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Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Year, Another Year Closer to Going Home...


I have not been compelled to do much lately, except to survive and try to move forward, albeit in very small steps.  I haven't journaled since the middle of October and I think it's largely due to the fact that I am tired and it takes too much energy to process my emotions on paper.  I know by journaling the past 15 years, it really does help process emotions and thoughts, but I just haven't had enough strength to do much.  I will try to capture what has been going in my life the past few months and give some insight on how I am doing, but I ask for your forgiveness in advance if I didn't put a cogent thought on paper and just babbled. I really am drained and depressed at the moment.  I am fighting the urge to stop and do something else, it would be a lot easier, but I know writing my thoughts will help me get through this day and continue to help me heal without my "champ".

The last time I journaled in October, I was jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, skydiving with my friend John.  I really did enjoy the experience; it was a much-needed distraction to what was going on.  I continued with school and finished for the semester recently and I am glad I chose to go through this semester although it was a major struggle at times with all my excessive grief.  I am still unemployed and trying to find work in the educational field, preferably in the elementary school setting.  It would have been a lot easier if I applied in May/June of this year, but I was a bit busy.  I am hoping to find any type of work to just get into a routine.  I really do want to find something to keep me busy.  If I can't find any work immediately, I may consider volunteering somewhere.  For those that know me well, I like working with people, especially kids, being a kid at heart, so I hope God can lead me to a job or situation I can work with others in a very meaningful capacity.  I even thought about volunteering at a Children's Hospital where Andrew was a patient and help bless oncology patients and their families, but I am not quite sure I am ready to go back on a regular basis to the place where Andrew passed away.  

Speaking of Children's, several weeks back I went back for the first time since Andrew passed away, to visit a patient named Emma and her mother Christl, whom I met at our time at Children's.  We had met only a handful of times but the first and last time I saw Christl, before Andrew passed, was at the old Children's hospital chapel and the new Lurie's Children's Hospital chapel.  Christl was so kind in coming to Andrew's celebration service.  Emma has been fighting leukemia and is in the fight of her life.  For more info and how to specifically pray for her, please click click here!  I never thought I would go back to Children's so soon, but a rapid succession of events lead to this visit.  It all started a day before when I was cleaning out my voicemail box on my cell phone and I came across a voicemail from Dr. Chauhdry, Andrew's stem cell doctor, who had called a month after Andrew's death saying his autopsy report was in.  I ignored it, Andrew was gone and there was no reason in my mind's eye to put salt on the wound of my grief and talk about a moot point, he was gone!  So I decided to call Dr. Chauhdry and ask her for the autopsy report to be mailed to us, but instead, Jennifer and I decided to get it over with it and had a conference call and discussed the cause of his death.  It was rather emotional to say the least and I will not get into the details, but say he was a very sick young man, whose suffering was graciously ended so he could go to his Lord and Savior.  With getting the autopsy out of the way, I heard on the same day how Emma was in the ICU like Andrew and on life support.  I felt like I was ready to go down, besides it was to support Emma and Christl and I also had Andrew's Xbox and Wii which we know Andrew would have wanted us to give to Children's, to give a modicum of happiness to the kids on the oncology ward.  Prior to this, I hadn’t and didn’t want to go anywhere near downtown.
I really started to get anxious as I parked in the garage and wouldn't you know it, I immediately ran into an emergency room doctor Andrew had many times and was so good to Andrew.  He was affectionately known to be the Potato Chip Doctor, as he graciously bought Andrew a bag of potato chips while we waited in the e.r. one visit.  He asked how Andrew was and I told him he had passed away.  He was genuinely sorry and gave me a huge bear hug.  I planned to go to the clinic first to drop of the donations before I went to the icu and that's where I saw many of the health staff that cared for Andrew the past three years.  I lost it many times!  Seeing the health care providers brought back so many memories.  I was able to meet Dr. Chauhdry and Jim the chaplain in a private conference room to talk and just and be.  It gave me a chance to process my thoughts and emotions and to be blessed by what Dr. Chauhdry and Jim had to say.  For those that don't know Dr. Chauhdry, outwardly she is a very blunt and tells it like it is type of physician, void of much emotion.  She was the one that did not sugar coat the fact Andrew had a very slim chance of survival.  There were times where I wished she was a bit more syrupy but she was doing her job.  But what I observed in that room that day surprised me and blessed me.  While I speaking of Andrew, I noticed her tearing up and getting emotional which was a complete surprise.  She said as a physician, she really should not comment about other patients and families, but she spoke of our family and how she and others in the hospital were so blessed to see the way Andrew passed away surrounded in love and peace.  She spoke about Andrew’s final moment in the room and the prayer and love so richly on display.  Final acts of love to the one who gave so much joy and happiness in our lives.  She spoke of how different it is many cases where patients are on their deathbeds and eventually die.  But in our case she was so touched to see our extended family surround Andrew’s bed, sing, pray and bless him in his final moments.  She explained how she and others were so touched.   She also affirmed and explained how courageous of us to let Andrew go and stop the suffering, further explaining how families hang on much longer then they should.  They also explained how courageous it was for me to come to the hospital and how many parents never come back after the death of their children.  I am glad I went to the clinic to talk to others before I went to the ICU, if I didn’t, I think I would have been a mess, which was not appropriate considering I was there to comfort Emma and Christl. 
God Bless Jim, who was so supportive while I was at Children’s, as he volunteered to usher me around the hospital.  I did see Emma and Christl and I was grateful she was not in the same wing of the icu where Andrew died.  I met with Emma and Christl and visited and prayed prayed for them.  Emma was sedated and intubated like Andrew.  I was surprised, but I held it together. I realized I had a unique angle that most people don’t have who visit the Gomez’, I had a son in the exact same situation.  I think Christl realized this and she was so grateful I came.  I was grateful I came too. The visit ended with me going up to the 17 floor where inpatient is located.  There were many nurses I came to know, love and appreciate, but the three in particular I really appreciated were there!  Jenny, Courtney and Megan.  They all had a special connection to Andrew and knew Andrew so well;-)  I broke down when I saw them and tried to convey how much I appreciated the love and care they gave to not only Andrew but our whole family.  They will never be forgotten!  They were the angels at the hospital.  
Christmas 2011: Our treasured last one together.

Christmas 2011: Last time we all spent time together at our favorite tradition.
Who would ever thought it would be our last.
2011 Lunch under the Great Tree
in the Walnut Room.  Our last together


Opening gifts Christmas 2011, right before Andrew's relapse.
The next day Jennifer, myself and the kids went downtown to continue our Christmas tradition of having lunch under the “Great Tree” in the Walnut Room, which is over 100 years old and started with Marshall Field who was sold to Macy’s over 7 years ago.  In all honestly, I didn’t want to go this year, but I looked for some guidance about grief and continuing traditions in the midst of the loss of loved ones.  One article suggested to ask the surviving kids what they wanted to do and that’s what I did, with both Emily and Bryanna agreeing to go.  Emily said it was okay with her, but thought it was more of an issue with me.  How right she was.  We ended up going and having lunch and looking at the Christmas window decorations and for the most part I had a good time.  But something was obviously missing.  And I am sure for any parent who has lost a child, there is degree of guilt to move on, like I felt.  Jennifer knew looking into my eyes when I was sad and I tried my best to keep it from the kids.  But in retrospect, I am thankful I was able to go downtown the day before and go visit the hospital, for I fear I would have been an emotional mess if I hadn’t.  The next day seemed to be the most emotional day, the day we put up the tree without our beloved Andrew.  It took a lot to hold my tears back from the kids.  We made it through decorating the tree and putting up the stockings, but when we gathered around to say our traditional prayer after putting up the tree, that’s when things got emotional.  As fate would have it, when we gathered to pray, there was a gap in the circle between Emily and me, the place Andrew would have been.  Instead of closing the gap, I just reached out to Emily and we held hands.  As I prayed, everyone started to cry, we all missed our son and big brother.  Emily who usually doesn’t show her emotions cried and let it out.  The tradition of putting up the tree really magnified Andrew was gone and he would never join us again on earth for this special tradition.  We decided to start a new tradition and keep Andrew's stocking up and to write a note or letter to him every year and stuff it into the stocking.  So the end of one chapter brings a new.
Christmas 2012
Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012 Walnut Room.  The girls with their big bro there in spirit.  
The holidays have been very difficult for me.  I knew going into the holidays, it would be hard, but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be!  There have been sadder days than others, but I have been exponentially sadder and depressed these days.  I realize the many firsts without Andrew are going to be excruciating.  I do not look forward to these days.  But I know I must go through it.  The crying can be triggered by anything and everything.  The other week I just started balling because I was watching Jennifer wrap gifts for the girls and I thought to myself we will never ever wrap a gift for our son again.  I am constantly reminded of Andrew.  I am Facebook friends with some of Andrew’s high school friends and when I see pictures of them doing normal teenaged things, I cry wishing Andrew was here and doing normal teenage things.  2013 would have been the year Andrew graduated along with Anna Daley, the brave young women who also lost her battle with cancer after a failed stem cell transplant a month before Andrew.  Andrew had his whole life to look forward to.  Lots of no mores!  No more birthdays, hugs, kisses, I love yous, camping, laughs, family time….NO MORE.  

The holidays were not made any easier as I heard and saw the horror of what happened in the tragic senseless shootings of 26 innocent souls, 20 of them being little children, in Newtown, Conn.  I sat there in horror and immediately prayed for the parents of those children taken so early.  I was so sad those parents were not able to say good bye.  I at least had 17 years with Andrew and was able to say goodbye as we let him go.  Losing my child to cancer was one thing, but to lose a child in such a horrific way is just tragic!  I realize after seeing so much sickness and death at Children's and seeing constant senseless acts like the one in Newtown, this is world is inherently sinful and evil.  There needs to be hope and I have found that hope in Jesus Christ.  Shortly after the shootings, someone messaged me to say Andrew became a big brother to 20 souls in heaven.  I know Andrew is showing them a great time in heaven.

As many of you know I am a Christian and I believe in the life everlasting.  I believe without a shadow of a doubt Andrew confessed he was a sinner and he believed God incarnate who came to this earth and became a little infant named Jesus, ultimately dying on the cross to die for our sins so we can gain eternal life.  I am not sure if I shared this with you all before, but before Andrew had his stem cell transplant, Andrew’s pastor, Pastor Michael who loved and cared for Andrew since a little boy, asked Andrew if he believed in Jesus and where he would eventually go when he died.  Andrew said he accepted Jesus into his heart years before and he knew where he was going.  I know there is hope for those who believe but there is such an interesting dichotomy of thoughts as a parent who lost a child and is a Christian.  On one hand, I know Andrew is pain free and is in eternal bliss, but I remain here on this earth suffering from what seems like never ending grief.  I am in one piece today, because of one thing: HOPE.  Hope that one day every tear will be wiped away, hope that will unite me with my son, a hope that is freely given to those who believe.  I have taken a bag of Andrew’s ashes with me on trips I have taken and the other day, I pulled out his ashes and just looked at it and just thanked God that life is not about being born, living and then just death.  How bleak life would be!  No hope.  None at all!  I can’t explain the unbelievably hard time I have had since Andrew’s death.  No can understand, except perhaps families like the Daley’s who lost a child.  It just stinks!  It sucks!  It is beyond words!  But faith, hope and love remains and that's what keeps me and the Daley's going.

My goal in blogging has been a selfish one, to help me go through this terrible ordeal.  My goal has never been to legislate my faith, rather to explain to you all how I can maintain a sliver of peace in midst of what seems like an on going storm.  With the New Year fast approaching, I am sure many of us take an account of what has happened in the past whether positive or negative.  We take spiritual, mental and physical inventories of what has worked and what has not.  I pray this New year, you will experience the love of Jesus Christ, which I have found is the only thing you can count on.  THE ONLY THING!  Excuse my language, I think this is the best word to use, but life can be “shitty” (God’s big enough to take that one;-)) God never said it would be fair, but he never said we would be alone.  I came across this song seven years ago when I was going through my traumatic divorce and it spoke to me in a most powerful way.  I hope you take a few minutes and listen to the lyrics.




It was this time last year, when we found out Andrew had relapsed and thus started a very difficult journey, ending in Andrew’s death a short six months later.  But I am making it and surviving.  I have made it thus far because a rather simple recipe:

-The faith and hope I have in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

-The unconditional love and support from my family and friends.

Without this simple recipe, I honestly would have committed suicide.  Sorry to be so blunt, but without the key components just mentioned, I would not be here.  I am grateful for the blanket of prayer and support from near and far.  I know many of you have kept up with Andrew on facebook and this blog and never have commented, but nonetheless I know you are out there and loving us in so many ways.  For those who know me, I feel loved when people affirm me and boy have I felt the affirmation from many of you who constantly love me and support me through your comments and prayers.  It means a great deal to me.   I simply have one favor to ask of you all, I ask you to continue to do so.  I have my faith and I will always have it, but I will continually need your love and friendship.  I am a touchy feely guy as most of you know and oh how I wish I can give you all big hugs right now.  Thank you for loving my family and I.  I have experienced first hand the loving hand of God and how he strategically places people in my life when I need them the most.  Financially I may be struggling, but that’s not what matters.  What matters is you all, the love and the knowledge I am loved.  I am rich in love!

I have a favor to ask, can you all leave a comment or two in the comment sections.  Speak from your heart.  I would really appreciate it. 

Wishing all of you a Happy New Year and joy.  Yes it’s a New Year and I am not in a celebratory mood, but the new year does mean one year closer to going home and being reunited with my precious son and my heavenly father. 

I leave you with a daily email I get on dealing with grief from Griefshare.com.  For those that are widowed or bereaved, please take a look.  Regardless, the message still applies to all those who are burdened.  Please continue to pray for the bereaved!  Pray for us, the Daley's, the parents of those 20 little souls who lost there lives.  

Love Always,
Joe

A Season of Grief
365 daily emails to help you through the grieving process



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He Will Carry You
Day 5

The Lord will carry you if you ask Him. When you are feeling so weak you cannot take another step, ask Him to lift you high into His loving arms. Then rest in Him with an open and listening heart. This does not mean your problems will disappear, but it does mean you will have Someone to share them with.

"If you are someone who does not know Jesus Christ as your Savior and you have just been widowed or bereaved, you have a tremendous burden," says Elisabeth Elliot. "You are tired, and it is too big a burden to carry. The Lord says, 'Come to me, you who are tired and overburdened, and I will give you rest.'"

To receive peace and rest in Christ, the instructions are clear. Jesus says, "Come to me." You must first approach Him and then talk to Him and quietly listen.

"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe" (Psalm 61:1-3).
Lord, I come to You. My heart is worn out, and I need You. Take my heavy burden today. Amen.



9 comments:

  1. Awesome testimony! Continue to let Jesus demonstrate His love through you.

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  2. I am so privileged to receive these emails....again, I have never met you in person, but I feel I know you. (I have known Tim Dallas since he was a child and his mom is the one who told me about Andrew.) I attended the service for Andrew and cried for you all. Having read the emails and prayed for months for Andrew, I was so sad to read that he had passed. And now, after reading this email and crying once more, I must agree with Tim's comment. You are a very special father and your sensitivity and love are needed today in the church. I admire your willingness to share your grief and tears; others need to see that example. We continue to pray for you and your family and have said special prayers in the last several weeks knowing this time of year would be doubly hard. May the Lord bless you and give you continued grace and strength in the new year. In the love of our Savior, dd

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  3. Dear Joe and family,
    I stumbled upon your blog after hearing about Connor from one of our Pastors. Since March I followed your blog and prayed for a miracle from God to heal Andrew. I have cried so many times on my commute to work and would pray for Andrew to get better. When my son was sick and hospitalized for a week I felt lost and scared and saw how helpless we were without God. Once I read your blog and saw your strong faith in God, it made me realize how much I don't trust in the Lord and how selfish I was living all my life. Your testimony has been life changing for me. I see life differently. I struggle everyday trying to live for God and not for myself. Although I don't know your family personally, you all hold a special place in my heart forever. May the Lord continue to bless you and touch more lives!

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  4. I knew your son only in passing and he was one of the sweetest, most upbeat kids I've ever met. I can tell that he gets that in part from you. Reading your updates is amazing to me in ways that can't really explained. You have a way with words and hearing about your faith has been inspiring- it makes me realize how much I have and that I should be closer to God than I am at this point in my life.
    I think you are your family were blessed to have Andrew and are blessed to have each other. I know Andrew will be waiting to give you a massive hug when you rejoin him in time.
    Your writing is one of the only I've read that has frequently moved me to tears.
    Thank you.

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  5. Hi joe
    It's so difficult for me to process all the different emotions after reading your post. I admire your brutal honesty about your grief. I often think about Connors future and the long road that he still has to recovery and it is so so scary. I can only beg God for his grace and for protection for his health. Your strong faith is inspiring so many people Joe. Andrew continues to be a huge part of our lives as Connor often talks about his friend Andrew. His little light continues to shine and spread. We are sending you big hugs and will pray for peace and comfort for you and your family.

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  6. Dearest Joe, Jennifer and Girls,
    We love you! First of all, we cannot imagine your strength at having managed the Holidays. You are truly the strongest people we know. We feel your grief so strongly through this blog, and it is absolutely heartbreaking. We continue to talk about Andrew to keep his memory alive, and pray for your family for comfort and clarity. As well as the lessening of grief and pain! Any one of us who wait for word of your writings, we are certain, wonder this: how can we be of ANY help? It would be an honor and pleasure to be called upon for anything. Please let us. The continuation of prayer is critical; call upon us for big things, small things, the daily chores, quiet company, listening, meals; anything, like we said, will be an honor for us to be a part of it. That's just what friends do. As we say, we pray for you and we love you all.
    Blessings and love,
    KendallLaurenFrankLynn

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  7. Hyung and Hyungsoo,

    Thanks for sharing the updates and your honest feelings. Andrew will always be in our hearts. Hope to see you guys soon. We pray that you will soon begin working at a place that God has prepared for you. We love you.

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  8. Dear Joe,
    Even though you are still full of grief, it is nice to hear from you, and to know that you have come through the holidays with the same strength, courage and faith you displayed throughout Andrew's ordeal.
    As I think you know, after Andrew passed the neighbors placed orange and white ribbons around all the trees lining our block of Thurlow Street, to remind us of Andrew, and to keep your family in our prayers. The ribbons are still there after all these months! And yet they are starting to fade and loosen, and in time they will fall. I hope they can be symbols for your grief--so intense at first, and remaining so over the course of last year, but finally declining to the point where you can live more with great memories and less with a daily burden.
    We are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers, and hope to see you soon in the New Year!
    Kevin and the Parks Family

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  9. Hi oppa,
    Thank you for mustering up the strength to post this, hearing from you keeps Andrew that much closer to my heart. You guys are always in my thoughts and I pray for continued healing and blessings for everyone. Big big hugs and kisses!
    Cindy

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