Andrew Moffatt had the gift of making people comfortable in the toughest circumstances.
When his uncle Joe was dying of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease a few years ago Andrew was the one who brought the donuts for the vigil.
There are few places lonelier than a hospital room bereft of hope but a wellspring of kindness in every vigil comes from the people who bring the donuts and fill up the room with talk.
Conversations, remembrances, stories, are a link to a world outside the hospital where people aren’t sick and life continues unabated. The illness of a loved one deprives us of that world but the Andrews of the world are the ones who don’t leave in those awful pauses, who bring oxygen into the room just by being there. You need men like that.
Andrew died just before midnight Saturday at Oshawa’s Lakeridge Hospital. He was just 42 years old.
Right up to the end he was surrounded by friends of family and talk. People remembered. listened, spoke, lived.
Hockey is a Moffatt language. Andrew’s parents Bob and Janet played. Janet wore number nine and played forward on a Canadian women’s championship team. She remembers when Andrew’s big brother Michael would insist everyone gathered around the television on Saturday night stand up for the anthem. Andrew’s brother Robert played too. They’re all Leaf fans.
About 18 months ago, Andrew, a police officer with the Metro Toronto Police Service, 42 Division, began slurring his speech. He struggled to make notations in his pad.
Tests revealed a terrible diagnosis. Andrew had ALS as well as Parkinson’s Disease.
Andrew’s dad Bob dad passed away a little before Andrew’s first symptoms but Janet, Mike, Robert and the rest of the family guided Andrew lovingly toward the end of his life.
Initially they moved Andrew into Janet’s house where he could be cared for around the clock but when he got too sick Andrew indicated he wanted to go to the hospital.
“Andrew is always putting people ahead of himself,” said Mike. “He didn’t want my Mom to live in the house where he passed away.”
There wasn’t much to do for the people who love Andrew but sit in his room, attend to him, and talk. Near the end he lost the ability to move or speak. The family brought pictures in and set them against the windows: Andrew graduating from police college, Andrew and his daughter Jessica.
One of Andrew’s colleagues contacted the Leafs and told them about Andrew. Wendel Clark, whose actual working title is community representative but who spends his days as a Leaf icon, drove to Oshawa Thursday to see Andrew.
Wendel spent 90 minutes in Andrew’s room talking hockey, remembering, telling stories.
He talked about how tough his cousin Joey Kocur was and how people fought Bob Probert rather than tangle with Joey. He talked about having to sit in his apartment in Quebec City with the lights out after being concussed. He talked about his kid’s hockey, about Bob Probert, about third lines and a fastball team he played on where the informal rule was a player had to be six-foot-one. If the player wasn’t big enough his girlfriend would do.
There were pauses where he could leave. He didn’t. We’ll never know how much Andrew heard.
Ninety minutes is an eternity in a palliative care room. Wendel just kept talking, listening with his whole body, commiserating.
“I wish it was under different circumstances but it sure is a wonderful gesture to our family,” Janet said. “It made this morning a little easier.”
“All good,” said Wendel whenever someone thanked him. “All good.”
In Toronto, you’re not just a Maple Leaf on the ice. Sometimes you’re a Maple Leaf in a hospital room or with one of the 60 or terminally ill kids who regularly visit the Leafs. It’s part of being a hockey player to meet the sick, shake hands, spend a moment.
It’s not an easy thing, perhaps more so for the players who are parents, to meet ill children and be confronted with the abomination of our kids sometimes getting sick and dying.
We don’t want to be reminded of that. None of us do.
We don’t want to be reminded of death at all let alone walk into a room darkened by its ever-widening shadow. Those who do, hockey players and the rest of the world, go knowing they can rarely help the person in the hospital bed. What they can do is share the burden of grievous loss by adding one more set of shoulders to the room.
“All part of playing here, in Toronto,” Wendel said just before he made his way downstairs. “As hockey players, we all feel fortunate about the life we’ve had. If we can help, that’s what we do.”