Dorothy & I have a three ring binder that we keep in the living room entitled “User Manual – Andrew.” This was actually the manual binder for a software program that a client used several years ago, and when he retired the program, I acquired the binder.
Why don’t all kids come with a personalized user manual?
The book is filled with momentos from Andrew’s life. Over the years we have collected school portraits, hockey team pictures, awards, diplomas, some school test results, 8×10’s you get from vacations, and so forth and placed them in this one book. We kept it chronological, in nice clear page inserts. It is the story of Andrew. It is the story of Andrew’s life. We have had it since he was three or four and have kept it up to date, all the way through to his acceptance to CU Boulder. It has been a source of happiness and pride for us over the years. When he was away at college we often looked through the binder and smiled. It was nice to look at the pictures from grade school, or his perfect attendance award, and recall how simple life used to be.
When Andrew passed, the book was over. I thought that was the end of the proud moments and the stories of my son that we could add to the book – the end of the story. There was nothing more to add. There were no more pictures; there would not be a college diploma, no nothing. I even thought it would be a healing gesture for me to place on the very last page, Andrew’s death certificate – closing out the book, ending the story. Making the book complete from when he was born, through the end of his life seemed appropriate.
But I never did put it in; I just left it in my drawer.
But as time goes on, I see that the Book of Andrew, the story of his life, didn’t really end with his death. His physical existence here is over. His presence, his voice, his gorgeous smile are all gone. But the story of Andrew is not done. The final chapters are not yet completed. There is still so much more.
Andrew touched so many people during his lifetime, emotionally and spiritually, that his presence and effect on so many still carry on. I still speak to his close friends who think about him often. A couple of his closest friends changed their college majors two years ago to Psychology – they want to work in this messed up world as therapists. Andrew helped them by spending hours listening to them. They talked about their life, their parents, their problems, and he just took it all in. Then at some point he would respond with just a few pearls of wisdom, and their problems wouldn’t seem so insurmountable. He would give them these moments of peace and solutions that they could not find within themselves, but to Andrew they seemed obvious, simple, and easy. These friends told us that whatever they were going to do with their lives was not going to be as rewarding and satisfying as being able to help others the way that Andrew has helped them. We heard from so many people that Andrew would have made a great therapist. He would listen to his friends for hours, and just being there for them was helpful. I agree. I think he would have made a great therapist and his desire to help others was so great.
His life also exists and continues on through my writing. I am told how my personal journey of pain and healing, my continued writing, my journal, has helped so many people deal with their own grief. I see how it is shared when I post it, how many people read it and are affected by my writing about my son. I get e-mails every day from people I have never met but who are touched by my on-going relationship with Andrew, and who are moved by what I write. Some people say that the reading is therapy for them. That they have experienced the same situations, the same emotions, the same people, but have no outlet to tell their story. They think that they are alone with their feelings of remorse, their feelings of regret, but after reading my journals they realize they are not alone. That makes me happy that I am helping others along their own journeys – the way Andrew would have helped his patients one day.
Andrew will also live on in the foundation we are setting up – Andrew’s Equipment Closet. He was a very compassionate person who cared about and wanted to help others. The foundation will help those less fortunate participate in sports programs and activities. We will supply boys and girls with sports equipment when they cannot afford it. A child should not be unable to play a sport just because they can’t afford to buy a pair of sneakers, or a stick or a helmet. In Andrew’s name, and in his memory, we are going to raise money to make these purchases, we are going to take kids shopping for what they need, and then we are going to watch them be happy playing alongside their friends. It is our hope to raise enough money for the foundation that it can really make a difference in many kids’ lives, and be a perpetual source of hope and charity for these underprivileged children. Maybe one day we will tell the kids who receive these gifts about Andrew, and they will remember him as we all do.
There is also the Annual Never Forget Andrew Hockey Experience Weekend that started this year – many of you have read about this on Facebook. A dear friend of ours took 11 very deserving people to a hockey game. They were treated with the works, including meeting the players, upgraded hotel rooms, etc. – all in Andrew’s honor and memory. They were told about Andrew, who he was and how he was affected by a small unexpected gift. They were all very affected in a positive way. We were told that after the event, word spread and more people wanted to get involved and help out financially in the upcoming years. She is looking to double the number of participants next year – and keep this tradition going far into the future.
We also have Andrew’s memorial hockey game this weekend. His teammates get together every year around his birthday and play a friendly game of hockey, and they smile the entire game. They are not smiling because they love the sport, or because they are happy, but because Andrew was always smiling whenever he played and he made others smile along with him – and they know he is smiling over them playing in his memory.
So, as you can see, Andrew is still a large part of our lives. His story is still continuing, his love and empathy are still affecting so many people. His soft spoken words and his cheerful smile are still seen by so many. When it comes time for me to leave this world one day, I will know that my son’s name and his legacy will still be here long after I am gone. That is what any father wants for his son. Andrew’s user manual remains a work in progress.