Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Being there...

Well, we went to the counseling, Lee and T. No girls, no Bill. I figured its time to really start taking care of me. They will ask for my help if they want it. So I am going to start exercising and get back on track with my fitness program that I had started at the first of the year. I need to lose some weight for my health, if nothing else. My pride and self-esteem should benefit, as well.

So yesterday I started to walk and jog, alternating one block at a time along our neighborhood pedestrian pathway. It's about half a mile long, so I went to the end and back. It takes about 15 minutes, not a lot of time in the big scheme of things, and very manageable. That is the kind of exercise program I need: manageable.

I saw a flyer for an Oktoberfest 4-mile run in my town. It's in 3-1/2 weeks. I decided I am going to enter the race, something I have always wanted to do. It's my ultimate fitness goal: to run a marathon, or maybe a half-marathon. So I am just going to get started, here and now.

Andrew was the picture of health. Buff, trim and conscientious of everything he put into his body. That was one reason he could argue against medication, because of the side effects it had on a person's body and organs. He had some vices, like smoking and drinking, but he always tried to moderate them and finally quit the cigarettes and booze. I don't think he had a drink in the last 4 months of his life. He was harping on his dad, trying to get him to quit as well. But that is what went through my mind as I watched him lie there on the hospital bed with all the machines hooked up to him, keeping his blood pumping and the air moving: the picture of health, a perfect specimen. He was really such a beautiful young man.

Anyway, I am going to get fit and ask Andrew's help in getting there. He could do just about anything he wanted to do: he would just focus in and go for it. He rebuilt his truck engine, twice in the last year, overhauled his jet skiis, tiled the bathroom, constructed a gazebo, turned a dead tree stump into a planter and built a stucco dog house with a drain inside for hosing it out. He built furniture out of gnarly old wood, tended the landscaping and spruced up the yard. Andrew always had some projects going. I think if I call on him for inspiration, especially when I am tired and want to quit, he will push me onward. If I run in his memory, I can't let him down, either. My goal is to be strong and fit and contribute something to this world. I want to be there for the rest of my family, whenever they might need me to be.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking Andrew, my girls, along with me...

I'm feeling rather hopeless right at this moment. I miss my girls and I need to see them. We went to lunch one day last week and that was nice, but it isn't enough. We have a counseling appointment tonight, but I don't think they are going. Bill isn't feeling like it and that gives them an out. I don't really know how to really help them except just to reach out to them and invite them to go along with me.

Nothing is going to bring Andrew back and that is the cold hard fact. I hate that. I don't want him to be gone. I want to feel him and keep his memory going strong. People are laughing at me being so wrapped up in the Farmville game on Facebook, but I am farming and Andrew would have like that. God knows I can grow anything real these days...I forget about stuff. My real tomatoes are all shriveled and dry.

Jayne has been taking care of Andrew's real garden. She weeds it and cuts things back. It's still growing and producing vegetables. Grandpa Curtis would have liked that too. He always had a vegetable garden. He didn't believe in just watering plants for ornamental reasons...they had to produce something useful.

I noticed that the little flower basket with the purple African violet is blooming pretty well next to my kitchen sink...that is something. My friend Sue sent it to me when she heard about Andrew. The little purple flower is blooming and looking all perky today. Amazing!

I think I will go for a short hike today and see some real trees and grass and birds. I will think of Andrew as I hike; think of how much he would enjoy the view. I'm just going to take him along with me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Daily reminders...

I am missing my son this morning as I lay in bed. typing on the computer. I woke up very early, while it was still pitch dark, thinking of Andrew.

Yesterday had been a long day, celebrating a friend's marriage. I helped decorate her wedding cake. I met some more of her family. One of my friend's brothers has four children, and I was talking with her sister-in-law about big families. The sister-in-law remarked how it reflects on a child's upbringing in the way they talk to adults.

"It shows that a child was raised right when they can talk to an adult and engage in the conversation," she said. I instantly thought of Andrew. That was one of his fine qualities: participating in conversations, exchanges, where you knew he was listening to you and actively participating in an exchange of ideas or opinions. He might have a differing opinion, but he would state it respectfully, with thought and care of your feelings. You knew he listened to your opinions, and considered them.

Oh, I miss talking to my son.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Andrew was a stand-up guy...

From a classmate—

I have a lot of fond memories with Andrew. I can't tell you how many times I saw him do the right thing when it was the hard thing to do. He was a stand-up guy, and I'll miss him.

A family who knew him through church, sports, school and socializing—

Andrew is remembered as a friend to all in our family. He was a great person to be around. He gave everything he did his best and he accomplished much. Andrew was a respectful, polite and obedient young man. A day has not passed since we learned about his death that we haven’t remembered something he said or did that brings a smile to our face. Andrew made many friends in his short time here and we consider ourselves very fortunate to be someone he touched. Kathleen, Bill, Jayne and Rebecca your son/brother is a very special person.

From a youth coach—

Andrew Ramos. What a kid. What a ball player. When I first coached Andrew in little league I knew he would give 110% all the time. It didn’t matter what position I had him play, he could do it all. He could hit, run, and field with the best.
Andrew was a very intense player and always wanted to do better each game; and he usually did. Andrew was one of the easiest kids to coach. He would listen and then would just go out on the field and do it. Sometimes Andrew would be his worst critic about how he was playing, but that didn’t matter because he would go back out there and try even harder to be the best he could.
I still remember that Ramos smile and that never ending desire to play baseball. Andrew had a real good throwing arm, so I guess I saw a quarterback in him, but that was not be because baseball was his true love.
As Andrew was getting older I would see him from time to time and he always had that big Ramos smile, and would ask: “How’s it going?” As I think about my past coaching career, Andrew always comes to mind because he was easy to coach and I could always count on him to do his best. The thing that I admired most about Andrew was his love of the game. Even though he is no longer with us, his memory will live on and will not be forgotten
Andrew, thanks for the time I got to spend with you.

My entry on the obituary guestbook—

Our loss of Andrew is so devastating and we will miss him in so many ways every day for the rest of our lives. The support we have already received from family, friends, hospital staff, employers, and everyone has been so gratifying and helpful in getting through the first week and I want everyone to know the worst is over...Andrew is safe and protected in the loving company of his grandparents, uncles and aunt who have gone before him.
It is our hope that you will remember Andrew with a smile as you perform a task, offer a service to someone, complete a project or participate in a sport or competition. As Andrew was loving and giving, so shall we endeavor to keep that spirit alive every day. I think I will get up now and go clean the bathrooms and scrub some floors. I will do a thorough job and take pride in my work. That was Andrew's way...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Andrew taught us about respect...

I love to read people’s response to my blog about Andrew. People all around me have dealt with the most horrific and amazing stuff and are willing to share it with me. Somehow, perhaps selfishly, it is comforting to know others have suffered yet survived. It gives me hope that I can too, and so can my family. This has definitely brought us all closer together. I am so glad the respect is back amongst us: my ex and my daughters and my nephews. During certain times respect was absent in my closest relationships and I deeply regret not maintaining it.

It took some of the dealings with Andrew to realize that we all need to respect one another. Andrew was the most respectful kid. I was always proud of him and how he showed courtesy to others. Several of his friends have written to me recently and expressed the kindness and courtesy Andrew showed them.

When he first started to have episodes, sort of manic days when he would rant about something he had read in the newspaper or something that had happened that didn’t sit right with him, he would withdraw from us. I was trying to figure out what was happening, but it was a confusing time. I was still grieving the loss of my marriage and trying to figure out my path. I was really feeling sorry for myself.

But Bill and I had to be in more frequent contact because something serious was going on with Andrew. He lived at Bill’s house, but sometimes they would argue and he would come over to my apartment. One weekend he moved in. Before dusk on Sunday evening, he moved back out, upset by something I had told him as I tried to counsel him.

Then one day Andrew was locked into a real weird mood where he exhibited a state of paranoia. I can’t remember if Rebecca was there, but Jayne was there with Bill and I. As usual, we started to argue as we tried to discuss Andrew’s problem and I must have said something about how Bill had hurt me or threw some blame at him. The next thing I knew we were yelling at each other. I don’t remember what I was saying, but I do remember Jayne getting right in my face and telling me, “It’s not about YOU! We need to help Andrew!”

She stopped me dead in my tracks with that outburst. Oh my God, how self-centered I was. Oh course, it’s not about me. I am going to be fine. Something is seriously going haywire with Andrew and we need to pull together and figure it out. I needed Bill’s help and support, and he needed mine. This was something we were all going to have to deal with together. Thank you, Jaynie! From that day on, anytime I started feeling sorry for me, I would chastise myself: “It’s not about YOU!” That message was a Godsend, I tell you, and a turning point for me.

The worst realization for me was that, as Bill and I had hurt each other and had separated, all the anger we had expressed toward each other and about other people involved had been internalized by Andrew to the point that he was nervous whenever we were together. “You hate them,” Andrew would tell me later, “so why are you trying to be nice now?”

Words spoken in anger can never be taken back. Not so much the words, actually, but the feelings they produce. Those feelings created a conflict in Andrew that he would never fully resolve. His family had been ripped apart, his safety net cut away. Somehow we had to find a way to mend that net and help him feel safe.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle...

I am forwarding this email on my blog, because it represents the sentiment I try to follow with the experiences I had with Andrew. Most people didn't realize anything was going wrong with Andrew. He was courteous and respectful in his daily encounters with people. I think only the immediate family and some of Bill's work crew were even aware of Andrew's decline. He simply withdrew from society as he dealt with the illness.

I remember going through the 10 days between his death and the memorial service, dealing with details in preparation of the event. I had lots of emotional conversations with people about Andrew, both in person and by phone, and exchanged messages via email. It was a welcome blessing to go and get a manicure and a haircut and not tell any of the people working on me what I was going through. I would go to a restaurant and get waited on, or go to the grocery store and purchase supplies, and thank God that I didn't have to tell any of these people what I thought or felt. It just made me realize that you never know what one is dealing with at any given time. It made me think that I should be gentle with everyone and speak softly and kindly and deal with people respectfully. Anyone and everyone you encounter in a day may have some terrible trama they are dealing with, silently and privately. You just never know. People didn't know about Andrew's pain.

There is a field, with two horses in it.

From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse.
But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing.
Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner
has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him.

This alone is amazing.. If you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound,
you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field.

Attached to the horse's halter is a small bell.
It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two horses,
you'll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse,
and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk
to where the other horse is, trusting that he will not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening,
it stops occasionally and looks back,
making sure that the blind friend isn't too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because
we're not perfect or because we have problems or challenges.
He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell
of those whom God places in our lives.

Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way.....
Good friends are like that ... you may not always see them,
but you know they are always there.

Please listen for my bell and I'll listen for yours. And remember ...
be kinder than necessary .... everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Live simply,
Love generously,
Care deeply,
Speak kindly, and
Leave the rest to God

Friday, September 4, 2009

email communication therapy...

I mentioned in an earlier blog entry how email and text messaging had made things easier immediately following Andrew’s death. I kept family posted while it was happening and let them know all the details of the services and so forth. I kept in contact with work, and I had numerous messages from friends and acquaintances that I was able to respond to right away. I think if I had to return phone calls, a lot of things would have gone undone or unanswered. I did try to return phones call during that time, but after a week or so I just ran out of steam. Emails are less personal. It didn’t take so much of my emotional energy to answer an email or text as it would have to have conversations during that time. I was able to save my energy for my immediate family and all the decisions we were dealing with, and for that I am so grateful.

I soon made a folder in my email file to keep everything involved with Andrew in one place. It includes updates to family, messages from friends, obituary and service information to printers, newspapers and the mortuary, jpeg photo files and quick notes to Jayne, Rebecca, Taylor and Lee about the many details we were deciding on.

I think of it now because I just sent a note to one of my friends from high school and I mentioned Andrew’s death. I saw her on a television show last night—she is an accomplished choreographer in Hollywood. She reminded me she had sent an email to me back in April, which I had for the moment forgotten, so I went back and looked for it in my email folder. Oh yes, now I remember! I am so glad I saved everything. I can re-read all the messages and follow up with people now that I am getting back into things. I really want to connect and spend time with my friends and people who knew Andrew...its good to share and remember him.

I made a point to have lunch with another old friend about two months ago. She had come to Andrew’s service, and I remember making a little mental note on how frail she was looking...but she is in her 70’s now. When I had worked with her, I was a teenager and then young mother, and she had given me such gentle advice and guidance during those years. Do it now, I told myself, don’t wait on this one. We had a great visit over lunch that lasted three hours, sharing things that had gone on in our lives since we worked together over 20 years had the time sped by like that?

So now I plan to read all those emails I saved from four months ago and make some plans to catch up with people, my friends. I will have to plan it, one-by-one over the next four months or so—maybe it will take a year, and try to meet up everyone who said they wanted to get together for lunch and so forth. They are old friends from high school, parents of some of my children's friends, relatives, former co-workers and employers, people from the many sports organizations I had been involved with for the children. Many of us have moved on to other things and our children are grown up, but getting together will help me, I know. If I keep reaching out, I will heal all the more. As I heal, I hope to bring my daughters along with me, and their father, and my fiancĂ© and his son, and my nephews who were also Andrew’s brothers.

That is my wish, my plan, my therapy for the coming months.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Defining mental illness...

Okay, revelation of the week: we don't all agree on the label "mentally ill" in regards to Andrew. "We" meaning Bill and I. Dear God! Here I have been writing about his mental state and all the events that led up to his I feel like I have been betraying my ex-husband. After listening to some sharing during our family counseling session, here is all I know: Andrew was scared. He definately had some paranoia. Was is schizophrenia? Was he bi-polar? Chemically imbalanced? Is a label for it all that important? It's an unresolved issue, because we never had a diagnosis. It wasn't something that could be tested for by taking a blood sample or a biopsy. He needed to be evaluated over time, and that didn't get to happen.

There is a stigma about mental illness. I think people confuse it with mental retardation. It's definately not the same thing. Back when Andrew first began to show signs of trouble, I did a lot of research. I have lost the terminology, but this is a synopsis of what I learned. People with mental retardation have a limited mental capacity; Andrew was really intelligent. Many people who are diagnosed with a mental disease, such as schitzophrenia, are super intelligent. Treatment should include therapy and medication. I gathered that it was something that could not be entirely conquered. The battles would rage over a lifetime, with insurrections and mutiny threatening constantly. Whatever was going on with Andrew, I had to view it as an illness, something he had no control over happening to him--a disease (just like cancer or a heart condition).

I think part of our problem in seeking treatment was that when he went to that hospital back in 2003 or 2004, many of the other patients had some sort of physical affliction that made them look weird to us and it was off-putting, to say the least. They scared the hell out of Andrew, actually. That hospital was not a comforting place.

It was hard to accept mental illness as a diagnosis. What do we know about it, anyway? If you run into a street person and see them acting strangely, you could assume they are mentally ill. When people exhibit very bizarre behavior, one tends to label it as mental illness. So how can a person, like my son, who looks perfectly fine, in fact, more than fine: a specimen of physical fitness, have a mental illness?

The other hard thing was that Andrew could control himself. After the stint in the hospital, he seemed to get better. He still worked, drove his trucks, did physical activities like jet skiing and snowboarding, mountain climbing and running, handled his finances and was courteous to everyone. When he did have a bad episode, Bill or one of us could usually talk to him and work through it with him. Bill was more effective at it than I was: Andrew would get upset with me and just leave. Many times Andrew would call me and tell me things that were upsetting him. I would chose my words very, very carefully in responding to him, but sometimes it would just fall apart. I wanted to keep him close and help him, but he just wouldn't let me most of the time.

In 2006, he moved out of our family home where he'd been living with Bill and his aunt and three cousins and rented a place with his sisters. They lived together for a year in Los Osos. That was a wonderful time for them. It was almost like being a complete family again: they had each other. They cooked together and did projects and just enjoyed being in each other's company. The girls were going to college and Andrew was helping them in every way he could. He stablized their lives for that year.

Andrew didn't socialize outside of the family, but he functioned just fine. Or so we thought, anyway. Hoped...