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Monday, October 14, 2013

March with us? Andrew's Army Live On!

The final time we walked as Andrew's Army with Andrew:-
Andrew's Army without our departed Andrew.

Dear Friend and Family.

I am writing today to discuss a very important event that is near and dear to my heart: 
The Leukemia Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Walk to raise money for cancer research and to make cancer patient's lives more comfortable, fighting this insidious disease.  
As many are aware, we started walking as Andrew's Army three years ago, but it was with a heavy heart that we walked last year without Andrew:-(  I was so devastated last year, so much so, I could not walk, but still fundraised.  During the short walk, walkers carry one of three colored balloons:  Red for supporter or a loved one, White for survivor and Gold in memory of a lost loved one.  Well, we walk this year with Gold colored balloons in memory of my Andrew.There are still moments where for an instant, I can't believe he is gone!  But the stark reality is that he has passed away.  

As you know, since Andrew's passing, the journey has been arduous to say the least, but there has been things put in my life to give me a reason to live and press on: my kids, my job at Ogden School and the wonderful children and staff there, my pursuit of a teaching certification, and causes like Light the Night.  With that being said, I am asking you to consider donating whatever you can to the LLS in honor and memory of Andrew.  I am asking for those that are not part of Andrew's Army to join the troop to help a worthy cause.  We have raised over $20,000 the past three years and we hope to add a substantial amount this week, as we walk this Saturday in Grant Park in Chicago.  Furthermore, Andrew has been chosen to be honored by having the V.I.P tent (access is for top individual fundraisers) named after him and the names of top fundraisers are posted prominently in the tent and I thank everyone who has donated in the past!! Wouldn't it be great and apropos to have Andrew's Army on that sign?!?  

I take great pride in honoring my son in tangible ways like the Light the Night.  It not only honors my departed son, but keeps his memory alive.  I must tell you the truth, I worry and get sad that Andrew's memory is fading.  I am downtrodden when life goes on all around me and Andrew's name is slowly fading in people's memories.  Please keep Andrew's memory alive with a donation of any size, it would mean the world to me!

When you get a chance, please goto to my fundraising page,  press here, and read more about the cause.  Won't you be a part of Andrew's Army?

On a sad note,  another alumnus of Hinsdale Central's class of 2013 has been lost: Abbey Bott.  She enrolled at Indiana University this fall.  As I can relate too well with a death of my son, please pray for Abbey's mom and her family she left behind.  Even though I lost a child like Abbey's mom, I can't relate fully what is going on with her.  All I know is that my heart goes out to her as she is mired in immense pain.  Furthermore, not only remember Andrew often, but pray for me and my family as we journey without our son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin.  Hinsdale has lost two shining stars!  

Again, please give whatever you can in memory of Andrew and be a part of Andrew's Army, which has picked up the pieces and marches on.  Just simply press here, to join the ranks!  Thank you from the depths of my heart.  Blessings and peace!

Joe Park
Super Dad in Champion of Andrew's Army
Chief Advocate Superhero for Andrew's Army!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Surviving and Letting Go.

Wow, it's been almost three months since I have written. Why so long?  I think it's due to many things; trying to enjoy the end of the summer, school starting again, work starting and just being too mentally tired to write on a blog that reminds me that Andrew is indeed dead.

Some of you may be wondering how our family and I are fairing.  I will try to give you the abridged version. Jennifer has been busy with nursing school all summer.  She may have gotten a few weeks break, but other than that, Jenn is busy focusing on being a mom and trying to achieve her goal of becoming some type of pediatric nurse in honor of our dearly departed son.
Emily had a busy summer with softball and she ended a successful season in Maryland for nationals where her Blazers team finished in the top 8 of 55+ teams.  Emily has started her sophomore year and she stays busy with cheer, clubs and academics.  She seems to excel when she stays busy.  
Bry had a fun summer, finishing it by staying in Norther Virginia with her beloved cousins, aunts and uncles for a couple weeks.  She has started middle school and she is having a good time.  

Me, I have had better days than bad.  Thank God!  I remember this time last year and the utter depression, despair and pain that consumed my life.  I still cry everyday, but the severity and duration is not nearly as painful or long.  I realized the things that get me by everyday and are great for my soul are: my immediate and extended family, my close guy friends, my wonderful cohort family at Trinity, my softball family, my colleagues my job at Ogden School and others who make me smile and laugh. They all accept me for who I am.

I titled this blog Surviving and Letting Go.  The surviving is self explanatory, but the "letting go" is what I would like to expound on.  I have explained I am doing much better, but my grief has ramped up a bit the past month or so.  Remember, grief is non-discriminate of when it will come back and to what severity.  What triggered this escalation of grief?  Around this time last month, most of Andrew's friends and classmates made their vigils, with their parents, to go to their colleges and universities.  Andrew was suppose to be one of those young adults.  It was suppose to be Jennifer, Andrew and I going to Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target or other stores to get "dorm stuff" and all the accoutrements associated with life at college. It was suppose to me loading up the car, in frustration, trying to stuff every last piece of stuff in for the road trip to school.  It was suppose to me and Jenn "letting go" and saying bye to our oldest as we left him and as he started his next chapter in life. 

I am reminded constantly of Andrew and what was suppose to be, everyday.  I see Andrew's friends parents and my friends and family who have kids going to college on Facebook, as they post how they are sad or joyful that they dropped off their kids at school. But the reality is my son is dead and I won't have those "first" with my Andrew and not "let go" in the way I thought I would have.  Sure, I am grateful Andrew is not suffering anymore and he is in heaven, fully restored and in the presence of Jesus, but I human and I grieve.  I have been blessed to get messages from some of Andrew's friends before they went off to school.  It was nice to hear from them as I often times wonder if Andrew is being forgotten.  Life all around me is going on and many have moved on from Andrew's death, but I still am mired in the reality Andrew is gone.  

I know my "letting go" was vastly different.  I let Andrew go, to see him rest in his permanent home...Heaven.  He believed in what Jesus Christ did on the cross with his "mustard seed" of faith and went home.  I am not sure if you remember, but the last time Andrew communicated with me was when the ventilator was turned off and Andrew was ready to pass and I told him to go to Jesus and he nodded yes and then passed away.  I know I will be reunited with him some day, but I have a purpose here on earth that God wants me to carry out and that's what is keeping me sane and keeping me going, as I long for Andrew.  So, I work at a wonderful school named Ogden School, surrounded by elementary school children and an outstanding staff.  I work with my utmost in honor of Andrew, and let those kids feed my weary soul as I serve them.  I survive because I have a purpose and a passion.  A purpose to use my gifts to glorify God and touch the lives of others in memory of my son and those lives happen to be children.  I press on.  

I am about to share with you something very special to me.  This past summer I went into Hinsdale Central to get Andrew's honorary diploma, I ran into Bill Walsh, vice principal, who gave me a letter, which was kept by Andrew's counselor since he was a freshman.  The letter was written by all freshman, where they answered questions about how freshman year had been going and their future hopes and dreams and was to be open upon graduation.  Holding that letter made me so emotional, I couldn't breathe.  What was inside it?  Andrew wrote of his freshman year to that point, his future plans and dreams, but the last sentence really tore me up: "I wonder what I will be like in the future?"
I will answer the question for my son. He became a "light" to so many people.  He was and will forever be a blessing to so many.  
As I have grieved a bit more the past month, I have often times thought about Andrew's last sentence of that letter.  I wish he could have been here to enjoy school, meeting new friends and experiencing new things, but it won't happen here on earth.  His future is in eternity and that's where he is.

Fyi, I was looking for anything hand written by Andrew to make into a tattoo 
and I finally got this in his letter to make it happen!  

Many of you know that our family and friends have participated in the Leukemia Lymphoma Society's (LLS) Light the Night Walk campaign to raise fund for cancer research the past 3 years. Andrew walked two of the walks and last year we sadly walked without him.  Along the way, we have raised over $20,000 for the LLS in hopes to find a cure and make lives more comfortable who fight this terrible disease.  We will walk again this year in Grant Park on October 19th.  I have set a lofty goal of $20,000 this year and I simply ask you consider donating whatever you can.  I know many of you get inundated with requests to give, but I ask in light of your relationship and association with Andrew and our family you consider giving to this worthwhile organization.  We not only ask you to donate, but to walk with us as well.  The Chicago LLS has honored Andrew this year by naming the v.i.p. tent in his honor!  We have been privileged the past three years as Andrews Army to be vip's by being top fundraisers.  I know many of you have wondered how you could honor Andrew. This event is a very practical way to do that.
Please help in honoring with a donation:-)  
To view my page for Light the Night, please goto:
http://pages.lightthenight.org/il/ChicagoL13/JPark or press here


Our last walk with Andrew (2011)


I ask you continue to pray for me and my family as we navigate the grief and the surprises of life.  But I have a very special prayer request.  Jennifer's brother-in-law, Jae, who is Jennifer's sister's husband, has been recently diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and is undergoing care at John Hopkins in Maryland.  I ask you pray for a complete recovery, strength as he endures the harsh treatment and for his family.  Leukemia/lymphoma has and is a big part of my life and I dream of day where this insidious disease will be cured forever!  

If you would like to send an email, please contact me at:
josephp102@me.com

Andrew's Father and Forever I Will Be,
Joe
xoxoxo

Friday, June 28, 2013

A YEAR GONE BY.......


I don't have the energy nor the compulsion to write much, but I will share a few words as the anniversary of Andrew's death is this Sunday.  

I can't believe it sometimes that Andrew is really dead!  It is so surreal at times, but the surreality is so closely juxtaposed with the stark reality of Andrew not being here with us.  Words are so inadequate in explaining how I have feel and felt, only a parent with a lost child can only understand, even then their grief is unique until themselves.  But a good metaphor of how I feel at times during a typical day is like boat being anchored and not being able to move, my heart feels "anchored" and I feel like I can't move or breathe.  Anger crept up again right around prom and graduation.  I recall going off on a diatribe asking God why!  Why did he decide to save one person and not Andrew.  With a "click" of his fingers, my dear son could have been here to enjoy prom and to graduate with his classmates.  I cursed and yelled at times being so frustrated and mad.  Some of you may be thinking that is so un-christian like.  Well, let me tell you something, God understands.  He can take it all.  I am grateful my anger is not mixed with the bitterness.  It's an anger which has to play it's course on this lonely and sad journey. And I have reconciled the fact I will never know fully why God chose to take Andrew "home" so early.  I must admit, God can take the numerous blessings, encouragement and love Andrew's life has given to others and I would trade all that to Andrew back!

On this Sunday, the anniversary of Andrew's death we will not do anything "special", no balloons, special services, or anything extravagant,  rather we will share a meal as a family and enjoy each other's company, remembering our beloved and missed Andrew.  That's what Andrew enjoyed the most:  Food and Family.  He was a simple kid and he indeed loved his family and food;-) I will blog about grief and share some of my insights I have gained along this process later, but for now, I leave you with some pictures and a special poem.  Please continue to pray for Jennifer, Emily, Bry, myself and the rest of our grieving family. Please pray for my mom, Andrew's beloved "halmunee" (grandmother in Korean) who is especially taking her grandson's death hard. 
 I encourage you to leave a comment.  If you are reading on this your email, you must goto the actual blog on your phone, tablet or computer to leave a comment.  The comments left really minister to my soul.  You can also email me at josephp101@yahoo.com.

XOXOXO.
Joe
Andrew's classmates honoring their beloved classmate with AP initials on their caps
Emily accepting a degree on behalf of her brother and Andrew's classmates
and the whole audience giving Andrew a standing ovation.

Andrew's best buddies always gracious and loving. They miss you Drew!



Feelings: Raw and True




A year has gone by, so fast it really seems
But I’m still encumbered by shattered dreams

My heart is so heavy, angry and blue
To these abhorred emotions I can only say, “I HATE YOU!”

This process of grief is so lonely and sad
Causing me heartache and making me utterly mad!

Andrew “My Champ”, the journey to heaven seems so far away
But I must cling to the hope I’ll see you one day

Until then, I struggle with my faith and hang by a thread
I will try to trust and obey because that’s what God said

On this one-year anniversary my emotions run deep, my departed son and friend
But I cling to the promise of what Christ did, this world a comma, not a period nor end

Words are so inadequate about how I miss you Son!
I will miss you and love you until my life here on earth is done.

I LOVE YOU!
Dad


Monday, May 20, 2013

THE "MERRY GO ROUND"

An extremely emotional moment taking prom pics with Andrew's friends:-)
It's been almost two months since I have blogged. Andrew's one year anniversary of his passing is right around the corner, June 30th.  Life has been filled with grief, albeit less severe as months past, work and just trying to survive.  However, as the the title of the blog post says, grief is a merry go round and some components of grief are back.  As I mentioned, grief is not linear and for those that have not grieved in any fashion, the various facets of grief come and go as they please: shock, depression, anger, sadness, frustration.

The anger and questioning has come back with a vengeance.  About a month ago, I was washing dishes and I started a conversation, more like a rant, with God and I just simply said to Him, "Why?".  God could have with a snap of his finger healed Andrew, yet he chose to take my son "home".  Why does God heal certain individuals and not others?  I know some questions will not be answered here on earth.  That night started a precipitous slide into anger and now has transitioned into deep sadness.  Don't get me wrong, I still believe with my "mustard seed" of faith the sovereignty of God and how everything happens for a reason, but I got to tell you, that the seed of faith looks awfully small at times.  Yet, I know my God is big enough to handle whatever Joe Park dishes out.  I learned this valuable lesson a while back.  I always thought being angry at God and raising a fist toward Him was sinful, but on the contrary I think it shows grace at it's fullest.  I know I am a sinner, yet saved by the blood of Christ and the grace that comes with it.  I will have sinful tendencies until my body will be whole as I go "home" to God, just like Andrew.  God is god who does not frown on His children venting, yet is a forgiving God and a God who wants a personal and loving relationship with His children, no matter what state we are in.  Some see prayer as a person reverently bowing their head and hands folded, uttering Psalms, but prayer is not only that, but a personal thing: a communication with God in any shape, way or form.  I do have days when I get on my knees and close my eyes to pray, but there have been many more days where I just talk to him wherever and whenever I want, in adoration or indignation.
My sincere hope is that Christians and those who are seeking God to know this fact.  God is gracious enough to hear whatever we say.  

This month has been hard as I have said.  Prom just passed and graduation is in a few days and these are the events which have stirred up the grief and the pain of not having Andrew around.  It was suppose to be Andrew I was to take pictures with at prom.  It was suppose to be Andrew in the cap and gown walking down the aisle to graduate and to mark a new chapter in his life, but this was not meant to be.  I have thought about all the things I will not be able to experience, that most parents will: the first ride to college, meeting a first love, marriage and grandchildren, among so many other things people take for granted.  I see all the pictures of Andrew's friends and the soon to be graduates going to the beach on "senior ditch day" and prom and I sit with a gaping hole in my heart.  My friends, my heart aches!  Jennifer's heart aches and we miss him a lot these days.  I can hear some of you say that Andrew's in a better place and he is pain free and eternally joyful, but I got to tell you the truth:  I DON'T WANT TO HEAR THAT!  I know all that!  I know people mean well, but that's not what a grieving person needs to hear.  As a Christian, I "know' these realities,  nonetheless, the grief is real and severe.  I know Andrew blessed so many people in our community and some people's lives were so profoundly effected, I hear amazing stories on what Andrew's life has meant and means to them.  We had almost 1.000 people come to his memorial,  but I would trade all that to have him back.  I ask for your prayers, thoughts, comments, emails and calls.  I really need them!  I  know I am grieving in a healthy manner, but please pray my anger does not turn into bitterness.
Graduation is May 30th and Andrew' friend, Tanner Makris has been so gracious in making stickers which have the intials "AP" in orange lettering symbolizing Leukemia awareness to be put on all the graduates caps.  He also has arranged a empty seat to represent Andrew, a moment of silence, and reading of his name, so he can graduate in spirit with the class of 2013.  I have not decided whether to go or not.  Please, please. please pray for me, Jennifer, Yun, Emily and Bry during this difficult season.

I know things are starting to "get better" by the virtue of me willing to help others out who are grieving and going through similar trials I did with Andrew.  With that being said, I got wind of a couple, Jason and Jeannie Cho, who are caring for their daughter beautiful young daughter Sophie, who is fighting pediatric brain cancer.  I am attaching a link to their blog for Sophie.  Please blanket them in prayer! To go to their blog,  press here. 

I know God is big enough to handle my anger and sadness and I thank you for taking the time to read this entry and to also pray for me and my family.  God bless.  Until next time.  xoxo

Joe


Thursday, March 28, 2013

SPRING IS COMING....

Greetings everyone.  It has been almost two months since I have last posted and almost nine months since Andrew died.  The last post was dedicated to Andrew and what was to have been his 18th birthday.  The days leading up to his birthday were absolutely miserable and unbearable at times.  One of many birthdays, holidays and other significant occasions that will be without our precious Andrew.

I had failed to mention last post what was to start the day after Andrew's birthday and the copious grief that tagged along with it:  a new job as a paraeducator for a special needs child in second grade at Ogden Avenue Elementary School in Lagrange, IL, just five minutes away from my home.  Up until then, I have been unemployed for the past year or so.  Last year was dedicated to taking care of Andrew until he died and the seemingly never ending grief that came with the death.  As most of you know, I started classes fall of 2011 right before Andrew relapsed. at Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL to get my teaching certification for elementary education in hopes to become a elementary or middle school teacher,   I am debating whether to get my secondary ed certification at this moment.  Financially, I desperately needed a job to support the family, but after applying, starting in October, to what seemed like hundreds of jobs in the education field I got no responses.  It wasn't until Thanksgiving, I got a call while I was in Florida at my parents from a school in Elmhurst.   I always have my phone next to me, but that week, I decided to put it on silent far away from me, to grieve and rest surrounded by my family and extended family.  Well, I got a voicemail saying they wanted to interview me, but I tried to get back to them, but after a week of emailing, I found out the position was filled.

 I have always spoken of God's sovereignty and His good and perfect will, even in the midst of befuddling circumstances, like my son's death.  Somethings make more sense then others.  Well, looking back in retrospect,  God knew I was not ready to start a job that time.  As I have mentioned, the grief was exponentially worse right after Thanksgiving, during the holidays and after.  Yes, a new job could have helped in me staying busy and keeping my mind off things for a moment or two, but as I look back, I was not ready.  And I truly believe that me starting the new job right after Andrew's birthday was not a coincidence as well.

My first day at Ogden was the morning of February 6th  and it was gray, gloomy and overcast, but after I parked my car and started walking toward the school, the sky opened up a bit and cast a ray of sunshine on the sidewalk before me.  All I could picture was Andrew smiling at me a few yards in front of me and beckoning me to come with his hand as if he were saying, "Dad, it's going to be okay."  He had the biggest grin on his face and a full head of hair.  Why do I mention the full head of hair?  Some of my saddest images are when I remember Andrew in his hairless chemo head.  This time, he had his full head of hair and whole and healthy body,  jumping up and down saying, "Come on Dad!"

I know it was God's hand on me getting this job, because after a bit of contemplation, I thought how unlikely it was for me to get a job in the middle of the school year with absolutely no experience. I was told after I got hired, how well I interviewed and how convinced they thought I was right for the job.  I am grateful they saw my life experiences and how it has shaped me into the man I am today and how it would potentially positively translate into this new position.  I got to tell you my family and friends, there was no transitional period for me.  After shadowing  the substitute for a the student I will refer to as "S",  for one day, I was thrusted into taking care of S and making sure he got the care and love he needed to learn and grow.  I am in a second grade classroom with S and work in the classroom and at times outside the class when S needs one on one attention.  I am so grateful for working with the second grade teacher, Vanessa.  She has been a joy to work with and has given me responsibilities in help teaching and helping the other students in the class.  I have told Vanessa by the time I student teach, I will be so better off to do so, because of all the experience I am getting immersed in a classroom setting.  I know I will have to take all the courses to become certified, but there is nothing like being in a clinical setting learning your craft.  I am the only male paraeducator and one of a handful of men at Ogden.  The other female para's have embraced me and I am grateful for their friendship.  I quickly have become known as Mr. Park and the teacher who generously gives out fist bumps to all the kids.  Most know I connect with young kids well and it is quite evident at Ogden, according to many staff who say I have a "reputation"among the staff and children.  I have a new found respect for educators and the incredible hard job they have in being a educator and steward over these young and naive minds.  I don't want to hear the rhetoric of how teachers are overpaid! They are not!  Especially the teachers who took a voluntary pay cut to make sure the kids in District 102 were taken care of.  Most know that my "love language" is affirmation (those interested on what the love languages are, press HERE)  and I have gotten it in spades from the staff, the children and my wonderful leader, Principal Waldo.  They have affirmed that I will make a great teacher and I was born to do this.

So, yes, I am doing better.  I still cry everyday, but not as severe. However,  grief is not linear and there have been days where grief has crept like an unwelcome tornado  The job keeps me busy and I am dedicating this job in honor of my son.  I hope God and Andrew are proud of me.  I know things may be tough right now, but I know spring is coming, metaphorically and literally.  Here is a song by
Steven Curtis Chapman, a very Godly man, who lost a child in a very tragic car accident, who wrote a very real and raw album about his grief after this seemingly senseless loss.  The song comes at the end of the album and it is entitled: SPRING IS COMING...Please listen and read the lyrics and their powerful and simple word:


Jennifer is crazy busy with her studies in hopes to become a pediatric icu nurse in honor of Andrew.  Emily has been busy with school and made the varsity softball team and Bry remains to be the most amazing and caring child I have ever met.  Please continue to pray for us as we navigate through this difficult season of  our lives.  Please pray for mercies in our finances, health mentally and physically.  And I pray for those of you who are going through your own difficult seasons of life.  I leave you with a verse I have known for sometime now, but makes more sense as I endure pain and trials and come out of it a better man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

                                                   Proverbs 3:5-6

Love,
Joe


Monday, February 4, 2013

Happy Birthday My Son, Laugh and Celebrate on Glories Side...

Andrew's 17th and Last Birthday on Earth, Last February 5th.

Just when I thought the hurdle of getting over the holidays was over, another one comes up and looks squarely at me.  Tomorrow, February 5th was to have been my son's 18th birthday.  A milestone birthday in any young adults life.  A milestone representing a coming of age and sense of independence.  But for Andrew, his life was meant to go on to live in eternity and laugh on glories side, much earlier than we thought.  

I anticipated the days prior to Andrew's birthday would be extremely difficult.  And the foreshadow has not been wrong.  My mind is going in some many directions.  I think of what could have been with Andrew.  I was thinking, as I watched the Superbowl, how Andrew, if alive, would have been watching the game with Ryan and the rest of the gang.  Andrew's last birthday on earth was celebrated in the confines of the hospital last year, but I can't help to think my son is confined no more.  He is whole and free!  Laughing and grinning and waiting in anticipation when he will see me, his mom, Bry Mom, Emily, Bry, Grandpa and Grandma and the rest of the gang who oh so loved Andrew and whom Andrew loved so fiercely.  

I was thinking today how I would trade all the wonderful things Andrew did to impact people's lives here on earth and the magnanimous life he lead to have him back.  Please pray for our family as we miss him dearly and continue to grieve in his overwhelming absence.  We continue to survive by the grace of God and knowledge we will see Andrew again one day:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

Here is a poem I penned today to help deal with my grief and to honor my son:

A Birthday Poem to My Son

I miss you my champ, how is it with God up there?
I’m so lonely and sad, as you gaze and grin down from the ultimate rarefied air.

Today was suppose to be your 18th birthday to celebrate,
In your absence, I must trudge along and a modicum of peace I must create.

I so want to honor you and smile a bit,
But on this first birthday without you, all I want to do is cry and sit.

The gift you give me today as I weep, are the great and lasting memories,
Your quiet, confident, kind and warm smile did not have any enemies.
It is quite depressing as life all around goes on without a blink,
But my deepest desire is to hold you and touch you and never let go of that link.

My son, the only thing that keeps me going on to walk, stubble and run
is the hope and faith in seeing you again, because of God’s one and only son.

So for now, my beloved and lost son, I will say goodbye for now,
I look forward to seeing you again, as fast as time will allow.

Happy Birthday Andrew Park,
Your Daddy I Will Always be!