January 10, 2010 would have been Andrew's and my sixth anniversary. I loved him as if we would die together.
Till death do us part. Except I thought that might buy us 50 or 60 years together.
One year ago Andrew was still alive and the kids and I were staying at a nutritional treatment center in Redlands, CA. January 2, 2009 Andrew's parents, brother, and sister and her husband left from spending the holidays with us. We closed the door behind them, Andrew said he was tired, laid down on the bed, and thus began Andrew's major decline, in which he slept nearly all day and all night every day. He would only get up twice a day when I would beg him that he needed to go to the bathroom, because it would not be good for all those toxins to never be released from his system. I did not understand what was going on. He had gone through periods of sleep like this during chemotherapy, and I did not understand that this was different. I did not understand that he had even less energy than then and that his body was shutting down now.
Monday, January 5th, 2009 a few days before our 5 year anniversary, while Andrew was sleeping and after I had put the kids to bed, I left the treatment center around 7:30pm and drove down the hills of Redlands to find the Trader Joe's to food shop for my kids, who obviously were not eating the same therapy foods as their father. I had always shopped at a different supermarket, but I thought this evening, I would look for Trader Joe's.
As I drove down the hills, I was stunned by the view that clear evening of the city lights of the valley below us. It was so beautiful and reminded me of my dating days with Andrew in Los Angeles. He loved views. He loved the bigger picture.
One of the things that he loved as a systems engineer for Motorola in Los Angeles the summers of 2002 and 2003 was that he had to go to the highest mountain or the off-limits highest part of the highest building in the city where they would place the radio towers he designed for the radio systems (like long-distance walkie-talkies) for the LAPD or LAFD.
Also, while I was in the Philippines for six months in 2003, he used to ride his motorcycle into the mountains and loved the views from there and email me the pictures. The first week when I returned from the Philippines, we went hiking on those various mountains within an hour of L.A. every day April 2003. As our relationship progressed and we could not hike every day, we would still hike every weekend. And when there wasn't time to go hiking, Andrew would look for a high building in Westwood near UCLA for us to go to the top and look at the views.
I had always loved to obsess over minute details to the point of myopia. Andrew introduced me to the bigger picture.
One of our most special times together was before we were even dating, the summer of 2002 before I had left for my six months in the Philippines in October. Andrew had called me one Friday evening and said in his low voice, "Grace. You're leaving. That's BAD. I'm never going to see you again." He continued, "So the reason I'm calling is to see if you'd like to have lunch with me tomorrow."
I thought Andrew was asking me out on a date until he called me Saturday morning to ask if his cousin, Dan, could come along. Andrew and I had all the same friends and saw each other a lot that summer, and since Dan spent a lot of time with Andrew that summer, I already knew Dan. So even though I was confused and disappointed (and frustrated) that it wasn't a date we were going on, it sounded fun anyway.
Before lunch that Saturday, I walked across the street from my apartment at 423 Kelton and met Andrew in front of his apartment at 424 Kelton. The two of us walked together down to Westwood where we met Dan at Mr. Noodle. I think I expected I would go home after lunch and not intrude upon their guy time, but then Dan suggested checking out the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art. This was very exciting for me, because aside from the fact that I had been secretly crushing on Andrew Mark for nearly a year at this point, which is a lifetime for a college student, my dream was to go to a museum with Andrew.
We had fun at the museum, then got ice cream, then I think there was this Japanese festival all within walking distance of the museum. Andrew said his lips were dry and asked if anyone had chapstick he could borrow. I handed him my rainbow sherbet chapstick, pink, orange, and lighter pink swirled in its clear circular case from the Gap, and he applied it to his lips. I didn't use that chapstick much after that in order to save it and found it one day a few months ago. I put it in Gracie's keepsakes for her to have when she grows up.
After we drove back to Westwood, I thought I would return to my apartment and they would return to Andrew's apartment across the street. But Andrew offered to make us dinner. After dinner, Andrew found a nearly empty carton of rainbow sherbet in the freezer, which I think at some point I had mentioned that had been my favorite when I was little. I think it was his too, so he offered to share it with me out of the carton. This may sound gross to some of you, or just so-clueless-crass guy, and while all of these things probably did cross my mind, the final conclusion was - flattery. How intimate. Sharing ice cream out of a carton together. And I really wasn't even sure what he thought of me.
Again, I thought I was supposed to go home. But then Andrew suggested we all take a drive to this place he knew of a few minutes away. We climbed into his beloved black 1995 Integra GSR that identified him and he drove us to a neighborhood a few minutes away and parked in a cul-de-sac. I didn't know where we were going and why we had to drive to take a walk in a suburban neighborhood, since there were suburban neighborhoods where we lived in Westwood. There was some sparse brush beside the street that we walked alongside. All of a sudden Andrew turned into the brush and we found ourselves on a dirt trail. We followed Andrew up it a few yards. Then all of a sudden, we found ourselves at the top of a mountain. Below us was an amazing view of the city lights all around us, glittering, yellow pinpricks blinking up at us from a black blanket below.
We sat down, quieted by the view, on the dusty ground. Andrew and I were not sitting near each other, probably separated by a few yards. But we faced each other diagonally, so that I saw the city lights just past his profile and behind him and he saw the lights beyond me. We never looked directly at each other. It was probably too dark. But I loved him. Silently. Quietly.
There was barking in the background. Multiple barkings and howls. Like a pack of them. The barkings and howls intermittent and slowly getting louder and closer, as if they were on the other side of a canyon, making their way up, swirling a path upwards. But I was too young and stupid to fear danger at the time and assumed - because I couldn't put my finger on it - maybe those were the neighborhood dogs? Dan spoke words of reason and said we should go. In retrospect, they were probably coyotes.
Seven years later, January 2009 I drove down the hills of Redlands and saw the quiet sparkles of the city lights blinking up at me through a clear, black, quiet night. I continued down the hill and entered the freeway. On the freeway, I found that when I reached my exit, it was closed due to construction, forcing me to exit at the following one. I tracked my way through the streets of Redlands to the area where I had originally been told to exit, but there was no Trader Joe's. When I eventually did find it, it had closed two minutes earlier.
As I drove back to the house, discouraged and overwhelmed after a night of wondering through the dark streets and freeway of Redlands, I said, "Oh Lord, I don't know why You had me come out all this way tonight, only to never make it to Trader Joe's. But I know that You are sovereign. What is it that you brought me out here for?"
The next night, I found a different scene as I descended the hills in my car. Fog covering the valley. There were no city lights to be seen.
I realized that if it was January, then it meant our wedding anniversary must be approaching, and I had not even planned anything to do. In the past, Andrew, who was characterized by his giftedness at planning, always planned our anniversaries, which usually consisted of bringing the kids to a sitter overnight and checking into a nice hotel in the closest city to where we were living at the time and dinner at a hip restaurant we had never been to. I thought, "Well, considering how poorly Andrew is doing, maybe this would be a legitimate exception to celebrating our anniversary." I still did not understand that we were approaching his death.
As I asked the Lord again, "Why did you allow me to waste that whole night for no reason, Lord?" Then, it occurred to me. Andrew may not have energy to go out for the night or even be able to eat at all with his mouth, let alone be able to eat at a restaurant, but perhaps I could drive him and we could sit in the car and look at the city lights. It'll be perfect. He'll love it!
The next day, I drove all around the hills, looking for the best vantage of the city lights on a quiet street. I found a spot beside some brush. I prayed for the next few days that the Lord would provide a clear night for Andrew to enjoy the city lights.
I remembered all the old jazz we listened to. Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck. I remembered how our first week dating, after dinner he took me on the Pacific Coast Highway and parked near these jagged rocks beside the beach. He pointed out how he used to come there during the summer of 2001 before he had become a Christian, and God was in the process of decimating him, humbling him, and he would come here to the beach and listen to the waves crash and call out to God, "If You're there God, show me!" And we listened to the new John Coltrane CD I had gotten him as he shared all these things with me.
So I thought of playing jazz while we looked at the city lights, but I realized I had no way of playing it, since the radio in the car a friend had lent us during our time in California was broken. I found a CD player in the treatment center that Friday, the day of our anniversary. But it had to be plugged into the wall and I didn't have any batteries. It kept coming to mind, though, that God was going to work it out, and I knew He would provide for us somehow. At the last hour before we left, I realized, "Duh! I can bring my laptop and play all our jazz from there."
January 10, 2009 our fifth and last anniversary together. One of the workers who made our foods, a daughter of the couple who ran the treatment center in her early 20s, had offered multiple times earlier that week, not even knowing our anniversary was approaching, that she loved our kids so much, she would love to babysit for us some time. So after I had fed Andrew his ground up and liquified dinner through his feeding tube, I told Andrew it was time to get ready now. I walked away and took care of the kids. Again, I didn't understand that this was not the same thing as when he was worn out from chemotherapy. During chemotherapy he slept constantly, but if he had to go to the bathroom, he could get up for that, and if he had to go to the doctor, he could also get up and at least make it to sitting in the car. This time, however, he had gradually lost his voice during the two weeks his family had bee with us and didn't have the energy to find a way to explain much, so it never occurred to me that if he was going to come out and sit in the car, I should be the one to get him changed and everything. He took much longer than I was expecting him to get ready.
After Andrew was ready, I drove us up the winding roads to the quiet street I had found earlier in the week and parked beside the brush. The Lord had provided a clear night. We sat watching the city lights, the jazz playing.
Afterwards, we drove through the city of Redlands and then through the campus of Redlands University. Another thing Andrew always loved was driving. This time he wasn't in the driver's seat, but he still liked to be in the car exploring. With the few words he was able to whisper, he said he liked that there was no pressure to go to a restaurant or have to get somewhere by any time.
When we returned to the treatment center, it had only been an hour-and-a-half.
That was our last wedding anniversary together and our last date together. I didn't have much of my Andrew afterwards. He took mostly to sleeping as his body shut down that last month.
When he died, Feb. 7th, it had been as if he had already left me a few months earlier. In fact, little by little over the years, the cancer had slowly stolen his energy - and my Andrew - and Feb. 7th, it had only become final.
I love writing about Andrew and all our memories. They were so beautiful, and while the Lord may continue to heal me, it's hard to imagine ever not enjoying writing about Andrew. He impacted so many people and even after his death, his memory and story continue to provide countless opportunities to share about who Jesus truly is.
A lot of people have been asking how I've been doing, since I haven't posted anything in awhile. I feel like God has done the inconceivable in me, which is that I feel like some real healing has accumulated over the past several months. I had no idea it was possible for the hurt to subside after such a profound loss.
I found in the Philippines that I no longer thought of us as a foursome missing the first one, but as a threesome. I felt my identity was no longer as a wife and mom, but as a single mother. And once I began to see my identity differently, there was not the same disappointment and hurt. There wasn't the same sense as if something was missing, or as if we were waiting for the first one to return, only to wait endlessly. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." The hope of his return finally died inside and my heart began to feel less and less sick. After the kids and I returned from the Philippines, I found that dinners at night were not so unbearable. There was no longer the automatic sense of expectancy every evening for Andrew to return home to us.
Travelling to another country with a completely different set of scenery before us, like we were in a different world, was really helpful. It was also incredibly restful, which I think was also very healing. And finally, having the opportunity to share about Jesus because of Andrew's life, suffering, and death, really gave me a glimpse of the bigger picture, of how his suffering and death was not for naught, not senseless, but, indeed, would continue to bring about both mine and Andrew's hearts' greatest desire - the worth and sufficiency and goodness of Christ, even in the midst of the worst, most hurtful disappointment. Everything may fall away and everything may disappoint, but Christ never does. He will never forsake His own. Our hope in Him is not misplaced, and so He will never be a disappointment.
There are still times where the pain is suddenly and unexpectedly fresh, where memories of Andrew become vivid. A.J. right now, I think is going through what I went through this past summer. He seems like he is grieving and hurting more than I have seen him do this whole year. Ever since I pulled out the Christmas decor after Thanksgiving, A.J. has been remembering our last Christmas with Andrew. I spent all of Christmas afternoon and evening crying. I couldn't stop. I listened to Andrew's memorial service and cried through all of it.
It seems there's no way around grief, only through it. So I approach the memories head on, so I can cry through them, and move on. It always feels like healing has taken place after I've been able to release some grief through tears, and I feel relieved and better. I'm really grateful for tears and that God provided them as one means to slowly drain the hurt and grief.
There is a sense in which I feel as if I have lost everything. I mean, obviously, I haven't lost everything. I have my two children, my church, a home, many relationships in my life which I treasure, for which I am overwhelmingly grateful. But there is still a sense in which I have faced my greatest fear - to lose Andrew.
I wasn't afraid of the coyotes that night on the mountain with Andrew and Dan. Life, I could take it or lose it, either way it was Christ. I wasn't afraid partly because I was young and dumb, and partly because I just wasn't afraid of death, because death equaled Christ's presence in such a real way to me, and I truly believed I couldn't be taken a moment sooner than my time. But the moment I was married to Andrew, suddenly life became so weighty, so important, so valuable to be never lost, because I absolutely had to be with Andrew. But I feel when I lost my love, I lost my life. No fear - Jesus has resurrected me! Daily, I feel my deaths. As I daily experience all the helplessnesses of a widow, He forces me to die to self; but daily He resurrects me.
Losing Andrew was like the first time I had travelled outside of the U.S. Before I had travelled out of the country, I had no idea what another country would be like. I wasn't sure if another country would be as different as travelling to Mars. Would they have streets like ours? Grass? I found myself surpised when it turned out Spain's sky was blue and looked exactly like ours. In the same way, I was terrified of losing Andrew, because I wasn't sure if what was on the other side was survivable. It turns out Christ was on the other side. Just as the sky is blue in America and is the same sky in the rest of the world, Christ was with me before I lost Andrew and Christ is still always with me and still sufficient in all loss and no matter what may come.
In this state of death (and resurrection), I feel a sense in which there is nothing to lose anymore. Why not live for Christ fearlessly, no matter what the call, no matter what the hurt, because I am dead to myself but alive to God in Christ" (Romans 6:11). I may not have the total fearlessness of death as I had as a dumb young college student, but there is a sense now of freedom in living. Just live for Christ, while living, no matter the cost. Because when all is stripped away, all there is, is Christ. Thank God.
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:25-26).