It was a Monday morning. I was so tired because I had been up late Saturday night and up early Sunday morning. I had overslept and got up sleepily to get ready for school. I was 18 years old and only had a few months left of high school. I went to the bathroom and while brushing my teeth, I heard my dad pacing back and forth in his room. He was on the phone and frantically getting ready. My mom had already left for work. My brother who is two years younger than me was still asleep in his room. Normally my dad would have already left or would be getting ready to leave, and he was never running late, so I was confused why he seemed like he was in such a hurry. I heard him say, “Yeah. He was hit by a car. Yeah. Okay.” This really got my attention.

I walked out of the bathroom and saw my dad sitting on the edge of the bed putting his shoes on. I rubbed my eyes and yawned and said, “Did you just say someone got hit by a car?” He just kept looking down at his shoes and sighed heavily, shaking his head. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t answering me. He stood up hesitantly and hugged me tight. I was confused and started saying, “What? What’s wrong?” He rubbed my back and kept hugging me. He finally said quietly, “Andrew was hit by a car.” I said, “Andrew who?” because I didn’t want to think it was the Andrew I thought it was. He said, “Andrew Thrailkill.” I thought about this for a minute and said, “Okay, but he’s alright, right?” He squeezed me harder, and sighed. He finally said, “No, honey. He’s not. He’s dead.” I started screaming “NO!” over and over again and pushing my dad off of me. He just kept pulling me closer and saying he was sorry over and over again.

I felt like I was in a terrible, terrible dream. The worst nightmare I could ever imagine. Just the morning before I had been with Andrew. We were sitting next to each other at church. I got sad thinking about him leaving to go into the Army. I told him I didn’t want him to go, and he told me he wanted me to come to his boot camp graduation. He said I was one of the only ones who he wanted there. I was one of the only ones he cared about. We hugged and he kissed me on the head like he had done so many times before. That moment will forever be cemented into my brain as one of the most important memories of my life.

Luckily, that weekend, we had both gone to Anderson University. He went to see his sister and her boyfriend, and I went to see my friend who went there. So we spent most of Saturday together and then went to church together Sunday morning. When his parents came to get him Sunday afternoon, I was goofing off with his dad in the driver’s seat, and Andrew went to the other side of the truck to get in the back seat. I never gave him a formal hug goodbye. I had no idea this would be the last time I would see him alive.

Hanging out with Andrew the day before he died

Andrew and I were such special friends. I’ve never had a friendship like that and don’t know if I ever will again. We legitimately told each other absolutely everything. We were never scared to say anything to each other. We were completely honest with each other. We could talk about really insignificant things and really important, personal things and everything in between. We had so much fun together, no matter where we were or what was going on. He always found a way to make things interesting. He was the kind of guy who came with me to our friend’s performance of The Nutcracker and to my grandparents’ house to get my grandma to help him sew something for his girlfriend. He let my little cousin play with his hair. He wore girl’s jeans to be funny. He tipped over the kayak to throw me in the pond in my clothes in November. He would bring me food and presents when I had surgery. He would stand on his tip toes in pictures to try and not look so short. Every time you touched his arm, he would flex. He always had sweaty hands, but he would still touch everyone. He loved to give massages. He always hugged everyone when he saw them. He was so kind and could literally make anyone feel like they were his best friend. He never met a stranger. He loved to sing and play guitar. He was a genius at the rubik’s cube. He loved to play pranks on his friends. He would do almost anything for a laugh. No one could be mad at him for long. His smile was too contagious.

The moment I found out he was gone forever was the worst moment of my life. The days following were a haze. I think the only time I wasn’t crying was when I was asleep. There is nothing that can prepare you for that unexpected pain. I felt so hopeless. Everywhere I turned, everywhere I looked, every song I heard, it all reminded me of him. I didn’t understand how I could keep living without him. I felt like a piece of me died with him.

After my dad told me what happened, my mom came home, and we all went over to Andrew’s house where his mom, dad, and sister were. I laid in his bed with his sister and showed her pictures that I had taken of him that weekend. We laid there and cried in total and complete disbelief. It was so hard for me to look his parents in the eye. I couldn’t handle seeing them in so much pain.

I was in denial for the first few days. At the visitation and funeral, there was an open casket. I got to lay eyes on him again. It was surreal. Some people don’t like seeing the lifeless bodies of people they love. I had to see him. It was the only way I could know for sure that it was real. Yes, it was hard to see him like that. But I still don’t know if I’d believe it to this day if I hadn’t seen him lying there. I leaned down and kissed him on the head, just like he had done to me so many times.

My dad spoke at the funeral. So did Andrew’s sister and dad. I don’t know how they did it. I could hardly breath. I had to walk in to the funeral along with other good friends of his. We walked down the aisle and to the front where we had reserved seats. While we were waiting in the lobby, a video of him playing guitar and singing was shown in the sanctuary. When I heard his voice, I felt like all the air had been sucked out of me. It was like seeing a ghost. I felt like I was walking on air walking down the aisle. I felt everyone staring at us feeling sorry for us. I didn’t want people’s pity. I wanted my best friend back.

That night I went to dinner with my girlfriends and laughed for the first time in days. We all just sat there laughing so hard it hurt. We needed that. But once I got home, he was still gone. And he wasn’t coming back. I didn’t know how to go on.

Once the funeral was over, everyone just seemed to go on with their lives. It was over. But it would never be over for me.

I would have days where everything was good. And then I would be sitting in a restaurant and look over at a booth that we once sat at, and I would just lose it.

I tried to use the tragedy to better myself, to learn from, to be kinder to others, to not take people for granted, but eventually all the sadness closed in around me and suffocated me. I didn’t handle it well. When the first anniversary of his death came, I was a wreck. It was about this time that I started going to counseling. I really can’t say that it turned everything around for me all at once. It took years, multiple doctors, multiple medications, falling on my knees and talking to Jesus before I could say that I was in a good place.

I still don’t understand it, and some days I still question why God had to do this. Why he had to take away the best friend I’ve ever had. But I’ve accepted that God does know better than us, and some answers we just won’t get here on earth. The hardest thing for me now is wondering what he would be doing in his life now and wishing he could meet my kids and his sisters’ kids. It’s hard going on without him, but I know he’s looking down and smiling at me and blowing me a kiss. As a mother, I have to keep going for my kids. I can’t wait until they’re old enough for me to tell them all about their Uncle Andrew and how cool he was.

It’s so hard to believe that today marks 12 years since he’s been gone.

Andrew and I were about 11 years old in this picture. People frequently thought we were brother and sister.

One of the things I have found that has been good from all this, is that I have been able to be there for others who have lost really close friends. It helps when you can relate to someone who has gone through what you have gone through. So if you are a person who is dealing with the death of a close friend, I encourage you to reach out to someone who has been in your shoes. It doesn’t have to be me, but just someone who you can talk to who understands. It makes a world of a difference. If you do want to talk to me, I would be happy to talk with you. Leave a comment below, DM me on Instagram, email me, whatever you want to do. I’m here.

How special is it that I took this picture of him on the day before he died?

RIP James Andrew Thrailkill III

September 11, 1989 - February 24, 2008

Always in my heart. I miss you, brother.

*If you knew Andrew, please leave your favorite thing about him in the comments so I can have something to smile about today 🙂

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