I have never known what it is to lose a child. But this year I have witnessed from afar the journey of a remarkable couple who have.
His name was Sergio. He attended Oceanside Collegiate Academy and was in the same grade as our son. He passed away unexpectedly earlier this year.
His death left a void not only in his family, but also in our school. One that our son has quietly, though remarkably, been standing in. Sergio was the kicker for our football team. He was dedicated to the sport, practicing daily with his coach, Eugene Benton, while also continuing to play soccer, which was, like our son's, his first love.
Sergio was an integral part of the team.
Sergio was a leader.
Sergio set records.
When he passed Eugene swore not to ever coach another kicker again; the emotional toil of losing someone he had worked with daily, someone who's family had taken he and his family in as their own, was just too overwhelming.
Another football coach, Jamaal Birch, saw our son and asked him if he'd like to be the new kicker. Our son was conflicted; he'd never played football before and did not want to appear to be replacing Sergio. Eugene was also not for it; he couldn't open his heart to another young man again.
Until Sergio's own father invited him for a talk.
Eugene listened as Sergio's father encouraged him to take on another young man who needed his guidance and leadership and told him it would be no disservice to his son's memory to do so. He exhorted Eugene to "test the kid out" and see if he was dedicated. If he was, he had his blessing.
It has been an incredible 6 months since that conversation. Eugene took on training our son, teaching him and honing our son's sense of dedication, perseverance and hyper-focus. Coach Chad Grier's coaching has developed in our son an incredible sense of teamwork and given him access to a level of camaraderie he has been craving. The other young men on the team have taken him in as their own, protecting him and training him in the ways of football; a sport he has never played in his life.
All because of the love of a father for another young man after his own son's death.
Sergio's memory and legacy have traveled with the football team this year. They proudly wear Sergio's number, 19, on their helmets. The captains carry his jersey out to the center of the field for the coin flip every game, then rest it on the bench or the kicker's warm-up net.
And last night at our Homecoming game, Sergio's parents celebrated our son at half time because he had broken Sergio's all-time kicking points record.
This is courage redefined. To face the losing of a child through encouraging and celebrating his successor overwhelms me. The fact that our son has made them proud, and maybe brought a little peace to their hearts...there are no words.
To Sergio's parents: Thank you for your example of courage in the face of tragedy and for honoring our son last night. There are no words to describe how that made my husband and me feel.
To Coach Eugene Benton: Thank you for opening your heart up again to lead our son so well. He has experienced great success because of your leadership.
To Jamaal Birch: Thank you for walking the halls of OCA with open eyes and seeing the potential in our son.
To Chad Grier: Thank you for showing our son that #HardWorkWorks. Your coaching style has inspired him, pushed him and grown him.
To the OCA Football team: Thank you for keeping Sergio's legacy alive while also bringing our son into the team with acceptance, grace and support. You are a remarkable group of young men who I am proud to know.
And to our son, Chris Haynes: We are so proud not only of your accomplishments this year, but also of your willingness to step into a void and quietly do your best to live up to a legacy. No matter what you pursue, may your choice to wholeheartedly dedicate yourself to this new sport bring you all your heart desires.