would give it to them for “ice cream money”, he said the other children had Dads to give them spending money but Chantea and Chanty didn’t. When we said good-bye to Andrew around his hospital bed we told him we would give these two girls pocket money whenever we see them, that they wouldn’t be forgotten. Suzanne

My favorite picture of Andrew and I

My favorite picture of Andrew and I

On my birthday last year Melissa (Andrew’s girlfriend) shared a story about this picture with me, she told me that Andrew told her that he loved this picture because he could see through my face how much he was loved. Isn’t that a precious memory? She gave me a huge framed enlargement of the picture for my birthday. It has been such a gift to receive messages from Andrew through memories of his friends, especially Melissa.

An unexpected message from Andrew….

One of the hard things about Andrew’s death was that we never got to hear him say good-bye to us. While he was in the coma we had opportunity to say good-bye to him, to reassure him that we would take care of each other, and that it was okay for him to go. I have complete confidence that he heard those things but always felt a bit cheated that it wasn’t a two way conversation. Due to the nature of his illness he just kind of faded away until he was in the coma and never woke up. In October of 2009, 13 months after Andrew’s death, I was given a special blessing. My friend, Anita, invited me to “Women of Faith”, I agreed to go with her although as the date grew close I really didn’t want to, it seemed as though it would be overwhelming, honestly the only reason I attended was because it seemed like it would take more energy to cancel than to just go. That year Mandisa sang and one of the evenings as we sat in the dark arena she sang “You Wouldn’t Cry for Me (Andrew’s Song)”. Because it was dark it felt like I was by myself and I can still feel the pureness of her voice as she sang this beautiful song written for another mother whose son, Andrew, was stillborn. The song, written in Andrew’s voice, describes heaven and says, if you could see me now you wouldn’t cry anymore. It was as if God provided a way for me to hear from Andrew that he is alright, more than alright, that he is in a beautiful place. While this didn’t take the ache away or mean that there wouldn’t be anymore tears it was a beautiful, reassuring gift. Suzanne

“You Wouldn’t Cry (Andrew’s Song)”
Mandisa

All you saw was pain
All you saw was rain
But you should see me now
Moments filled with tears
Lasted all those years
Disappeared somehow
You never said goodbye
On your knees you cry
You’re still asking why, butBlue has never been bluer
True has never been truer
Honey never tasted so sweet
There’s a song in the breeze
A million voices in praise
A rose has never smelled redder
The sun has never been brighter
If I could find the right words to say
If you could look at my face
If you could just see this place
You wouldn’t cry for me today

What you think you see
Isn’t really me
I’m already home
You’ve got to lay it down
‘Cause Jesus holds me now
And I am not alone
Your faith is wearing thin
But I am watching Him
And He’s holding you too, and

What may seem like years will just be a moment
Oh, the day will come when I’ll show you where you’re going
I can’t wait to show you that

 

A new normal…..

In the beginning when Andrew died I felt like our life was busted wide open to be examined, touched, and looked at by everyone. I wondered when the boundaries would begin to close and we could be ourselves again. I was numb but I think I walked through the funeral and all the things I was supposed to do in a proper way….on the outside. I felt very much like the spirit of “me” was watching my body go through the motions. I was determined to return to Cambodia, to the house where we’d last been with Andrew while he was well, I thought maybe then I could start to make sense out of things. We did return and that is a story for another time but eight months after his death we came back to the U.S. for an undetermined amount of time to see our younger two children through high school. I felt like a spinning top, unable to get grounded, I thought that if we’d been living in one place, and Andrew had died I could go though the process of taking my time with his things it would have been better as it was we were living and traveling internationally so I didn’t have that. I don’t know if it would have mattered. I wondered what the timeline was for “healing”…..a wise woman told me that I couldn’t put a time on it and what’s more life would never be the same again, she told me that as time passed the “wound” would become less raw but that it would always be there. She was right. The loss of Andrew is something I will forever “wear”, it is a part of who I am. I decided then that if I had any control over this process I wanted to integrate the loss of Andrew into who I am but not to be defined by it. I wanted to grow from it, not be stunted by it. I wanted a depth to be created in my person by the loss, a greater understanding and empathy for others but I did not want to become “stuck” in the loss. I heard the phrase “a new normal” and that is what I seek. I want to feel that Andrew would be proud of the things that I am doing and the way that I have reacted to the loss of him.