It is important for me to say, I have been hanging on to Joni' s story for awhile. I don't know why, but it was a prompting from the Lord. Last night, I was deciding what would go up today and God made it clear, post Joni for the 22nd. I texted her last night to let her know. She told me, that today is Andrew's birthday. Wow......I was blown away. I did not know when his birthday was, but Jesus does and He wanted the Perry's to know, he hasn't forgotten.
Joni Perry. I think of incomparable strength and dignity and courage when I hear her name. Mostly I am in awe of a graciousness that flows out of her. Here is her story.
Andrew was two years and nine months old when he left us. I was thirty-six. Derrill and I had been married for seventeen years and we had five children. Andrew was the baby, and when he came along, he completed our family. Like the icing on the cake.
July 24, 2004 was a typical hot summer day in
. We were enjoying the day at a pool party,
celebrating the birthdays of two young sisters. While the kids swam, Derrill and I watched
from the side of the pool. After
lunch, Derrill joined them, and I
watched Andrew, Aaron, and Allie jump into their daddy's arms over and
over. Earlier in the summer, we had
vacationed in Georgia . Andrew had not yet learned to swim, so he
wore swimmies and a life vest in the pool and in the ocean's edge. That day, however, we left the life vest at
home and let Andrew swim in just his swimmies. The oldest birthday girl and her cousin had
learned a dance to a song from Grease, and they wanted to perform for us
all. We sat down and watched for a few
minutes. All eyes on the adorable
dancers, no one noticed Andrew slip off his swimmies and jump back into the
pool. Daytona Beach,
Derrill saw him first. When I turned around I saw Derrill holding Andrew in front of him, panic all over his face. I asked, "What's wrong? What happened? Is he choking? Is he drowning?" "Drowning," he answered. "Then we've got to do CPR! Lay him down," I said. A precious granddaddy calmly came over, took Andrew from Derrill and began CPR. A neighbor came to help him. I found out later he was a registered nurse. I knelt in front of Andrew as they worked, praying and talking to Andrew. I saw Derrill kneeling near the fence, praying. Andrew was lifeless. I heard someone on the phone with 911. They must have taken the kids inside the house. Only Autumn, our first born, was there. She was like Andrew's second mom. She sat in a lounge chair near us, crying. I got up once or twice, went to her, put my arm around her and told her to pray. I prayed all the way to the hospital. I prayed over Andrew in the emergency room. I begged God. I knew he could, believed he would. But he didn't.
I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to grieve. July 25 Unbelievable. Unbearable. It is, at least once every ten minutes, not real. It is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It is a road I have never traveled. I don't want to walk this way. August 3 Yesterday I woke up very sad. Today I woke up filled with anger. I went for a walk. As soon as I started walking, tears began flowing and I cried the whole time. Then, as suddenly as the tears began, they stopped. Now I'm numb. August 4 Everything looks the same, but NOTHING feels the same. I'm sorry, Andrew. We'll never forgive ourselves. August 5 Is this just in my mind? I long to hold him so much that my arms ache. August 9 I miss him more as each day arrives. I miss him. I don't know if anyone understands. I REALLY miss him. August 11 Eighteen days. I have never mourned the loss of anyone so close to me. I'm not exactly sure how to describe it. I feel like the shock and numbness have eroded away somewhat, and now I miss Andrew so bad that I could die. What was I supposed to do with all of these feelings? Where could I find peace that passes all understanding? How could His grace be sufficient to get me through this?
I had to learn to live without Andrew and learn to live with a broken heart. Grieving was a process that I had to go through. I began telling myself that I am not the first person to have lost a child, and if they could do it, so can I. I kept going for Derrill, Autumn, Ashlyn, Allie, and Aaron. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but in the days and weeks to come, that turned into the years, I learned so much about who God is and how much He cares.
I needed Him more than I have ever needed Him, and He did not let me down. I could hardly find the words to utter a prayer. I tried to read the Scriptures, but found it difficult to concentrate. I wish I could explain how that in the midst of my pain, I had peace. I can not explain it. But I know He was with me. I know now that's when others were praying daily for us and I have to believe that's when the Spirit within me prayed for me.
Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Then there was music. It seemed to connect my heart to His. He was very near to me when I listened to music. There were certain songs I played over and over. Mostly praise and worship songs and songs that my choir sang. My mom had given me a cd of Pachelbel's Canon in D. I played that cd the most. While the kids were at school and Derrill was at work, I would listen to music. I would cry while doing the dishes. Ask God why. Cry and fold a load of clothes. Tell Him how much I hurt and how mad I was. And as I drew near to Him, he drew near to me. One difficult day at a time, God healed my broken heart. Sometimes I took one step forward then two steps back, but He walked with me every step of the way.
Psalm 145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
Psalm 3:3 But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.
I thank God I did not go through it all alone. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful people who walked with us along the way. I don't know how we would have made it without our family and friends. If I learned one thing, I learned that people who are grieving need other people. And not just the first week. For months and months. I don't remember so much what people said, but I remember the things they did. They waited in a line that wrapped around the outside of the funeral home just to see us. They filled the church the day of the funeral. They brought meals and gave us gift cards to local restaurants. They cleaned the house and did the laundry. They sent cards to say how much they cared. They prayed for us, cried with us, and grieved with us. They called to check on us. And most of all, they haven't forgotten. They still think of us on Andrew's birthday, Christmas, Mother's Day and Father's Day, and July 24.
Not a day goes by that I don't think of Andrew. Part of me is missing and our family is incomplete. But, I have learned to live again. To laugh again. I used to count the days by how long it's been since Andrew has been gone. Now, I count how much closer I am to seeing Andrew again. Today, I am eight years and three months closer. I can hardly wait to see him again.