Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Birth Month - Day 31

Well, today is the last day of Andrew's birth month.  It has been bittersweet to write this month's posts while reflecting back over his life.  At times I am in awe of how he touched other people and then sadness overcomes me when I realize he is no longer here.  The other night, just as I was drifting off to sleep I heard him say "Mom" clear as a bell.  I jumped out of bed looking for him and then realized he was not there and began crying.  I long to see him, talk to him, or just give him a hug - just one more time.

Anyway, I thought it would be fitting to end the month with another keepsake I have.  Some things I'll keep forever, and this is one of them.  Andrew loved lacrosse shorts, as we all know, but he also had quite the t-shirt collection.  After Matt and Natalia took the t-shirts they wanted to keep, I sent the rest off to be made into a blanket.  They really do tell the story of his life.  Here it is.

The top row - sort of tough to see - but these were shirts from vacations and one from our church.
The next three rows were all about his love of Nike, motorcycles, the Braves, video games, and of course - the USA red, white, and blue!
Next up is Duluth Lacrosse - he loved that game.
The last row was how he supported breast cancer - a cause close to our hearts having lost my step-mom to the disease in 2000 and then nearly losing my aunt a few years ago (she is doing well now)!

This is such a fabulous blanket and it is totally Andrew.  Now I am ready for fall and winter as I have two amazing blankets (remember the one his team at work gave me with pictures) to keep me warm.

I miss you buddy!  Stupid motorcycle.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Birth Month - Day 30

As Andrew’s birth month is nearing the end, I thought I would share a very personal letter I received.  This is a letter from a woman I have never met, but am completely jealous of, yet at the same time eternally grateful to her.  You see, she was the one who held Andrew the day of his crash.  She was the one who encouraged him to hang on, letting him know the ambulance was coming, and she cared enough to ask for his name.  Then she cared enough to let me know he was not alone.  While I’ll always wish I could have been the one to hold Andrew as he died so I could tell him one last time how much I loved him, I am thankful God chose this woman (I’m not using her name to protect her privacy – she will see this and can comment if she is okay with others knowing it was her) to be in Andrew’s life, even if only for minutes.  Here is her story:

“Dear Ms. Carson,

My name is XXX.  I am writing to you about your son Andrew.

I was at the scene of Andrew’s accident.  I thought some information about that day might bring you some comfort and closure.  I hope this letter provides some of both for you.

This is an incredibly difficult letter to write.  To find the words to express my experience at the accident is quite challenging.  I wrote a statement for the police report, but kept it as plain and factual as possible, leaving out the emotions and thoughts I’ve had.  I assume you’ll have access to the police report once they finish, and can read that info if you so choose.  I’m writing this letter to express the human side, the emotional side, the thoughtful side of my experience.

I have looked at your Facebook page several times.  I’ve also read the blog you’ve been writing recently about grieving Andrew.  I hope that this is ok.  It has helped me process all that happened and helped me to know you might want this letter.

The day of the accident I was driving from my house in Canton, to my brother-in-law’s house in Monroe, GA.  I had 2 of my kids with me.  I was running late, and some “random route” that wasn’t even what google maps was telling me to take.

I was filling up my van with gas at the time of the accident, at the gas station right there.  I heard the crash, but did not see it.  Many people ran over to the accident scene.  I finished my gas purchase and drive my van over to see if I could do anything to help, although wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do, having my kids in the car with me.

There was a crowd of people around the scene.  I asked a few people what had happened.  I was informed it was a motorcycle and car crash.  It was then that I saw Andrew, lying on the ground near his bike.  Before I could ask anyone for information on what happened, I saw Andrew pick up his head and try to move.

I ran to him. I told him not to move. Another young man, probably around 20 years old was near him telling him the same thing.  Without much thinking or hesitation, I cradled Andrew’s head and neck to help him hold still.  I told him my name, that I would help him, told him 911 has been called, told him help was coming.  I hope that he heard me, and I am confident that he knew I was there with him.  He stopped trying to move and his head rested on my forearm.

Another lady named XXX (also protecting her privacy), prayed over all of us.

I desperately wanted to call him by his name.  Saying “sir” when talking to him didn’t feel right/enough.  The guy that was kneeling with me next to Andrew helped to find his work badge in his backpack.  We were able to call him by his name at that point.  I wanted him to feel surrounded by people that cared enough to help, cared enough to call him by his name.

I do not know at what point he lost consciousness, but I did notice his head got heavier on my arm and his breathing was getting more labored.  But I talked to him regardless, I wanted him to know he was NOT alone.

As the sirens and emergency vehicles were heard/seen, I was telling him to hold on.  I telling him they were near.  Me and the other guy were telling him to breathe!!!  There were longer and longer spaces between each breath.  But he did keep fighting to breathe, especially every time we would call his name.  I had hoped that if he was able to survive the impact of the crash, he may have a chance of surviving the accident.

The paramedics took over, and I walked away to check on my kids in the van.  It was not until Friday evening that I was able to do some searching on google and found out Andrew had not survived his injuries.  It was then I realized I probably was holding him in some of his last moments and breaths.  I hope and pray that I brought comfort to him in those moments.  I kept thinking that if it was my brother or my son, or my husband, I wouldn’t want them to have been alone.  And I am thankful for the opportunity through God’s providence to have been there with Andrew.

I am writing this letter to make sure you know Andrew was not alone.  He was prayed over.  People tried to help him as best they could.

I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to injuries and blood and such.  But I wanted you to know I was brave for your son.  I do not allow my panic or fear to settle in.  I wanted to be a source of comfort and peace for him in what had to have been a painful and scary time.

I am a very religious person, and have asked many people to pray for me, Andrew, you, and all those who loved him.  From your writings, it appears you have faith in Jesus as well.  Please know HUNDREDS of people have been praying for you all.  Being very religious and being present at the accident scene so close to Easter, my experience of the Easter promise this year was intense.  I am thankful fate/life/God had me running late and on some “random route” to my destination that Thursday.  Like I said, I have looked at the things you’ve posted on Facebook in an effort to get to know the man that has so immensely impacted my life through this experience.  The pictures on Facebook show Andrew with such gentle and warm eyes!

I cannot imagine the grief you must be experiencing in losing your child.  I am so sorry for your loss.  As I stated earlier, I hope this letter is helpful in your grieving process.

With much love and prayer,

Thank God good people still exist, jump in to help in a crisis, and offer comfort to those who grieve.  I am truly blessed and in awe of a God who would make sure Andrew was surrounded by love.  Although thanks do not seem to be enough, it is all I have to offer this woman.  My deepest and sincerest thanks go to her daily for what she did for Andrew.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Birth Month - Day 29

When Andrew was growing up he was always quiet and shy.  I often wondered did he not stand a chance with Matt and I since we were always so loud.  Then as he got into middle and high school I learned he was quite the talker.  I thought perhaps the teachers were contacting the wrong parent but soon learned Andrew was indeed spreading his wings and talking up a storm.  After he died I was desperate to hear stories about him from other people, whether they knew him well or not.  I just wanted to know people remembered him fondly.  I have plenty of my own stories of Andrew, but as a mother, I wanted to know that other people genuinely liked him.  I wanted to know others who loved him and saw good in him too.  I needed to know his life mattered and impacted others.  I was not disappointed.  I received many cards, letters, notes, emails, and texts full of wonderful memories.  As I look back on them today, I wanted to share a couple from two people who didn't know him that well, but thought enough of him to send me these notes.  Thank you to everyone who loved Andrew and many thanks for sharing your stories.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Birth Month - Day 28

Teachers play an important role in the lives of our children.  I knew when Andrew liked or disliked a teacher within the first week of the class.  Their level of enthusiasm and ability to capture and hold his attention meant he would have a good semester.  Too much homework or the same old boring thing he already mastered meant he would do just enough to get through the class but he wouldn't enjoy it or learn anything new.  I knew how the teacher impacted his life, but I never knew how he impacted their lives, until he died.

Below are two notes I got from three of his teachers - all Language Arts teachers - which was odd to me, because I always thought Andrew preferred science and math.  I was touched they took the time to reach out and recall how Andrew made a difference for them.  I am grateful to them and hope they all continue to teach and shape the minds of future generations.

And this came in email:

Dear Ms. Carson,

I originally wrote this on Good Friday, when I heard of Andrew’s passing. I wanted to send you a personal letter or card, but just couldn’t find it in myself. Then, I was going to send you a type-written letter.  And then I lost my words. Please read what I have to say. It’s my original message and more:

Where do I begin?  I suppose with an apology for sending a type-written letter.  I am a big believer in tradition and find it terribly inappropriate that anyone would send such a thing as I am doing now—without the cursive handwriting and sloppy penmanship—without the teardrops that blur the ink (although I promise you, the keyboard of my laptop is definitely soaked).  But I’m doing it.  I’m typing my condolences.  In my defense, modern technology makes it so much easier to compose my thoughts, edit them, and make them more coherent.

Andrew was a student in my sixth grade language arts class at Duluth Middle School.  It was my first year teaching middle school.  Ever.  I was much younger, much more optimistic, and much more passionate about my career when I taught your son.  Previously, I worked in marketing, mostly in Las Vegas.  I was a copywriter and advertising coordinator. I liked my job but I knew it was an empty promise.  I wanted to be more like my mother—I wanted to be a teacher.  I left my demanding job at Boyd Gaming and took a lowly paying position at a Catholic School to pursue my Master’s Degree.  At the time, this little office job was more convenient and conducive to what I ultimately wanted.  And then somehow, by the Grace of God, (and a newspaper advertisement in the Chicago Tribune), I learned about Gwinnett County Public Schools.  After graduating, I packed my bags and started over. 

That’s when I met Andrew. This is where I pause and struggle with my words.  Maybe they won’t be articulate or meaningful.  But they are true.  I remember Andrew’s freckles and his moppy hair. I remember how easily he blushed when I teased him. He was very quiet mostly. Almost solemn.   He was the kind of boy that had a story, but nobody knew what it was.  On the outside, Andrew was the quintessential All-American boy. Andrew was handsome, rugged, athletic.  He was a good student.  He was popular and loved by his classmates, yet I always sensed there was something more.  Maybe he was wise beyond his years.  I will never know.

Then Andrew became a stranger to me.  I say this both lovingly and jokingly. I struggle with my words even more now—trying to remember something that is actually so fresh in my mind.  On social media, I asked former students to help me move my classroom when I learned that I would be transitioning from sixth grade to seventh grade at Duluth Middle School.  The girls from Andrew’s class were excited!  I would provide them with lunch (pizza and pop) and then we would spend some time together.  I never heard from Andrew or even expected him.  And then he showed up.

And this is how it went:  I saw a big, strong man walking through the halls of Duluth Middle School.  I asked him if he was lost.  He said, “Ms. Opalka, it’s me.  Andrew Carson.”  I couldn’t believe it.  Andrew was unrecognizable.  Ironically, that’s how I remember him. A dichotomy.  A young, rosy faced boy all grown-up.  Lifting furniture.  Helping.  Moving.  A deep voice.  Funny. Sweet.  Still quiet.  He was a gentleman.  And that’s it. My last interaction with him. Quick. Casual. We ate our pizza and went about separate ways. And that was that. 

And now is now. Life toys with us, I suppose.  Again, I apologize that it’s taken me so long to write this, to contact you personally. As a teacher who truly loves her students, Andrew will always be in my heart. You and your family will always be in my prayers.  Best wishes.

With great care and comfort, 


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Birth Month - Day 27

If you've ever had the pleasure of spending the night with Andrew, chances are you saw him sleepwalking.  Andrew was a sleepwalker for as far back as I can remember.  When he was around 5 he would sleeprun - screaming that Matt was after him and he needed to hide.  That also happened occasionally when he was awake.  He would also say amusing things that made no sense like, "What about the horses?".  Other times he would pick at stains on the carpet thinking they were pieces of paper or something that needed to be thrown away.

Three of my most memorable sleepwalking stories of Andrew are:

1) Matt had some friends over, specifically to watch Andrew sleepwalk.  They even armed themselves with weapons in case Andrew tried to attack them - of course an attack never happened, but the boys had a good laugh.

2) Andrew ran outside and when Matt went to retrieve him, Andrew took off down the street.  I had to coax him back inside.  No idea what made him run outside.  Matt can actually tell those two stories better.

3) One night, after everyone had gone to bed, Andrew bolted down the stairs and out the front door.  The pounding down the stairs woke me and when I heard the door opened I realized it was Andrew sleepwalking.  By the time I got to the door, he was nowhere in sight.  I grabbed my shoes and started walking the block.  I found him down the street.  He was completely groggy but I convinced him to walk back home.  When I got him home I realized his feet were a little bloody from running through the yard and stepping on the sweet gum balls.  I patched him up and put him back to bed.  The next morning he had no recollection of the events but knew his feet hurt.

That was typical for Andrew's sleepwalking - he never remembered any of it and you could often get him talking about the wildest things.  It was fun most of the time, but also scary when he ran out the door.  Doctors never could tell me specifically what caused it, but always said he would likely outgrow it.  He never did.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Birth Month - Day 26

Without question Lacrosse was Andrew's favorite sport to play (that didn't involve a controller).  He only joined the high school team his junior year and while he was no superstar his enthusiasm was contagious.  He came home from practices sweaty, stinky, and tired, but still excited about lacrosse.  He met some great friends, mentors, and coaches while playing.  I was able to make every game of his career - even the ones two hours away thanks to traffic.  Natalia was also there, cheering him on, and of course was his plus one to the banquet, pictures below.  Believe it or not, Andrew was excited about the banquet and actually wanted to dress up.  This was a rare occasion since it meant he would not be able to wear the lacrosse style shorts he so loved.  I miss his handsome face so much!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Birth Month - Day 25

Today is my mom's 71st birthday.  She used to joke that I gave her Matt for Christmas (he was born December 20, 1990) and Andrew for her 50th birthday.  I wish that I had more pictures of my mom and Andrew together, but she was usually the one taking all the pictures so she is not in very many of them.

Andrew and my mom, "Nana", had a special relationship.  He always wanted to go to her house because she had a pool, a lake, and playground in her subdivision.  She also let him play in the flower beds and he even pooped in them like a dog, because he was too busy to come inside.  He'd spend hours at her house on the computer playing games and they also baked a lot of cookies together - probably where he learned to bake them with love. And although he was only 12 at the time, Andrew spent many hours at her bedside when she entered hospice, even spending the night with me there.

So Happy Birthday to my mom and Happy Birth week to her and Andrew!  I'm glad they have each other again!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Birth Month - Day 24

If you knew Andrew, then you know he could be incredibly persuasive when he wanted something.  If it was something he could buy and you didn't get it for him (in the time frame he wanted), he'd find a way to get it himself.  But if it is something he needed you to do, then his relentless negotiating skills were immediately engaged.  Such was the case on Spring Break 2014, when he convinced me we needed to do the Slingshot together.  This is a ride that literally shoots you into the air as if you were the rock in a slingshot.  So, I was going to be propelled hundreds of feet in the air, secured with a roll bar like a car would have, attached to seat that was grounded with large rubber bands.  I've had rubber bands snap when a pony tail was too tight, was I really going to trust them to hold my full weight?  Yes, it took some convincing, but like always, Andrew talked me into it.  Here we are waiting for the ride to begin.

To see our ride, try this link

Warning, it is not censored and I might have a said some bad words.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Birth Month - Day 23

Is anyone else like me in that the day after a birthday is such a let down?  You realize you have to wait another 364 days for it to be all about you again.  I'll have 364 more days until I dread another missed birthday.  But on the flip side, Andrew will have had another 364 days in heaven - although there really is no measure of time there.

In searching through some old posts, I found this birthday note Andrew sent to Matt when Matt turned 21.

Now what you have to understand is that when these men were just boys I thought for sure one of them would kill the other (specifically Matt would pound Andrew into the ground).  I still remember how mad Matt would get and Andrew could always push those buttons.  They each knew how to instantly anger the other.  Oh I prayed many days for them to get to the point they were friends instead of enemies.  It happened shortly after Matt left for college.  With him gone, Andrew was man of the house.  When they didn't see each other every day, they appreciated each other when they did.  They had new things to talk about, Andrew hanging on every college experience Matt told him about.  Matt even had Andrew spend a weekend at the frat house - where Andrew won beer pong (and yes, he was playing with Gatorade).  An easy win when you are the only one not drunk!

Anyway, I am so thankful they got to the point of being friends.  They talked sports, politics, girls, and video games.  They talked about future careers, what they would do with lottery winnings, what to get me for birthdays and Christmases.  I'm also sure they talked about some things I don't want to know they talked about.

Bottom line, they were friends, fiercely loyal to each other despite the early years that seemed full of sheer hatred.  So parents of boys or multiple children who fight - stay the course, remain strong, and remind them of how cool it will when they are adults and become friends.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Birth Month - Day 22 (Birthday)

Today Andrew would have turned 21.  Today I should be celebrating with him, not in memory of him.  It's a difficult day, but one that is going to come around every year and bring sadness over his loss and a nod to what might have been for his life.  My heart is heavy today but Matt and I honored him with breakfast at Waffle House and a couple of games of bowling.  Jet skiing was another thrilling thing Andrew loved to do and I thought it would be appropriate to spread some ashes out where he loved to ride when in Panama City Beach, but that didn't work out for today.  I will try again later this week.

I also thought it might be nice to list 21 things I love about Andrew.  Feel free to add to the list.
  1. His eyes - they were a gorgeous, hypnotic blue
  2. His eyelashes - yeah totally not fair a boy should get such naturally long and dark lashes
  3. His smile - he actually had perfect teeth - without ever going to the dentist
  4. His laughter - especially if he was trying to be sneaky or found something really hysterical
  5. His love of animals - If he could have, he would have had every pet under the sun
  6. His video game addiction - while it often drove me crazy, it also gave him other great skills
  7. His work ethic - He never missed a day of work, unless he was truly sick
  8. His love of country - Andrew was a red, white, and blue die hard
  9. His tenderness with children - He was great with kids, especially one on one when no one else was watching
  10. His love for his brother - Matt was Andrew's most beloved family member and friend
  11. His respect for his uncle - Andrew admired and respected Chris, always
  12. His competitiveness - I love that he would not give up on something he really wanted
  13. His compassion for others - He always helped whenever he could
  14. His passion for sports - I loved watching him play, hearing about what he knew, and discussing what was happening in the sports world
  15. His adventurous spirit - he was always up for any kind of new experience
  16. His helpful nature - if I needed something done around the house, he would be there with his tools to get it done
  17. His devotion to Natalia - he loved her and would have married her one day
  18. His dedication to Zeus - he followed through on his word to train and care for him
  19. His wicked sense of humor - even if I was mad at him, he could always make me laugh
  20. His impatience - actually this drove me nuts, but loving Andrew meant loving everything
  21. And finally, his love for Jesus - I know he is heaven and that I will see him again.  So thankful we have that because of our belief in Christ.
Happy Birthday in Heaven, Andrew - You are loved and missed greatly here!

Thanks to everyone who has called or texted or posted to share prayers and thoughts on this special day.  I am sure Andrew and his Nana are partying up in heaven today.  Tough day for those who love them, but I know they are safe in God's arms.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Birth Month - Day 21

I haven't yet posted about my trip to London and Paris (to see my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew) back in May because it was so incredibly special that I wasn't sure I could do it justice. After a particularly rough day I called my brother to just cry and he listened.  He was driving and he pulled over to let me just unload on him.  He said he would pay to fly me over if I wanted to come spend some time with them.  I had not even thought about going, as I didn't think I wanted to be away, but the trip, with the surprise addition of Paris (a gift from my sister-in-law as an early birthday present) was exactly what I needed.  My brother asked me to bring some of Andrew's ashes to place in their garden.  You see, when my mom died, they put some of her ashes in their garden with a Dogwood tree and they did it again when Caitriona's father passed away (he has a different tree but I cannot remember what it is).  I was honored they wanted to do this with some of Andrew's ashes as well.  The timing worked out perfectly as we planted Andrew's tree, another Dogwood, on Memorial Day.  It was such a thoughtful thing for them to do and it still brings tears to my eyes when I recall how I felt that day and when I see the tree now via pictures.

My mom died in 2008 and here was the Dogwood tree first planted with her ashes in their garden.

And here is her tree now, you can see it has really filled out and the garden has been transformed into an unbelievably tranquil place.

And here is Chris digging the hole for Andrew's tree, which we all decided should be placed near my mom's tree, the ashes going in, and then both trees side by side.

Chris told me that a few days after I had left to come home, our mom's tree started blooming and he was certain she had waited for Andrew to get there to show off her blossoms.

Then, just a few weeks ago, Caitriona sent me the picture below, of how both trees look now.  My mom's tree really has blossomed and Andrew's tree is looking good as well.

I'm certain I can never fully express how grateful I was and still am to them for letting me visit, making the trip so memorable, and honoring Andrew in such a beautiful way.  I have certainly been blessed with amazing siblings, who have done a great job in creating amazing families of their own! Thank you Chris, Caitriona, and Harry, I love you!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Birth Month - Day 20

We arrived at the beach and are relaxing.  I thought it appropriate to share some beach memories of Andrew.  These pictures are from Spring Break 2014 when Natalia joined us for the first time.  We enjoyed dinner on the beach, feeding seagulls, and a beautiful sunset.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Birth Month - Day 19

Matt and I are headed to the beach today.  As Andrew's birthday draws near (it's Monday the 22nd) these posts are getting harder to write.  I find so many things I want to share and remember but at the same time I realize there is so much more that could have been experienced if that stupid motorcycle didn't exist.  But it did exist and Andrew loved it.  So, to really love Andrew, you have to also love his enthusiasm for his motorcycle.  This was the first motorcycle he had and he was ecstatic when he got it.  Although I am certain I will never ride one again, I know he would if he could.  So, this one is for you Andrew.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Birth Month - Day 18

Andrew loved going to the Braves games.  Andrew also loved Natalia. Today, the 18th, is the birthday for both my nephew Wyatt and my long time friend Tami, who is also a huge Braves fan.  To celebrate Tami's (a.k.a. Modean Ryan) birthday, here is a picture from Natalia's first Braves game with Andrew and Homer.  Andrew also loved trying his hand at both the batting and pitching games at Turner Field.  He really just loved sports and being active.  I really miss that - his joy when he did something well.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Birth Month - Day 17

There is something about water that, for me anyway, is inviting and calming.  When Andrew was young he felt the same way.  During the summer we were constantly at the pool and would sneak off to the beach whenever we could.  He was as close to being a fish as a little boy could be - until his first bout with swimmers ear.  After that he was cautious in the pool and eventually decided he preferred to never go under the water.

But up until then he loved going swimming.  My mom lived in a condo that had a pool so we visited regularly during the summer.  Andrew would even try to convince anyone that came over to take him to the pool and it would be totally fine with his mom or Nana because he knew the code or had a key.  I remember my mom's favorite story to tell about Andrew and the pool was how confidently he would walk through the gate.  She recall that there were usually already some people down at the pool, and whether he knew them or not, he'd throw open the gate, give a wave, and shout, "Hi guys!"  Here's a picture of him jumping in just after arriving one day.

Matt liked swimming okay but it was Andrew and I who could stay all day, jumping in and out.  Matt was good for diving for things or sharks and minnows.  Andrew loved all that too but he was also content to just float or jump in and out over and over.  Here are some pictures from my mom's pool showing just how much we all loved swimming together!

And another one of my favorite pictures of Andrew taken at his daycare.  This just seems so Andrew at the time - with that sweet bowl haircut and cheesy grin.  I sure hope Heaven has swimming pools and he never gets swimmers ear again!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Birth Month - Day 16

I keep going through all the photos I have of Andrew and find myself smiling and crying simultaneously.  I come across some pictures and I am instantly transported to the memory it captured.  Others are sad as I become aware he will not realize some of his dreams or goals.  Still others are from his friends that they posted on facebook.  I didn't know all of his friends, but I did know a few from the stories he would tell or the constant requests to go hang out with them.  While I am certain I have not included them all, I wanted to give shout outs to Lily, Mouna, Gabriel, and Brandon.  These are the ones he mentioned to me the most, although he had many others from high school, church, and various sports.  I hope you all know how much you meant to Andrew.  Thank you for being his friend and loving him!






Monday, August 15, 2016

Birth Month - Day 15

Andrew didn't have a lot of "causes" but one thing he always supported was breast cancer research.  When he was only 5, we lost my stepmother (Michael, Sara, and Carey's mom) to breast cancer.  Because he was only 5 and she was diagnosed when he was only 2, he didn't really know her well.  But he watched the effect it had on my younger brother and sisters.  Then my mom died from another form of cancer, a brain tumor, in 2008 and then a couple of years later my Aunt Sandra (my mom's sister) was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Once Sandra was well enough, we decided to contribute to the cause.  We signed up to do a Susan G. Komen walk at Atlantic Station.  When I asked Andrew he immediately said yes and got Natalia on board too.  Then my Aunt Becky and Uncle Mike joined as well as Sandra's husband, my Uncle Bob.  Sandra and I raised enough money to be in the top 100 and got special shirts with our names on them, as well as having our names displayed on the big board at the party area at the finish line.

I'm so proud Andrew joined in to help raise money for a nasty cancer that has greatly impacted our lives.  Though my mom didn't die from breast cancer, I believe a cure found for any cancer will lead to a cure for them all.  Andrew needed no convincing to do this I just had to ask him if he wanted too.  This is one of the ways he showed his love for his family and others.  He might not have been verbal but he always showed up for what was important.  Actions do speak louder than words.

Here are some photos from that day.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Birth Month - Day 14

I love friendships that stand the test of time.  The kind where you can not talk to someone for years but pick right back up where you left off.  Those where you forget which stories you've shared but never mind hearing them retold even if you have.  One of those friends for me is Tami Moore.  She and I have been friends since Andrew was two.  She also has two sons, Keith and Christopher.  Christopher and Matt are the same age.  Keith is older but was a wonderful buddy for Andrew as Chris and Matt played basketball.  They all attended the same after school program at church, and since Tami and I were both single moms, we spent much time swapping kids to get a break.  As the boys grew up we saw each other less but always remained close friends.  Tami is just like a second mom to Andrew and has probably cried as much as I have these past few months.  Her birthday is also this month just a few days before Andrew's and she knows I'm struggling as Andrew's birthday nears.

We decided to meet up for lunch today and I suggested J. Christopher's.  This restaurant has been a long time favorite of my families and was the first place Andrew ever worked.  He got the job through his friend Brandon Radman.  They worked there together through their senior year and summer before heading off to college.  As I was waiting for our table, Brandon saw me and came over to give me a big hug and ask how I was doing.  What a sweet and kind young man, to remember me, to care enough to hug my neck and to talk to me.  We ended up sitting in his section and having great service.  Brandon told me he was now at UGA, had just finished up his summer classes and had a year and half to go until graduation.  I am so proud for him.  He was a good friend to Andrew and I remember dropping off and picking up Andrew many times from Brandon's house.

J. Christopher's was a good first job for Andrew.  It taught him about getting up early on the weekends, cleaning up after other people, being part of a team known for good service, and he ended up learning to make a great omelette.  Natalia and I were happy with his new found cooking skills.  He eventually left that job to join the hospital but they were good to him.  One of the things I really liked that they did was list their high school graduates on the menus each spring.  That meant every person coming to the restaurant knew they employed high school students and those students had plans beyond high school.  When it was Andrew's time, I made sure to snap a photo of the menu, which also included Brandon.  Congratulations to those kids and thanks to J. Christopher's for recognizing them.  Good Luck to Brandon as he continues his college journey.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Birth Month - Day 13

We are very fortunate to have an Aunt and Uncle who have a vacation home in Panama City Beach.  Even more fortunate is that they allow us to use it, which is the only way we were able to take vacations.  In 2003, on one of our visits we went to Gulf World.  Gulf World is like a mini (and I do mean mini) Sea World.  They have wonderfully entertaining shows with furry friends (birds, dogs, and cats), along with a dolphin show and a sea lion show.  After each of those shows you can have your picture taken with the stars of the shows.  I convinced Andrew to have his picture taken with the sea lion.  He was first up and it took about 15 seconds.  They told him to sit down and look straight ahead.  Then on the command the sea lion turned to Andrew and gave him a kiss as they photo was snapped.

Fast forward to 2014 and Natalia joined us for Spring Break in Panama City Beach.  She had never been to Gulf World so of course we took her.  After the sea lion show, the announcer let the audience know about the photo opportunity, and included that the sea lion to be in the photo was the same one since we were there in 2003.  At that point I forced Andrew to have his photo made again with the sea lion.  So, below you'll see the same kid and same sea lion - 11 years apart.  I love having these photos!