An Honorable Release


Fifteen-year-old Andy Tuitupou’s feet left the court long enough to grab the rebound during basketball practice. Gliding through the air, Andy was confident—he was good-looking, popular, active in his teachers quorum in our Utah ward, and a member of the school basketball team. But when his feet touched the ground again, his life changed. His strong body crashed to the floor—never to walk again.

Surgeons pinned and cast Andy’s broken leg. Pain became his constant companion. Long days, determination, and patience seemed to bring only more suffering. Although Andy gave it his all, physical therapists weren’t able to help him learn to walk again.

In desperation Paul and Carolyn Tuitupou, Andy’s parents, took him to a hospital where skilled surgeons operated and found the source of Andy’s intense pain: bone cancer. Andy made the difficult decision to have the doctors amputate his leg. Whatever the price, he wanted to beat the cancer.

Several days after the amputation, Andy asked me—his bishop—if he could receive his patriarchal blessing. I wondered what a blessing would hold for a young man facing possible death. I rushed to my office to get a patriarchal blessing recommend. Then I jumped in my car and headed for Andy’s bedside, where I found him waiting patiently for his interview. I asked Andy where he was getting his obvious strength and peace. “From the things I learned in family home evening,” he answered without hesitation. Andy was worthy to receive a patriarchal blessing.

As I visited with him throughout the next few months, I saw him as a brother who loved his family, friends, the gospel, and life. Although his spiritual health was strong, his physical well-being seemed only to worsen. Chemotherapy treatments left him violently nauseated for four or five days each week.

All hopes of a cure were dashed when a tumor in Andy’s hip erupted. His lungs began failing as cancerous tumors started their deadly invasion. But Andy wasn’t content to watch life pass him by. With the help of a devoted Scout leader, Andy soon fulfilled the requirements for his Eagle Award.

During one of my routine visits with this young member of my ward, I felt prompted to set up a formal appointment for his annual priesthood interview on the next Sunday.

On Sunday I headed for the hospital and found Andy in agony with his eyes closed. Not wanting to disturb him, I quietly sat by his bedside. After several minutes of listening to Andy’s labored breathing, I heard him whisper, “Bishop, are you going to interview me?”

After a tender prayer, I began the interview.

“Andy, are you morally clean?”

“Yes.”

“Do you honor your priesthood?”

“Yes.”

Our interview was a spiritual feast. After I asked him all my questions, he had one for me: “Bishop, how many priesthood blessings can I have?”

“As many as you want,” I said.

A few days later, I awoke to a ringing telephone.

“Andy is pretty bad. Can you come over?” Carolyn Tuitupou asked.

When I reached my friend, he asked for a blessing and then said, “I want to go home.”

As his humbled bishop, I placed my hands on my young friend’s head and knew Andy was nearing the end of his mission on earth. I asked the Lord to please take Andy home if it was His will.

After the blessing, I held Andy’s hand and said to him, “It’s okay to go home, little brother; it’s okay to go home.”

Before he went home, though, he had a few things to finish. Andy’s pain subsided, and breathing became easier, enabling him to talk to each of his brothers and his sister privately. He expressed his love to each of them and challenged his brothers to serve missions.

When I talked to him again, I asked him what he wanted me to tell the youth in the ward.

“Tell them you don’t have to be ‘cool’ for your friends; real friends don’t care if you’re ‘cool,’” he said.

Andy called several special people on the phone to say good-bye. He called an aunt he was close to and wanted to challenge her to become active in the Church again. Afraid of offending her, he didn’t quite have the courage to do it.

I looked at Andy and knew I had one last calling for him.

“Andy, will you serve as a ward missionary?”

Andy smiled. “Yes.”

I once again placed my hands on his head. After I set him apart, I gave him his first assignment: “Andy, I want you to get on the phone and bear your testimony to your aunt.”

I left the room, and he went to work—an honorable missionary.

Throughout the day, friends and neighbors dropped by to see Andy. Because it is traditional in the Tongan culture to sing in front of the home of someone who is dying, a member of the ward organized a group to come later that evening and honor Andy by singing on the Tuitupous’ front lawn.

Midafternoon, Andy’s breathing became very labored. His father and I laid our hands on his head. Brother Tuitupou pleaded with Heavenly Father to allow his son to return home. Andy died in his mother’s arms.

Their front yard was soon full of ward members singing Andy’s favorite hymn, “Because I Have Been Given Much” (Hymns, number 219). Music surrounded the home, and the family wept as love filled their hearts.

Although the Tuitupou family said an early good-bye to their son and brother, they knew they had been given much: the chance to love and learn from Andy.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Keith Larson