Nothing can really prepare you for the sudden death of a close friend, nor can you prepare for the phone calls you have to make to let others know what happened. Then there are the text messages you send to console your close friends to ask, “Hey. How are you doing? I’m here if you need to talk,” Which then brings up more conversations to extend the mourning and grief a little longer.
My friend Andrew Jackson passed away suddenly on his way to London Saturday afternoon, February 24th, 2018. He was going to record an album for work and visit our close friends. Andrew suffered from a massive heart-attack while the plane was landing and passed away during surgery. He was 29.
I first heard the news as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed from my friend Heather who is living in London, whom Andrew was going to visit. I initially was mindlessly scrolling and looked at the photo without looking at the caption right away seeing a picture of her and Andrew. I thought to myself, “I never get shout outs from her. It would be nice to get one every once in a while.” Petty right? Then I went back to look and read to find out what had happened. Up to this point Andrew was still alive. I texted Heather immediately in disbelief asking for her to keep me updated. She told me, that he was taken to the number one heart center in England for surgery. I thought right away, “well… he made it. He’s going to be ok. He came so close, no need to get upset.” Queue the sigh of relief. I then went and posted something on Facebook mentioning to my friends and loved ones to keep him in their prayers. Shortly after, one of my best friends, Luke texted me, “This sucks to txt, but I just saw your post. He passed away.”
Shocked as I was, I didn’t know how to feel. I’ve known Andrew for about 10 years now, we first met in high school during our economics class with Mr. Leavy. Our first day of class Mr. Leavy went around asking people what their first and last names were and what they wanted to be called. Andrew was the first one to introduce himself. When Andrew spoke his first and last name aloud, Mr. Leavy called him “Mr. President” and from then on it stuck. I remember that very clearly, because the whole class had been laughing. Over time I never thought my path and Andrew’s path would cross the way it did, but it did. Andrew and I were never best friends but we were good friends. We had been running in the same circles for a very long time. From being part of the same church for many years and serving together to being in weddings and seeing our friends get married. He was always a guy I could rely on to come through for whatever reason. He was always there in the background. I had called on him for a few favors and without a doubt he said yes.
Right after Luke had texted me about the news, more text messages came through, one of them being from my close friend Hannah. She and her husband had a great relationship with Andrew as well. I called Hannah immediately thinking I could console her, but as she answered the phone as she always does with me, “Hey Brother,” I lost it, crocodile tears were streaming down my face. I was okay until that moment because I could hear the sorrow in her voice and realized this wasn’t a dream and that it was very real.
That weekend, I, along with some of my close friends were out for our annual cabin trip up in Northern Minnesota. Matter of fact we were all out to eat at this restaurant when I stepped outside to find out the news that Andrew had passed. I didn’t know how to feel or what to say that I fell into a crouched position on the sidewalk. I took the phone call and then headed back inside to face my friends with this whirlwind of emotion. We were all having a great weekend and it immediately shifted into mourning. They all grieved with me. Later everyone was able to go back to enjoying their weekend, everyone but me.
I write this not to explain what happened for the sake of story, nor to tell the legacy of Andrew Jackson. That should be done in person celebrating his life over a glass of his favorite whiskey, while listening to Radiohead or Mew. Over the course of the past two days I have heard what I had always known, how amazing he truly was. I want to be honest with what it looks like to grieve from my perspective and how I am going to process everything that has seemed to surface since he passed.
I do this through writing, attempt to tell a story from another point of view so that I can peer in and get a different angle. Sometimes when things are too in your face it’s hard to see beyond what is in front of you. I’ve done this a lot and hope that it helps sheds light to my understanding and maybe yours as well.
I’ve been in a panic since all of this has happened. I deal with anxiety like many others, but lately I have felt as if I have had a grip on it. Well not anymore. Its as though my fear jar that I was holding closed has exploded wide open making peace an unfamiliar territory. Some people know that flying is hard for me. I text my family right before takeoff to say I love you in case this is goodbye, and then immediately purchase WiFi so I can text my sister because I’m on the verge of panic until about halfway through the flight. Well, my biggest fear actually happened to my friend Andrew, and now nothing feels safe to me anymore.
I don’t know if this is grief or that I am just a wreck, but all I want is someone to tell me that it is all going to be okay. I want to be closer to my family. I wish they could see the severity of what I am feeling and get on the next flight to Minneapolis to give me a hug and spend time with one another, but circumstances like jobs prevent that from happening. There is nothing more important than all being together, but it’s just how the chips fall sometimes. I feel really alone. Even though I’m surrounded by tons of amazing friends, I am lonely.
One minute I’m ok; I’m going through my routine of driving down the road and then suddenly I realize I won’t be able to give my friend a hug again. That spirals into thinking, “How is my health? Could this happen to me? Will people feel the same about me as they do about Andrew if I pass? Have I lived a good life? How close am I really to my maker?” With anxiety these are all irrational thoughts, but this is reality.
I’ve had a few breakdowns in the last 48 hours, unsure of what is to come. I wake up in panic because I fall asleep with uncertainty. These are all real thoughts in my head, more than mere fears. It hits close to home once you lose someone who you loved and cared about.
Last week I was really down, and I have been bumming around about a few things: work has been slow, I’m wondering if I’m doing the right thing, I miss my family and rethinking moving across the country was the right call. I have dreams and aspirations, but I feel like I’m not pursuing them properly. Then Andrew dies, making a lot of what I was worrying about no longer an issue. I believe God uses everything as an opportunity to get closer to him. I have a feeling this is one of those moments.
I wonder how long I would have been humdrum and nonchalant. How close I am to my phone? How do people perceive me? Do I have enough money? Do these questions matter? What is really important?
I once heard that a legacy is not what you leave behind but what you gave while you were here on earth. From what I’ve read and heard from the people that he touched, in Andrew’s 29 years on this earth he gave a whole hell of a lot. He didn’t always get it right, but he knew what was important: people, God, and music. Man did he rock (physically and metaphorically).
Andrew’s death brought so much to the surface in my life and he has only been gone two days. It’s going to be messy for a while but it’s going to get better. I have realized how distant I’ve been from God. Since Andrew died I haven’t once gone to God and talked to him. Frankly because I don’t know where to begin. I know that my fears and grief are meant to bring healing and understanding, but navigating through them seems very cloudy. I trust God with my heart. I truly do. I know Andrew trusted God with his because The Lord is holding Andrews heart now. There are things we can’t explain or have the words for, but one thing is for certain God does. I write all this in trust that I believe this to be true.
I’m thankful for Andrew’s life for many reasons, and in his death I’ve allowed myself to ask what is really important. I don’t have the answers, but I sure as heck know where to start.