Two weeks ago, I was supposed to meet a client at the gym at 4:30. Unfortunately A.J. had passed away the night before of unknown causes. A.J. was a very active man - 23 years old, but he was autistic. He was a bowler, golfer, runner, and he worked out with me at the gym.
Being a person with a disability, A.J. was still able participate in so many activities. He worked at Copps and had just moved into a house of his own with his long-time friend, Max. At the gym, A.J. and I would meet twice a week - once to lift weights and once to ride our bikes for cardio. My newest goal was to get A.J. to train for a half marathon. I know he would have been able to do it b/c every time we ran, he never tired out.
Two days ago I went to A.J.'s Celebration of Life. Walking into the chapel at Edgewood College I was faced with an aspect of A.J.'s life I hadn't expected. The audience was filled with other people with special needs. After I realized that this was the representation of A.J.'s life, it was warming to see friends and family gather to remember A.J.
The women's choir sang a song. His attendant and advisor talked about their memories of A.J. But what I will never forget is eight of his friends reciting a poem they put together entitled "How I'll remember A.J." When they stood up to read their section of the poem, it was often simple memories spoken in broken English. My words aren't doing the experience justice. Seeing people with special needs talk about a friend is very touching. They don't add anything that isn't supposed to be said, like many others often do. They pull every word straight from their heart. And they remember the simple things: bagging groceries at Copps, his love for comic novels, and art work. He was a good artist. Here's his painting of Favre handing off to Driver.
The hardest part of the night for me was the social afterwards in a room filled with a bunch of A.J.'s personal belongings. The first thing I saw was these two NFL jerseys which A.J. would wear to the gym. It just forced into my mind a memory of him walking into the weight room to begin our workouts. It really made me miss him. A.J. was very authentic in everything he did -- as someone stated in the service, you always new where A.J. stood on things.
I'll miss A.J.'s attitude and effort that his had in his workouts. Fully aware of his disability, he never let it stop his pursuit of sports and other hobbies. He made the most out of his years here on Earth.