Q. When did you realize exactly who your son or daughter really was?
answered by Lisa Raymond, Eldest of three sisters.
When it was too late.
Just like most parents, I knew my son, Andy, was special to me and his father. He was smart, he was talented and he was a great big brother. Both of his younger brothers looked up to him.
A week after he died, (misdiagnosed in a clinic three days before he died.) in August 2018, I got a call from Andy’s employer asking me to come and see where he worked, meet some of his colleagues and pick up the things he left behind. I sat in my car staring at the front door the day of the appointment, this was another ending, and I didn’t think I was ready.
I truly was not ready. The CEO of the adolescent treatment came down to the parking lot and introduced himself. He rarely spent a lot of time with the counselors, but Andy was different, special he said. He figured that wasn’t a surprise. It wasn’t, but the rest of the day was.
The kids Andy worked with had made a book for me. Inside were pictures and anecdotes from them and other staff. I learned my son had shown up for work 30 minutes early, off the clock, for the past three years. Never late. He did it to walk the female staff to their vehicles after one said in passing the parking lot could be scary.
There was a picture of Andy with a bright blue face and cucumbers over his eyes. A facial mask. The girls in one wing had been acting up during group. Andy asked them what he could do to get them to behave. The girls had a little meeting and came back with- if you will buy us a facial and do it with us we will follow the rules. Andy negotiated. Go two weeks without a problem and they would have facial during group.
The aide on that unit told me the girls never really thought he would. They were used to adults making promises and then forgetting. Andy didn’t forget. He gave money to one of his female colleagues to pick out the best mask. The girls loved it. Several took pictures and they gave me one. The unit remained one of the best behaved. Andy made a difference in their lives by giving them some power over what happened and seeing it through.
When we moved to the chapel, I noticed a lot of artwork on the walls. This was a project Andy started with some of the younger kids that are autistic, so talking didn’t reach them as well. Andy would take the kids on a walk around the grounds and then let them draw or paint. By making the artwork more public than their unit, the kids seemed to feel proud of themselves, the pastor told me. They responded so positively. They pointed out their art to others and were excited on art day.
Even the CEO had a story in the book. A kid had jumped the fence and run away. Andy wasn’t with other kids right then, so volunteered to help find him. The police were called to assist, as well. The CEO, on his way home, saw Andy walking along the lane nearby and stopped. Impulsively, the CEO offered Andy a ride and they would look together. That trip started a long friendship between the two. Andy never took advantage, the CEO said, in fact, Andy did much more for him than in return. He genuinely grieved for my son.
All parents want to know if their kids turned out well. I knew Andy was responsible, was saving for his future, had written two children’s books, and loved his dog like it was his child. He helped a young cousin with math for a whole semester when my sister felt unable to do it, drove 300 miles to help a friend after he got off work one day and was mentoring some people at the local community theater where he directed a few plays. He helped me any time I asked.
I didn’t know my son had an extraordinary success rate with autistic children and had won an award. I didn’t know he had been attacked by an out of control child and needed stitches. Andy made an effort to check on the kid every day after he returned from juvenile detention. He didn’t want the kid to let this one mistake lead to worse ones.
I didn’t know Andy was protective of his colleagues, dressed up as a clown and Santa every year, helped the CEO reaffirm his commitment to working with children and got a friend back on his meds for bipolar disorder. Andy didn’t do CPR, but he did save lives. He made more of a difference in the world in his 35 years than many others do in 70, or ever. I didn’t know until too late.
Edit: To know that, just for a moment, Andy was in your thoughts, and maybe you were wishing you knew him before he died, has given me some comfort. Part of saying goodbye is the pain you feel when you think your child is going to be forgotten by everyone but yourself. Thank you all for reaching out to me to share appreciation of Andy’s gifts, and keeping his memory so alive for a little while longer.
Edit #2: Today makes one year since Andy died. I wanted to thank all of you for reading about him and realizing how incredible he was. Hold his memory close today. Thank you all.