I will fight for you.

It’s been 5 years since we said goodbye to Andrew (Jack’s uncle, Chris’ only sibling). I found myself this past month thinking of all that has been missing along with the lessons that grief has taught me. As the years continue without him, the grief doesn’t decrease, our life continues to happen as we carry the grief of missing him every single day. There are too many things to share what has been lost, but I miss his larger than life personality, his shy smile yet hilarious banter, how he would greet people, and his ability to make everyone he sees feel important.  

Our theme of “You Make Me Better” was a part of the Chris’ (Jack’s dad) tribute at Andrew’s funeral. The amount of memories that haven’t happened make my heart ache for all those that called him family, friend, teammate, coach, or teacher. He was a guy that had a tremendous impact on others and the world is missing an incredible guy.

Ask anyone that knew him, they would describe him as a competitor with an unmatched work ethic. He made everyone around him better, if it was his encouragement or leading by example, he wanted to see people succeed and always showed up for others. Here’s what we heard from one of his teammates shortly after he died:

“Selfless, encouraging, enthusiastic, courageous….these are just a few of the many traits Andrew Carroll possessed and practiced on a daily basis. I remember meeting Andrew in the locker room in Hartford, CT when we were teammates and linemates on the Connecticut Whales. One of the first things he told me when we were going to play together on the same line was, “Don’t worry about anything, I am always going to be the first one on the forecheck and going to try to get you the puck as fast as I can.”  I’m thinking to myself, “now this is my kind of winger!” Come to find out I think he just loved to forecheck and throw his body around in the form of playing physical and checking someone into the boards! But that’s honestly how Andrew lived his life day in day out, selflessly putting himself out there for the benefit of others, whether on the rink or outside in his daily life. He was one of the most genuine human beings I have ever met in my life. He exemplified what it meant to be a genuine, God-seeking, God-loving man. He lived it! Every single day! Who can say that they do that!?” 

Andrew died on January 22, 2018 and the death certificates reads his cause of death is jump from height resulting in suicide. You can revisit those tragic days here. Everyone was shocked, in disbelief, and we still try to make sense of something that truly has no answers. 16 months after Andrew’s death he was diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma to the brain. Death by suicide is unfortunately common with those living with CTE because it impacts their ability to control their impulses. It also can not be diagnosed until after death and many with the condition don’t even know they have it.

Andrew was a fighter, defending his teammates for many years while playing hockey, however he had the most tender heart.

He was compassionate and kind, and truly did not want to hurt anyone. He was a fighter in that he was a competitor.

He would push each of his teammates to be better by how he worked. He would push himself in everything he did so that he would challenge others to do their best. 

Simply said, there is so much that we have been missing without him here and all his life brought to those who knew him. His life and death have made me reflect on my own life and ask myself if I am making others better. Am I helping or hurting others with my words and actions?  What would my family and friends say about how I have impacted their lives?  Do we truly understand and grasp the ways we change others just by being who we are? At the end of the day, it’s not about what we’ve accomplished, what will be remembered (and missed) is how we made someone feel. Did Andrew know we would fight for him?

Do you know you’re worth fighting for?

This time of reflection has impacted my voice at Jack’s Basket and fighting for our babies with Down syndrome. Over the past 9 years, I have heard stories of families, teachers, therapists, classmates, neighbors, and communities made better because of someone with Down syndrome. Nevertheless, the population of people with this genetic condition continues to decline because our world is scared of Down syndrome. Don’t believe me?  Besides the statistics that show a decline in babies being born with Down syndrome due to selective termination, read the comments section anytime you see the diagnosis discussed in the media. Last week we received one of the most hurtful messages that fueled my passion to work hard and speak up courageously for lives worthy of life and celebration. 

I never imagined when I became Jack’s mom that I would have to defend that his life is worth living.  

Jack, I will fight for you.

At Jack’s Basket, we are fighting for the world to value and respect people with an extra 21st chromosome. They are fighting for a chance to impact others for the better. When I think about all the things we would be missing if Jack and his friends with Down syndrome were not a part of our lives, we would be missing more empathy, unconditional love, patience, hard work, acceptance of others, love, and so many hugs. We are changing the conversation around the diagnosis and we need your help in this fight. 

In the next couple of days, will you go out of your way to make someone know they matter? 

Tell someone you are proud of them, give them the gift of time, write a note to share how someone has made your life better, go the extra mile to help someone realize their potential, invest in someone who often gets overlooked. Tell your loved ones that you see them. 

Do this in honor of Andrew and keep his legacy alive in how we choose to love others and fight for them.

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