I miss you every day, Andrew. Every minute of every day. I miss you in my sleep. I want to hear your voice in real time and I can’t. I am trying to learn to live with that but some days are ugly and I’m not sure if I’m recently sadder or if this is something else altogether. I don’t cry that much anymore and I think to myself “Well, that’s it. I’ve run out of tears” but then suddenly I start crying and when I do it’s a surprise reaction. Like “Oh, tears! There you are” and I’m not sure what that is. I think about you all the time but I don’t talk out loud about you all the time. Nobody wants to hear about anyone else’s children all the time wether they’re dead or alive and I get that. So I’m in this place where I know you’re not physically here with us but I also know you’re always with me and you’re not gone. I desperately want you to be here “experiencing” these moments of life we all cling on to here in the physical world but I know you can’t and never will again so I find myself living between a laugh and a tear.
I know it sounds crazy just the way that we live Between a laugh and a tear Smile in the mirror as you walk by Between a laugh and a tear And that’s as good as it can get for us And there ain’t no reason to stop tryin’
I see you in the spaces in between every little thing around me and I wonder if you see me.
I hear your laugh and I miss you calling me and saying “Hey momma…” You wouldn’t remember the time I took you to the strawberry patch at Butler’s when you were about a year old. You sat with Papi and ate strawberries straight from the plant and I can’t stop seeing your sweet strawberry covered face. Your tender eyes would always find mine and there was a sense of relief when you realized I was “there”. The agony of waiting to feel that again with you is maddening some days and recently, I am struggling with that quite a bit.
Alec’s friend , Andrew (how crazy is that?!), got married yesterday and Alec was in the wedding. Jennifer said that was her first wedding she’d ever been to and I thought “wow….really?!” and then realized you never got to go to one. Because you died when you were just 22 tender years old. How could you have gone to a wedding at that time and now here we are in the place where Alec is going to weddings and you are not and most of the time I don’t give a fuck but then I start crying and that’s how we end up living between a laugh and a tear. I want to run and find you and tell you to just come on home.
I sincerely hope I don’t live to be 95 but I probably will and I’ll be in some memory care somewhere and no one will come visit me except your memory and I can’t figure out what the fuck I did wrong to end up in this fucking place for so damn long. I want to go to the spaces in between things some days and just stay there.
Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and 22 more years will have passed. I see you, Andrew-Baby. Do you see me?
Will I ever feel any different on this somber and devastating anniversary?
20 Years ago we lived in Maryland. September 11 started off, as any other day did, with us waking up around 6 AM and getting the day going with our regular routines. Andrew was 5 and Alec 3. At this age running around, laughing and playing outside were their favorite “routines”. Andrew was in PM Kindergarten so that meant we had all morning to play around then get some lunch before heading up to school. Everything was normal. At around 8 AM we took our dog, Cooper, for a walk around the neighborhood and the only thing I actually remember from that walk is that the sky was the most perfect blue and there was not a single cloud to be seen as far as the eye could see. It truly was a stunning September morning.
Back inside, I had the today show on. Matt and Katie were on and I don’t even remember what they were talking about until I heard them say that one of the twin towers had some type of explosion and possibly an airplane accidentally flew into it. I came over to watch and I remember thinking “is this really happening or is this a clip from an upcoming movie?” It was not making any sense that a plane would accidentally fly into a gigantic building when suddenly the second plane hit. I immediately called my dad and told him to bring my grandmother over and that they should plan to stay here for a while if not overnight. I immediately felt that if this was possibly the beginning of a war in the US and I was not going to be separated from the people I love most. I started calling my friends to check in on everyone and our phone was ringing off the hook as well. I instantly decided that Andrew was not going to school today. Luckily, they called and school had been cancelled and kids were going home early. The world changed forever that day.
Here is the beauty of having young kids around during a tragedy: They don’t give you much time to wallow in fear, sadness, uncertainty etc… Kids need to keep going. Their innocence protects them and the need for the basics doesn’t stop because there is an emergency. Don’t get me wrong, they knew something was wrong. Andrew asked a lot of questions and the answers were not easy to find. What do you say? What don’t you say? The meandering is tricky. You know they need some level of understanding because they sense that things are off and lying doesn’t do anyone any good.
We spent that day huddled up at home playing with Cooper out on the deck, playing indoors, making meals and talking. We were together.
We were together.
(Update. As I wrote this yesterday I had to stop. My grief was overwhelming and I couldn’t write or do much of anything else.) I took my paddleboard and paddled out to Sarasota Bay and watched. I watched birds eating, fish eating, people going out on their boats, some were fishing other people paddleboarding or kayaking. There weren’t a lot of people out and about. There were no “party” boats. It was overcast and quiet. I came home and don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I didn’t watch the news or look on social media. Everything is different now. People I used to be close with I no longer speak to and some I didn’t feel close to for a long time I’m close with again. Tragedies change people. After 9/11 the world changed. I still believe that the tragedy of 9/11 has been used to change the hearts of many Americans. The angry and fearful people, the insecure people, the ignorant people and others have been used by those who stand to make a lot of money by creating conflict. Too many people have been misinformed and manipulated to “choose one side” and not to deviate from that side no matter what. Twenty years later we seem to be more divided than ever and all I can do is pay attention to my community and try to do a little bit of good every day and help where I can because I believe that it’s a lot of the little things we do that add up to gigantic things that make real and lasting impacts but that’s a story for another day.
9/11 is a National Day of Reflection (IMO). It is a somber day and I spend it quietly now. Remembering when “we were together”. I miss my innocence. On 9/11 it’s compounded. Grief never goes away. Whenever anyone says to you to “get over it” with regards to grieving just ask them if they will ever forget 9/11. Who has “gotten over” that day?
I miss you, Andrew. We were together. not just on 9/11. Always. I thought of what you and Alec would have done if the three of us were together and I din’t have to think long to know. So I went out and did what we would have done if we were all together: I picked up a bunch of trash from the Bay and Rick tried to help a bird out of a jam. He almost got close enough to grab him. He had a fishing hook stuck on the back of his head but it wasn’t in deep and didn’t impede his ability to fly or eat so when he flew away we didn’t worry too much. We just know that it should be removed but trying to catch a wild bird is not easy. When they fly off you just have to let them go and accept that you can’t fix everything. Try anyway.
I remember you and how you cared so much about people, animals and our earth and you felt bad about mistreating things so even though you weren’t perfect you tried to make things better and you weren’t always succesful but you wouldn’t give up. Ever. You were EXTRA and knowing you could fail, you tried anyway. We all should.
“When all is said and done I’d never count the cost. It’s worth all that’s lost. Just to see you smile”
Just to See You Smile performed by Tim McGraw
Every time I hear that song I cry. Not because of what he’s actually singing about but because of how this simple line in the song reminds me of you and Alec and a few of the simple things that brought you both such joy and how I would give anything just to see you smile like that again.
I can’t find a picture of us ever eating a cinnabon but I know we did. Hundreds of times. They sold them at the mall. The one in Gaithersburg. Lakeforest Mall which no longer exists. Funny how things change so much that you cry because it’s really not funny at all. The Cinnabon was downstairs near Sears or JC Penney. That part I can’t remember exactly but I remember the times we had there. Neither one of you would ever have known this because I would never have told you but we really couldn’t afford those Cinnabons yet your delight eating them was so simple and genuine that if it meant that I had to work an extra hour a day just to see you smile from eating a Cinnabon I would have worked as long as it took to earn that extra money for those Cinnabons on the regular. Just to see those beautiful smiles.
When you were little you’d both just ask for them not thinking one little bit about it and I would get us 3. One for each of us and we’d sit and eat right there at the mall. You and Alec would have just been done running around that play area in the center of the mall. You’d be almost sweaty. Grinning and ready to go on to the next adventure. But first: Cinnabon. But you, Andrew, loved them more than either Alec or me and as a teenager you understood that it wasn’t that easy to just “get something” and your eyes would always wander towards any place that sold Cinnabons. At the airport on our travels, sometimes gas stations as we drove down 95 to Florida, random places we’d find ourselves in or if we ever went to a mall anywhere you’d see them and you’d be shy about it but I knew. I’d get you your Cinnabon and you’d smile that smile and say “Oh mama. You’re the mama” and you’d pat my head the way you always did. I just wish that I could stay there in those times. Forever. Just to see you smile.
Your little 5 year old smile, Andrew. I can’t believe how clearly I can see your 5 year old face. Your hair was soft and wavy. Your little teeth were perfect and your smile was like a flash of beautiful little white miniature chiclets. Your big brown eyes full of sparkle, spirit, mischievous adventure, a little sadness and a lot of kindness. Those eyes never changed. I can see you clear as if you were right here with me this very second. Fork in hand eating that Cinnabon. Smiling and smelling of that sweet Cinnamon and frosting mixed in with that dewey boy sweat. Delighted with the world.
Maybe I always knew this was a fleeting moment and I’m glad I “wasted” all that money on those Cinnabons. Best money I ever spent. I’d do it all over again. Just to see you smile.
“I can’t forget the way you looked at me. Just to see you smile. I’d do anything…”
“Like a heartbeat…Drives you mad. In the stillness of remembering what you had. And what you lost. And what you had. And what you lost…”
~ Dreams by Stevie Nicks
Andrew was with me all night long in my dreams. I can’t remember specifics but I’m all confused again this morning. Woke up scared with the same knot in my throat and tears ready to roll. Why did you have to go? I just can’t understand it and I know I never will. How can there be a “God who loves you so much” yet takes not only your mother when you are 3 and you grow up scared and grieving but then later after you have learned to live with that grief and let your guard down a little bit and love again…and I mean actually love again…this “loving God” takes away your first born child too? I’m 52 years old. I do not believe in a “God who loves you so much…”
Here’s the kicker for me. “Oh you’ll get to see your baby in dreams. But you won’t be able to remember them. You’ll just feel like they were with you all night and there are snippets of the dream you’ll remember but you will just wake up and realize that he’s gone. It was just a dream and you can’t even remember the details”. That’s how much God loves you. No. That makes no sense. I want him back and I don’t want it to be in a dream that I can’t remember.
But that’s never going to happen so I take my dream, my memories and my shattered heart and I carry that life with me here on this floating rock in the middle (or end or beginning) of the universe and I smile through my tears after the screaming stops. I smile because for 22 years he was with me. I carried him. I nursed him. I read to him. We sang together. We talked. We held hands. We hugged. We cried. We learned. We welcomed his brother together. We fought. We disappointed each other. We forgave. We loved. We love. We will always have that because we lived. And all of that, plus so much more, is real.
Andrew came to visit me in my dreams last night and I can’t remember what happened but I don’t need to remember the dream to know that I love that kid and his presence in my life for 22 years is a gift beyond price. I thank the Universe for letting me be a part of that magnificent soul’s life here on earth.
Oh, Andrew. You’re my first baby. (Oh mama. You’re my second mama) He really did say that every time. I wonder.
My dad is the best dad in the universe. No, really. He is. More on him in future talks. Right now I’m still in shock from what I walked into yesterday at his apartment. As I am the youngest of 5 and the only girl I am obviously his favorite daughter and it shows. However, when my firstborn, Andrew, came along you would have thought my dad had completely forgotten about his 4 defenders and 1 shining goalie. We kind of became flat Stanleys for him because when Andrew arrived it’s as though the color came back into his life in an instant. Andrew was the sparkle in my dad’s eyes that had been lost when my mother died in 1971. With Andrew around and 2 years later when my youngest, Alec, was born my dad lived again. He would do anything for those boys. Anything. But Andrew really was the brilliant piercing sparkle. And that sparkle lasted for 22 years, 6 months and 19 days. Don’t get me wrong. He loves his other 7 grandkids and even Alec is so very special but the truth is there was something about Andrew and it is undeniable. Andrew touched him like no one has ever touched him including his favorite daughter. When Andrew died the little bit that was left of my dad’s shattered heart turned into dust. He went downhill quick and exactly one year to the day of Andrew dying my dad had a hemorrhagic stroke and almost didn’t make it. I spent a week sleeping in a chair at the hospital with him. Four weeks later he was back home but this time he went to “The Gardens”. Memory care.
Papi has been in The Gardens since June of 2019 making small progress and I have been visiting him daily, helping with everything. Everything. Hardest thing to live through other than the death of a child is becoming a “parent” to your own parent and watching them fade. To have to endure both things simultaneously is honestly enough to send anyone to the bin. I don’t know how I keep going. But here I am.
Yesterday when I walked into his room I was actually shocked because Bloomberg wasn’t on the TV. He watches Bloomberg 24/7. He was a numbers guy and although he can’t do his math any longer, he knows green is good and red is bad and he watches it all day long. So when I heard music coming from his TV I had to see if it was a commercial or something. It wasn’t. It was Jewel in concert on AXS. My dad doesn’t watch AXS nor does he listen to music and much less to Jewel. He wouldn’t know that I loved Jewel and the song Hands was a favorite of mine and that I played it in the car with both my boys for years when they were little.
“If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we’re all ok
And not to worry because worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I will not be made useless
I won’t be idled with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear”
I don’t believe it was an accident that I walked into this yesterday. This song, back in the day, used to make me cry and I would think “heartache came to visit me but I knew it wasn’t ever after” and felt so much sorrow that the tears would just flow. I would think about the sadness of losing and not ever really knowing my own mother yet also knowing that the immeasurable love I felt for my beautiful grandmother and my 2 precious children was a true blessing and the tears would flow. How true that heartache can visit but it doesn’t have to stay there all alone forever. We can allow love and happiness to come in again and I did. Not knowing that the universe had this other future sorrow in store for me just a mere 16 years (or so) later that would bring me to brink of wanting to die myself. Not knowing that I’d be tested again on my belief in hope and internal balance. I knew even back then that every little thing we have, feel, touch and smell is a fleeting thing but back in those days I would cry because I knew at that moment that I was blessed to be able to love again. I was a mother and my children allowed me to truly love again. Not knowing how devastating a loss I would meet again. I have been talking a lot recently about my frustration with having to take care of my dad and not be able to just run away to the beach for a couple of days for some grieving time. I know this may sound selfish and it may offend some but I feel completely robbed. Robbed of my beautiful child. Robbed of my happiness again. Robbed of my time and lastly robbed of my memory of my dad who was the strongest man I ever knew. I feel robbed of my time to grieve. I feel horrible. All. The. Time.
And then Jewel is singing her songs on AXS in my dad’s room yesterday and he’s just sitting there with his eyes on the TV and I know exactly what is happening here and why. I smile to myself and proceed to talk.
“Hey Andrew. I feel you. I know you want me to pay attention to the song again Andrew-baby. I know you see how I am slipping these days and turning towards the numbing agent of vodka again and you, of all the souls out there, know where this leads. I see you, Andrew.” (Mama! Live your life that the fear of death can not enter your heart.)
“We will fight, not out of spite for someone must stand up for what’s right Cause where there’s a man who has no voice there ours shall go singing”
Those lyrics never touched me until yesterday. It’s as though Andrew were in the room talking. That was him. Andrew’s soul was the “Stand up for what’s right and sing for the ones who have no voice” kind. He was there to remind me what I already knew and was beginning to lose focus of:
“My hands are small, I know, But they’re not yours they are my own But they’re not yours they are my own And I am never broken In the end only kindness matters In the end only kindness matters”
How could I not do the most for the dad who did the most for me and my children? How. I am not cut from that type of cloth. I will live my life that the fear of death will not enter my hear because in the end only kindness matters.
“Thanks, Andrew-baby. You’re my first baby!!” (Oh mama. You’re my second mama)
No. “No more pets” I had said after our big Yellow Lab and best friend, partner in crime, the drooler, Cooper passed in 2011. The boys and I agreed. Cooper had been with us since Alec was 1 and Andrew was 3. He grew up with the boys and was, in essence, their sibling. He went through the divorce with us and somehow knew to stick by the boy’s side just at the most needed times. He made messes and made us angry and made us laugh and we loved him deeply. He was our Coops the doops. We were all heartbroken when his time arrived and knew that was it. No more pets.
This morning I’ve been up listening to a cat which has learned to come in to our house in the middle of the night to eat and then it leaves. I’ve seen it hanging around outside on a few occasions and it is getting more comfortable being close by. Our other cats don’t seem to mind it too much either. This morning it has been crying outside and I just wish I could hold it and make it feel better.
Like it’s one of my kids.
While I try to figure out what to do I, of course, think of Andrew and how all of this personal crazy cat lady business began. I blame it all on his stubbornness and downright disregard for my wishes. “Jesus, Andrew. Now I’m up at 4 AM worrying and taking care of a cat which I can’t even pet and I’m not even sure if it will ever let me!” (oh, mama. YOLO *insert goofy laugh here*)
Kids. They know which buttons to push. Andrew met Katie in high school through a serendipitous event and those two ended up dating for years after. Those two were always at our house when they weren’t either at school or work doing all their we’re so happy together things and life was just rolling along with it’s usual twists and turns. And then that fateful day in the early summer of 2014 arrived.
I pulled up to the house with Rick and I see Andrew and Katie come outside to greet me. I was smiling and waving hello and they were smiling and saying hello when I noticed Andrew was carrying something. Small. Very small. I stopped in my tracks and knew.
There, in his arms, was a tiny little kitten.
“Take it back, Andrew” I said with a stern face. All the smiles ran away. Then I actually saw the little kitten. Looked at it. My eyes saw and my brain processed. And my heart. And I knew. The kids saw my eyes at that moment and they knew too. All the smiles came running back. And Gizmo became family that day.
Gizmo was the kind of cat who hung out at all the neighbor’s houses. He was adventurous, friendly, smart and very loving. He came home every day. We would call him and he would come home to our calls. Until he didn’t. October of 2015 he went out to play and never came home. We looked everywhere. We had to go pick him up at different places in the past. People would call us from his tag and we would go get him. He was never too far away. He is chipped and once we got a call from the pound because someone found him after he lost his collar and tag and turned him in. He was known all over town. The local police officer who lived in our neighborhood loved him. She took pictures of him inside her cruiser and would send them to me. He was a rock star. We have our suspicions of where he might be but we can’t be sure. I still look for him. You never know.
Gizmo was the first of three cats we ended up with and right now there’s a 4th cat who is quickly becoming “ours” albeit from a distance but still. Here I am at 4 AM figuring out how to get some food into it’s belly. All thanks to Andrew. My lover of nature and animals and sea life. Funny to think I actually said “Take him back”. No. It doesn’t work that way, does it? Not at all. Andrew knew I would never let Giz “go back”.
“When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home”
I normally wake up in shock and scared and it’s usually 4 or 5 AM when it happens. This blog is going to be a diary of sorts. I’m going to try and write down these conversations I have with myself every day since my Andrew died. It’s my grief voice doing it’s grief talks. We’ll see where this goes…
That poem was Andrew’s favorite poem and he truly lived in such a way that the fear of death never entered his heart. He lived that way since day one. The poem found him much later and he really felt a homecoming when he soaked it all in.
My first baby. (My second Mama)*
*Things I write in parentheses are things Andrew would actually say to me and I still hear him saying them.
I’ve lived a life with grief but nothing could have prepared me for the journey I’ve embarked on since the death of my first-born son on May 25, 2018. Andrew James Lefevre lived 22 magnificent years on this earth. He lives on forever in the space that we feel around us.
Quick background: I am a mom of 2 boys. Andrew and Alec. My babies. My guys. I’m also the youngest of 5 and the only girl which makes me my dad’s favorite daughter. My mother died in a car accident in Colombia, where we are from, in July of 1971. She was 38 years old. I was 3 and a half. That’s when my life with grief began. That’s when I started talking with me, myself and I. Silently yet: Loudly. Daily. Sanely. Insanely and always emotionally. My paternal grandmother moved in with us right after our mother died and stayed with us for the rest of her life. She even moved with us to the States in 1975 even though she had to leave everything she ever knew behind in Colombia. She became our rock. She saved my life with her blanket of love and compassion. She lived 98 magnificent years on this floating rock and died peacefully in my arms on December 12, 2007.
Why am I doing this now? Because my son was an unbelievable force on this earth and he made a fatal mistake one day because 22 year olds are still prone to acting impulsively. Andrew died from an accidental overdose of Fentanyl/Xanax/Alcohol combo and since his death I’ve met countless moms and dads and siblings and families who have lost their kids to the same thing and I’ve seen so many people fall apart completely and lose hope. When I lost Hope at the age of 3 and a half years my grandmother stepped in and let me cry and talk while she made me rice pudding or soft boiled eggs or pancakes or scrambled eggs. She wrapped me in her blanket of compassion and love and those things she did allowed hope to sneak back in. She brought a smile back to my face and softened my falls along the way. She was a giver. She raised me with a giving heart and I hope I can give to others a little bit of what she gave to me. I hope my gibberish will soften someone else’s fall.
Some say, “Hope anchors the soul” and I believe that. Hope is beautiful. My mother’s name is Esperanza. Esperanza is Hope in Spanish. The truth is: Hope never died. Hope lives eternally in the space we feel around us. Hope is always with us.