MOUNT PLEASANT — Andie Dougherty was living the happiest year of her life. She passed her CPA exam, her husband Tom took a new job that allowed him to spend more time with his growing family and their first child was on the way.
Nobody saw the gathering clouds.
Tom was in the delivery room with Andie when their baby boy was born through Cesarean section. He held his wife’s hand the whole time, taking occasional peeks over the curtain to check on the doctor’s progress.
When Tom held his newborn son in his arms, he was so in awe that he could not tear himself away to take pictures. A nurse finally took the camera and snapped what would become priceless treasures.
It was Feb. 17 and it was the happiest moment yet.
Three weeks later, Tom died.
An entire community was stunned by the news. Tom was only 32 and seemed to be in good shape. Everyone rallied around Andie, trying to help her make sense of the senseless.
Andie did the only thing she could do, which was hold on to her faith in God, with a little help from her church.
Doctors said Tom had an enlarged heart, which was probably the result of high blood pressure.
Nobody knew Tom had a heart problem. Maybe he knew, Andie said, but he didn’t tell anyone. That sounds like Tom, she adds. He wouldn’t want anyone to worry.
Now everyone is worried. They worry about Andie and how she will cope with a new baby by herself.
She has plenty of family, on Tom’s side and her own, but nobody lives in town. Andie said her sister plans to move to Charleston, but for now it’s just her.
Although that isn’t quite right, as her Catholic family is here and has been from the beginning.
Andie and Tom joined Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant in 2005 and quickly made themselves a valuable part of their new family in Christ.
Tom grew up in the Catholic church. Andie said he was an altar boy and spoke often about what a great experience he had.
Andie was Methodist. She did not convert before they were married, but knew she would one day.
That day came when she found out she was pregnant. Tom was adamant that their children be raised Catholic, and Andie didn’t want to be left out.
“I didn’t want the kids to ask me questions and not know the answers,” she said.
So she joined the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at their church and immersed herself in the faith that would sustain her.
At Tom’s wake, the members of her RCIA group quietly promised Andie’s family that they will be there to help Connor and her.
They were there in happy times, and they will be there now.
“We figure the Holy Spirit brought her to us this year so we could be there to offer her this support,” Lola Riley, RCIA programming coordinator, said.
More than one person notes that God’s hand was at work on this puzzle, putting together a support system for the dark days ahead.
Julie Christy was not going to be an RCIA sponsor this year. Then, while she was at an oyster roast, a friend told her about an outgoing young woman named Andie who needed a sponsor.
When she met Andie, Julie felt an immediate connection.
As the months of RCIA moved along, members of the group shared each new joy of the couple’s pregnancy and delighted in the strength of their faith.
When the church family heard of Tom’s sudden death, they felt the same horror and dismay as everyone else who knew him.
Julie visited Andie that night and the two women hugged and cried together.
She expected Andie to feel shock, which she does, and waits for the anger that inevitably follows. Julie remembers feeling angry when her brother died, and she is ready to help Andie through the process.
But Andie has no anger.
“I may never know the reason why, but God knows why and that’s enough,” she said.
She believes God put her life together in just the right way so she would be in a strong place emotionally and spiritually when she needed it most.
Her family helps. They visit as much as possible.
RCIA members help. Andie said they immediately stepped up, buying anything she needs, from light bulbs to diapers.
The women in the group check on her to make sure she has food and help with the housework.
The men form a rotating lawn-care committee to keep the grass and shrubs neat.
And everyone volunteers to babysit.
As Tom’s sister Katie said in her eulogy, they are all looking for the chance to do something for Tom, to repay him for all he gave during his life.
Katie describes her brother as the guy who went out of his way to help other people, but never asked for help in return.
On the day Connor was born, Tom took the time to worry about everyone else that was visiting and rounded up all the available chairs he could find so the family would have a place to sit.
Connor is four months old now, and Andie proudly said he is smiling and holding up his head.
The members of RCIA are still waiting to babysit. They are anxious to live their faith and help Andie keep hers, but to quote a favorite expression of Tom’s, there are “no worries” in that department.
“She said we helped, that she pulled strength from us, but she’s so amazingly strong. I don’t feel like we did that much,” Julie said.
Julie believes it is Connor, most of all, who helps.
He is at once a distraction and a balm. He is Tom’s son, the one Andie pours her love into and takes care of, the same way Tom always took care of her.