Family and friends know about my granddaughter, Andi Jo, but what they don’t know is her story. I’ve been wanting to write about her for a long time now, but out of respect for Courtney, I wouldn’t. The last thing I wanted to do was pick the scab off a healing wound and cause her to have to live that nightmare over again. But Courtney has a special man in her life now, one that comforts her when she’s sad, listens to her when she needs to talk, and understands that she suffered a tremendous loss and provides the moral support and love that she so desperately needed. Hopefully, they will read this together, holding hands or hugging while they do. I’ve always heard that time heals all pain, but that’s not true. Time only helps us cope with the loss of a loved one, but the pain will always remain.
Andi Jo Baldridge was born on September 17, 2009, sharing the same date as my wedding anniversary, so we always called her our little anniversary gift. She was the only one of Courtney’s children that I was present for the birth of. With Courtney living in Kentucky and me in Florida, it made it tough for me to be there for the others. Courtney was 7 months pregnant with Andi Jo when we relocated to Indiana and I was elated that I would finally be a part of the birth of one of her children, being able to hold her as an infant, change diapers, feed her, and do whatever I could to help. It was a great pleasure to be able to do all that, if only for a little while.
For the first year of Andi Jo’s life, she spent a lot of time with her Grandma. When Courtney got the flu, Andi Jo was only a few months old, but I went to Courtney’s house not only to help her because she was sick, but to help with her other kids because she wasn’t able to do much of anything. I didn’t even know how to make Andi Jo’s bottles because Courtney used powder formula and I wasn’t sure how much water to mix with the powder. But I did figure it out, and I held her in my arms, cradling her with a bottle while I tended to the other kids and made sure they were fed and bathed. They also spent a lot of time coming to visit us, either for family dinners or simply to spend time together. Me, Candi and Christi would always “fight” over who was going to get to hold Andi Jo first. My argument that I was the grandmother didn’t work with them, however, and it was usually Candi that got her first. That’s just the way it was with our family. We are extremely close, love each other very much, and are involved in each others’ lives, but not to the extent that we intrude or meddle. That winter when it snowed, I told Courtney to leave Andi Jo with me so that she could go out with everyone and have fun snowboarding and Andi Jo and I would have our own fun. And we did. We played with toys, watched the neighbor’s dogs playing in the snow in the backyard, ate a cookie and watched television. Spending time with her was more valuable to me than giving up an opportunity to snowboard. The first year of her life was filled with events such as these.
Andi Jo Baldridge and her Grandma.
The last time I saw Andi Jo before her accident, they had been visiting me at our house. Me, Courtney and Andi Jo were sitting on the living room floor when Courtney said, “Andi Jo, show Grandma what you can do!” With arms outstretched, she began walking towards me and then fell into my arms, laughing. She was just learning to walk and was so proud of those steps, and laughed even more when me and Courtney cheered her on and applauded her success. That is the image that will forever be burned into my mind – that image of her walking to me, arms ready to grab me, that laugh and that smile. Two days later, all of our lives changed forever.
October 6, 2010 is a day that will forever remain fresh in my mind, remaining as clear as the actual day itself. I was sitting at my computer in the living room playing my daily crossword puzzle on Pogo when a knock came at the front door. Words did not need to be spoken to tell me that something horrible had happened. The expression on Candi’s face said it all. Her voice quivering and her lips trembling, she asked, “Mom, have you talked to Courtney?” “Not today, why?” “Andi Jo choked on a peanut shell. They think she’s dead. I’m on my way to the hospital.” Bobby was in Florida and I was scheduled to pick him up at the airport within the next couple of hours, so I couldn’t go to the hospital right away. I called Courtney but she wasn’t able to speak through her trauma. I told her that me and Bobby would come straight to the hospital from the airport and that we’d be there as soon as we could get there, and then I hung up and immediately called Bobby to let him know what had happened and that we’d be heading to the hospital as soon as I picked him up. For the next couple of hours, I paced back and forth, wringing my hands, crying and praying, waiting for someone to call me with information. I needed to know something. I felt helpless and lost. The first person that I called was my sister, Brenda, because I knew that she was a prayer warrior. I could barely get the words out because I was crying so hard, but I said enough that she knew we needed prayer, and she immediately started calling family and friends to begin a prayer chain.
The feeling that I felt when I walked into that hospital room for the first time is indescribable. Courtney jumped up from her seat, grabbed onto me, and said one word. “Momma.” In the middle of the room was a large bed and in the center of that bed was my granddaughter, Andi Jo, unconscious and connected to a multitude of monitors, tubes and machines. The same little girl that had walked to me with outstretched arms two days before didn’t even know that I was in the room. Slowly, I walked up to the side of her bed, not sure if I’d be able to handle the sight of her in such horrible condition. Tears poured from my eyes as I took her tiny little hand in mine and held it as I prayed, begging God to let her wake up and not to let her die.
The outlook was grim. Due to a prolonged period of lack of oxygen, she suffered damage to the occipital and hippocampus regions of her brain. Doctors didn’t provide much hope, yet we never gave up on just that. The only thing they could do from that point on was continued testing, monitoring and hospitalization, where she remained for about a month, and was then transferred to a rehabilitation facility close to Kosair Children’s Hospital.
The first time I got to hold her after her accident. This was in the rehab center.
The next 6 years would not be easy for Andi Jo and were most definitely a struggle. Not only for her, but also for Courtney. Recurrent infections, surgeries, and other illnesses put her in and out of the hospital multiple times. Courtney provided round the clock care and went to great lengths to care for her invalid child, always keeping her hope alive and never giving up. When Andi Jo’s last illness required hospitalization in Lexington, a hundred miles from home, and resulted in her having to be permanently placed on a ventilator, we all knew that her time on earth was nearing an end, because she was sent home under the care of hospice.
On August 31, 2016, me, Linda and Brenda went to visit Courtney and Andi Jo, a trip we are all thankful for. Linda lives in Tennessee and Brenda lives in Texas, and when I called them and told them that Andi Jo’s condition was failing, they both made the trip here to be with family. Andi Jo was lying in her bed when I walked into her room. Once again, I took that tiny little hand in mine, held it, kissed it, kissed her on the forehead and told her how much Grandma loved her and that we’d meet again someday. In my heart, I knew that would be the last time that I got to touch or kiss her. The following morning I got a call from Tatum Estes, a friend of Courtney’s who was visiting from Texas and there to help Courtney with the kids and show support. “She’s gone,” were the words she spoke, sending me into a flurry of fresh tears. Andi Jo had passed away peacefully only 16 days shy of her 7th birthday. I called Linda and Brenda in their hotel room and delivered the news to them as best as I could through streaming tears, quivering voice and a broken heart. Having them here with me to help me through such a devastating event was a true blessing.
Andi Jo was cremated and her ashes are resting in a green marble urn inside a curio cabinet that I bought for Courtney especially for Andi Jo’s memorabilia.
Free from the tubes and machines that bound her, Andi Jo was finally able to go outside and have the sun shine on her face. She is at peace.
Andi Jo Baldridge: September 17, 2009 – September 1, 2016
Although she only lived six short years, she brought so much joy to those who loved her. Her death brought crushing pain, and even though I mourn her death, I also celebrate her life and give thanks that I had the opportunity to know her.
Healing doesn’t always come in physical form. Through my eyes, Andi Jo was healed. In Heaven, she can be the little girl that she never could have been in her earthly form. She is no longer sick, no longer suffering, no longer in pain. She is whole again. And I have no doubt in my mind that she is in the company of her Nana, Paw-Paw, and Uncle Wayne Bo, stealing their hearts the same way she did ours.
We did not get through this alone, and I am the kind of person who believes in giving credit and kudos where due, so I’d like to take the time to acknowledge some of the people who showed exceptional concern, love and support:
My sisters, Linda and Brenda, for all the phone calls and visits. You are both loved and appreciated so much!
Kathy Mack Hunt – You are so much more than just a Facebook friend. You took the time to start a greeting card chain and then forwarded them to Courtney, uplifting her spirits. Thank you for that!
Rikki Lynn Snyder – Your exceptional care for Andi Jo and everlasting friendship to my daughter did not go unnoticed. You are now dubbed my surrogate daughter!
Tatum Estes – You are a true friend to Courtney. You dropped everything in Texas and drove to Kentucky to be with Courtney during what was the most heart shattering event in her life. Thank you.
Sherrie Hatton Welch , or Pee Wee to those of us who know and love her, thank you for all of your phone calls to me to check up on Courtney and Andi Jo. You have no idea what those calls meant to me.
If I’ve missed someone, I sincerely apologize, but please know that you are appreciated.
In closing, I would like to say something to you all, and it is a fact that I personally know to be true. Life as you know it can change in the blink of an eye and leave you standing in its dust trail. Don’t let a day go by without telling your loved ones that you love them, don’t miss the opportunity to give and get a hug, tell your friends and family members how you feel while you have a chance, because tomorrow may be too late.
Until next time…
Take care and God Bless!!!