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Losing a Child: Always Andy's Mom

As a pediatrician, married mom of three biological children and one foster son, my life was busy, rushing off to my office four days a week, seeing patients for three and working as a medical director of a local physician organization for one. I balanced this with rushing off to shuttle my kids to after sports and other after school activities. All of this changed one day in August of 2018 when my 14 year old son, Andy, was killed in a car accident. I felt like my life was over, and in some ways it was over, and a new life was forced to begin in its place. 

Grief is seldom discussed openly in our culture, and the death of a child makes people feel even more uncomfortable. On this blog and podcast, ‘Losing a Child: Always Andy’s Mom’, the topic is approached openly and honestly, speaking to people who have lost loved ones and experts who help care for them. Whether you are a parent experiencing loss or someone who wants to support another going through this tragedy, this blog and podcast strives to offer hope and help.

Dec 19, 2019

To be honest, last Tuesday when I was scheduled to meet with other grieving mothers to record this episode, I was not feeling very hopeful at all. As I share in the episode, the days prior to this had been filled with many tears. Although I had tried to do my best to prepare for the holiday season, I felt like I was failing. I had been doing my best to follow Gwen's recommendations that she discussed in our Surviving the Holidays episode. It didn't seem like enough.

My whole family sat down the day after Thanksgiving at our cottage up north to make a list of what we would be doing in preparation for Christmas, and where we thought we should be that day to best get through our second Christmas without Andy. Last year, we had really just skipped everything. This year, I felt like we would be able to do more. As I talked with the kids, they seemed to indicate that they wanted to do almost all of our Christmas traditions. They wanted to decorate the house, put up our Christmas village, put up outside Christmas lights, and even bake and decorate Christmas cookies (my grandmother's recipe). The only thing that they decided against was a Christmas tree because they thought seeing all of Andy's ornaments would be too hard. (Peter actually asked if we could go get a fresh tree and put it up without decorating it. I told Peter that for me, an undecorated tree would be even more sad, so we decided to rule that out completely.)

Eric actually did not have too much to add except to say that he did not feel up to writing his annual Christmas letter. For any of you who knew us before the accident, you know that Eric always wrote a very funny Christmas letter summing up our family happenings for the year. He always took a unique perspective and the letter was loved by all. One year when we had a particularly harsh winter, he actually wrote the letter as if it was written by our snowblower! I was so relieved that he did not want to write a letter yet, because I was not at all ready to take a family Christmas picture without Andy in it.

We also decided that we would spend Christmas Eve and Day at the cottage just so we would not have to be at home with all of those old Christmas memories. I got up then, and got out the roughly half dozen Christmas decorations that we had up there. I also dug out the artificial tree that we got on clearance about 3 years ago and Peter and I put it up. There were no personalized ornaments there so that seemed better. I felt pretty good about this and thought I would be able to continue after we got back home.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Days passed and the decorations did not come out. The outside Christmas lights did not go up. The village buildings all stayed in their boxes in the basement. Cookies were not made. I kept waiting for a day when I would feel strong enough to do it myself or one of the kids would ask me about it. That day never came. Then the concert season started. Tears began to come more and more frequently. Shopping trips became more and more painful. I would have to send Eric to the store for milk because I couldn't face holiday shoppers. The strength that I felt the day after Thanksgiving was gone.

That was my mindset the day that I started recording, anything but hopeful. Gwen said something to me that day that you will hear her share in the episode. She said that if you weren't able to feel hope yourself, you could borrow hope from someone else. That's what listening to these stories and seeing those pictures did for me. They allowed me to feel a little bit of someone else's hope when I felt like I didn't have any myself. That experience seemed to give me a little bit of my strength back. I am still crying every day, but not the big sobs that never seemed to end. I have also forgiven myself for not being able to do all of the Christmas traditions requested by my kids. I certainly have already done more than last year. I have been purchasing gifts (all online), and I did decorate up north. Kathryn and I made plans to make the Christmas cookies together tomorrow. I also think that later today, I will put up my nativity scene. As for everything else, it will have to wait for another year.