A Few Thoughts About Andrew

A few weeks ago, my little brother Andrew died rather unexpectedly.

I shouldn’t say unexpectedly; we’ve kind of been waiting for his body to give out for the past few years. He’s been in and out of hospitals most of his life. Cardiologists have been impressed his flawed heart has made it this long—even half this long.

Still, that almost made it more unexpected for me. I’ve been living my life with the understanding that Andrew was a medical miracle, that he would stay until he died, and that I had no way of knowing when that was. When he was actually dying, I only really had about two days’ notice.

Mom sent out a text from the hospital (where Andrew was staying, again, and nobody seemed to bat an eyelash, because he’s in the hospital all the time.) Anyway, Mom sent out a text talking about how difficult it was to watch her son struggle to breathe, and she felt like he might not have much time left. She hadn’t slept all night, watching by Andrew’s bedside. I assumed she was overreacting and sleep-deprived, and called Dad to find out what was going on. Dad confirmed what Mom had said, though; Andrew didn’t have long to live.

Ethan came home from work early and drove me down to the hospital, then waited with John while I went up to say my goodbyes. Andrew was ornery, mildly sedated, and unamused by my comments about the cute nurses. Eventually, I got a smile, a hug, and an understanding that he wanted me to go back to Provo. Which I did.

The next morning, my parents gave the okay to take out his IVs. I came back the next day, just to see how he was doing, and walked into the room just as he was taking his last breaths. I stayed to hear my dad give him a final father’s blessing, then to watch him die. It wasn’t as fast a process as I thought it would be, but it was also more peaceful than I had expected.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been blessed by friends and family willing to help me clean, talk, cry, and laugh. My cousins’ children learned enough sign language to perform a musical number in ASL at the funeral. My aunt and uncle stayed while Andrew died, and then stayed in town throughout the next week. We’ve received a lot of support as a family.

It’s been an unusual grieving process for me; when my cousin’s wife died last year, I had a harder time accepting it. She was young, healthy, and had a husband and child to take care of. My brother, on the other hand, probably took a step up by leaving his body behind. His health was crap, and has been getting worse for years. As his pain levels went up, his personality clouded, and he got crabbier and crabbier. Besides all this, he had special needs, and looking at the afterlife raises interesting questions there.

I have never doubted that there is life after death, or that we will be the same people there (wherever) as we were here. But leaving behind his physical body means, technically, my brother might not have Down Syndrome anymore. I don’t know whether he’s autistic now—I don’t know enough about it to feel out whether that’s a physical-body-only thing, or whether that’s a personality thing. At any rate, I do have a strong impression that he’s much better able to think, function, and express himself now than he has been for the past twenty-four years. I just wish I was as able to listen.

We had a remarkable opportunity on Saturday to meet with a General Authority from the Church, Elder David Warner, who was in town for a stake conference. Apparently, my parents’ stake president told him what we were going through, and how much our neighborhood had banded together around my parents. The two of them arranged to meet us at my parents’ house.

I was expecting to be intimidated, or at least to feel a little guilty. I’m pretty sure that was anxiety talking, though—he introduced himself as “David,” chatted with my parents about favorite cars, and ate cookies while trying to make friends with my son, who was running circles around the room and chattering like a monkey. He asked about my brother, listened to our funny stories, laughed with us, sympathized, and assured us that Andrew was uniquely equipped now, more than ever, to sympathize with people who had led difficult lives. “You have a missionary in the field,” he told my parents,”and you should expect blessings to come to your family as a result of that. Andrew can now share the gospel with those who’ve already died, and he has experiences to draw upon that few others do.”

I was also struck by the reverence with which he looked at my  parents. “You’re doing this right,” he said. “There’s joy in this room. And that means you appreciate the time you were given with Andrew. Don’t feel guilty for being happy without him—he’s still here.” He then gave each of us a personal blessing before leaving us with a smile and a request to stay in touch. Mom, of course, gave them cookies for the road.

I’ve had my faith and my endurance tried over the past few weeks, but one thing I know for certain: God loves me. He loves my brother. And my brother—who is just the same person he was before he died—loves me, too. It’ll take some time before I see him again, but I have no doubt that I’ll recognize him, and we’ll finally be able to sit down and have a good, long chat. ♦

Andrew’s Obituary

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On Friday, January 13th, 2017, Andrew James Cope passed away peacefully after a difficult fight between his failing heart and a bout of RSV pneumonia.

Andrew was born on September 12, 1992, only 20 minutes after his parents reached the hospital. Born with several heart defects and Down Syndrome, Andrew was popular with the hospital staff—both because of his advanced medical needs, and his elevated cuteness. He was an adorable baby.

Throughout his life, Andrew brought joy and difficulty to those around him. Ever the prankster, Andrew enjoyed breaking household objects, hiding things, and telling jokes about setting people’s hair on fire. Just a few weeks before his death, he hid every pair of pants his mother owned. They have not yet been found.

Andrew pursued many passions in his 24 years of life, including trains, Fig Newtons, pretty girls, music, fire, toilets, dogs, and keeping a strict schedule. He has held (unpaid) jobs at the Corner 22 gas station, numerous bowling alleys, Smith’s Marketplace, and the DATC in Davis County. He frequently went to Dick’s Market to buy M&Ms or Swedish Fish. He has also become known for his loving character, his willingness to laugh (and make others laugh), and his caring obsession with his nephew. Despite how rarely he spoke, he has always been very expressive and sympathetic, and was often moved to tears by the sadness of others. (Adele, for instance, always made him cry. As she does to so many of us.)

After struggling to breathe for several days, Andrew passed away shortly after a final father’s blessing from his dad. He will be missed by those he has left behind, but he will be welcomed with open arms by those who have gone before him, and his presence will continue to bless his family for years to come.

Andrew is survived by his parents Ray and Naomi Cope, his sister Rachel Unklesbay, his brother-in-law Ethan Unklesbay, and his nephew Jonathan. He is also survived by his Grandma Keener-Fast, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins. The family would like to offer special thanks to Andrew’s cardiologist Dr. Ron Day, as well as the wonderful staff at Primary Children’s Hospital and all of Andrew’s devoted friends. He has so many friends.

Funeral services for Andrew will be held at the Hidden Chapel, 1450 S. 350 W., Bountiful, Utah on Saturday, January 21st, 2017 at 11:00am. Viewings will take place Friday, January 20th, from 6-8pm, and Saturday morning at 10am, where Andrew will be forced one last time to wear pants to a public event.

Burial will follow at Bountiful City Cemetery, 2224 South 200 West, Bountiful, Utah. Condolences may be sent to the family at http://www.cityviewmemoriam.com.

The Topics of Our Childhood

I’ve decided to start writing a book. The entire contents of this book will be stories about me and my family growing up. Most notably, my (only) brother, who has Down Syndrome and Autism, and who has inherited my father’s destructive sense of humor. And I find myself at a difficult point, where instead of trying to think of funny stories, I’m thinking of whole genres of funny stories.

In most families, there are certain “coming of age” stories that are commonly told. Nearly every family has a broken window story, sleepwalking story, a house-flooding story. But in my case, I’m sitting here thinking, “I could tell about a broken window…” and then I try to decide which broken window. Do I tell about all of them? Because there are over 13 stories here. Do I just tell four or five of the most amusing? Or do I just have a whole chapter devoted to window replacement?

And if I devote the whole chapter to window replacement, do I have to do the same thing for toilet replacement? Or poo stories? Or disappearing pants? Will I ever be able to tell just one story?

If you ask for really warm, fuzzy, sappy, positive growing-up stories, you’ve probably come to the wrong place. It’s not like my childhood wasn’t warm, fuzzy, and positive – it’s just that it was a lot less fuzzy than hilarious, and a little less sappy than creatively destructive. I know at least 50 ways to clog a toilet.

Here are a few of the topics I’ve found that – I’m starting to realize – probably aren’t whole “topics” in other households:

  1. Clogging the toilet with household objects
  2. Clogging the heat vents with household objects
  3. Clogging the garbage disposal with household objects
  4. Clogging the vent exhaust of the dryer with household objects
  5. Household objects, and their effect on the inside of a dryer
  6. Household objects, flung through windows
  7. Clothing items hidden in unusual places
  8. Clothing items that should probably be worn in public
  9. Clothing items thrown from the backseat window of moving vehicles
  10. Clothing items instantly ruined by ripping out tags
  11. Poo, and its many creative uses
  12. Things found stuck to the ceiling
  13. Things not to do to the dog

That’s all I’ve got for now. This alone could get me about 15 chapters+, if I choose to use all the stories that come to mind. I’m sure our family must have some stories about all of us behaving like proper, civilized people – but then, those stories have probably been lost to the ages. Alas. We shall be remembered as a generation of destructive genius. ♦

 

Birthday Wedding Cake?

My brother Andrew has Down Syndrome and Autism. He speaks using mostly broken sign language and English combined – when he feels like talking, that is. We met him today to give him a birthday present (happy birthday!) and he got a little worried. We gave him 3 1/2 pounds of Swedish fish. He immediately panicked, signing, “throw up” and “full”. He suggested we give them to Dad, because Dad wouldn’t throw them up.

While Mom and I were off paying for a train ticket, Andrew and Ethan chatted a bit. IT went something like this: “What did you get for your birthday?” Smiles. “Did you get anything?” Yes. “What did you get?” Smiling again. “You have to tell me what you got!” Cake. “Cake?” Yes. “What kind of cake?” Rachel. Wedding cake. “For your birthday?” Rachel’s wedding cake. All smiles.

After further consideration, we’ve noticed a pattern in Andrew’s storytelling. It doesn’t follow a chronological order; it follows a topic. Instead of telling a story about his birthday cake, he tells about all the cakes he’s ever enjoyed. Instead of talking about his visit to the hospital, he talks about all the things that doctors do. So, in light of this pattern, here are a few of the topics Andrew most frequently talks about:

  • Cakes I have eaten
  • Pizza I have eaten
  • Times when Rachel got married/will get married… still…again?
  • Times I have thrown up
  • Temples my sister has and has not gotten married in
  • Things I can put spiders on
  • People I know who have gotten an IV at the hospital
  • Times I have been bitten by the dog
  • Bad things the lawnmower can do
  • The price of Swedish fish
  • Anything that has ever happened with Alvina present

The list is growing slowly, but these are his favorite conversation topics. I recommend shaking things up at your dinner table by spending the entire time talking only about the creepiest spiders you’ve met, just as an example. And no chronological story-telling allowed – you have to follow up each spider with another spider. All spiders become the same. Let me know how it goes. So far, we like the style. ♦

Teenage Rebellion Becomes Biological Warfare, Onlookers Stunned

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My family is, shall we say, atypical.

On Thursday, we planned a trip to St. George to see a cousin’s temple wedding. I kissed Ethan goodbye (since he had classes to attend) and then got in the truck for a 5 hour drive. As I did so, my father related the following tale:

Dad took my brother Andrew to Wal-Mart in the morning – partly because they needed to do some shopping, but mostly to get him out of Mom’s hair while she packed for the weekend. While Dad was finalizing something just inside the store, Andrew went wandering out the front doors. Dad checked on him every few minutes, just to make sure he was okay. He was. Check on him again? Still fine. By about the third or fourth time, however, things had changed. He didn’t see Andrew right away. Upon further investigation, he found Andrew squatting on the sidewalk, naked from the waist down. He had taken off his shorts and briefs, pooped on the sidewalk, and was in the process of wiping himself with his underwear (so he could put his shorts back on) and threatening to leave the underwear in the back of the truck.

If it makes the visual any more out-of-place, my brother is 20 years old. He has Autism and Down Syndrome, so hopefully the unsuspecting bystanders were politically correct, and our family is not currently topping the charts at “People of Wal-Mart” – but with or without mental challenges, the man is toilet-trained. He knows he needs to wear pants. And, to the best of my knowledge, this is new behavior. It’s not like he frequently takes occasion to defecate at local department stores. He just decided that Thursday morning was a good time to try something new, something shockingly unusual, something liberating and free and socially offensive.

And the rebellion didn’t stop there. On the way to St. George, we stopped at a Wendy’s for lunch. After Dad went to pay for gas, he came back to find Andrew quickly putting the lid back onto Dad’s soda cup. He discovered that in his absence, Andrew had thrown up into the cup and was replacing the lid so as to remain undetected. While Dad was furious, I chose to look on the bright side – at least we caught him before Dad took a sip. Although I might not be quite so forgiving if it had been my drink.

In the past few days, things have quieted down somewhat in the Cope household – but perhaps that’s not really saying a lot. 

Freud Would Have a Field Day With This.

So, I had this weird dream last night.

To start off with, I was walking through the park. It was all grassy and pleasant. Then this cop lady came strolling up to me and told me I was in trouble for speeding. In a car. Like, earlier that day, or something. She saw me a while ago, and thought I needed to learn to cool it. So she didn’t write me a ticket – she just told me I should report to the local jail for a couple days.

So my parents came to pick me up and drive me to prison, and Mom lectured me about how I should know better than this, and Dad told me that I would probably shape up in prison, and it would do me some good, and Andrew just kind of sat in the backseat, looking irritated that all the attention was focused on me.

We had to stop at the recycling plant on the way, so we could drop off this huge bag of soda cans and plastic bottles. And Dad parked in front of this posh-looking business complex and said, “I’m pretty sure this is the place.” Then they locked me in a bathroom stall (so I wouldn’t escape) while Dad toured all 5 floors of the building, muttering, “I don’t understand. I was here 20 years ago, and I distinctly remember the recycling plant being down one of these halls somewhere.” And Mom occasionally found him wandering around and rolled her eyes and told him he needed to ask directions.

After about 1 or 2 hours of sitting in a restroom stall, waiting for my parents to figure out how to get rid of the recycling, it suddenly occurred to me that there was no legitimate reason for me to be in prison. A cop couldn’t cite me for pedestrian speeding anyway. And even if I was speeding earlier, she didn’t have any evidence!

Suddenly, the scene cut to a courtroom, where I was triumphantly pulling off a Perry Mason impersonation, defending my honor and, in general, proving to the world that I was free to walk in any park – unencumbered by restroom stalls – at my own will and leisure.

I woke up proud of myself, and really irritated with my parents. ♠

Resolved:

I have a hard time with New Year’s resolutions. I just feel like New Year’s is the perfect time for people to make hollow promises, lie to themselves, spend money on gym memberships, and then go on with their normal lives – after about a week of improved behavior, of course. So they’re not totally ineffective: I would say that New Year’s Day is beneficial for about a week of good, committed action.

So the first problem is the short attention span. After about a week, I see something shiny and forget all about the resolution. Another problem I have is that my resolutions aren’t very good. I would resolve to lose 20 pounds, but let’s face it – like that’s going to happen. So instead, I resolve to go running every morning. And then the next day I remember, “Oh, yeah. It’s winter. I hate being cold.” And there goes my motivation. Sometimes I try to learn from my mistakes, but that leads to over-specific resolutions like “I resolve not to lock myself in my own school locker” or “I resolve not to be punched in the face on Christmas Eve.” (My brother really did not want to put his seat belt on.) Or else my resolutions are just silly. One year I resolved to make a ridiculous flavor of pie every month. Another year, I resolved to learn to like foods like mushrooms, olives, and pickles. (Strangely, the silly resolutions are the easiest for me to keep: I now love mushrooms, olives, and pickles; and I make a pretty awesome grapefruit pie.)

Even the serious ones go a little haywire. Last year, I made a bunch of resolutions just as I came home from my  mission. And the problem is, full-time missionaries have completely different lifestyles from… everybody else. So I had resolutions like, “Never watch TV or movies alone. TV should be a social thing.” Yes, I still think that holds true. But if I’m sick, or if I’m depressed, or if I have an incurable hankering to watch a Pink Panther movie and nobody else is around – you get the picture. It’s a silly resolution. And once I’ve scrapped one resolution, it gets easier to scrap the rest.

So this year, I’m keeping things simple, fun, and relevant. I’ve decided not to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m making New Week’s resolutions. That way, I’ll have a grand total of at least 52 resolutions, all of which will be easy to complete. I will make smaller steps toward self-betterment, and I won’t be overwhelmed along the way. And besides, this keeps things flexible. Some weeks are the sort when you can take on the world, and some weeks are the sort when you might be able to take out the trash. Whatever.

I still haven’t decided what my first week’s resolution will be, but I am open to suggestions.