Reid faces most difficult challenge

How's your family? It is a question I ask Andy Reid every time I see him. Friday was no different. For the past two years, the answer has been the same.

"They're good," Reid said, shaking my hand. "How are your kids?"

"Getting bigger," I said.

"That's what they're supposed to do," Reid said.

That is what they're supposed to do. Children are supposed to grow, get bigger, go to college, get married and have children of their own. That is the hope. They aren't supposed to die before their parents do.

A parent is never supposed to bury a child. It is a life-changer. One minute, your world is good. The next, you have an unfathomable void, a never-ending ache and a sadness that won't go away and doesn't really ease with time.

That is what Andy Reid and his wife, Tammy, are facing now that their oldest son, Garrett, has passed away. Garrett was found dead Sunday morning in a dorm room at Lehigh University, where the Philadelphia Eagles are holding their training camp. He was 29 years old.

Andy Reid was so proud to have Garrett, his oldest son, at camp. He was proud of his older sons, Garrett and Britt. Each had served time in prison for drug-related offenses and completed drug rehabilitation programs. Each seemingly had moved on. Britt is now married and working as a graduate assistant for the Temple University football program. Garrett was working for the Eagles as an assistant to the strength and conditioning staff. A third son, Spencer, is a running back at Temple, about to enter his redshirt freshman season. The Reids also have two daughters, Crosby and Drew Ann.

Now Garrett is dead. It is unspeakably sad, for Andy and Tammy, for their four other children and for the Philadelphia Eagles organization.

To bury a child is the cruelest part of being a parent, no matter the circumstances. Garrett was Reid's first child. Father and son were close. They had been through hell together. For 10 years, Reid had dealt with his son's addiction, and for nearly two years Reid had visited Garrett in prison. He went to drug rehab with his son. He was a rock, a constant presence, a loving father and a disciplinarian. Garrett's journey was ongoing. He was living at home, trying to make it.

Now hell is starting anew.

Three days ago, I sat with Andy Reid at Lehigh for almost an hour. He dismissed the notion that this season, his 14th in Philadelphia, would be any bigger than the previous 13. He was talkative and funny, relaxed and at ease. He said he likes his team, particularly his quarterback, and joked that he is growing a long mustache because the hair on his head is thinning, another reminder that time continues to march along.

Two years ago, Reid was reflective and hopeful. Finally, his sons were on a straighter path, but it was a path Reid knew would be pocked with potential problems. Speaking to me in 2010 for the first time about the road he had traveled, Reid said he hoped the time between relapses with Garrett would grow longer, and that when he did relapse, he hoped it wouldn't kill him.

That was reality. That was the truth. There was rock bottom, and then there was hope. The Reids straddled that reality every day. They hoped for the best and feared the worst.

For nearly two years every Thursday night, Reid visited his sons in prison. For Garrett, Reid went to three facilities in the Philadelphia area. The prison guards said Reid was cordial, polite, open and amenable. Reid told me he tried to be accessible so his sons wouldn't face more problems. Being the incarcerated son of the Eagles' coach was hard enough. Reid didn't want to add to it.

And he didn't. Once Britt and Garrett were out of one prison, Reid left a box of Eagles hats in the prison lobby, as thanks. He was grateful. He understood. The warden had Reid's cell phone number. Reid picked up whenever he called.

With Garrett, unlike Britt, the road to recovery was always rocky. He was an addict. There was no way around it. We don't yet know how he died, whether it was natural causes or something else, but we know how he lived.

On Friday, Reid told me his sons were doing well, but there was the sense that he was always worried. A heroin addiction is an addiction for life. It grabs you, rips at your insides, pulls at a family and scares you.

Money can't erase that or ease the pain Reid is feeling now. With a demanding job that requires time and energy, Reid wasn't around every day to usher his kids through their teenage years and beyond. That was his wife's responsibility. In 2010, Reid talked about how hard it was on his wife, how a lawyer told them parents of a drug-addicted child rarely stay together, how he had to let her vent and grieve, and how he had to send flowers. Lots of flowers.

Now, no matter what caused Garrett Reid to die, there will be flowers and tears and regret. There will be a funeral Tuesday and a sadness over a life lost too young. No one would blame Reid for walking away from football, for saying enough is enough. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie on Sunday said Reid will be back later this week, to grab hold of his team and make another run at a Super Bowl, one that many think could be Reid's last in Philadelphia.

It doesn't really matter now. What matters is that a family is grieving. A good man lost his son. It is tragic, and so, so sad. Reid will have to find it within himself to go on.

How's your family? For the Reids, the answer will never be the same.