Today we are having a wake, and tomorrow a funeral, for a beautiful 28 year old man. His name was Andrew Hampel.
Andy was the kindest, sweetest soul you could ever want to meet - this is something people always say at funerals - but in Andy's case it is totally true and totally needs to be said.
Four years ago, Andy married his high school sweetheart Vanessa and they bought a little house just a few miles from the little house that Andy had grown up in. Andy was a builder; he always had been. He built houses for other people and dreamed of building a bigger house for Vanessa as time and money allowed.
About two and a half years ago, after eating dinner, Andy just couldn't seem to clear his throat. He left work early the next day and went to the doctor. Within a couple days he had a diagnosis, a very scary diagnosis of stage IV esophageal cancer. We googled it. It was bad.
Andy had always been an athlete. He had never smoked. He had felt totally healthy and been totally active until his diagnosis. He started chemotherapy immediately.
We threw a benefit for Andy to help raise some money. We had never organized a benefit before and didn't know what we were doing. Somehow one miracle after another kept happening for us. We got The Stone Pony to give us a night (we called it Pony Up 4 Andy) and we got some amazing bands to play including a pretty famous Jersey shore band that had opened for Bon Jovi. It was an amazing night- one of the best nights of our lives.
Shortly after the benefit, Andy went into remission. The doctors said Andy was a miracle. Everyone exhaled a little bit ...
But the cancer came back as cancer sometimes does and Andy battled it again with everything he had. He showed such amazing strength and such amazing courage- he was in great pain and eventually those who loved Andy just wanted his pain to end and eventually it did. His family has great faith and knows they will be seeing Andy again. He brought so much into so many lives and will be missed terribly.
For me, I don't think I would be making jewelry if it weren't for Andy and Andy's benefit that took my life in a whole new direction. All our stories were changed forever by Andy.
But today we are having a wake and tomorrow a funeral. And the doctors were right. Andy was a miracle.