On April 13, 2009, one of my son and daughter’s friends from their Christian youth group died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a terrible and painful shock to all of us. Aaron was a very important part of my son’s life. I did not know Aaron personally because I talked and hung out with him; I knew Aaron because Braden talked to me about Aaron all the time. His name was mentioned in our home constantly. I’ve waited a while to try to write this memorial to hopefully make it easier, but it is not easy. Thinking about Aaron, what has happened, and how everyone who knew and loved him has been affected, still brings many tears to my eyes and much sorrow to my heart. But this post is not to be about me, it is to be about Aaron.
I write and post some memories of Aaron as I have heard them spoken from Braden’s lips, and some from my own memories and experience. They are not necessarily in any particular order or they might be. But as Braden has spoken of Aaron before and after his death, so I write from what he has told me:
A year ago the youth group went on a mission trip in that state of Missouri. There was a day when they were supposed to have gone to an amusement park but that plan ended up being scrapped for a day riding 4-wheelers instead. Braden told us how Aaron was having a good, fast time driving the 4-wheeler when something happened and Aaron flipped with the 4-wheeler. Aaron and 4-wheeler went down together with the 4-wheeler somewhat landing partly on Aaron, but Aaron was not hurt. On that same trip Braden spoke of the time he and Aaron sat by a pond and talked for a very long time as they overlooked the pond. Braden said they were there so long that some of their friends came by to ask them if they were okay.
Last fall, the youth attended a youth conference in Denver called Acquire the Fire. One of Braden’s greatest memories of Aaron during that weekend was Aaron getting up around 2:00 a.m. to smack Stephen over the head with a pillow because he was snoring so terribly and keeping everyone else awake!
The first and only time I recall ever seeing Aaron in person was in January when the youth had a broomball event. Michael and I decided to participate with the youth on this event and off we went to the local ice arena to play broomball. As we waited outside the ice arena, we noticed Aaron and Nicole standing close together. And Michael asked Braden if they were boyfriend and girlfriend; to which Braden and Madison (our daughter) replied yes. As we all played broomball on the ice, Nicole and Aaron mostly stood on the sidelines chatting together and Braden joined them a lot of the time, along with another friend, Chris. Then Aaron decided that it was more fun to run on the ice and then fall on his butt to slide than to participate in the broomball madness. So he and Chris did that activity for a long while. I got a couple of pictures of Aaron, Nicole, Braden, and Chris during their time hanging out on the sidelines.
This past February when Braden was inviting some friends over for his 15th birthday celebration, he really wanted Aaron to come and spend the night too. However, Aaron’s family had some kind of event taking place the same weekend and Aaron wasn’t able to come over. Braden was really disappointed, and at that time I did not realize how important Aaron’s friendship was to Braden.
In March, Aaron’s mom called Braden to tell him that she was going to have a surprise 16th birthday party for Aaron and asked if Braden would be able to attend. Unfortunately, we said he could not attend the party because it was taking place at the same time we have our home church meeting, and we wanted Braden to be with the family. Especially since the prior weekend he had not been with us due to a youth activity he had attended. Now, I’m really sad that Braden didn’t get to go to Aaron’s party; I know he was disappointed about that too.
In March, the youth group decided to go on a fun youth vacation trip over Spring Break. They were supposed to have been going to Mexico to minister and build a home for a needy family, but the situation in Mexico was unsafe and the trip cancelled. So instead of a mission trip, they decided to go on a sight-seeing road trip. Initially, I was not going to send either Braden or Madison. There were various reasons involved with that decision. However, just when I was sure that neither of them was going, God softened my heart to let Braden go—I felt that Braden deserved to go and that it would be wrong to keep him home. At the time, I found it a bit odd that I really wanted Braden to go after feeling so sure I wasn’t going to send him. Now, I know better and understand completely. Isn’t hindsight amazing? I even considered going along with them on the trip as the adult female helper/chaperone and to get a little break myself. But they didn’t need me because Aaron’s mom was able and willing to go. Braden came home with many stories of the trip, and from the first moment upon his arrival he kept telling me of the best picture he took the whole trip. He had taken around 175 pics, and the one he called his “best” was a picture of Nicole and Aaron together on the tram. Braden and the youth group traveled through Arizona and New Mexico and saw the majestic Grand Canyon; but in his heart, his best picture was of Aaron and Nicole smiling happily on the Sandia Peaks Tram. He was, and is, mighty proud of that picture. In my opinion, that wasn’t his only best picture, because while on that trip Braden took quite a few really good pictures of Aaron that will also be treasured by him and by Aaron’s mom and dad and Nicole.
During that trip, Braden hung out with Aaron and Nicole a large part of the time and made more great memories with Aaron. One of those memories had to do with a water drinking contest while on their way to Albuquerque. This is how Braden recounted the event:
On the way there, Aaron and I thought it would be a good idea to have a water chugging contest between us, so we both drank about four to five bottles of water when we weren’t going to reach the Michael’s house for another two hours. You could say we had to go to the bathroom REALLY badly by the time we reached their house. After we had both relieved ourselves, we emptied our luggage and ate a wonderful meal of homemade lasagna. We hung out downstairs, four of us played Pictionary while four more played pool and the rest just hung out.
The youth also had this fun, “spooky” time at the church in which they were staying overnight during the trip. Someone started something about the church being haunted, and they were running around scaring each other and hearing “strange” noises and doors closing. Braden and Aaron and Nicole were involved in that “spooky fun” group, creeping each other out and having a blast. Here is a little excerpt of that event from Braden’s writing about it:
At about eight we left for the church where we would be staying that night. After we unpacked, four of us went exploring the huge three story building. While we were on the third floor (it was more of an attic) we heard voices of the people on the bottom floor, and almost everyone freaked out and ran for the stairs. We reached the bottom and stopped for a breath. Then one of us (again I won’t say names) thought they heard footsteps so they bolted, leaving me behind. (The one who said he would protect us was the first to run). But alas, it was all in fun and we all got in bed at eleven.
(Braden and Aaron hugging each other in group photo)
(Aaron's mom is in the striped sweater bending down)
Then there was Nicole’s birthday party in April. The youth friends all had so much fun. Madison was the first to tell me how Braden and Aaron had been trying to pop birthday balloons by squishing them between their chests. Braden also shared that memory with me the next day after the party. I wish a picture would have been taken of that fun between them. Braden and Madison also later shared how Aaron had given everyone hugs before leaving the party. He was gone from us three days later.
Just last week, Braden shared that Aaron’s favorite game to play on Sunday evenings at youth group was British Bull Dog. Braden and Madison also spoke of Aaron attending youth group Bible study at Trevor’s house and how Trevor would have Aaron sit at his feet in his toddler son’s Elmo chair to make sure he behaved during the study. Ha ha!
Braden mentioned to me that Aaron talked about becoming a Marine. I asked Braden if he knew why, but he wasn’t sure. He just said that is what Aaron talked about doing in the future.
As I was going to wash Braden’s slacks that we bought just for him to wear to Aaron’s memorial service, I found Braden’s notes he had typed for what he thought he would say about Aaron during the service. So I write here straight from his notes (except the non-italicized words are mine for context):
Running through McDonald’s shouting I’m on fire! (March 2008 Missouri trip)
Remembering the good times in Missouri like when we sat out on a bench overlooking a small pond, and talked for over an hour. (March 2008 Missouri trip)
Shooting snowballs off of the Sandia Peaks with a three man slingshot, and throwing sticks and watching the updraft catch them and hover for a good minute. (March 2009 Spring Break trip)
Helping him pay for the last forty five cents of a shake Aaron split with Nicole. (March 2009 Spring Break trip)
Aaron was somebody I could count on for anything. I could sit with him and just talk for the whole day. I told him almost everything about me. And he would do the same. I could talk with him about anything. He was funny, and made stupid jokes but they were funny. Aaron could make you laugh even when you felt terrible. He would stick by me through the thick and thin. I remember when Aaron, Nicole and I sat on a bench in Sedona beside a Cross that overlooked the red hills. And although no words were spoken aloud, I knew that he was there. I honestly can say that we are all blessed to know Aaron.
Braden considered him a best friend. Aaron touched the lives of many, and he was loved by many. Many miss him terribly and look forward to the day when they will be reunited with him again in heaven.