It's been a sad week. From a stunning e-mail last Sunday afternoon to a somber funeral on Thursday, we've mourned the unfortunate death of a young hockey player. Tyler, a member of the Pinellas County Police Athletic League Stars bantam squad, was only 15. Sadly, a terrible decision cost him his life.
For those left behind -- his grieving family, two shocked hockey programs and teammates still in disbelief -- the numbing pain remains. Tyler, a kid so full of life and laughter, is gone.
To Colin, Tyler was a "big brother," someone who tolerated his little buddy's locker room antics, attempts to trip him during shared practices and someone to clear a path to the net for during the occasional stick-and-shoot. To Tyler, Colin was someone to share the joy of a bubble hockey game, even if it meant losing to the pesky kid.
I heard from more than one person, including Tyler's family, that Colin meant the world to Tyler. The feelings, I know, were mutual. In a way, those words brought some comfort. But, they also brought some pain. Role models, I believe, need to be there, leading the way, knowing and showing the difference between right and wrong.
Through his death, Tyler has given Colin, as well as every other young hockey player, a very valuable lesson.
Before the funeral, Colin wanted to know if Tyler was, indeed, a bad person. No, I told him, Tyler was not a bad person. Tyler was a good person, a kid who liked to have fun, played the game of hockey hard and, when necessary, stuck up for his teammates. What Tyler did, I told Colin, was make a bad decision.
At the best, Tyler's death is a learning experience. For many, including Colin, it was the first time they've suffered the death of a friend. To see Tyler's ashen, but calm, face in his open casket. To see tears fall down so many faces of Tyler's family, friends and teammates. To see, up close, the finality of life.
The biggest lesson, though, was about consequences. Losing one's life is a pretty harsh consequence for one bad decision. That, however, was the message. All it takes is one poor decision -- a single act of stupidity -- and you may pay with your life.
Talk about the ultimate consequence, right?
During the funeral, populated with teammates and friends wearing hockey jerseys, it was very difficult to not look at these young men and think two things: 1.) Thank God it wasn't any of them who were we grieving for; and 2.) Are there any others who we need to worry about? In every hockey family, parents have more than one child to watch out for. We watch out for every child on the team.
At that time, looking upon our sea of black-and-gold jerseys and one of his framed portraits on the church's altar, I prayed to Tyler, asking him to watch over his friends, to keep them from traveling the same path and, unfortunately, making the same bad decision. I also asked him to protect his teammates while they were on the ice.
In looking for a silver lining in this darkest of clouds, I asked Tyler to be their angel. Especially, Colin's hockey angel.
To that end, I've tucked one of Tyler's prayer cards inside Colin's helmet. One side of the card, which shows a set of hands in prayer, faces upward, to the heavens. The other side, containing of picture of Tyler, points downward, so he can watch over his little buddy.
There's also a prayer -- a child's verse -- under Tyler's picture:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.
Comforting words? Maybe. Kids aren't supposed to die.