3 Years Without Andy



Often times I wonder . . . if Andy were still alive what would he be doing right now with his life. Would he be happy? Isn’t that what we all want for our children, for ourselves, for those we love? If you have an open heart, it’s what we want for all people – for everyone to be happy.

I don’t know what Andy’s life would be like if he were still alive in a physical body. I don’t know what our relationship would be like if he had never gotten ill and his life would have carried on however it was meant to. One can never know what the future holds or how life can change in an instant.

What I have right now are just memories, and those memories change as I grow older and my life unwittingly moves forward.

My reflections on Andy come unplanned and unprovoked. Many times I find a wave of grief or loss in the spaces between hurried activity, when I’m alone or feeling lonely, and there is hollowness or something missing. I recognize this feeling as a hole or a void. It is the place that Andy used to inhabit in my psyche, in my world, in my arms. For 24 years of my life.

His life was a source of my joy, my pleasure, my happiness. We shared a life and we shared death. Together we learned from each other (maybe I have learned more from him?). We explored and discovered what was most important in this life. What we found might surprise you. What’s important is not about what you accomplish or achieve, or to be recognized and acknowledged, it’s how you treat the world. What’s important is to be kind, to be compassionate, and to love deeply.

When I see someone who is ill or disabled or even old, my heart goes out to them in empathy of the suffering they must endure. There are so many whose suffering we can see from the outside – the ill and infirm, the homeless and those that have been systemically oppressed. There are also so many who suffer in silence, for whom we can’t see their illness, hardship or their loss or grief. Because I have experienced both: watching someone I love suffer through a painful illness and suffering through incredible loss, it has made me much more sensitive to everyone I come in contact with, because I understand deeply, we all suffer.

Through the suffering, I have found an inner resolve . . . despite the pain of this deep loss (which is universal) I persevere and find the energy and courage to be kind, to be compassionate and to love deeply without expectations of anything in return.







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16 Responses to 3 Years Without Andy

  1. Such a beautiful, compassionate note! Thanks so much. I too was thinking about Andy a few days ago while backpacking—he’s in the air, appreciating all this beauty, outside & within! It really is all about sharing the Light. 🙂 And you do such a good job! Love, blessings, & joy—Dambara

  2. Michele says:

    Thank you for this Betsy. It touched me deeply… while still in my own grief over the sudden, traumatic death of the one remaining member of my family of origin. Grief takes a lifetime. Andy was such a special soul. Truly you are blessed.

  3. Cynthia Rae says:

    Thank you for your words of expression that are a reflection of thoughts that keep us connected to our human nature. I never knew Andy, but, I briefly met his friends upon the PNT last year. It was a very brief moment that led me to this blog. I have these thoughts and acknowledgments during my hikes that create these extra-sensitive ideas. How can I be more present in each moment to be more aware of each individual’s pain or suffering? What is my awareness? So many feelings attached to grief even as time moves. I share the feeling of loss, one human to another. Again, thank you for the compassion expressed.

  4. Pat Pulaski says:

    Thank you Betsy . I think of Andy often and tell his story of life . A life well lived, and loved

  5. Bob says:

    He must be singing Dylan tunes somewhere….in fact I think I hear him now…peace and blessings…B

  6. Nancy Deline says:

    Thank you Betsy for your intimate sharing, such an inspiration and a beautiful reminder. May we all strive to love as deeply as you.

  7. Linda Grossman says:

    What a lovely tribute to Andy and all that he continues to inspire in us. I think of him often, and I marvel at the grace with which you have handled such an unimaginable (to me) journey. May your heart be filled with peace.

  8. Robin Pierson says:

    Betsy – thank you for sharing and reminding us about what’s important – kindness, compassion and love – and how grief and loss point out the way. Because Andy walked on this earth, literally, in his own spectacular way, we all learned so much. I am grateful to him…and for you, for carrying his light beside the sorrow. xorobin

  9. Carol-Neil Olson says:

    Betsy, You are a special person.I appreciate you reflections today. Love, Carol

  10. Mary McManus says:

    Thank you for your openhearted tenderness in sharing with us. It helps all of who grieve those we have lost to remember the gift of loss is to live and love more deeply, being present to the precious life we have. Love you and miss Andy…
    Love and Thanks,

  11. Casey Lyons says:

    Thanks for this reflection, Betsy. May we all come to such a compassionate understanding of the world and all those in it.

  12. Ann says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your intimate thoughts with us. Andy’s life had extraordinary meaning not only for his family but for the myriad other travelers who shared a small space with him. Your grace through grief and wisdom gained helps all of us become real and appreciate this life we have been given. An expansive heart is what makes our human journey vital. Your message has never been as important as it is in these divisive and fear driven times.

  13. mwilkosz says:

    Thank you for your meditative thoughts Betsy. Empathy is perhaps one of the hardest virtues to achieve. Your example will spread more goodness into this world and truly make a difference, small act of charity by small act adding to the universal pool .

    Take care,



  14. Nalini says:

    I, too, feel deep gratitude for your openness and willingness to share from your heart. Your active compassion is a beautiful example for us all to follow. Andy’s life and spirit were inspiring, but yours are no less so. Thank you for your friendship. Love, Nalini

  15. Hello Betsy,
    I was just going through our maps in preparation for a summit of Half Dome on October 1, 2017, and I came across a letter from Andy. I am not sure if you have ever heard this story, but my wife, Kathryn, my son, Joe, and I (Pete) met Andy on the morning of June 29, 2012 in Tuolumne Meadows. He was holding a sign looking for a ride to Mammoth, and my crew and I were embarking on our first backpacking trip since I was a teenager >>> Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth. We have been coming to the eastern sierras for 30+ years, day hiking seemingly every trail in the region, but always returning to sleep in our cozy old forest service cabin near Lake Mamie above the town of Mammoth. When we first saw Andy, I told Kathryn, “This fella’s a PCTer”, and low and behold, I was right! (The deeply layered dirt has that special glow.) He shared with us his trail handle, “Astro”, which prompted the obvious question, “How’d you get that name?” He explained that he was taking a break from his studies as at UC Berkeley student majoring in Astro-Physics to hike the PCT. Kathryn and I both graduated from Cal in 1988 (me) and 1989.

    Astro inspired us with stories of his PCT adventures – his love of nature widened his great grin, shined through his bright eyes, and downright emanated all around him. Well, Andy was a great delight, so it only made sense to hand him the keys to our 2004 Toyota Sienna to drive back to Mammoth (he explained that he was backtracking to hang with friends for a few days). This saved us a car recovery day when we finished backpacking, and Andy was thrilled to have such a sweet ride, as well. He safely navigated Tioga Pass and left the car right where we requested. He wrote the following note (on a National Geographic map of the trail section that we had just completed), “HEY PETE, Thanks for the wheels. I hope you guys had a great hike! Peace (the symbol, that is), ASTRO”. Below his signature he wrote, “hikingthepacificcrest.wordpress”. We decided to check out this URL, and we were absolutely astounded, saddened, enlightened and deeply moved by his story. His physical life was clearly a great gift, and his being today certainly continues to inspire all who knew him. What you, Betsy, have written about Andy is heart wrenchingly beautiful. We would love to send you a photo of the letter. Please e-mail me if you’d like it. By the way, I’ve told the story about handing over our car to a perfect stranger to many folks, and most people have said we were nuts. Little did they know, that str ANGE r was an angel… (which is often what you receive when you add L ove). Also, thanks for your inspiration, Betsy. We really hope to hear from you.

  16. Funhog (trail angel) says:

    I want you to know that Andy is still inspiring the world. His photo popped up on my FB memories page this morning and I chose to share the Backpacker story on the PCT Class of 2017 page. The responses have been filled with love and inspiration. I, too, love and am inspired by this amazing young man you brought into this universe!

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