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I was 19 years old when I lost my brother Andrew. I was home for the summer after my first year at college while Andrew was in Pennsylvania playing in a summer baseball league. He was a Division One athlete, in the best shape of any 22-year old, and pursuing his dream of advancing to Major League Baseball. Draft day was just a week or two away, but Andrew’s dreams were taken away in one morning drive.
Andrew was not supposed to travel with his team to an away game since he would not be pitching. At the last minute, his coaches wanted him on the bus with the team just in case. Andrew was on his way and turned into a drive-thru to get a quick morning coffee when a car came speeding over the hill and they crashed. Andrew was able to pull himself out of his car and wait for the police and ambulances to arrive, and then he went to the hospital.
After a series of x-rays, Andrew was discharged from the hospital with some Advil for bumps and bruises. We all checked in several times and he convinced us he was fine and that he would be recovered in no time. When he felt even worse the next day, my mom drove up to get him. When I saw him, I knew something was not right and made a quick call to my best friend’s dad who has been an ER doctor for years. We admitted Andrew to the hospital that next night and he died 6 weeks and 1 day later.
The hospital became my new home. We were greeted by the nurses every morning as they walked into their shifts and we woke up on the couches that we pushed together in the hospital lobby. The workers in the food court knew our food orders by heart. We became friends with the night shift nurses who we would talk to all throughout the night. Unfortunately, Andrew was only conscious the first few nights that he was hospitalized, and the rest of the days he was unconscious and connected to many tubes.
On the day when the doctors confirmed that Andrew was not coming back and hope had officially been lost, I remember my body just going numb and tears just flowing with no end. My entire family had walked into the hospital at the beginning with no doubt in our minds Andrew would undergo one surgery then be home in no time. We never anticipated walking out of the hospital realizing we would not be coming back the next day. Our daily and all-night shifts were over, I would not be making weekly grocery trips to stock up on snacks, and we would all sleep in our own beds that night. It was over and Andrew was gone. But what was next?
Those next few weeks were dreary. I remember walking into the church for the funeral and that was it. The next moment, I remember was standing in the corner of the reception hall while guests shared stories. I held onto Andrew’s baseball glove, not knowing what words to speak. In the days after the funeral, nobody really spoke and we all felt like ghosts within our own bodies. The house was now just me and my parents. I spent most nights with a friend to try and take my mind off of everything and step out of the house.
I wanted to take my mind off of the flashbacks that I would have as I walked into my bedroom and passed Andrew’s closed bedroom door, the room my only brother had lived the last 22 years. The room was still full of his belongings that represented his entire life and was a place you could still get a small scent of him as you walked by. I needed to get as far away from it as I could because I could not handle the thoughts that came with it.
Another month had gone by and it was time for me to move back to school. It was time to just move on with life and go back to a place where everyone talked about how great their summer was and excited for the new school year. The only people at school that knew about Andrew were my softball teammates. Nobody knew how to act around me, which is fair because I did not know how to act around anyone. As we started new classes and the teacher made us introduce ourselves, I did not even know how to answer, because at that point, I did not know who I was anymore.
I ended up quitting softball and found myself walking out of classes, which was extremely out of my character as a top student in all my prior schooling years. I wondered to myself if I would ever feel like myself again. But how can one move on just a month after their best friend and sibling dies?
This is when Andrew’s long-term girlfriend introduced me to Cornerstone of Hope. She had heard about the organization and I remember thinking that I could not afford therapy. She mentioned that Cornerstone of Hope serves all grieving people, regardless of their ability to pay. At that point, I had no other excuses not to try. My teachers and coach pushed me to talk to a professional, but therapy was never something that was talked about growing up. I had the idea that if I needed counseling services, then it meant that I was too weak to handle myself. Luckily, Andrew’s girlfriend pushed me to get over this idea and so I went to my first session.
I will never forget my first session at Cornerstone of Hope. I was terrified walking through those doors, not knowing what to expect. My counselor sat down next to me in a room and just looked at me and said, “So what’s on your mind.” I just stared at her and realized that this would be the first time I have to say out loud what had happened. It took me almost an hour to get the whole story out as it was interrupted every 10 seconds with bursts of tears.
After I finally told my story, I realized how much better I felt immediately after telling someone. I went back and saw my counselor twice a week for a couple weeks, then moved to once a week appointments. We would spend a little longer on days where we would be approaching a “first” – the first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first time I had a birthday where Andrew would not be the first one texting me at 12:01 saying “Happy Birthday, Lil Sis.”
My sessions at Cornerstone of Hope helped me get back to myself. For the first time in weeks, I felt like there was hope for the future – that one day I would be able to bring up Andrew’s name without shaking. That one day I could talk about him and smile instead of crying. My counselor made me realize that what I was feeling was okay and however I wanted to handle my grief was okay because it was MY grief.
I had the impression that with time it would get better and one day everything would be fine. My counselor taught me that even when I was feeling better that grief does not end. Time alone does not heal grief. She described grief as an ocean – some days, the water would be calm and everything would feel at peace, but other days, the waves would knock you down so hard you could not reach the surface and you would be grasping for air to keep yourself from drowning.
I knew then that grief would be an everyday struggle. A day would not go by where I did not think of my brother or the great 19 years that we had spent together. Andrew would always be a part of me. Something else she said was when you lose a sibling or someone close to you, you never fully move on or get used to it. It was similar to losing a limb. You never get that part of you back, but you adjust and adapt and learn to live without it. Your life will never be the same, but you figure out how to adjust to the new reality.
Cornerstone gave me hope to a new reality. They allowed a college student with no resources to come into their organization and receive the help I needed. The track I was on before I found help at Cornerstone was not a pretty one, and that path would not have led to where I am today. After counseling, I was able to focus back on the things that brought me happiness. I pushed myself to become the person Andrew would have wanted me to be.
I volunteer now at Cornerstone in hopes that my efforts can help other grieving young people who do not see a future, so that they can walk through those doors and get the same help that I received. I cannot give enough gratitude for this organization and what they have done for me, but hopefully my volunteer work is a start. Cornerstone has the ability to give anyone hope and help them adjust to their new reality, and I am living proof of that.
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