What Does 21 Years of Grief Look Like For Me?

I wish I had more pictures. I wish we had had a closer relationship. I wish that my attitude had been different. I wish I had known it was the last time….

These are some of the thoughts that I have had many times over the last 21 years. 21 years ago, I lost my oldest brother in a car accident. I still remember the evening that we got the phone call. I was going through a time in my life where I was having lots of headaches and was very sick. I had been going to all kinds of doctors trying to get answers. I was in my bedroom upstairs in Arkansas when I heard the phone ringing. At that time, we had just gotten caller ID so I could see who was calling. I actually remember rolling my eyes thinking why is he calling right now? I’m trying to get some rest…

It wasn’t long until I could hear the footsteps coming up the stairs. I knew. I just had a feeling. As soon as I saw my daddy’s face I just lost it. At that point I think I had only seen him cry one other time and it also had to deal with Andy, when he had moved out years earlier. Or maybe it was when he got a little devil tattoo on his arm.😩 I do want to point out that Andy had a little bit of a mischievous streak to him but he had the biggest heart.

The next thing I remember I made it down the stairs and could not stop screaming and crying in the floor. My uncle arrived very soon after we got the news and I remember him rocking me in the recliner. I was 16 years old, almost 17, and he rocked me like a baby for the rest of the night. I also remember having to go tell my grandmother with my mom. Her oldest grandchild was gone.

One thing that I remember very clearly in the beginning of my grief was that I was not in shock. I felt everything.. I knew it was real and I knew that my life will change forever. I’ve had other experiences where it didn’t feel real, or I had to have time to process but not with this.

 I don’t remember much about that first few days except for how loyal my sweet friends were and how terribly sick I felt for my parents having to go through this. When people say that there’s nothing like losing a child I believe it. I had to witness it first hand.

My birthday was the following month after he died and I still remember feeling that emptiness of not getting a phone call from him. We may not of seen each other very much but he was always good about calling and checking in on us and making sure that we knew that he loved us.

When someone passes away there’s always well-meaning people that will say things trying to make it better. I don’t remember a lot of what people said to us but I do remember that from that experience I’m very careful with how I speak to those who lose loved ones. I don’t believe that God is a puppet master pulling strings and just taking people when he’s ready for them. I believe that accidents happen sometimes and people die. How we deal with those losses is how we build character and face trials in the future.

I still think of Andy at some point every day. My sweet thoughtful husband agreed when we had our first daughter that we would name her after my brother. Nathan didn’t even get to know Andy but knew this would be important for me and my family. Her name is Andi Sloane. And the crazy thing is that she looks like him. My other two children look very similar to each other but Andi Sloane stands out. She has the same round face and sweet spirit. She’s very proud and finds ways to honor him. For his birthday and death day every year my family has one of his favorite foods so we can talk about the good times and keep him in our conversation. This last year on his birthday she made a sweet video and shared it with my parents.

My brother had a four-year-old daughter. Her name is Jordyn and she is very special. We were amazed at the effort that her mom made for those years to make sure we felt included.

It has been 21 years but in some ways it feels like yesterday. I can still get super choked up and cry thinking back to that time. I’m so glad that my kids feel like they know him because I do talk about him a lot.

I say all this because I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about grief and people’s individual struggles. I think that we assume that people are better after a few months or a few years after a loss. But I’m telling you now that there are still times where it is so fresh and new and sickening almost. Something small can happen to bring up a memory and can ruin someone’s day. Please have grace and patience with these people in your lives. And please always keep those loved ones in the conversation. 

And also, like I tell my kids all the time, please treat those that you love like it may be the last time you see them. Having regrets is no fun. This terrible accident changed the way my brother, Eric, and I deal with each other. We didn’t always get along but now we know that some things are just not worth getting upset about long-term and we had to appreciate every day we have with each other. We share a closeness now that I don’t think we would’ve had had we not lost Andy. We may not live close to each other or see each other very often but we remain very close. I can’t tell you how special I feel when he tells me that he’s proud of me. Sometimes I laugh thinking that the Jennifer that Andy knew at age 16 would have never moved to Costa Rica and done some of the things that I’ve done. I hope that he would be proud of me as well.

One thought on “What Does 21 Years of Grief Look Like For Me?

  1. I remember Andy! He came with your mom to visit me when I was a freshman at ASU. I lived on the fifth floor of the dorm, and it was his first elevator ride. I still remember his excited little kid face. 🤗

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