Friends offer comfort after death of 16-year-old
By JEFF LAMPE
Weekly Post Staff Writer
Today (Aug. 27), the Millers will greet mourners in a drive-through visitation at the Brimfield High School circle drive (read on for directions if you plan to attend). Friday they bid farewell to Aaron, a teenager whose confidence was growing and whose future in sports and in life looked so bright.
How can any parent survive such a nightmare? Only with help. And, thank God, help has showed up for the Millers in so many ways. Friends and family bringing food and comfort. Officials doing their jobs with compassion. A Bass Pro Shops security guard buying hats for 17 of Aaron’s friends. All played a role in combatting grief. But probably the biggest help has been the kids – Aaron’s friends, some the Millers knew and some they did not.
High schoolers from all over central Illinois have stepped up in a way that would impress the most jaded cynic. And cynics abound. In these days of COVID-19, protests and angry politics, it sometimes feels like our society is being torn apart. Add to that the horror of losing your baby before his first “official” date, before his first varsity baseball game … his first prom … his graduation … a dove hunting permit waiting to be used on Sept. 1. How do you survive that?
I guess one beauty of life is that even in the worst hours, there are sweet seconds that can save us. “There’s a lot of terrible things that you see on the news … we need more stuff like what these kids are doing,” Rick Miller said Sunday before listing the many comforts his late son’s friends have provided. “There’s a lot of good things around still. And we are seeing it more than most people.” Hard for me to fathom that perspective given the circumstances.
Last Wednesday was Aaron’s first day as a junior at Brimfield High School – part of the fourth generation of Millers to attend Brimfield schools and following closely in the footsteps of older brother, Calvin, now a sophomore at Illinois Central College. Mother Michele held Aaron back long enough for the obligatory firstday picture on the porch that morning with the family’s bearded dog, Oak, a wire-haired pointing Griffon.
Aaron’s similarly shaggy hair was in stark contrast to the buzz cuts he once wore as a youth. He stood 6- foot-2 with a fresh pencil mark to prove it on the dining room door jamb, a young man with a promising future as a pitcher for Brimfield’s perennially strong baseball program – and more.
After school, he napped, only to be woken by his father, encouraging him to get up to get his sleep pattern in synch with school. So Aaron drove his 2002 Honda Accord to the basketball court in Kickapoo, the lit-up one along U.S. 150 that Rick calls Aaron’s “favorite place.” Aaron had made that drive plenty of times since getting his license. Dad said he was a pretty good driver. Slow even. Yet he never made it home after playing hoops.
Somehow, at 9:15 p.m., his car hit a culvert at the intersection of U.S. 150 and Thousand Dollar Road before rolling multiple times and igniting. That fiery image haunted the Millers until Coroner Jamie Harwood arrived to tell them their son had died instantly on impact. Harwood’s words may seem like small comfort, but they were worth noting, Michele said. And in keeping with much that followed. Later came Aaron’s basketball jersey and warmups – those gaudy ones with the red and white stripes – courtesy of coach Scott Carlson.
Then there were discussions with athletic director Kevin Kreiter about a memorial scholarship in Aaron’s honor. Food flowed in from all corners (Rick’s mom, Peg, is a Gilles, which means they are related to every person in Kickapoo, half of Brimfield and one-third of Edwards). Out of nowhere a gofundme page that has raised over $20,000 appeared, thanks to Aaron’s classmate Anney Cosby (gofundme.com/f/aaron-millermemorial). Best of all were spontaneous outpourings of love from Aaron’s friends … chalk messages at the Kickapoo courts … flowers and baseballs at the crash site … gifts …. Facebook tributes … daily visits … a willingness to eat all the extra food at the Miller house on Galena Avenue. “It has been a blessing to see this,” Michele wrote in an email. “They have brought us gifts and created things of great meaning.
These are items and gestures that are beyond touching, meaningful and thoughtful. “I believe that if something like what happened to Aaron happened in any of the towns that The Weekly Post covers (God forbid), the outpouring of grief and support would be just as inspiring,” she added. “In my opinion, it is because of the deep roots and the strong bonds that can be built in a small community, with its network of small businesses, schools and libraries, churches, first responders and families. I just don’t think that you can find that in a suburb or larger city, at least not to the same extent and not with the same personal relationships.”
More of that will no doubt be on display at this evening’s visitation in the Brimfield High School circle drive from 5-8 p.m. Those who plan on attending are asked to approach the school from the north or northeast (East Illinois to North Jackson or West Brimfield/Jubilee Road to North Jackson). Volunteers will direct traffic. Clinton Street in front of the high school intersecting with North Jackson Street will be closed. Most likely, you will see high schoolers in the drive.
Who knows what tribute they will devise? “It’s amazing. These kids are so creative,” Michele said Sunday, near the end of our conversation. Moments later, after the last guests had left and the long hours of night approached, a group of Brimfield boys walked in a side door, unannounced but very much welcomed. “They hug us every time they come and every time they leave,” Michele said. “They never did that before.” The kids need to keep that up for a long time. I suspect they will.