Last month marked a year of Andrew being gone. It was an awful way to start out 2015 and I carried that feeling with me through the rest of the year. The day he died wasn’t real. It didn’t feel real anyway. I felt like I was in that scene in a movie where they’ve sped everyone else up and you see all of these blurred people and lights moving behind and around this one person standing still in the middle of it all. I couldn’t catch up to what had happened. I couldn’t sort through all of the thoughts and the questions. One year later, I’m still sorting through it all. I try to remind myself of the lessons I learned and how grateful I am to have this life, my husband, my family, my friends, everything. I try to remind myself not to take anything for granted. I need to get this story down and I should have months ago. I wish I remember more. I wish I forgot some.
January 19, 2015 started out like any other Monday morning. I got ready for work with a 5 month old clingy baby West slung on my hip. On this day, all 4 of our kids were sick. West was fussy and had a runny nose. The others had fevers and were lethargic. I packed my lunch. I took my phone off the charger and saw a text from my older brother, Jason.
Andrew’s not breathing. The ambulance is here. Call me when you can.
I remember feeling so confused.
Of course I called him immediately. I can’t remember if he was crying then or really pissed or numb. We’d both cycled through so many emotions that day. He told me the story of what happened. I had questions. I couldn’t comprehend. Nothing seemed to make sense.
Jason woke up at some point early that morning to hear my mom asking him for help (he lived with her at the time). Andrew wasn’t breathing. He heard her counting. She was on the phone. She had called 911 and they instructed her to perform CPR. My mom is a small woman and somehow she managed to pull Andrew, who weighed more than her, off of his bed onto the floor to perform CPR. She gave her breath to him and counted some more. The paramedics were on their way. They were there by the time I called Jason.
I was in the 11th grade when my mom was pregnant with Andrew. I was looking forward to having a baby in our house. I love my mom but there’s no denying that we were living a dysfunctional life. I’m grateful for that now because I see more of the wonder and good in my life where it is now, coming from that place so long ago. In my delusional teenage years, I thought a baby would change everything, would make our lives brighter would fill the void in my heart.
The morning after my junior prom I was at my friend’s house. I was there almost every day. She lived just over a half mile from the little apartment above a garage where we lived. Her stepdad had one of those radios that you could hear police or ambulance dispatchers – I have no idea what it was and I’m not sure I even paid much attention to its existence before that day. It was May 2, 1998, and someone told me that they heard over the radio that my mom was having the baby. Maybe it was my friend’s mom. It was too early for my mom to have the baby, by maybe 3 or 4 months. I don’t remember much of what I did next but I do remember running the whole way home. I was excited and scared. I saw the ambulance parked at the end of the gravel driveway. I can almost still hear my sneakers on the wood stairs as I ran up them and walked through the door. I wasn’t expecting so many people. I saw the backs of strangers surrounding my mom and the baby. Someone turned towards me. My mom said, “Is that Jenny?” I don’t remember much from that day. I remember my mom telling me that she was going to the bathroom and the baby came out. She walked over to the window and saw our landlord’s kids playing outside. She asked them to get their mom, I think or maybe she told them to have their mom call 911. We didn’t have a phone yet because we’d just moved in.
Andrew weighed only 3 pounds. My mom spent a while (months maybe?) with him in the NICU. I can’t remember how long. I know I went there at some point to see him and hold him but I don’t remember much from then. I remember one day my mom came home from the hospital and we were standing on that dusty, gravel driveway. It was sunny and warm. She told me Andrew had Down’s Syndrome. I was upset. I may have cried. I’m honestly not sure why. I was 16 and although mature in many ways immature in handling my emotions or not handling them, I guess. I thought he wouldn’t be able to do the things I’d dreamed in my mind of us doing together? I have no idea. It doesn’t make sense to me now and I didn’t feel that way for long. I grew up with a great aunt with Down’s Syndrome. I knew her well. She was fun to be around. She was kind and funny. I’m glad to have had her in my life.
Andrew was my little baby that summer. I took him for walks. I cuddled with him in my bed. I fed him and changed him. His hair was long. Once I teased it straight up and put hair spray in it. He was so cute. He was such a good baby. He hardly ever cried. He’d give me that smile where just the little corner of his mouth went up. He stared at me. I loved him so much.
Over the years we weren’t as close as those early years. I moved away to South Carolina for 18 months. I came home to visit during that time but when I came home for good I couldn’t live with my mom again. My life went on away from her and Andrew. I saw him sometimes but not nearly enough. Then I eventually got married and started my own family. Eric and the kids were my priority. I’m still working on letting go of my feelings of regret from that. After he died I scanned my memory over and over again. When did I hug him last? Did I hug him when he came over for Christmas just a couple of weeks prior? Did I even say goodbye to him? Did I take having him in my life for granted? I most certainly did. When was the last time I told him I loved him? Why didn’t I ever go and pick him up and spend time with just him? Having my little life tucked away in my home with my family and shutting out everything else made me feel sick all of a sudden. I was so wrapped up in my life that I didn’t take enough time for anyone outside of my bubble. Not even Andrew. The brother who was a best friend to my children. He was so gentle and so kind with them. He shared his toys with them. The love he had for them was so beautiful. He was the most selfless person I’ve ever known.
I was on the phone with Jason and he told me that he was in his room. The paramedics were there trying to save Andrew. I cried. I got angry. I was confused. I’m sure I swore. How did he not know what was going on? Where was mom? It was all so strange. My mom was downstairs talking to the coroner, Andrew was upstairs. Jason wasn’t leaving his room. My mom lives about 40 minutes away. I had sick kids. I was on my way to Target to get medicine for them. It sounds crazy now, I know. I was in this state of shock. Jason said he’d call me back.
When I got to the parking lot in Target I think Jason called me then. Andrew was dead. I sat in my car and it felt like my sobs were rocking the car. I still had to go in to get medicine for the kids. I called my boss and told her what happened and that I wouldn’t be in that day. I don’t know why I called her first, maybe it was because it was getting late. I hadn’t even called Eric back at home to confirm that the worst had happened. I quickly walked through target with red, teary eyes. I may have even been crying through the store. I honestly don’t remember. I quickly drove home and left the medicine on the porch and drove to my mom’s house. I think I called my best friend then. I wish I had all of my memories straight from that day but it was a mess. I remember being on the phone with someone (maybe Jason) as I pulled onto the on ramp of the expressway heading east to my mom’s house. I remember crying and yelling. I was mad now. I didn’t understand. I felt like he was taken.
When I got to the toll booth I went through the E-ZPass lane forgetting that our tag was in the van and I was in the car. I remember being worried about that and almost calling E-ZPass to tell them so I wouldn’t get a ticket. I was hysterical. I came to my senses and didn’t call but when I got to the exit I went through the booth and told the attendant something along the lines of, “my brother died and I went through the E-ZPass lane back there and I don’t have my E-ZPass with me and…” I was a blubbering mess. I’m pretty sure I was crying. I paid him and went on my way. I think he said he was sorry.
When I got to my mom’s house there were a couple of police officers there and the coroner. I think they may have spoken to me before I went inside or maybe it was later. They asked me questions about my mom and about Andrew. They told me they were sorry for my loss. I went inside. My mom was sitting at her dining room table. She sat slouched over in her chair The room was dark. The only light that came into the house was from the front door. I could tell that she was exhausted and this emotional storm was only just beginning. I hugged her and she cried into my hair. I think I cried too but maybe not. I had already cried so much that morning that by the time I got there I felt like there wasn’t much emotion left in me.
Andrew was upstairs on the floor in the doorway of his room. His head was in the hallway and his feet were in his room. He was covered up to his chin with a black blanket. His toes stuck out from underneath it. I think Jason asked me if I wanted to see him. Maybe the coroner did. I did want to see him. Just one last time. I don’t know why. I don’t know what good it would do. There was so much I missed. So many times I should have gone out of my way to see him and I didn’t.
I walked to the top of the stairs and over to his room. I was still wearing my coat and boots. I stood over him and looked down at him lying there so still. He still had a resuscitation device in his mouth. I reached down and touched his forehead with the tips of my fingers. He was cold. I stood there staring at him for a minute maybe longer. I went back downstairs. I may have talked to the coroner more then. I know he wanted to talk to me again about the whole process. He told me how Andrew’s insulin levels were really high. He asked me some questions. We were waiting for the morgue to come and take Andrew. It took forever. I’m pretty sure it was over an hour. I remember the coroner and police officers speaking in hushed voices about how long it was taking. I felt so overwhelmingly sad for Andrew who was upstairs on the floor all alone. We were here in the house. People were talking and Andrew was just up there.
At one point my mom needed her inhaler but it was in Andrew’s room. She couldn’t go up there so I did. I had to step over his body on the floor to get into the room. I can’t explain the feeling I felt when I had to step over him like that but I felt terrible about it and I cried as I did it. I thought about my kids who would never play with him again. I felt all that guilt creep in again. When did I hug him last?
When someone dies there are all of these things you need to do. How people do this when a loved one dies is beyond my comprehension. But they do and we did. It’s strange to plan a funeral and talk about costs and expenses and who will write the obituary and who will handle the remembrance cards and the million and one other things that had to be done when we were trying to mourn the loss of Andrew. The morning after he died Siri woke up with hives and threw up. I packed up all 4 of the kids in the van before Eric got home from work and took them to see their pediatrician. Siri, who was 5 at the time, had her first ever ear infection. West had a double ear infection. I was emotionally exhausted. I cried in front of the doctor. I told her my brother had just died the day before. I was a wreck. There were bags under my eyes and I would cry at any given moment. I talked openly to the kids about this. They are so young and might not remember, but maybe they will. I told them I missed Andrew and that I was so sad that he was gone. I reminded them that he was my brother. I told them I was sad that I would never get to see him again.
Two weeks after Andrew died I went to pick up his urns (one for Jason, one for me and a larger one for my mom). They were made in the wood working shop at Andrew’s school. I sat in the seating area waiting for the teacher to bring the urns to me. I saw a class of small children with Downs walk the hall in a line. They were happy and giggling. I thought of little Andrew and the years that slipped by. I cried sitting there. Andrew loved his school. The shelves in his room were filled with the things he’d made there. I asked my mom if I could have a bright and colorful vase he made. It looks to be made of paper mache with bright squares of tissue paper covering it. I think of what Andrew looked like while he was making it, his large hands placing a small square in just the right place. I imagine him quiet and looking up at others around him from time to time. I see him smiling and nodding his head with his eyes closed to acknowledge someone speaking to him. I hear his laugh. The most genuine, pure laugh I’ve ever heard. When I’m reminded of him I try to play that sound over and over again in my mind. I worry that one day it will slip from my memory.