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'Collier Strong' means remembrance of Sean, wedding plans for Andrew

SeanCollier.jpgAndrew Collier, the brother of slain MIT police officer Sean Collier, and Tori Tornatore visited the White House last year. It was a "missed opportunity" for Andrew to propose, Tori says, but the couple eventually became engaged this month. [Tori Tornatore via Facebook]

Easter is a day of rebirth for the world's Christians. Eternal hope and salvation through the resurrection of Christ. Not to mention candy for the kids and usually at least one hefty meal with ham [or lamb for us Greeks] as the main course of choice.

It was at the Collier Family's Easter gathering last March 31 where Sean Collier met his brother Andrew's fiancée, Tori Tornatore. Andrew Collier celebrated the day with his future wife and best-friend/older brother.

That was the past, present, and future of "Collier Strong."

Together, for the first and last time.

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Soon, Sean Collier was back at work as an MIT Police Officer and Andrew Collier and Tornatore returned to North Carolina. Andrew, now 26, and Tori, 24, moved in together the weekend before the Boston Marathon.

Less than a week later, on April 18, Sean Collier was ambushed and shot to death while sitting in his MIT squad car allegedly by the two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Andrew Collier, who works as a machinist for NASCAR's Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, N.C., spoke to OBF Wednesday about the upcoming anniversary of the Marathon Bombings, his brother's death, a "never-ending" healing process, and, for the first time publicly, his engagement to Tornatore.

They are scheduled to be wed in North Carolina on Aug. 31.

The proposal itself took three tries. The first plan was to surprise Tornatore, a committed "Beauty and the Beast"-phile, and ask for her hand in marriage inside the Beast's castle at Disney World. Tornatore somehow learned of the plan. Belle 1, Beast 0. Andrew tried again at a family gathering in North Carolina, but the circumstances weren't right.

On Oscar night, March 2, while America was retweeting Ellen's selfie, it was lights, camera, action for Andrew Collier. His third attempt at getting engaged was both simple and brilliant. He hooked a chain between his two dogs that held a sign reading: "Mommy will you marry Daddy?" Tornatore was lured into the kitchen where she found Andrew on one knee with the ring and two dogs pitching a proposal.

She said yes.

"You have to find happiness. Life has to carry on," Andrew Collier said.

Just in the past week, we saw 8-year-old survivor Jane Richard sport a new "Cheetah" prosthetic leg, learned that Jeff Bauman and his fiancée are expecting a baby, and watched Adrianne Haslet-Davis dance on a bionic leg.

News of Andrew Collier's engagement is another candle of hope illuminating the future of those whose lives were shattered by the blasts and their aftermath.

Andrew Collier will tell you that nothing anyone does will erase the fact that his brother Sean is dead. Not his upcoming wedding. No tribute. No service or anniversary. Not even the national holiday to honor first responders that he has spearheaded. [The perils faced by law enforcement personnel and first responders manifested themselves again on Wednesday when two firefighters perished in a nine-alarm Back Bay blaze.]

Andrew Collier often thinks of the other families, those of Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Krystle Campbell, who perished in the Marathon bombings. He readily admits that he's no different than someone who's lost a brother "in a car accident or a heart attack. They could have it worse than me."

The difference, of course, is that the Collier family's loss, everyone's loss, was witnessed and shared by the world. Andrew Collier speaks about it, sometimes through pain, because it means that affords him the opportunity to share the story again about his smaller, but much bigger and older brother, Sean.

The family's story was told, in part, by this video produced by NASCAR in November.

Sean Collier, MIT Police Badge No. 179 and now, Somerville Police Badge No. 310, is buried in Peabody next to his sister, Kristal. She died three days after her birth in 1985. Collier's parents were divorced when he was young. Their father, Allen, lives in New Hampshire. Sean grew up as the second youngest of six children in a blended, "Brady Bunch"-style household. [They have two Jennifers.] "Collier Strong" become a unified force to ensure Sean's memory is everlasting and his story is never silenced.

andrewandsean.jpgSean, seen here at age 11 [at right] with Andrew, grew up loving the American flag and wanting very much to be a policeman. He and Andrew shared a passion for auto racing, the outdoors, and NASCAR that was nurtured by their father when he had time with the boys on weekends. Sean was set to be in on his stepfather's Patriots season tickets for 2013. "Sean was very honorable, kind of the strong-silent type," Andrew said. "He wasn’t into a lot of drama and didn’t say a lot, but he did the right thing. No matter what, he did the right thing. It was in his DNA."

Andrew's DNA has been tested in the past 11 months since his brother's death. He says Hendrick Motorsports has been "nothing short of amazing" in allowing him whatever time he needs. "It got to the point where I felt I was almost taking advantage of it. They’ve done so much for me … I'm starting to draw back to do what’s fair for my coworkers."

Collier is "dreading" the month of April and the anniversary of Sean's murder, which falls on Good Friday, April 18. [Western and Orthodox Christians will observe it on the same day this year.] Andrew Collier is Roman Catholic. Good Friday marks the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and is considered by many believers as the darkest day on the Christian calendar.

"It's all a very big unknown. The one-year anniversary, that in itself will be hard," Andrew said. "A lot of things are going to get stirred back up and the emotions we felt at the time along with it. It's a little hard at times. Everything gets brought back up." Sean Collier's name will be added to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington on May 15 as part of "Police Week."

"Is it is going to be happy to see him being celebrated and honored, or will it be sad? It could be one or the other," Andrew said. "It's the uncertainly that I'm dreading the most."

His so-called "stages of grief" have morphed into a "tornado."

"You'll go through denial. You’ll be angry and crying. Then you might be angry, crying, and feeling denial again. Then you might accept it. It's always swirling," he said. "At first it changes hour-by-hour, then it changes day-to-day, then week-to-week. I’ll have a hard week. Then, the next week I’ll be fine. I don't know If I would ever come to terms with it. I haven’t fully gotten there yet."

As Andrew Collier mourned his brother's loss, Tornatore became his support system of first and last resort. "She’s been the one who’s had to deal with a lot of my stuff," he said. "I call my family when I’m having a hard time. Still, after hanging up with them, my girlfriend has to deal with it. There were plenty of times when I wasn’t handling as she thought I should have and she wasn’t handling it as well I thought she should have. Still, she helped me get through this – and that’s why I’m marrying her."

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or e-mail him at obnoxiousbostonfan@hotmail.com. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.