"I can't even go to the crash site yet. I'm pretty strong, but I haven't been able to do that yet."
DESTIN — On Thursday, which would have been her only son's 24th birthday, Lisa Hatchett posted baby pictures to the Facebook page celebrating his life.
She posted a newborn photo, one hand curled next to his soft cheek, and one of him as a little boy, smiling under his bright blonde hair trimmed into a bowl cut. In another one, he was an older infant grinning up at the camera.
And she mourned, just as she has done every day since Avery Hatchett was killed March 18, 2016, in a boating accident. He was 22.
"Miss him so much today," she said in a text to the Daily News.
Avery was one of 12 people on board the boat that crashed into the east jetty near the East Pass in the early morning hours. He and another passenger, who is still missing, died in the crash. The other 10 people were injured.
The person piloting the boat, Judsen Rodney Cunningham of Destin, faces multiple charges including BUI, negligent manslaughter and theft. The boat he was operating had been stolen, according to his arrest affidavit.
His trial is scheduled for the summer of 2018.
Lisa Hatchett said one of the survivors told her that Avery's last moments were spent trying to help another passenger.
What has sustained her over the last 17 months are the reminders that he mattered deeply to his friends in the Destin and Fort Walton Beach community, and that she is not alone in missing him.
"Even though he was an only child he had friends that he loved just like family," she said. "And now that he's gone, those friends have embraced me as family."
One of her son's friends even named his son after Avery.
The grieving mother says her faith has kept her strong. Avery was her last surviving family member, with her father, mother and sister preceding him in death.
"I can't even go to the crash site yet," she says. "I'm pretty strong, but I haven't been able to do that yet."
As she struggles through the days and weeks and months, she takes comfort in what she knows about this life. It is short. Eternity is long.
"I just take it a day at a time," she said. "This life is only a blink of an eye."
On his birthday, Avery's friends had planned to go out to the jetty, leave balloons and write messages on the rocks. But the surf was up, so Lisa knew that they probably chose to commemorate him in another special way.
"Avery lived and breathed that water," she said Thursday night. "I'm sure they're all surfing in his name."