Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sharing a memory...

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 fiancĂ© 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.