Friday night was the first Bulldog football game of the season. I knew I had to go, but I was dreading it. What would it be like without our #55 on the field? Am I still a Bulldog mom even though my Bulldog is gone? I didn't know how this weekend would be, but once again, God has a plan to help ease my pain.
Thursday night was a dry run for us. On the day of Andrew's service, Bill and I decided we still wanted to continue on with the responsibilities of being football and basketball parents until the Class of 2012 graduated. For the football team, that means hosting a team dinner. Knowing it would be hard to do, we decided to tell Vicki (the wonderful football mom who organizes the dinners and so much else) that we would like to host the first dinner. So, almost three months later, that night had finally come. I didn't know what to expect, but just as they had been on every other occasion, the boys were wonderful to us. One tough event down--many more to go.
After the meal we went to the football rally at the Bulldog field. The last time we had been there was the night of Andrew's candlelight service. It brought a chill down my back and brief tears to my eyes as the team came into the stadium together. My heart looked for #55 even though my mind kept telling me he wasn't there. One more tough event down. As we left, we saw Bill's sister. She was excited about something and she couldn't contain herself. Clint, Ashley and the kids were coming tomorrow. We would go to the game as a family.
In the end, the Groom Family minus one (Amanda couldn't come due to work obligations) attended the first Bulldog football game without Andrew together. Billy, Jessie, Clint, Ashley, Noah, Hendrix, and Maddie surrounded Bill and me as we experience this first game without our Bulldog #55. Also in attendance were my two brothers and their families, my parents, Bill's brother and sister-in-law, plus his sister and her two grandchildren. Add two uncles, three aunts, and numerous cousins and you can see that God knew we needed a little support for this event. They weren't there just for us--we do have other family members involved with the team and the cheer squad--however, it was great to have them around us.
After the team had their post-game discussion, the coaches (with Andrew's teammate Kroft in the lead) had the boys gather for a picture with Andrew's two brothers. I swear, if you look hard enough, you see that big grin of his somewhere in this picture. It is a precious picture for our family.
It took awhile for us to gather everyone together to make our way home. As I was walking towards the exit, I looked up into the empty stands. Below the announcers booth hung the #55 crimson Bulldog football jersey. My heart jumped into my throat when I saw it. But at that moment, even with sadness in my spirit, I didn't feel emptiness. How could I with all the love that had surrounded me on this most difficult evening? Even though the jersey was empty, my heart wasn't. My heart was full--full of pride for the boys who had just played a tough game; full of love for my family who continue to rally around us; full of joy because for sixteen years I had Andrew in my life.