I have this bad habit. And a year later, I’m really not much better. One of the first things I do upon waking up each morning is hop on and check Facebook. What I think I’m missing in the 7-8 hours since I last checked while I’m sleeping, I’m not sure.
And so it was, a “normal” Sunday morning on January 27, 2013. I hopped on Facebook and within a few moments saw a cousin of mine post a status regarding her sister. That yes, she was at that location but she is fine and in the hospital and they just hadn’t been able to see her yet.
Now, my Portuguese isn’t the greatest, so I go to my handy-dandy translator app and confirm I am understanding what I’m reading.
I comment to my cousin that I was not understand what was going on, so to please respond. I needed context. She did almost immediately and wrote that there had been a fire at a nightclub that Andrielle (her sister; my second cousin) was in but they knew she was okay.
I walked out of the bedroom and after greeting the hubby, I remember telling him that “something crazy happened in Brasil” and proceeded to update him on the situation. I began getting ready for church and upon turning on the television, we saw the story being reported on almost every major network. You know it’s bad when that happens.
The images I saw were horrifying. Reading and hearing the name of my precious city was surreal. I can’t even explain it. When people ask me what city I’m from, no one ever knows the name Santa Maria. And on this day, it became a city that anyone listening or reading the news or perusing the internet would know. That’s not the kind of fame you want.
In between showering and brushing of teeth and putting on clothes, I kept checking Facebook and it was quickly becoming apparent that confusion was setting in. Mind you, during our winter months Brasil is three hours ahead of us. So in all this time, my cousin’s mother could not get into the hospital to see Andri. At this point, the story gets choppy at least for me. And the details never mattered in trying to get a more accurate picture of what happened that Sunday. I just know that my cousin, Andri’s mother, and family were sent to multiple hospitals though her name was posted on a list outside the main one. But she wasn’t able to be located. Family members who worked in hospitals were doing everything on their part to get information. And that’s when the feeling in the pit of my stomach began.
It took everything in me to sit still through a church service. I kept checking my phone and, of course, Facebook. Once service ended at 10:30, I texted my father to see if he had heard anything more concrete. He replied something to the effect of, “Still haven’t found her. Not looking good.”
And it was then that I began to weep. But for some reason I felt silly. I remember a church member coming over to greet me and I pulled it together. Maybe I said something about what was going on. Those details are fuzzy. I just didn’t know what to do or what to think. I could only pray.
God certainly knew what He was doing that day. Providentially, I was baby-sitting my friend’s baby as she was away for the weekend. I went to the nursery to pick him up. I had to keep it together. I got him and we made our way home. I will forever be grateful for having him that day. He kept my mind off of things when no information was coming through and there really wasn’t much I, 3,000 miles away, could do. He was a good distraction. I really do not know what state I would have been in had he not been there.
The baby napped and I fiddled around online. I don’t remember the exact hour; maybe it was in the 2:00 hour or later………but I checked in our Facebook and an uncle posted about the death of a niece that day.
And I lost it.
I left the baby sleeping in my bed and ran into my son’s room. I frantically scrolled Facebook to confirm and within a few seconds Andri’s sister posted the truth we never thought would be at our doors that day. She was gone.
I immediately called my parents and my dad picked up. I screamed, “Is it true? Is it true? Uncle Ze is posting that she died.” My dad stammered and I’m not sure that he knew in that moment. But in the tiny seconds that felt like lifetimes I think someone from Brasil called them and shared the dreaded news. My mom came on the phone and we just cried. We hung up.
My son came into his room to see his mother huddled over sobbing. ”What’s wrong, Mommy?” I couldn’t speak. But I think he knew. He came over and I literally sobbed over his little body.
My husband had went out to get gas. I heard the door open and I walked to him and when he saw me sobbing, he knew. I saw his face change and he tried to hold back his own tears and I fell into this arms, sobbing in a way I never had before. It was uncontrollable. It was gut-wrenching. Goob came and put his arms around me, patting my back in the only way a child could. My boys held me. I am forever grateful.
The hours and days that followed were horrible. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I just cried. And when I had to “keep it together” to work and so forth, I promise you I was crying internally. My mind was with my family. I wanted nothing more than to be with them.
I shared a lot on social media that week. And I explained that in doing that, it was my way of processing the events; it was my way of feeling like I was there with my family. It felt like the only thing I could do. Being so far was horrible.
I get it. This isn’t about me. And there are millions, billions of other people who have walked far worse roads than I can even imagine. I’ve even seen it firsthand.
I’ve seen my best friend and her husband lose both their parents within five years. Two were expected; two completely not. I’ve known people who have lost children, babies born still. Even my own mother, with sixteen siblings, has experienced loss in ways I cannot even fathom. Including her own mother at the age of four. My husband lost his mother at age 12.
And here I am devastated, not feeling like I had the right to be. But I was. There really doesn’t need to be an explanation to that. It didn’t matter that I didn’t live there. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know her well. I knew her. And I wanted her to be known. I loved her. She was my family.
The days and week that followed included a lot of guilt. Guilt in not making more of an effort. Guilt in not sharing about my faith more. I cried over lost chances and things unsaid. Cried over pictures not taken and opportunities lost. I thought back to the last time I saw her. I didn’t even have a picture with her alone. I’m so glad that one night her and her sister took my son to hang out with him. They took a bunch of pictures together. I treasure them. I knew she loved him. She loved me. I hope she knew I loved her.
And now a year later, a lot of the thoughts and emotions from that day flood back. I think about her celebrating her birthday the same day as my son. I think about her only two days later getting ready to go out with her friends. You just never know when it will be your last moments on earth. You just don’t. I think about the fun they were having and how it took a horrifying turn. I’ve seen video and images I can’t erase from my mind. I imagine what she went through. Did she suffer?
What I do know is that at some point she did make it to a hospital, which is why her name was on the list. But she didn’t survive and was transported to the makeshift morgue where hours later she was identified by an uncle and cousin when they finally realized they needed to check there. I thank God for that. It’s selfish, and I deal with the guilt of that emotion too because none of those young adults should have perished in that situation, but it’s a prayer answered that she wasn’t trapped.
There really hasn’t been a day that I don’t think about her. What does grief look like a year later?
Well, I look back at the year and sure enough, as with any major catastrophic event, life did move on. I’ve made good on promises to be better at communicating with my family and to become more fluent and comfortable with the language of my heritage. But that sadness in our family will always linger; we never lost someone in such a way.
As an American and as someone who knew a number of people who perished in 9/11, I felt the effects of what an event of that magnitude can do. But when you don’t have someone super close to you, it’s easier to forget.
I mean, that little town stayed on the news for quite a number of days. But within a week, there were no more news reports. No more articles being written. It was just another tragedy overshadowed by the next one that came along.
But the families don’t forget. The friends don’t. The victims and the survivors carry it with them every single day.
Even today, January 27, 2014, most in America won’t remember what happened in that little city at 2:30 in the morning 365 days before. Those on my Facebook list are reminded because I post about it. But if I didn’t? It would be just another January 27 to them. When good happens. When bad happens.
For my family? It’s a date that changed our lives forever.
So here’s what I want you to know about a young woman name Andri. She was a girl full of life. She loved the guitar; I see in photos the love she had for her smaller cousins. She loved children. She loved helping others. She was vivacious. She loved to go out and have a good time. She loved nothing more than her best friends. And though it’s tragic–they went out that night together to celebrate birthdays…and they were together in the end.
And I want you to know that good can always come out of bad. Her mother and the mothers of her best friends began a non-profit organization to help children. The amount of items they’ve been able to collect to help those less unfortunate in these few short months is astounding. It’s not that we wouldn’t want Andri and the other 241 victims back. But they are gone and so, how, moving forward, do we honor their lives while they were here on earth?
I know my cousin, her mother, will never be the same. Nor will her father or sister. But I trust they know these verses speak true.
That God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and that He heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3).
We love and miss you SO much, Andri. We will never forget you. My world is not the same without you in it.
Praying today for every single one of the 242 families affected by this tragedy and the survivors whose lives will forever be shaped by this event.
Saudade eterna, prima.
This post was written in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way. I just let my fingers type. I let the emotions be felt and the memories of that day to come out; memories that I want to be documented because I know I’ll forget. So I did not go back and re-read and edit. If there are mistakes, my apologies.