Monday, August 31, 2009
On another note, Lee helped me sift through the mountain of mail I have been avoiding for 4 months. I simply did not want to deal with the bills and the mail...unless I absolutely had to. It's time to access where we are at and take care of our financial responsibilities...things I have been avoiding. I have a lot of shredding to do and a lot of checks to write. I've been in such a muddle with my own affairs, so it feels great to get some of this sorted out. At least I now have a starting point...
Sunday, August 30, 2009
My ex-husband likes to barbecue. My oldest daughter's boyfriend Tyler has been a banquet captain and my girls worked with him for a while doing banquet serving while they were in college. Today my fiance and my ex-husband and my two daughters, the boyfriend, my older sister and Andrew's cousin put on the barbecue for 100 people and set up the room in an old barn for the reception dinner.
The boys set up the tables for me and Rebecca brought the linens, which she and Tyler insisted we must have. They were all white with some purple ones for accents. Rebecca and Tyler "clouded" the serving table with purple linens, meaning they gathered some tablecloths along the tabletop in pillow-top fashion and arranged the platters and food on top of it. My older sister brought gravevines which we used to string along the tables and on the walls for decoration. She had a bunch of spider plants in 4"container which she wrapped in purple foil and set amongst the grapevines. Rebecca and I had wrapped all the plastic forks and knives in purple napkins and tied them with green satin ribbon. I had made the bride's favorite butter cake with chocolate buttercream frosting and set up a pretty cake table using some grapevine swags for accents on a three-tiered cake stand. Jayne had decorated a guest book for the occasion and with some borrowed accessories like a grape-motif punch decanter and silver wine bowl and some electric swag grape-lights, we created a beautiful room in an old barn. It was all white and deep purple and green. It was really a sight!
I'm sure some of my family members and the guests who know us wondered at how I managed to get my ex and my fiance working together in this endeavor. I saw a couple of my brothers (I have six brothers) go over and give Bill a hug, and I was so glad. It can be hard to be the ex around relatives.
But the real miracle was that my ex was barbecuing and my fiance was his helper on this day. That had always been Andrew's job. My nephew was working there in Andrew's place, too, and that's good. Andrew showed them the way and they honored him today by taking over his duties. Of course, it took two of them to do his job... : ))
It's different for Bill, not having Andrew helping him, but I think he enjoyed today's process. It also gave him a chance to talk to my fiance, Lee, while they were barbecuing. After we got home later that evening, Bill called to let me know he and the girls will be joining us at our grief counseling session tomorrow. After four months, they are ready.
Hallelujah! I am so happy.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I made sure to share all the cards with Bill and the girls, and also with Lee and T as they came in. Some went to my house, some to Bill's. Some people sent each of us a card. But we shared them all, and now I keep them in a big box decorated with leaves and flowers. I really cherish the heartfelt sympathies people sent and memories they shared with us of Andrew.
You know some people never read their sympathy cards?
Death can be so tragic, come so suddenly, and leave people so stunned that they can't bear to face it and deal with it in the aftermath...they just avoid feeling for such a long time. I wanted to make sure we didn't do that. I wanted to grieve, and share, and remember my son. Hard as it was, I prompted the family to do so with me. But I had to learn another important lesson: don't push. Everyone deals with death differently, and whose to say what way is correct? My fiance, Lee, shared with me how no one would let him alone after his mother passed away when he was 13 or 14. They wanted to keep an eye on him, I guess. But he felt stifled and unable to express his grief...so it took him many years to really let go of the anger and let out all those suppressed feelings of grief.
Okay, so I got that message, and I am so glad he shared it with me. I was pushing Bill and the girls to share Andrew by having a public memorial, and they were really scared to do that. Mostly, I think, because "people" would see them grieve. They might see people they hadn't seen in a long while and it might be awkward. I felt it might be wonderful. When the day was over, I think they thought so too.
Luckily, we spent a lot of time together in between Andrew's death and the services, a lot of time alone as a family of four, time with our new extended family, time with relatives and friends and time together, just me and Bill. I thank God that our lives have progressed to this point where we are able to be in each other's presence without anger and resentment...it wasn't always that way. I am thankful that I have a new mate who understands my need to be connected to the father of my children and to family and friends. He never puts barriers in my way. He isn't jealous or insecure about any of it. Do you know what a gift that is?
Thursday, August 27, 2009
One of the hard things about grieving is that you really do just want to move on…everyone else wants you to move on, also. But sometimes you are not ready. Or you seem too, but then you digress. Or you want to, but are held back by others…
I have days when I bring Andrew up several times during the day, and then a week goes by without me mentioning him to someone else. I don’t really do it intentionally, but I do say my thoughts of him in a conversation when I am talking to someone, because it’s comfortable for me and I want it to be comfortable for them. I would never want anyone to have a thought about Andrew (or anyone else they might have lost) and be afraid to mention him for fear of upsetting me. I think it’s really sad when someone close to a person dies and no one ever feels comfortable saying their name in casual conversation.
Of course, I don’t want to talk about him ad naseum, so I find writing is a great outlet. In sharing, I get some heartwarming feedback that lets me know he’s been on the minds of others and they miss him, too. This sharing of my son and our family tragedy has been wonderful therapy for me; maybe not so wonderful for Bill and my girls. They are so much more private, so as I go forward I try to respect their boundaries, as well.
We really had to work out how to do the memorial service. It was an emotional process in itself. I really wanted to celebrate Andrew’s life. I knew there would be many people who knew Andrew or us and would want to grieve with us. It would have been so much easier to pull back and just avoid everyone and the tears and emotions the day brought out, but afterward, Bill and the girls thanked me for it. We had a family service first and got to see everyone we were related to (about 100 people) and then we went to the baseball field at the lake for a public memorial. My family was nervous about being in front of everyone, so I suggested sitting in the dugout. It was perfect. We could listen and cry and see who all was there for us without feeling like we were under a spotlight. The minister who conducted the service had known Andrew as a JV football player, so his eulogy was genuine and uplifting. His considerate help in preparing our family for the event was priceless. Afterward, we greeted a long line of people who wanted to give their condolences, and it was awesome. Bill and the girls came to understand that it was easier to do it this way, sharing and talking, than if they had avoided everyone. Then the next time they would run into someone, say at the store or something, it wouldn’t be so awkward…sharing your grief is liberating, I think.
I also wanted to add that email has been a lifeline for me. During the two days Andrew was in the hospital and afterward, I would go home and type a single account of what was happening and send it to our family members who I wanted to keep informed. They were able to share the information with others who were asking and it cut down on phone calls and so forth. We were so exhausted and just needed privacy when we got home. Bill and I both have such large families…we wanted to keep them updated but we didn’t really feel like talking to everyone at that time. I also sent some versions of the emails to work and asked my supervisors to share it with the department. That way I answered most of the questions people had before they even had to ask, and when I went back to work, I could accept their sympathies without rehashing the details. It worked beautifully. At times I worried if I might have given too much information, but in the long run, people would hear rumors and it was better to have dealt with it head-on, providing the details in my own words.
It’s been more than four months since Andrew died, and I have experienced so many emotions in that time span. You can move through your feelings of shock, sadness, anger, tension and so forth so automatically that sometime you don’t even recognize what you had been feeling. These days I am really missing Andrew and wanting to share about him. I had written one essay shortly after Andrew’s memorial service and decided now was a good time to bring it out. Since I, like many others, haven’t gotten into the whole world of blogging and am just learning how it all works, I sent emails to some of my Facebook friends, people who know me or knew my son or our family, for sort of a preview. I have been getting comments back, but they are all in private emails, not attached to my blog, and their remarks are so emotional! I don’t know if people would have said the same thing in a public forum, but I thought I might like to share some of the comments anonymously.
Here are some excerpts of the initial response to my blog:
“I am moved beyond words after reading your essay, ‘Therapy didn’t have a chance to work.’ I can only imagine how you and Bill must have felt when you were watching this amazing boy ‘lose it.’ How could any of us understand paranoia, or mental problems?”
“Absolutely beautiful…it must be very, very hard for you to do and yet at the same time maybe bringing you peace.”
“I can understand your concern for the rest of your family who might not feel comfortable making all of it public but I think … making it public would help a lot of people understand … what Andrew was going through. I really think that has been a huge part of why I have been so affected by Andrew’s passing; because I couldn’t understand it.”
“Wow…I’m in tears…he’s been in my thoughts too… Thank you for sharing. It was moving and I felt his presence…please write his story.”
“I’m having a hard time responding…its so weird how you think you’ve dealt with something, then, Bam! And I still have my (daughter)! …the pain we had for those years watching her self-destruct just came sailing back at me while reading your writing. (She) is doing so well now…I never fully let my guard down enough to fully feel it all.”
“Sounds like Andrew gave the disease a good fight, and I assume that’s all someone can do – do their best. You should be so proud of the man you raised.”
“I have problems with my son, too, so that is why I am so keen to hear what you saw Andrew experiencing. What you are sharing helps those of us questioning our situations and whether or not we should be concerned…”
My son is gone and I miss him. Bill lost his son and best friend. Jayne and Rebecca lost their wonderful, loving and giving protector. His cousins lost their friend and role model. My fiancé and his son have been grieving with me every day. It is a great loss for many. But still, I feel gratitude. I am grateful for having so much time – 26 years – with a beautiful, sensitive boy for whom I can always feel pride. I am grateful for every practice that went late and forced me to watch, every field trip I went on and every hour I spent at the school or a game or anything that had to do with Andrew. I am glad that I got to meet his friends. I cherish the gifts he gave to me and the services he performed to ease my burden. I am grateful that his suffering is over. I am glad it didn’t get worse: that he didn’t end up estranged, roaming the streets or living a cruel life alone somewhere. I’m grateful that he was watched over by his father and family during those years of torment. I’m also glad he never ended up in an institution being “taken care of”. I am glad he made his own decisions in life and in death.
I am also grateful for friends and family members who have shared their experiences with us, both about Andrew and about their family struggles. It really, really does help to know that we are not alone and entirely unique…everyone has “stuff” that they deal with every day that is painful and yet, they go on. If any of this helps someone else in some small way, I am also grateful to be a part of that.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
I guess it's one thing when a person is mentally disabled and doesn't really know what is going on, but that wasn't the case here--he did his own research. He could tell you all the reasons why he was or was not going to do something.
Andrew was fully aware that he was struggling and worked his own program: he exercised every day, ate fresh veggies with lots of beans and brown rice and whole grains and lean meat, and cut down on his vices. He quit smoking, a habit he had taken up either during his senior year or after high school, and limited drinking alcohol. I think he realized it was bad to drink hard liquor, but for a while whiskey had been his companion. But the effects it had on him were ugly. When I saw him, he would drink O'Douls, if he wanted beer, or just water.
He read a lot, and a lot of variety. He had history books, the bible, cookbooks, sports books, materials on gardening, car repair, and more in his room. He really studied the biblical passages and decided to fast for Lent this year. He quit eating meat for the duration of Lent. He went through a self-imposed cleanse and was the picture of physical health.
We hadn't been attending church services for many years, although I raised the kids in the Catholic faith. I wasn't sure why he decided to fast for Lent, but he was going all out, doing it for days at a time in the old-fashioned style...not just skipping meat on Fridays, but fasting. Now we wonder if he had been preparing to leave this earth for several months prior.
He ate some barbecued tri-tip on Easter Sunday. I talked to him on Monday evening and asked him about it. Had he enjoyed it? Yes, he assured me. His dad's barbecue was always delicious.
He had called me that night about 6:05 p.m. when I was getting ready for work. I didn't see the call until I was at my work station about 7:00 p.m. I saw I had a message and listened to it. He wanted to talk to me, he said. I called him back right away. When I asked him what he wanted to talk to me about, he seemed to hesitate.
"Nothing. No reason."
I sensed he had simply changed his mind. So I talked to him for a bit, drawing him out and sharing with him, gently. A little bell was going off in my head, but it was faint and I didn't really know what to make of it. I told Andrew I loved him and hung up. That was the last time we talked.
Andrew wrote this essay for the Knight-Ridder scholarship application. When I read it, I can hear his voice, feeling his enthusiasm, and sense his humility. It is him...the Andrew we all love and miss so very much. I am so proud to share it with you.
Why I Love Sports Writing
By Andrew Ramos
Ever since I was a little kid, I would wake up in the morning and wait eagerly for the Tribune to get to my house. When the newspaper would finally arrive, I would run out into the cold morning fog, grab the paper and run back into the house. I would tear the sports section out of the middle of the paper, and I would give the rest of the paper to my mom so she could read the daily news. I used to and still do love any opportunity I get to read all about the magical sports hero’s of the world. When I first started writing for the school newspaper in my junior year of high school, I was amazed to find that I had a knack for writing the paper’s sports articles. I like to say my writing ability should be credited to osmosis because of the fact that I’ve read so much sports material.
I have always been among the top writers in my class, routinely getting the highest grades on all of my essays and reports. When I started writing for the school newspaper, I found that I was not only adequate at covering and writing sports articles, but also that I enjoyed the whole process more than anything I had ever done in school. My mom writes for the local Atascadero News, and every now and then Editor Lon Allan asks me to go out and do little “Street Scenes” for the paper.
I have written two stories for the former Atascadero Gazette and I was going to start covering more sports to help them out, but nothing worked out when the paper condensed to two papers instead of five.
I guess the best way to sum up why I want to pursue a career in journalism is that it is the profession, out of all professions I’ve heard of, that I feel would give me the most enjoyable life I could possibly have. Sports writing is one of my two passions, while the other is simply playing the sports that I love to write and read about. I hope and dream that someday I’ll be a professional baseball player, but this year in football I broke my hand in the third game of the year against Righetti, and it was kind of a wake-up call for me that, “Hey, its very likely you are not going to be a professional athlete.” But it gets better.
I came back for the last two games of the season to play against our arch rivals, the Paso Robles Bearcats, and I played my butt off in what was to be a 35-0 loss. Before the game, my coaches were secretly in doubt of my ability to come back from my injury, of my ability But after the game, my head coach commended me in front of the whole team and all of the coaches for playing so tough and never giving up, for trying to provide any spark I could, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I was consoled by the fact that I would get to play at least one CIF football game, and I wanted nothing more than to win that game and three more games after it to capture the championship.
We had to travel down to Inglewood to play an undefeated football team, the Inglewood Sentinels, a team who had just been trampling opponents all year long and had twice scored 76 points in a single football game. I let my team know I expected nothing less than everything it had, and even if we did lose, we would lose as warriors. We went into the game 3-8, and I can see how some players would want to just pack it in and go home. But not me.
Inglewood had two offensive lineman that were 6 feet, 7 inches tall and 325 pounds. The rest of their line wasn’t far behind those two in size and the team had four running backs (including the quarterback) who had NFL type speed. All of my team wanted to sit around and just let ourselves be beat before we ever set foot on the field, but a few of my fellow seniors and myself got our team ready to play and we voiced our expectations.
The first half of the football game was beautiful. We held their offense to 8 measly points and our own non-existent offense somehow managed 7 points of their own. I had 8 first half tackles myself and I was playing the game of my life. There’s just something about adrenaline and I was so woozy at the end of the first half that when I was checking the scoreboard for down-and-distance on their last first-half drive, I could no longer see the lights of the scoreboard. They were just a big blurry, jumbled mess of lights and all of my energy and adrenaline left me to do nothing but give the absolute best I had.
At halftime, my whole team just acted like they were kind of shocked that we were doing as well as we were, but I tried to rally them, to make them believe that we were good enough to win the ballgame, and I feel that we were on the way to a victory. And then, when I jogged out onto the field to start the second half the scoreboard was easily observed again and I was no longer woozy from the blows my head had absorbed. I was ready to play.
We kicked off to Inglewood to start the half, so I went out on defense after I kicked off. Then, Inglewood ran a sweep to the weak side, my side of the formation, and I sprinted up and attacked the pulling lineman. One of the Sentinel’s halfbacks apparently didn’t want to block me on that play, so he dove at my feet and grabbed my left ankle. Well, I was running at full speed, so with my left leg being held, I was falling forward and my right leg was way out in front of me. One of Inglewood’s lineman hit me right as I planted my right foot, and his weight plus my weight, including both of our momentum’s, proceeded to snap my right fibula near my ankle.
The Sentinels broke loose for a 65-yard touchdown on the very next play and my team ended up losing 35-21. I rode the bus home because I hoped that maybe I just had a bad ankle sprain, but the next day X-rays revealed a break that ended up requiring seven screws and a metal plate. I’m still on the road to recovery right now, but I hope I’ll be able to play in the high school baseball season later on in the school year.
Now, I know that whoever is reading this is probably very mad that it is so long, but I just wanted to include this story to represent my love for sports and my zest for writing about them. For the past four years of my life, my life has been all about playing as many sports as I could and doing as well as I possibly could have in school, so I feel that leaving this information about myself out of this essay would have been cheating myself.
If I was asked what my career goals were, I would say winning the World Series with a California team and then going into journalism after that. But I now realize that you can’t control everything that happens to you, so you have to be prepared for the worst should it decide to start following you around.
My goal in journalism is just to keep working and writing for whomever will hire me and then my ultimate goal is to one day write for Sports Illustrated or ESPN: The Magazine. I get my Sports Illustrated magazines on Thursday’s and barring an overload of homework, I have usually read them cover to cover by the time Monday rolls around.
Every one of the sports I have played involved the whole team being committed to a common goal and we have usually done very well. I feel that my leadership skills, derived from and kindled through my involvement in sports, will be an asset for any company that I will ever work for.
Suddenly there was banging on my bedroom window, and I screamed! My mind was too fuzzy to think, but was someone breaking in? No, they were calling my name: "Open the door. It's the Sheriff's Department." Huh? What did I do? Am I in trouble at work?
When I got to the door and opened it, there was a Deputy Sheriff and also someone else I knew...Melody, a sister of my ex-sister-in-law.
"You need to call Bill right away," she advised. "It's about Andrew." I flashed back to when Andrew was 2 years old and she had been there in our lives...trying to get him to talk. The Deputy said something about "so sorry" but I wasn't sure about what. I just knew, when they say that, it's serious.
I think when I called Bill I got ahold of Jayne, my daughter. She talked in a very controlled, but tight voice as she filled me in. Andrew was at the hospital on life-support machines. Hurry, but don't be reckless, she cautioned.
I sat down at the dining room table and sobbed. Taylor held me. I called Lee to come home. I didn't want to drive myself the 40 miles to the hospital. When Lee got home, we went together.
I listened to the message Bill had left me just minutes after he'd found Andrew lying on the floor. I tried to prepare my self for what I would see, what was to come...Oh God, how will we cope with this?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Mostly my therapy has been in reaching out to friends and acquaintances through Facebook. I have shared with some old friends and they have shared back. Private emails, instant messages, daily posts and threads all help. Even the silly games provide a good distraction. I am doing more things with friends than I used to. I hiked today with my sister-in-law. I've gone to the gym with a co-worker. I had lunch and browsed fabric stores and art galleries with a friend. At my son's memorial service I promised so many people we would get together for lunch and so forth, and I am slowly following through.
It's comforting to know that Andrew shared so many of the activities I am doing now...he loved to hike around the trails in SLO county. He and my daughters lived in Los Osos for a year together and he explored the nearby state parks that I am frequenting. He enjoyed art, and he even bought some fabric for me as a Christmas present one year...I used some of it for some quilt blocks. He cooked, and I bought him some cookbooks. I am trying to grow tomatoes, while Jaynie has been keeping Andrews tomatoes and zucchini and the rest of his plants alive for the past 4 months.
Andrew was a worker, so when I am doing a chore or cooking or recreating, it is impossible to do so without some memory of him. I try to honor his memory in performing each task.
I am so glad that his life was full of good things...his mental illness hadn't destroyed his basic lifestyle. In my work I see people who live on the streets like animals. They are lost souls. At least Andrew had a roof over his head, his own room, a job to do and people around him who loved him. He had his father, his sisters, his cousins and me. He also had a huge extended family who all looked upon him as a favorite son.
We couldn't save Andrew from himself, but we loved him and tried to reassure him every day. He scared us...we all knew he was a danger to himself. It's just that we thought we could talk to him and straighten him out, but it only helped temporarily. He needed medication and professional therapy, and I couldn't make him get it. In that, I failed, and I have a lot of remorse in that failing.
My son Andrew committed suicide on April 14, 2009, six years after his first major psychotic break. His father found him at home, lying on the floor. At first he thought Andrew was sleeping. Andrew had suffocated himself while his father was in taking a shower. He had just finished breakfast. It was two days after Easter, and Andrew had fasted and given up meat for Lent. When I wrote the following essay, I had just gone back to work after being off for two weeks to plan and hold his memorial services and take care of matters with the family. I knew I would be writing about this and sharing with others about my wonderful, inspirational son, Andrew. What level of sharing remains to be seen. Now four months has already passed and life has resumed in its familiar fashion. Most people think that I am doing okay. I am, but Andrew is constantly in my thoughts. We all miss him...
April 30, 2009 -- I always dreamed of writing the Great American Novel…but recently I read in “People Magazine” that my idea has been done by Jeffrey Zaslow with “The Girls from
Really, that was always my idea…to write a semi-fictional tale using my real-life friends from high school as character models, and explore our stories of marriages, births, divorces, illnesses, deaths, successes and failures. Relate how our lives had taken different paths, yet we shared common feelings and experiences. A few of us are still married, some are divorced, single parents, in a new relationship, have become grandparents, stepparents, or are childless. One went to
Fast-forward 19 years and here I am, two weeks after the suicide-death of my beloved 26 year-old son and four days after his memorial service in which I was reunited with all my old girlfriends, trembling at the thought of resuming life-as-usual. They all called, emailed, sent flowers and cards and attended the service. There were so many people there that I only had a few moments to greet each person and didn’t even have a conversation with most of them…but they were there, and we were flooded with memories of the times when our paths had crossed over the years…memories of weddings, baby showers, our children playing sports, attending school together, sharing birthday parties and that great big graduation shindig that we parents had planned and prepared for three years leading up to the event.
I remember thinking as I greeted each person and group in the reception line following the memorial service that this was like my life, or Andrew’s, passing before me. His first grade teacher was there, his youth coaches, high school coaches, our neighbors, old friends, new friends from work, former employers, our huge extended family, ex-inlaws, people from church, school, and Andrew’s friends or their parents.
Even my friends that didn’t have any children still ached for my loss in the same way those with children felt it. They had nieces and nephews who had known Andrew. At this point in our lives, several close friends of mine had lost a loved one and we had grieved that person together. It was a familiar drill. We suffered through divorce one by one, and then celebrated new relationships. Some had battled cancer and as 49-year-olds, we were all experiencing pre-menopause, high cholesterol and weight gain. I had led the way by having a mild heart-attack at age 47.
My friends’ brought their families to the memorial: not just husbands and children, but their brothers, sisters, parents…whole families were there to grieve with my family. We pulled together, my ex-husband, my two daughters, my nephews that lived like Andrew’s brothers with him, my fiancée and his son, my former mother-in-law, our brothers and sisters, the cousins—everyone came together to honor my son and celebrate his accomplishments in life. A couple of my nieces had taken over the planning for the memorial service. My sister-in-law read Andrew’s obituary during the service. Our lifelong friends and the parents of Andrew’s best childhood buddy organized the potluck luncheon in the park. Everyone came together to support us. They all loved my son.
Writing was a passion Andrew and I shared. I had always wanted to be a writer and landed a job with the local small-town newspaper where I got to write features and do publicity articles. One aspect of my job was writing obituaries. I have written several for various members of our families who have passed on: grandparents, my parents, two uncles. Most recently, last June, actually, I had written one for my sister-in-law, the one that had become my ex-husband’s companion after her husband died. Preparing the obituary notice was one thing I could do for them during a difficult time, and after all, I knew her as well as anyone did. So I sat down with her mother and we reminisced about her daughter. It was like old times, talking and laughing about the silly things that happened with the children and family. We all share so many of the same memories. It wasn't so difficult a thing for me to do, and it was really rather therapeutic.
I wrote Andrew’s obituary. As I typed his life story, I remember thinking that it should be a hard thing for a mother to do, but it wasn’t. It was easy to think of things to say about him, and I wouldn’t have passed on that assignment for anything. As I typed his story into the computer, I remember thinking how I was on my own with this assignment…usually Andrew had proofread my other obituaries prior to publication. Oh, the irony! So I asked Rebecca and Jayne to do the proofing...
Andrew was a gifted writer in grade school, and in high school he joined the school newspaper and began writing sports articles. He had played sports all his life. He was a star growing up in youth sports. In high school, he might not have been the most valuable player or the most talented, but he was always the team motivator. He was often selected as Most Inspirational. He wrote sports stories from a players’ point of view.
He applied for a scholarship from the county-wide newspaper and won, inspiring him to study journalism at the community college. He wrote features and sports articles there, ending up as the Sports Editor in his second year. While still attending college, he landed a job with the bigger county paper and began to really delve into the craft of writing to meet a deadline, being accurate and hooking the reader all at the same time. “A beacon of concentration in a swirl of confusion. That was Andrew,” wrote his sports editor in a note to me and the family after learning of Andrew’s death. It was a profound statement, and we used it on the funeral cards. The statement seemed perfect when paired with a painting Andrew had recently completed of a ship in the midst of a storm.
Ironically, it was his inability to focus any longer that led to Andrew’s suicide. I scooped up his notepads from his bedroom a few days after he died and skimmed over the writings. He had written about all the different thoughts that were bombarding him all the time. He tried to block them out, stay busy doing projects, push all the thoughts away, but it was too much. He tried to keep up with his dad, who typically worked seven days a week. He finally was able to outwork the old man, and after the workday, he did projects at home. He repainted his truck—twice. He built planters and did all the yardwork, constructed arbors, planted a garden. He was exhausted and wrote that he just wanted to be able to focus on one thing at a time. He wanted some peace.
My husband and I had separated following the death of his brother, Andrew’s uncle, who had died in a tragic car accident in 2000. My ex and his sister-in-law turned to each other for support and ended up together. Their relationship provided her three boys a semblance of familiarity and normalcy, in a weird way. Bill became their father-figure and Andrew became their brother. They looked up to him and adored him.
It was all sort of Jerry Springer-ish, and may have detracted from us being able to really understand what was going on with Andrew. The illness hit Andrew in his early 20's -- classic timing, I'm told. While attending college, he had begun to exhibit signs of paranoia. He was going to school fulltime and had landed this great part-time job with the newspaper. It was like a dream -- perfect steps in his plan for the future. Then, eight months or so into it, he just quit…walked away, dropped out of college mid-semester, and said he just wanted to work with his dad in the family plastering construction business. I was devastated because Andrew had seemed to be on the path to success and I didn’t want to see him go into a downward spiral. I knew he was having some emotional conflicts, but who wouldn’t given the circumstances? He was worried about me, his dad, his sisters, and his cousins. He tried to be the perfect son, and mostly he succeeded.
But then he had a real psychotic break. He locked into a total paranoid mentality where he thought people were coming after him and trying to kill him. He mentioned some real-life characters from junior high and high school that he had had some confrontations with, so it didn’t seem that far-fetched. But we could tell he really needed some intervention. Someone directed me to
I remember going to the house and packing a backpack for Andrew. My older daughter Jayne helped me as we humored Andrew’s paranoid comments and tried to mask our sense of urgency. He was looking out his bedroom window, scanning the cars that drove by on the roadway out front. Someone was coming for him—Mexican gangsters. They were going to shoot him. He named the boy he had been in a fight with in 8th grade. He was scared to death. We were too, but we tried to hide that from him. We were steering him down the sidewalk to the car when suddenly he turned and wanted to go back into the house to get his running shoes.
“Its okay, Andrew, your flip-flops are fine. Just please get in the car,” I pleaded.
“No, Mom, I need my shoes. If they come after me, I can’t run fast in these,” He replied. Jayne and I exchanged looks, and we dashed back into the house with Andrew to change his shoes. I didn’t breathe until I finally had him in the car and we hit the freeway for our two-plus-hour drive to
When we arrived at the hospital, it was dark and the front doors were already locked. There was a bell with a sign saying to ring it, and I did. The person who opened the door for us was a Hispanic janitor, much to my dismay. I was afraid Andrew would make some sort of Mexican-gangster connection and refuse to enter, but miraculously he didn’t. I let out a huge sigh of relief. They would help him here, I just knew it. Some doctors would fix him and he would go back to being my wonderful son on his way to a promising career. I stayed with Andrew through the intake process, then finally it was time for me to go. They had taken his shoe laces and issued him some hospital clothing. They gave him a toothbrush. I hugged him tight and promised him everything would be okay. Trust them, I begged. They will help you. Bill had arranged for a motel room for me in Ventura, but I cancelled it and drove home that night. I cried the whole way home.
The staff told us we would need to leave Andrew there for four days. On the last day we could come for a family counseling session. We got to talk to Andrew on the phone a couple of times before we went to pick him up, and he cried. He was so scared there. People were messing with him. A hospital worker stole his toothbrush. Other patients were so weird and they drooled. No one looked normal like Andrew. "Please come pick me up," he begged us.
We drove down in separate cars on Sunday. Bill smoked and didn’t want to inconvenience me. I also suspected my sister-in-law might not appreciate us riding together. Oh, brother! When we arrived we had to hunt for a parking spot because the parking lot was full. I ended up parking on a maintenance road above the facility behind a car that displayed a license plate frame with the statement, “You’re just jealous because I can hear voices!” Fat chance! I laughed that nervous kind of laugh you do when you are just about to crack.
We went to the family session. We saw the other patients. In our meeting with the doctor, he simply said Andrew had had a psychotic episode and would need further counseling by a psychiatrist. He said he could take it on, but due to the distance, he recommended we find a doctor in our area and gave us several references.
Andrew said he never wanted to go back to that hospital. We didn’t ever want to have to take him back. It took us three months to get in to see a local doctor. In the first session, Andrew made his case for all the reasons he didn’t want to continue with therapy, and so he didn’t. Actually, I think he might have gone to one more session. The psychiatrist was, of course, intrigued with Andrew, who he said was intelligent, good looking, athletic and yet, had this one tiny thing that no one could see by looking at him that was off…fascinating! I got Andrew to go see one other psychiatrist, a woman, but after two sessions he was done. He wasn’t going where ever the counseling tried to take him. He didn’t feel safe. Back at the Portola house where he had grown up, or working with his father, that was the only time he could feel secure…not entirely, but reasonably.