Remembering Andrew on All Souls Day
November 7, 2007 - Seeing that 16-year-old boy in his last hours of life after a long bout with leukemia robbed me of a youthful optimism that presumed that everything will always turn out OK. I learned a lot in my years as a youth minister, but the most important lesson was one I never expected to learn from a kid. Andrew taught me how to die like a saint.
Andy was in my RCIA for Teens class and I had the honor of preparing him for confirmation, first holy Communion, and heaven. In the spirit of All Souls Day, I would like to share just a few of the treasured memories I have of a teen who was one of the best men I ever met.
— After receiving his first Eucharist he looked at me with a face of stone and said, “I am not afraid to die. …I’m a little afraid of getting there, but I’m not afraid of death.”
— Despite the fact that he had leukemia since he was 14, I only heard Andy complain once. It was about how some people were afraid to talk to him straight about death.
— One night when doctors thought we were about to lose him I rushed to the hospital to be with him. When I arrived he had no look of panic on his face. I knelt down by his bedside and before I said a word he cupped my face with his hand. With one of the tenderest looks I ever received he said, “Keep it up.”
— Andy was a spiritual adult, but he never stopped being a kid. He loved playing with GI Joe and Nintendo. He asked me if he would know anyone in heaven when he arrived there, fearing that he would be wandering in the eternal school cafeteria with no one to sit with. I assured him that he would know everyone, and most of all, Jesus.
— A few months before his death he said to me, “I’ve been blessed through my sickness. I notice the beauty around me. Some people go through life too rushed to see these things, not knowing what it is like to be grateful for every day.”
—The night before he died breathing became difficult and he knew the end of his journey was near. Without thinking of himself he began to comfort his mother.
— When my youth ministry team and I came to say goodbye to him the only response he was able to give us was a slight squeeze of the hand. That was my first experience of ICU, a place where overwhelming hopes and griefs converge and where nurses work quietly like angels hovering between life and death. I will never forget the repeated sobs of his young brother who was losing a father figure, “Andy, I love you.” I know Andy had peace even then. He wasn’t in the hands of cancer and of death, but in the hands of God.
A “light shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5). I never knew what light could shine in those darkest places that no one even wants to think about, but that we all have to face at one time or another. Now I do. I know that no matter what I face in life I’ll “keep it up” and that everything really will turn out OK in the end, because my Savior and God went through life and death before me, and so did a young man named Andrew.
Speaker and author Christopher Stefanick is director of youth outreach for YDisciple. Visit him at www.RealLifeCatholic.com. Stefanick’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese.