96945_000_005Andy was no quitter. When the game turned serious, he hung in there.
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, and a member of the junior high basketball team. But when his feet touched the ground again, his life changed. His strong body crashed to the floor, and he would never walk again.
Surgeons pinned and cast Andy’s broken leg. Pain became his constant companion. Long days, determination, and patience only seemed to bring more suffering. Although Andy gave it his all, physical therapists weren’t able to help him learn to walk.
In desperation Paul and Carolyn Tuitupou, Andy’s parents, took him to a Salt Lake City hospital where skilled surgeons operated and found the source of Andy’s intense pain: bone cancer. Although basketball was Andy’s life, he decided to have the doctors amputate his leg. Whatever the price, he wanted to beat the cancer.
Several days after the amputation, Andy asked to receive his patriarchal blessing. I wondered what a blessing would hold for a young man who was facing possible death. I rushed to my office to get my Patriarchal Blessing Recommend book. I jumped in my car and headed for Andy’s bedside, where I found Andy 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,” Andy 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 only seemed to worsen. Weekly chemo-therapy 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 violently 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 Scout 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 personal priesthood interview for the next Sunday.
On Sunday I headed for the hospital. I 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 beginning with a tender prayer, I began the interview.
“Andy, are you morally clean?”
“Do you honor your priesthood?”
Our interview was a spiritual feast. After I asked him all of my questions, he had one for me.
“Bishop, how many priesthood blessings can I have?”
“As many as you want,” I said.
A couple 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 bring Andy home if it was His will.
After the blessing, I held his 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 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.’”
Andy called several special people on the phone to say good-bye. He called an aunt he was extremely close to and wanted to challenge her to become active in the Church again. In fear 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.”
We left the room and he went to work—an honorable missionary.
Throughout the day, friends and neighbors dropped by to see Andy. A member of the ward organized a group to come later that evening and sing on the Tuitupous’ front lawn. In Andy’s Tongan culture, it was tradition to sing in front of the home of someone who was dying.
Midafternoon, Andy’s breathing became very labored. His father and I laid our hands on Andy’s head. Brother Tuitupou pleaded with Heavenly Father to now 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.” The music surrounded the small home, and the family wept as love filled the air.
Although the Tuitupou family said an early good-bye to their son and brother, they knew that they’d been given much: the chance to love and learn from Andy.