Reflecting

Yesterday it was 11 months since Andy passed away.  I have a difficult time conceptulizing whether that is a short time or a long time.  While I miss him and think of him everyday, the way I view his absence from my life and the lives of all of us who loved him and those that he loved, has gone through suble changes and shifts in my consciousness.

Initially my memories and reflections of him were so caught in reliving the ‘trauma’ of the last year of his life.  Remembering how his body slowly lost its ability to sustain him. Remembering how he experienced more and more pain as time went on and his restlessness and discomfort, wanting to conceal it from others, but feeling to freedom and safety to share it with me.  I also reflect on how he then gently began to let go and accept his destiny.  He let go of material items like his computer, much-loved books and other objects that would have no value to him as he moved towards surrendering his physical body.

He started to move closer to the people he loved, wanting to spend more time with them, sharing life, it’s experiences, it’s celebrations, it’s miracles.

I have been revisitng so many of the pivitol moments of deep anquish when he was learning that the cancer was growing throughout his body and there were no options anymore.  Sure, we could have contiued with western medicine, toxic chemicals that would surely take him out first, along with what quality of life he had left.  He chose the natural course of awareness:  knowing that  tumors were slowly shutting down his internal organs and using pain meds at a minium to keep him comfortable.  Over time during this year, my mind slowly started to drift away from these thoughts that were so difficult, the times I felt helpless, knowing I couldn’t fix his cancer or make it any better.

As the visitors of anguish began to diminish, the sweet memories of Andy’s presence began to come and go — the fun we had together cooking and experienmenting with food and healthy ways to use diet as a remedy to kill cancer cells.  I remember many times as we were driving in the car and we could casually touch my hand to hold it and then tell me how much he loved me.  I remember how quick his mind worked when solving a math problem, saying the answer before I could formulate how to go about figuring it out.  I remember looking up at the night sky so many times (some place where you could see the stars, like on vacation or out in the wilderness) and he could call out the Milky Way, the Big Dipper and beyond.  I reflect on his journey along the Pacific Crest Trail — the amount of courage that it took to even start the hike knowing the obstacles he would face, the pain he was already enduring and facing the truth of a fatal diagnosis.  Andy had an energy and awareness of how he wanted to spend his life — what little he had left of it.  Hiking the PCT brought me and many, many others such hope and joy and happiness for six and half months.   The legacy that he left for us is his thirst for adventure and fearlessness of the unknown.  This has brought a measure of peace, knowing he did what he wanted to do on his terms.

As we approach the one year anniversary of his death on August 30, we are looking forward to celebrating him in a way we think he would have approved and enjoyed.  We have a group of committed family and freinds who are ready to get on the trail!  We are going to a place that Andy loved and that he mentions in the voice memos he made on his phone while on the PCT.  We are going back-packing for three days!  We will be taking his ashes and carrying just the things we need on our backs, sleeping in the dirt, gazing at the stars and the moon, inviting the wildlife to celebrate with us — becoming one with nature and Mother Earth.  We are going to honor a life that is very special.  Every person who ever knew or heard of Astro Andy knows he was a very unique human being.

Two things that I am excited to share ~ a very kind and sincere woman named Nalini who resides at Ananda Village — the place where Andy took his last breaths and his spirit moved on to another realm —  is writing a book about death and others whom have passed away in that spiritual community.  She has included Andy in her book.

Second, I am very excited that we will have a special guest joining us on our “Anniversary Expedition.”  A writer from Backpacker magazine will be coming along because of his interest in Andy and his quest and completion of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012.  We are looking forward to the telling of a heart-warming story that we know will bring inspiration to many.

Thanks for reading!

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In Andy’s Memory

For those of you that have been through the death of a loved one, you know that the memory and essence of them is always with you. In fact, their memory and image springs up at some of the most surprising moments, completely unexpectedly. And then there are those times we anticipate, when we hear a song, see a picture, find a memento and the memory will arise, and we silently say to ourselves, “no, not now.” Why? Because we prefer not to live through the deep pain again of the reality that we’ve lost a great love. But like it or not, we live through it again and again and again. These moments of remembering are like opening an old wound. Tears prick around the eyes and the heart muscle clenches sending a contraction up the throat and that sense of knowing that if you spoke right then there would be a quiver, a break in your voice that reveals the impulse to hold back the emotion of grief. There is an idea that something surreal has transpired, then knowing it was real, he died.

Recently, there is also something wonderful happening around the memory of Andy that is bringing a smile to my face, a lightness and joy. There are friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers that have contacted me spontaneously with offers of remembrance who want to honor a life that touched them and continues to do so in many different ways. The life of my beautiful boy. I would like to share these offers with you, albeit a little bit selfishly because — it contributes to my healing.

A friend of Andy’s who he met on the trail named Wolverine (trail name) is beginning a through hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and is dedicating his hike to Andy, to honor his memory. Wolverine met Andy somewhere in Oregon and struck up a friendship. I’m not certain, but Wolverine was one of the few people Andy confided in on the trail about his cancer. Andy so wanted to be ‘normal’ on the trail, he chose not to share his cancer story. Being on the trail amongst strangers allowed Andy to leave behind an identity that had come to define him — the young man with Hodgkin’s disease — the trail gave him anonymity and a fresh start.

For some reason, Andy found Wolverine to be a trusted friend, and at the same time he was beginning to realize that his body was not performing at its optimal best as his leg was giving out. It was Wolverine that suggested it might be a good idea to get off the trail and check into the ER at Yakima Valley Memorial in Washington. From then on Wolverine became a protector, a guardian in a way. He also became a person that I could rely on to keep an eye on Andy. I remember this bringing me great peace.

Many of you know the story of Andy’s short stay in Yakima and his return to the trail to finish. When he did return, he started out with friends that included Wolverine and they were excited to be reunited. But then bad weather struck on the PCT in early October 2012 and they were separated with no way to communicate. Andy was joined by his step-father Michael, and another PCT hiker, Gourmet and a friend Dave, all to act as a support group to get Andy to the final terminus, the border of Canada. The morning they arrived at the terminus, after all the mugging and photos filled with glee, they were packing up heard someone walking towards them. And guess who hiked? Dog-tired, hungry, wet to the bone, probably dehydrated and definitely scared — Wolverine! He had been hiking alone through the snow for a number of days, wondering if he had veered off the trail, taken a wrong turn. Astro-Andy’s group set down their packs and made him a meal, gave him a shot of gin, recorded his momentous moment at the terminus and proceeded to walk into Canada together, so happy at their reunion. Astro-Andy and Wolverine were together and finishing together! Wolverine has been so touched and inspired by Andy that he has unselfishly dedicated his CDT hike to his memory!

I invite you all to visit Wolverine’s blog at: http://wolverinecdt.blogspot.com Scroll down and find April 9th read his story about Andy and find lot’s of great pictures too. Follow along if you feel so inclined. I also invite you to make a contribution to his hike. For many thru-hikers they are fulfilling a dream to see the world in a different view, to be filled with nature and find adventure. Often times funds are limited and they are proceeding on a shoe-string budget and through the kindness of others. Wolverine was very kind to Andy and our family, we were strangers until we became friends. Just like the many friends that you now have in your life.

I have some more stories about offers of remembrance, but for now I am going to leave you with the one above. I’m going to come back to this blog and share — for you and for me.

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A Beautiful Life ~ Join Us in Celebration

This obituary appeared in our local hometown paper, written by a dear friend Robin Pierson, who has two son’s close to Andy’s age.  Please join us in Celebration of Andy – Astro’s Life on September 29th at 4:00 at the Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach, CA.

Andrew Lyon

Guest Contributor | September 13, 2013 |

Ten months after triumphantly crossing into Canada having walked there from Mexico, Andrew Lyon, 24, passed away on the morning of Aug. 30, 2013 cradled in the arms of his mother and sister.

Lyon took his final breath at Ananda, a spiritual community in northern California where he had spent many months throughout the five and half years he spent living with cancer. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, when he was 19 and a freshman at UC Berkley studying astro-physics on a scholarship.

Before college, Lyon had an illustrious academic career in each of the Laguna Beach schools he attended from Top of the World to Thurston to Laguna Beach High School.

Linda Barker, his fifth grade teacher, recalled the 10-year-old Lyon as “one of my most intelligent fifth grade students with a love of math and reading.” While one of her most gifted students, Barker said Lyon never bragged about his abilities and instead helped students who struggled. Barker remembered Lyon’s stellar performance as the jester – who brought love and laughter back to the community – in a play written by David Saltman, who ironically lost his life to Hodgkin’s disease at 23. And she recalled that Lyon “was a good big brother” to his sister, Alexandra. “He always watched over her when he was at school and would wait for his little sister to join him.”

Lyon continued to impress his teachers at Thurston Middle School. “There are some students you just never forget,” said Patricia Twitty, Lyon’s eighth-grade science teacher. “He was the boy who walked in everyday with a smile on his face that lit up the room. He was always very present. The world is such a better place because Andy Lyon was here.”

The theme of kindness and caring for others continued to play out throughout Lyon’s life.

When he was 16 Lyon travelled with a group of students, all girls, to Costa Rica to paint and spackle a church in a poor community. Ann Quilter, the adult leader of the group, will never forget his “willingness to share, believe, to be brave and have fun while doing it,” even while surrounded by girls determined to pluck his “magnificent unibrow.” Quilter recalled seeing the emergence of Lyon’s “already magnificent sense of adventure,” which only grew despite the adversity he was to face.

Following his cancer diagnosis, Lyon took a year off from school, underwent chemotherapy and radiation, learned to play the piano, got a dog and returned to Berkeley, sailing through his sophomore year. As he was to begin his junior year, the cancer returned. His doctors prescribed even stronger chemotherapy and a grueling stem cell transplant treatment that required Lyon to be in isolation for three weeks. One hundred days after his release from the hospital, just a few months after his 21st birthday, Lyon learned that the cancer was back. After a 10-day silent meditation retreat, during which Lyon said that he “allowed the power of the universe to flow through me a bit more,” he decided to literally walk away from his oncologists’ prescriptions and instead immerse himself in nature, which he dearly loved, by attempting to walk the 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

“Carrying a big bundle of worries everywhere can be exhausting,” he said. So instead of shouldering the weight of the world, he packed his camping supplies, put on his running shoes and walked away from it all.

On the trail he became known as “Astro Andy.” And while his family was initially skeptical, they became his ardent support team. His mother, Betsy Gosselin, cooked, dehydrated and shipped an unending river of food packages and his stepfather, Michael Gosselin, often surprised Lyon on the trail and hiked with him for days.

Just 300 miles shy of the Canadian border, Lyon began to falter. The pain that he had learned to live with became intolerable and he started falling on the trail. Dr. Albert Brady, an oncologist at Yakima Memorial Hospital in Washington, told him the bad – and the good – news. His cancer had returned but the physician had just received a newly approved drug designed for people with reoccurring Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After receiving the treatment, Lyon got back on the trail the next day, and after walking through days of rain and snow, crossed the Canadian border on Oct. 19, six and a half months after he started,

“We’re a small town and he was quite a celebrity for us,” Brady said. “It’s an enormous undertaking for anyone to walk the entire length of the PCT in a single season and to do it with cancer made people just want to jump in and help him whatever way they could. People so admired someone with a terminal illness who accepted it with such courage and equanimity. He was a most remarkable young man.”

While on the trail Lyon and his mother started a blog: “Andy’s Big Adventure” which provided updates on his progress and served as an inspiration to friends and strangers alike. When it became clear that the “miracle” drug he received in Washington was not working and that he was dying, Lyon asked that his mother continue the blog to let people share his last earthly journey. A friend from Ananda commented that Lyon had “embarked on another type of PCT:  A Purposefully Conscious Transition.” With courage and an open heart, Lyon laid down sign posts to help others on a trip that all will make but few speak about.

Lyon and his family talked openly about how and where to celebrate his life and where he would like his ashes to be placed. One of his last dreams was to have his family and friends take him to one of his favorite passes in the Sierra to camp, have fun, share stories and revel in nature that he dearly loved.

Lyon is survived by his mother Betsy Gosselin, his stepfather, Michael Gosselin, his sister, Alexandra, and his grandparents.

A memorial service will be held at the Laguna Beach Neighborhood Congregational Church on Sept. 29. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Lyon’s honor to Ananda Village, 14618 Tyler Foote Rd., Nevada City, CA  95959 or to The Pacific Crest Trail Association:  https://www.pcta.org/donate/#why-give.

 

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Andrew Banks Lyon aka Andy – Astro – D-Andy-lion

Dear Family and Friends and Followers,

Our beautiful son, brother, friend, hero — Andy — passed away on Friday, August 30th at 7:30am.

I feel so very fortunate that Andy was able to die in a place that he loved, as close to nature as he could possibly be, under beautiful tress, overlooking a forested ridge line and a graceful river.  Adjacent to the little cottage where we stayed during the last days of his life are beautiful gardens and a sacred chapel called the Crystal Hermitage.  Andy had taken me on a visit to the gardens a few years ago and what I remember most is that we laid down on a grassy area surrounded by colorful flower beds and looked up at the sky. Andy always took the time to appreciate nature, and he was so happy in that moment, recognizing a of a little piece of heaven.  He was delighted to share it with me as though it was his own personal discovery.  It never occurred to me then that he would die just a hundred yards from this peaceful place where he found beauty and sanctuary.  When I think back to that time and reflect on all the events that lead up to his death, I realize that all the pieces came together in divine right order.

On that Friday morning when Andy passed over to an infinite realm, we once again watched the sun come up together and then decided to sleep in “a little bit longer”.  When he woke up again I noticed that his breathing was definitely different. We laid on either side of him in bed.  We laid there for a long time holding him and crying, telling him how much we loved him, how much his life meant to us and what an inspiration he had been to so many.  It was peaceful and beautiful.  I could not have wished for a better ending of his human life.

I know that Andy’s spirit and our memories will live forever in my heart and in all the hearts that he loved and loved him.

There are so many people that I would like to thank for your unwavering support to me and to my family on this journey.  I hesitate to name names for fear that I would leave someone out. (I’ve done my best to thank you personally, but in the midst of it all I may have overlooked some)  May I say now THANK YOU . . .  your love and kindness has surrounded us on this path and it is with deep gratitude and joy I thank you!

We will be honoring Andy’s life in Laguna Beach on Sunday, September 29th.

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Alexandra

We’ve made it to Northern California, continuing our incredible journey, walking on a trail that we’ve never walked before, all without a map.  As I’ve said in an earlier blog entry, what’s really weird is everyone eventually takes this journey, but there is little preparation to know the way into death.  For Andy and our family we are navigating through by trusting the unknown and what lies ahead, not knowing how things will play out, or what the end will look like.

We are inspired by our spiritual values that are based on yoga philosophy and Buddhist teachings — but what I reflect on is this path is so much like what Andy and all PCT hikers do on the trail — to just keep forging ahead, never knowing what was going to be around the next traverse, over the next crest or even where we will would find the next watering hole to replenish and refresh.

Fortunately we’ve found a perfect place to ‘camp-out’ and at the same time replenish and refresh.  We are staying in the Guest House at the Crystal Hermitage in Ananda Village.  The house sits on the ridge of a sloping mountain surrounded by beautiful pine and oak trees.  We can see a peek of the Yuba River and all kinds of wild life including deer and fat furry squirrels.  Andy feels at home now is this quiet serenity.

It’s just the three of us — Andy, me and Alex (Michael is closing down the Laguna house). I haven’t referred to my daughter, Andy’s sister Alexandra during this journey, but she is an intricate part of Andy’s life.  If I can say so myself, she is a beautiful strong young woman who loves her brother dearly and has been by his side since we began hospice a month ago.  They have a very close bond with one another, having experienced so life together.

What do you say and how do you console a daughter who is loosing her brother?  I have to reach deep inside me to find words that support her grief.  Even though Andy is still alive, we are loosing little bits of him everyday.  And its painful beyond belief.  We are loosing his fast analytical mind, his agile ability in the kitchen concocting a new culinary masterpiece and his talk and hopes and dreams of his next adventure.

We cling to what is still left — his smile and wirily humor about the mundane things such as modesty — I should say lack of — and his meager attempts at hygiene as we both step in to do the dirty work. We still have his never wavering love and gratefulness for all we do for him now.  It is so amazing that he still shows his care and concern for Alex despite his slowed speech. It brings me to tears when he says to her in broken down gasping breaths, “How are you doing Alex?”  He says this in the midst of his own obvious frailty and broken down body. This is the spirit of Andy — compassion for others.

Alex and I cry a lot together and talk about what the end of Andy’s life will look like. Neither of us has seen someone die.  She is afraid to leave his side fearing she will not witness his last breath. I know from my research and trying to be more informed, despite being map-less, that he could take his last breath without anyone around.  Alex is fearful of the future of what her life will look like without her brother and regrets that she didn’t spend more time with him when she was able.

All of this is so delicate.  I can share with her my process and that through my spiritual practice I have been preparing for Andy’s death as best as I am able.  I also know in my heart that I have spent so many meaningful moments with Andy, more than most mother’s do in a lifetime. I hope that as his life comes to an end I will have no regrets, only memories of a beautiful boy that brought so much joy and excitement and the true spirit of what it means to be alive.

One last thing to finish this entry . . . in the middle of many sleepless nights Andy and I sing or chant together.  We sing silly little songs, some sanskrit mantras or we make up some of our own little melodies to suit the moment and bring peace and tranquility to our hearts and minds.  Here are two that we ‘sing’ frequently:

In breath, out breath
deep breath, slow breath
calm breath, ease breath
smile breath, release
present moment, wonderful moment
~Thich Nhat Hanh

May the door open to my heart,
may all people be free from suffering,
may all have joy flow in.

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The Big Move

Andy is hanging in!  It’s been wonderful these past several weeks to have so many of his friends stop over and visit with him, reminiscing about past adventures and old times. Even though the visits tend to wear him out, this is the most enjoyable part of his day.

As many of you may know, one of Andy’s favorite places in the world is Northern California. Specifically, Nevada City where he has spent a lot of time at Ananda Village, a spiritual community that supported his healthy lifestyle and yoga inclinations.  Ever since Andy discovered Nevada City he has urged our family to relocate to the area. Over the years my husband Michael and I, began to seriously consider slowing down and simplifying our lives; and we kept coming back to the idea of moving to Northern California.  Andy espoused it’s natural beauty, charming community and plethora of outdoor activities.  And the fact that there are more trees than people.

In January of this year, we made a decision to make this year THE year to move from Southern California to Northern California.  In our hearts and minds we thought this would be a wonderful transition to allow us to spend more time with Andy in the place he enjoys most.  (We did not know that Andy’s health would decline as quickly as it has.)  We bought a house in Nevada City and sold ours in Laguna Beach.

And now here we are . . . we’re moving!  On Monday we will be driving away from our beloved community of 25 years to stay at Andy’s beloved Ananda until our things are moved into our new home.  Andy is ecstatic about being at Ananda and seeing all of his friends and being on the grounds of this sacred village that has supported him on his path of healing and discovery over the years.

Please send us your prayers and well wishes for this journey.  Andy’s breathing has become more and more labored because of the tumors compromising his lungs and he is now dependent on oxygen round the clock.  He’s beginning to loose the use of his legs, those strong legs that got him from Mexico to Canada.  He still has a great appetite and is enjoying all kinds of yummy treats brought by generous friends and neighbors (thank you).  His spirits are good.  He is coming to terms with his death in his own way.  Some days he yearns for a way that will insure that he will have a little bit more time to see the people that he loves.  Other days he fantasizes about taking a trip to Spain, Italy and Portugal where some members of our family will be visiting late fall.  Then there are days when he asks how much longer we think he has and he can’t imagine that it could be much longer.

We talk very openly about what he wants done with his body (cremated) and his ideas about where he wants the ashes to go change like the wind.  Somedays he wants to be shot through a canyon into space, or scattered on the top of a hill at Ananda.  His biggest dream lately is to have friends and family take him on the PCT trail to one of his favorite passes in the Sierra’s, have everyone camp out, have fun, share stories and revel in what he loves so much — nature.

How is this for me? Hard. Yes. Of course.  But there is beauty in dying too, that most people aren’t aware of.  I brought Andy into the world over 24 years ago.  I suckled him to my breast, changed his diapers, feed him, gave him baths, listened to his first words and helped him learn to walk.  These days its like going in reverse — watching him as he can no longer balance, listening to the drug-induced stories of bravery, fear and courage, helping him bathe and brush his teeth . . . making food, cleaning up a mess or two.  There are two things that are different from those early infant years.  First he tells me how much he loves me almost every time I assist with his care, and now I administer medication when he is in pain rather than change his diaper.

I am so grateful for all of you that have commented on the blog.  It has made me feel so proud to be Andy’s mom and know all the hearts that he has touched.  It has made me smile and of course cry . . . and that’s a good thing.  Your words and loving kindness has let Andy and our whole family that we are not alone that we are surrounded by love and prayers and healing. Thank you!

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Astro post PCT — 10 months later

Dear Family, Friends and Followers,

It’s been a long time!

Some of you that followed Andy’s (Astro’s) journey on the Pacific Crest Trail I know quite well, you are my family; others are good friends that live in our community in Laguna Beach, California.  Others of you are complete strangers, curious about the trail and Andy’s journey.

Andy has asked me (mom — Betsy) to pick the blog back up — to write about a new trail that we are blazing right now.  I’m going to do my best to tell you things in his words, but I know that my thoughts and feelings will come through because that’s the nature of how it goes.

You may remember back in October when Andy got off the trail in Washington, his leg was giving him some trouble.  It was starting to give way and he was also experiencing some pain in his hip and low back.  The truth is Andy has been experiencing pain in his hip and low back for three and half years now, because he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma over five and a half years ago.

When he got off that trial in Snow Pass, Washington after being on the trail for 152 days, he had hiked 2,302 miles.  He got a hitch from the trail and walked into a little hospital in Yakima Valley.  They they ran their usual battery of tests to figure out what the pain was. In the back of his mind he knew, I knew, all those close to him knew . . . what they were going to find.  And they found it — the Big C — still lurking in tumor fashion along his spine, pressing on nerves and causing the increasing pain in his body, making it difficult for him to hike 20 -25 miles a day.  The day we got that news, I don’t think I ever stopped crying, I boarded the next flight out and drove straight from Seattle to Yakima, arriving at 1:30 am.

I hadn’t seen him for about a month.  When I got to the hospital room I found a very handsome, happy young man, and visually healthy — my son Astro who had been hiking the pacific crest trail.  I was there to support him in what lie ahead, would he be able to finish the trail, did he want to?  And of course he could and he did.

Fast forward for now to today.

The ‘miracle drug’ didn’t work.  Andy had an allergic reaction each time he had an infusion.  Now his body is beginning to slowly shut down, the lymphoma is growing and beginning to take over, compromising his internal organs.  He is on heavy pain medication to participate in life.  Andy is beginning to die.

He wants to let you know what this is like for him.  This new journey.  A journey that we are all going to eventually take.  Because we all die.

Personal Note:  I want to thank all of you whom have called, emailed, texted, sent cards and notes, stopped by, brought over food.  My heart is filled with gratitude for your care and kindness towards our family right now.  Because of all that we have going on, we simply can’t respond to each and every call, text, etc. personally. But my hope is that this doesn’t deter you from keeping in touch, because your support has buoyed us along and made us feel loved.  I’m going to use this blog to try and keep you updated as things progress.  If it is too much for you to endure the pain and uncertainty of the journey ahead — a 24-year-old man who is about to loose his life — please feel free to ‘un-follow’.

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