Laughter through the loss

Kristi Raley and childhood friend, (Left) Audrey Williams Tangye, exchange hugs after Raley’s talk to an audience of friends and family at Helena Middle School. (Contributed)

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

“On June 10, 1997, God gave us a beautiful son, Andrew. On December 6, 2010, Andrew went to be with God. Andrew always made people laugh, and he managed to squeeze 70 years of life into 13.”

Kristi Raley, who had never spoken in public, found she had many things to say as she recently shared memories of her son, Andrew.

“I have been through a mother’s worst nightmare, but God has shown me his face. For 39 years, I had never known how to fully and totally trust God with everything in my life, but after Andrew’s funeral He put something on me.”

Raley shared ‘Andrew moments’ that she and husband, Steve Raley, and siblings, Matthew and Emily will never forget — from cutting his first teeth at three weeks, to drawing racetrack motifs with a Sharpie on his little brother’s newly decorated room, and then as they went to change his diaper, found that he had colored in his brother’s belly button.

She also discussed Andrew selling sidewalk lemonade from her Waterford crystal glasses — the latter which Raley says inspired a “Mama Hen fit,” only to find that he was selling the lemonade to benefit the Tsunami victims.

How Andrew spotted a man with long hair who was wearing Birkenstocks and yelled, “Mom, I’ve found God!”

Andrew never met a stranger, she said. His door-to-door Halloween greeting was, “Trick or Treat. How y’all doing? Are you for Auburn or Alabama?”

Raley thanked the police officers of Helena who came to Andrew’s aid that evening, including Officer Plemmons who did CPR.

Raley told of David Long, who prayed with her all night at the hospital. She thanked neighbors and her many friends.

“This amazing community has touched me like I can’t even describe — none of you ever left my side.”

“I feel blessed to live in a community where the principals, teachers, counselors, police officers and the mayor come to the hospital to pray with me. Helena is raising Christian kids.”

Raley wears a bracelet with pictures of Andrew given to her by childhood friend, Leigh Bratina.

“To me, photo memories are special, and I told Kristi now she can look at Andrew each time she looks down at her hand, even as she carries him in her heart.”

“Such a sad loss for so many,” Bratina continued. “But truly, Andrew left the gift of laughter with all who knew him. And it continues. I cannot think of a more wonderful thing than the gift of laughter.”

“Kristi and Steve Raley have been a tremendous example of strength and of faith. It is ironic that in their grief, they have comforted this community by their honesty and through keeping open the lines of communication. God is working for them and through them.”
Steve Raley has set up a website to continue the life of his son Andrew, through stories: Andrewraleystories.blogspot.com.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e-mail at labro16@yahoo.com.