(On October 8th, Andy died after a two year battle with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind his beloved wife and four children, his sister and her sons, and Jim and me. This essay was first posted for family and friends on Facebook, but I wanted to share it with my readers now that I can finally take a deep breath. xo )
Today is the one month anniversary of my son’s death. So far, everything they say about grief is true. It definitely comes in cycles. Certain things are helpful, others not so much. I have a pile of sympathy cards that I’ve been stalling opening. It’s extremely helpful getting the cards so I’m not sure what my fear is. My sister is coming from Michigan tomorrow and she promised to help me go through them. I’ve heard from people I was close to at one time, but years and miles separated us. I’ve also received cards and gifts from new friends and friends I didn’t even know were friends. It has all been so helpful through this process. Thank you so much, all of you.
Today for some reason, I want to tell people that my son died. I want to say the words.
Andy died. My son, Andy.
Last night, we were watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred was giving birth, and boy, it was so realistic. The actress is amazing. It reminded me of Andy’s birth, forty nine years ago. He was my first born.
I was so young. Jim and I got married at age eighteen. The following year, through fear of the draft, he joined the Air Force. The recruiter said his chances of going to Vietnam were slim. Of course, that wasn’t true. He went.
Orders took us to California and once we were there, my goal was to get pregnant. I wonder what made me think I was mature enough to have a baby at that age.
Nowadays, there’s a chant telling young women they don’t have to have children. I never heard that I had to have a family when I was young. I just wanted my own home and family so badly. I couldn’t wait to be pregnant and have a baby!
I’ll never forget what it was like bringing my baby home from the hospital. The reality was shocking, the responsibility overwhelming. I couldn’t put him in a toy box when I was done playing with him. The baby would be there for the rest of my life. The neighborhood we lived in was just outside of the Air Force Base and less than ideal. I had a plan for me and baby Andy if our house was invaded in the night when Jim was at work. Parenthood meant a cycle of protecting and planning, protecting and planning. That didn’t end when the children became adults, either.
Then, when Andy was five months old, Jim got orders for Vietnam. It was just me and baby Andy. There is nothing good to relate about the nightmarish months Jim was gone. To this day I get a sick feeling inside, remembering how lost I was. I’m just glad we survived until Jim returned home.
Following that time were the happiest years of my life. I had my children up on pedestals. I was such a nerd growing up. Lol! I’m surprised to this day that Jim even looked my way. And to have two, beautiful, intelligent children! Wow. It was the first time in my life that I thought maybe I was okay. I was worthy. I’m smiling thinking of it. There’s nothing bad about it.
When other people would talk about how challenging it was raising teenagers, that wasn’t my experience at all. My kids were a riot. We had so much fun. Our house was the house where the kids congregated. There were some difficult times but we got through them.
As adults, both of them continued to make strides, have successes, deal with disappointments like everyone. We were still having a great time together. Andy’s wife, Sarah is my second daughter. She made a comfortable home for him and for us to enjoy.
Two years and some months ago, at the end of July, my daughter, Jennifer and her children were here in California staying at Andy and Sarah’s house. We were going to celebrate my grandson and Andy’s shared birthdays and a few days later, my little granddaughter’s. Erroneously diagnosed with hepatitis first, Andy didn’t feel wonderful but he was socializing and his usual happy self. Over the weekend, he got worse and took a trip to the emergency room. In a few hours, Andy got the cancer diagnosis that to this day I still can’t believe. I feel sick, like I’m just hearing it for the first time.
The past two years had been so hard in spite of a very early diagnosis. He had a short time of feeling better. I try to focus on those times. My little granddaughter is just six. She’s so wonderful. We were talking about losing her father and she asked me how I was doing. I said I just pretend he’s alive somewhere. She said, “Grandma, don’t do that. He’s dead. Just be sad.”
She has spoken. I’m not going to pretend. I know some of my acquaintances don’t want to hear about it any longer; if I say anything they change the subject. A well meaning friend said I would harm my granddaughter if I grieved a certain way. She was wrong. I have to grieve any way I can. Friends who have suffered a personal battle fighting cancer and those who have lost children have been a great support. It’s unfathomable, the loss.
So I’m going to continue saying it when I need to. My son died. It’s only been a month. We’re still living, working, moving forward. But we will never get over losing Andy.