How does a person prepare for something they have never experienced? I have planned and prepared for my oldest son’s graduation. I have been to many graduations, but I had never been to a graduation for my son who would not be there. You see, my son Tyler died on August 23, 2013, due to a car accident and wouldn’t be graduating. We wouldn’t be pinning a flower on his gown or waiting with the other families and taking pictures before the ceremony. He wouldn’t be walking down the aisle or celebrating his big accomplishments. I know he would be proud of us for our support and being there for his classmates as they struggle to put a smile on and enjoy their BIG DAY! Tyler was just that way. He was always looking out for others, especially the ones who had no one. He was not physically with us that day, but I know he was there in spirit.
We were blessed to have family and friends sit with us at graduation. There were tears, sadness, but also joy. We were prepared for what would happen. We knew when we walked in the gym everyone would be watching– where we sit, how we act and what we do. If I were in their place I would be thinking and doing the same thing. But my heart would be breaking from knowing they are not going home with their graduate to celebrate. As we sat and prepared, we knew there would be a slideshow of the graduates and Tyler will be on there. His class asked that he be placed in the order he would have been if he were here. The only difference was his picture had “In Memory of Tyler Hook Hillmer Aug. 20, 1998- Aug. 23, 2013.” The emotion of sitting in the darkness, hearing the music, knowing we would see his pictures on the same screen in the same gym we had his funeral was hard to wrap my mind around. With all of that being said, we were somewhat prepared for those tears.
But, the next set of tears took us by surprise. It was the rose ceremony when the graduates give their mom or special people in their life a rose. To our surprise a rush of orange and black gowns came our way first before heading to their parents or friends. We were surprised with flowers, hugs, love and tears from Tyler’s classmates. It was at this moment we knew Tyler was very real in everyone’s minds. It reminded me of a volcano preparing to erupt and at that point it did.
Wow, there were so many emotions running rampant that afternoon. I remember feeling like the whole ceremony was in slow motion. I felt numb almost to the point of thinking this was not real. I looked down to see what I needed to prepare for next. It’s the “Farwell” speech from one of Tyler’s good buddies. As he started to speak he was doing good– bringing laughter, memories of current situations and then there is the ending. He is thanking us for all we have done to support Tyler’s class these last four years. These were words of gratitude, appreciation, and love that brought buckets of tears to everyone’s eyes. Words he could barely get through and hard for me to believe he was even saying. Once again the realness hit, Tyler was really not here or graduating.
Quickly after the “Farwell” speech the graduates were awarded their scholarships, diplomas and the class was presented as the 2017 graduating class of Palmer High School. The kids flooded off the stage to the song, Don’t You Forget About Me, by Simple Minds
…Don’t you forget about me
Don’t don’t don’t don’t
Don’t you forget about me
Will you stand above me?
Look my way, never love me
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down
Will you recognize me?
Call my name or walk on by
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down, down
Hey, hey, hey, hey…
The song seemed to be a play on words in so many ways. Don’t forget about the graduating class of 2017 and for me, don’t forget about Tyler Hook Hillmer.
There are times like these that I know with all my being Tyler’s memories will live on in our hearts forever. His class has told us that so many times. I know after awhile things are forgotten, but I hope as Tyler’s class grows and moves on they can say because of this sad loss they have grown stronger. I hope they will go out there to make a difference in someone’s life for the better. I hope they remember him when they see a hook, a dragonfly, and the #22 or just hear the name Tyler.