Monthly Archives: October 2014

Is It My Fault?

Is it my fault?

Did I do something wrong? Did I miss something? Could I have done something differently?

What could I have done to save my child? Where did I drop the ball? Where did I let my child down?

andrew hockey 3There are many stages of grief. Some people say there are eight, some say there are five, while others say there are eleven or so. But this is the one stage of grief that everyone has on their list. Some call it anger – anger that we didn’t do something we could have – or that the doctors didn’t do something that we could have asked or pushed for. Some call it reflection – where we reflect on what happened and deal with it. While others call it self-blame. No matter what you call it, no matter where it lies on the list, no matter how much you don’t want to face it, every bereaved parent does. It is a healthy and a required step to deal with, and resolve, in order to move on to the next stage of your grief.

Fault, blame, responsibility, maybe omission, accountability. Whatever you call it –  was it my fault? That is the question that haunts so many of us.

A couple we are friends with, lost their child when she fell down a flight of stairs after she had drunk too much.  They were not there, she was in his twenties and lived alone. She came home from a wedding and while trying to open the door to her apartment, she lost his balance and fell backwards down the stairs. They blamed themselves for a long period of time. They were mad that they didn’t drive her home that last night to make sure she got into bed. They were mad that they didn’t teach her better not to drink so much, or to ask someone for help if she was in no condition to get home alone. But as off base as that is, as much as we all see it was not their fault, they still had to reflect on what they could have done differently. In no way could they have foreseen this. No way could they have brought her up differently to prevent this tragic accident. But still, it took them time to get over it and realize that they were not to blame.

For many parents, especially those of young men who pass away from drug overdoses, it is particularly hard. They looked at their sons over several months or years and watched as they deteriorated. They saw what was going on and the drugs taking over their child’s life. They helped them by sending them to rehab facilities, both locally and far away. They spent tens of thousands of dollars at the best places that were available. They helped their sons by bringing them to doctors who were so called “experts” on addiction. They educated themselves on addiction in order to help their boys. They stayed home with them when they needed it. They showered them with love and praise and gave them everything they could to help them get through the addiction.

And yet, they died. And yet, they still overdosed. They ran away from the facilities, they found the drugs they needed, they got back together with those who were such terrible influences on them. And they tragically died. Very young.

Those parents ask themselves every day – what could I have done differently? What more could I have done? Where did I fail my son? And they cry over it. Not only for their loss, but for the blame that they feel.

But they didn’t fail. There was nothing more they could have done. They tried their best and their children knew it. They spent their money wisely, and they did their research. But addiction is a massive disease, and there are no rehab facilities that really work. Addiction is overwhelming and all-consuming. Some people, especially those with co-occurring disorders(*), just can’t get over their addiction. The doctors and the therapists just don’t work sometime. It is hard for me to say, and hard for many to understand, but these young men were destined to pass away young. They were stricken not only with ADD, ADHD, OCS, but they also had very addictive personalities.

Their parents go through a long time of remorse and thinking of what else they could have done. And until they learn that they did everything they could have, it is hard for them to get over their grief and pain. No, it was not their fault. If their sons were here today, when they come to them in their dreams, when they come through a psychic, they all say – it wasn’t your fault – you did everything you could do.

CCI09222014_00001CCI09222014_00001Even for me, was it my fault? I look back and question myself. Three days before Andrew passed away he asked me for a new skateboard to go to and from classes with. His current one (of many) was getting old and slow. I of course wanted to make him happy, so we went out the next day and bought him one. It had great IBEK 7 gliding ball bearings built for speed, and wheels built for cornering and traction, and the board itself had great flex designed for control. But was it too much for him? Was the board over his abilities? If I had bought him a slower, cheaper, board maybe he would not have fallen that day and broken his hand. And if he had not fallen and broken his hand he would not have taken the medications the doctors prescribed. And if he would not have taken the medications, his lungs would not have shut down at night. And he would still be with us today. That thought process plays out in my head over and over again. And the doubt that I could have done something different is always there.

It has taken me a long time, but I realize it was not my fault. There was nothing that I could have done to stop what happened. If I had made him wear wrist guards, would that have helped? Maybe. Or a helmet? Maybe. But it was not to be. This is the way he was, this is the situation that happened, and what happened was a freak accident, and it caused my son his life. It changed so many other lives as well. But it was no one’s fault. It was not his fault, nor was it mine. And that has taken me a long, long time to realize.

A friend’s son passed away recently of complications from cystic fibrosis. She is going through the blame process now, and I feel for her. She was there to protect her son. She was there in the hospital to make sure he got the best medical treatment possible. She did all that. She fought for him, she guarded him, she held his hand. She did everything right – and yet he is gone. She is left with dealing with his loss and the blame game.

Unfortunately he was stricken with a debilitating and deadly disease. She loved him. He was a successful person in life because of her. He taught Yoga and Philosophy – that she should be proud of. In her thoughts, did she do enough to protect and save him? It will take her weeks, or months, or years. One day she will come to peace with her answer. She will be at ease, realizing that she did everything right. He passed away because of a disease – not because she missed something, or for something she could have done. She has to realize that one day in order to move on in life, in order to properly grieve, in order to smile one day. She will always cry for her loss, she will always cry for her son, but the tears will be of memories, not of fault.

We all have to realize that one day. As I said, for some it takes months, for others it takes years. And for some, the unfortunate few, it never happens.

Even for the parents of a child who passed away from a brain hemorrhage in just a few short hours – could they have gotten him to the hospital faster, or could they have recognized he was tired sooner? It was not their fault.

Or the parents whose child was kidnapped and murdered. Did they not teach her to be safer? Did they not give her the tools to properly protect herself? Did they not teach their son not to race his car? Where did they fail? Where did they mess up?

Or the child that passed away in a ski accident, or playing hockey, or from anorexia/bulemia. It was no one’s fault. It just happened.

Is it their fault? No. No. No. Easier said than accepted. Easier listened to than learned. It is one of those stages of grief that many grieving parents get stuck in – sometimes forever. But it is one that we all must face, and we all must look into the deepest recesses of our minds and deal with. We have to realize we did protect our children the best we knew how. We did everything we could have done to protect them, to love them, and to shelter them. But somehow they passed away. Somehow they got cheated out of the rest of their lives. And in order for us, those that they left behind, not to get cheated out of the rest of our lives, not to cheat the family that they left behind, we must face this question and answer it. Answer it only to ourselves. And then move on to loving our missing children forever, knowing that they are still loving us and will be there forever loving us.

“You cannot save someone – you can only love them” – anonymous

For more information on co-occurring disorders – please see the Harris Project –     Andrew & Nicole   Such different personalities

Is there ever a better time?

Andrew was 21. We had 21 amazing years with him. Julius was only two and a half. Lisa was thirty four.  But their losses are equally hard on us.

CCI09272014_00009We had Andrew for only twenty-one years. Or should we say we had him for a full twenty one years? We got to watch him grow up, to learn to walk and talk and go to school. We were able to be there with him to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah and to stand with him for his high school ice hockey senior night. We watched him graduate high school and get into his first choice college. We even got to help him select his major and make it three-quarters of the way there. We feel CCI10062014_00004so blessed for the time we had him.

Buy what did we miss?  There are so many things. We missed to chance to see him graduate from college. We missed him starting his first job and hearing about his first day at work. We miss joining him as he started a family, and having children of his own to raise. And most of all we missed him growing in a fine father and family man.  And we missed so much more.  But we did get to see so much.

Mark and Elaine had their wonderful daughter, Lisa, for thirty four years. They got to experience many of the childhood and teenage events we had with Andrew, plus more. They were there to celebrate their daughter’s graduation from law school. They saw Lisa grow into a successful attorney over the years, buy her own apartment in Manhattan, fill it with beautiful art, and make partner at her firm. These are things we will never see.

CCI09272014_00010But does that make it harder or easier on them losing her?  Are they more blessed than we were with the time we had Andrew? They got to see so much more than we did. They got to have their daughter for another twelve or so more years than we had our son. They experienced so much more. So maybe it is harder – they became so much more attached over those years and grew to know her so much more. Or was it not so devastating? She had lived a lot longer, she experienced more, and she left them with so many more memories.

And then there is Julian. He passed at only two and a half years old of a brain hemorrhage. His parents were only able to shower him with love and affection for thirty-two months. Were they better off than us?  Their time together was so much shorter. But they never got to hear Julian speak his first sentences or watch him learn to run and play. They never saw him make friends or have his first day in school. He never told them that he loved them – like Andrew told us so often.  That must hurt them so much never to have heard these words. They nurtured him for two and a half years, only to have him taken away suddenly and with no warning.

And now they live with watching other children, Julian’s friends and relatives, grow up all around them. They know in their minds that Julian would have started school this year – and they missed dropping him off his first day. His friends are now speaking and talking in sentences and asking questions. They are running around and playing and growing, something that they will never experience with their son.

Is it harder on the grieving parent who only had their child a short time and never got to experience these milestones of their children’s lives? They put so much time, patience and love into the earlier years and to have nothing to show for it all of a sudden. Now they have to live their entire lives asking themselves what would it have been like if our beloved child was still here. Or is it easier on them because they never had the years to get attached to their child and to develop that relationship that takes years and years?

How about the child that passed at fifty of cancer? He leaves behind a loving wife and three young children. How hard it is on his parents? They had him for so many years, he has left behind a legacy of grandchildren that will continue to grow and love. Although he is not with us anymore, his family is, and that means so much.


It's not just us who lost Andrew. Everyone lost him.

It’s not just us who lost Andrew. Everyone lost him.

Now for the reality? There really is no difference. No one suffers less, no one suffers more. How long we had our child makes no difference at all. The parent who lost their daughter after a year suffers just as much as the one who’s love was for twenty-one years, or fifty years. The fact is, losing a child is a devastating loss.  There are no words that can be spoken to a parent who lost a child to give them comfort. The loss is so devastating, so indescribable, that there is not even a term to describe a parent who has lost a child – for any reason, at any age. It is something that just puts a parent into a place that can not even be described.

Why did I write this then? Why, if it is so hypothetical, so speculative, to compare the losses? Because it is something that we talk about in our bereavement groups. It is something that other parents talk to us about, both bereaved and those lucky enough not to be. It is something that should be talked about and needs to be talked about.

There is a saying that we hear a lot in our new circles – it almost sums it up.
When you lose a parent, you lose your past.
When you lose a spouse, you lose your present.
But, when you lose a child, you lose your future.

I hope you understand this.

Keeping my relationship with Andrew alive

What does it mean to have a relationship with someone? Does it mean talking to them on a consistent basis? Seeing them once in a while? Having fun together? Bouncing ideas off of them? It means a lot of different things to different people, and it is almost impossible to really define. But as I see now, it takes on a whole new definition; a whole new set of parameters.

CCI09272014_00011I still have a relationship with my Andrew. I need to. It has evolved into something different, and is still evolving. It is very esoteric, very emotional, almost hypothetical. But it is still my relationship with my son. and as I said before, I need to have this relationship if I am going to stay sane and emotionally stable for the next five, ten, or whatever years I have left.
IFIt is very different from my relationship with Nicole. I see her every couple of weekends. I get to watch her play hockey and get to cheer for her. I get to hug her after games and tell her how proud I am of her. We go out to dinner, I take care of her fish, I get to help her wash and clean her car, and we text once in a while (probably more than we talk). I get to ask her how school is, I worry about her when she is hurting, and share in her joys when she is happy or excited about something in life.

DSC_0217With Nicole, we are still growing. The relationship we have is still developing, and will for our entire lives. I find joy in making her happy. I love to cook for her when she is home and eagerly await her feedback about my attempts. She is coming home this weekend for a few days. I am making a frittata with caramelized tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, and onions for breakfast of Saturday and inviting grandma over. Saturday night I am grilling marinated flank steak, seasoned sliced baked potatoes, spinach, and some dumplings for an appetizer.  I am making spinach pasta with fried panchetta one night with grilled romaine lettuce and blue cheese salad. And we are making fresh sushi rolls together on Monday (spicy shrimp rolls, shrimp tempura rolls, salmon rolls, and more).

It’s a lot of work, but it is more enjoyment than work. It gives us time together when we prepare and cook – time that I cherish. Deeply. The one comment that we will make a few times over the weekend – Andrew would have liked this. Or maybe he wouldn’t have. But we will talk about him. We will keep our relationship with Andrew alive through our conversations about him. We use the soy sauce that he loved and that he picked out – he was very picky about his soy sauce and only let us buy one brand. Maybe we won’t say anything about it, but we know we are using his soy sauce, and that would make him happy.

But back to Andrew….

I still talk to him. I still tell him how I feel, how I miss him, what I am feeling at that moment, that I still can not believe he is gone. I sit in his room sometimes and look around and imagine him there. I remember the good times when he used to build with his Lego’s, and when he used to take apart his paintball guns and replace parts and rebuild them. I keep his closet clean, I refold his clothes for him once in a while, and rearrange things around his room so I can see different things at different time. I have his Titans Hockey jacket hanging on his doorknob now so I see it every time I walk down the hall. Before that it was his black and white checker flannel shirt.

He is no longer physically here, he no longer tells me about life and what he is doing. But on many levels I am much closer to him now than I ever was. I used to think about him a lot. I used to have him in my thoughts much of the time, as well as Nicole. But now he is constantly in my heart, he is constantly with me. My relationship with Andrew is still very give and take. I get so much comfort thinking about the wonderful, but much too short life he enjoyed. I get a smile on my face knowing that he loved life, he loved what he did, he loved to travel and snowboard and live in Boulder. He loved his friends, and he had such a great relationship with his close friends that he enjoyed. The thoughts he gives me are cherished, and the memories he gave me for twenty one years are what keeps me going these days.

I started to scan the photographs we have from when Andrew and Nicole where born, to when we got digital cameras. There are hundreds of them, and I look at each one and smile as I set it down on the scanner. Each one of them brings back memories and builds my relationship with him.

Some can say that he is no longer here, and can’t give me anything going forward. I disagree. Just like a father who’s children grow older, move away and start their own loves, he is left with the memories of them growing up, going to school, playing sports, and traveling. These are the same memories I have of my son. As I remember them through thought or pictures, they build that relationship with Andrew. And they keep that relationship alive for as long as I can remember him and in my thoughts and love him in my mind.

CCI09272014_00000As we get older, we forget things in life. We get new memories and forget the old one’s, it is a natural cycle. That is why I have to keep my relationship with Andrew growing. I can’t bear to lose a single thought of him. I can’t bear to forget a single detail of what he did in life, and how he looked and how he smelled, and how he drove, and how he loved. This is why I write about him. I need to be able to one day look back over these journals and pictures and make sure I never forget Andrew.


Just One Day

Dreams and fantasy – that is what helps us all get through the day. No matter how real or unrealistic they are, they help us survive.

The one dream I have, along with other grieving parents, is that one more day. That one day that I can have Andrew back. I have no other dreams or wishes. Just one. Just to have him back for one day.

What would we do? I have given that so much thought. I have spent hours sitting in the chairs by his fire pit thinking about it, planning out the day, wondering what it would be like.

What comes to mind is to talk to him the entire day – that is if I could ever let go of the hug I would give him first. We would have breakfast – a frittata with eggs and potatoes – he loved to wake up to that in the morning. Although I have been making it for a while now, he still loves Grandmas the best. I am sure he would hug Daphne and Buzz. Every morning the first thing he did was to jump on my bed and roll around with the dog and cat, hug them, shower them with praises, and make them feel so very loved.

After we eat, I am sure he would want to take a shower – a long hot shower. He really relaxed in the shower and always said it gave him piece of mind. I still have his body soap in the shower, and I actually bought a couple of more of them – Dove Men’s Care Extra Fresh. Once in a while when I shower I will use just a dab of it. Just that little dab makes the whole bathroom smell the way I remember Andrew. It brings back such a visceral memory of him – like he is standing there and I can still smell him. It hurts, but the memory is so clear and vivid.

Perry 10004

My father holding me and my sister, many years ago.

We would sit outside by his fire pit, all four of us, and talk for hours. There is so much I wanted to tell him, but never got the chance. Of course he knew he was loved so much, but there is so much more. There are things you wait to tell your son as he grows up, everything in time. But we have no more time. I told him a little about my dad, but not enough. I told him about how I grew up, and the difficult time I had without a father, but did I ever tell him that it worked out okay? I don’t know, but maybe he knew that. What did he think of me as a father? I promised him I would take care of my health and do my best to be there for him and Nicole as long as I could during their lives. I never broke that promise.

dads stuff


And the things I have for him, I want to show them to him. The things he was supposed to have one day. I have my father’s war ribbons and decorations (he earned a Silver Star as well as two Purple Hearts) and his Eagle Scout patches.  – Stuff that I am so proud of, that I wanted him to know about. But I wanted him to be a little older, a little more mature, before I shared them with him. Maybe after college. I wanted him to have my grandfathers cuff links – they are so beautiful. It was supposed to be his gift when he started his first job. They are still in my jewelry box now, but I know what I am going to do with them at least. I have a baseball that was given to me by my team when I played little league so many years ago, that was signed by everyone on the team. It has been on my work bench getting worn all these years. I only played one year, but I drove in the winning run one game and they gave me the signed game ball. My father was so proud of me that game; I remember it to this day. That is something I would have wanted him to keep on his desk, or have on his night stand for him to remember me by one day when I was gone. I would spend some time showing him these things – knowing he can’t take them with him, but that he would appreciate knowing about.

Hey, do you know how to set up a NAS box? Or do you know how to change anti-freeze or change the oil in your car? Can you help me fix this thing or that thing? Have you ever seen 2001: Space Odyssey, or Animal House? Wanna watch it with me today? These are all things that I have thought about since he is gone. All the things that I never got to say to him, show him, teach him. So many things that I probably would need more than a day. But I would have such a need to show him so much stuff – just so he would know.

We would just sit there and talk. Dorothy, Nicole and I would just look at Andrew and feel so lucky to have these hours with him.

Andrew used to be upset that it took me too long to do some projects around the house, procrastinating until I eventually got to them. He would joke that maybe it would be done before he came home for the summer, or came home for spring break. Well I’ve gotten through the list of those projects, and I would want to show him that. I know he would smile, and that I have learned not to procrastinate too much. That is something that always bothered him, and I promised him I would change it – and even now I am keeping my promise to my son.

We would leave him alone with Nicole for a while. He wants to hear about how she is doing in college? How difficult it was for her – her first day of school without him there to talk to. How was your first year, he would ask. How are your teachers and your classes. And most important – how is the food in school? He would tell her stories of his first few years of college, and how sorry he is that he never got the chance to finish. He would be so proud of her playing college hockey, and wearing his number to honor him. Andrew was a person of few words, but I am sure he would tell her so much about college and how proud he is of her and what she has accomplished so far in her life.

There is so much more to the day that I imagine.

snowboard2But after I write all this, after I think about all of this, it would not really be like this. We would spend the day, the entire day, with Andrew snowboarding in Vail. That is what he loves, that is what set him free, emotionally. They might have beautiful mountains where he is now, but nothing like Vail. Why would I be so greedy as to deny him one more, one last day of snowboarding. There is so much we need to tell him, need to show him, need to hold him. But he knows all that. We would just let him snowboard. And we would be there and watch him smile, try to keep up with him, and just let him enjoy his day, not ours. It would be his day.



And then we would sit there together as the sun goes down over the mountains. And, as he told Dorothy when he came to her in her sleep on Mother’s Day, he would get up and say “You know I have to go now”.