A few years ago, my wife and I met Dave & Lora Krum. They had just lost their older son, Dylan at age 14. Then, barely two years later, their younger son, Gavin also died. These two young boys were their only children. I have asked Lora to be my guest for this blog posting. You can read her story as she describes what it meant for her and Dave when the local high school decided to “remember” their sons in the commencement ceremony.
By Lora Krum, mother of Dylan and Gavin:
As the parents of two sons whose lives both ended in their early teen years…both as eighth grade students…my husband, Dave and I continuously hope for our sons Dylan (6/22/1995-7/15/2010) and Gavin (4/9/1998-11/27/2012) to be remembered by their family, friends and classmates.
Residing in a small town where everyone knows everyone, our family’s stories of tragedy have been a very familiar part of our community. Sometimes turmoil has arisen when we have sought out ways to include Dylan and Gavin, in memory, as their classmates traveled through their school years…and especially when it came to their senior year of high school. Our belief is that Dylan and Gavin are members of their class…they attended school with all of these students, played with them, were actively involved in extra-curricular activities with them, etc.
Both of our boys had been very active in music, and enjoyed their time and relationships with others in the band program. Naturally, when it came to Dylan’s senior year of high school, we expressed that we would like to walk across the football field for “senior night,” when all of the other senior band students were honored and escorted by their parents across the field during the marching band season. What we believed would be a simple request, as we had heard stories of other parents doing similar acts of remembrance for their children, became a pretty controversial topic for many in our small town. It seemed as if some parents had a fear that by remembering our son, it would take something away from the honor of what their children had accomplished.
A vocal group of parents put pressure on school administrators, who came to us, denying us the privilege of walking across the field for Dylan. After some tears, I calmly shared an emotionally neutral post on social media, informing others that our request (to walk in memory of Dylan) had been denied. Fortunately, by doing so, we found a network of support that quickly came to our defense, and in a matter of hours, our local school board president made sure that we would be welcome to walk across the field for Dylan.
We share this side story to our experience with the graduation ceremonies of both of our sons, because once the student body learned that we would walk across the field, they finally felt free to remember and mention Dylan as well. There were even t-shirts made for the occasion, stating “this is for you, Dylan!” After going through this social “battle,” the idea of having our son remembered as his classmates graduated from school was an opportunity that we were able share without the worry that someone would deny us from something that we feel was an important milestone that we needed to experience.
Before the ceremony, the high school principal met with us and asked us to share what our expectations would be. We expressed that we just wanted Dylan to be included in his class, just as all of the other students would be. We did not want to create anything that would take away from Dylan’s classmates, and did not wish to walk up and receive a diploma. We were grateful that Dylan would be listed and his name would be read, just like every other classmate. There was no more, and no less time given to him than any other member of the class.
On that rainy evening in June of 2014, we were seated in the high school gymnasium in a place where we could see Dylan’s “empty chair.” As the graduates processed, one of the classmates walked in with a red rose and placed it on Dylan’s chair. As the graduates were called and walked up to receive their diploma, Dylan’s name was also called. Without any other distraction, the principal simply walked over to the two of us and handed us Dylan’s honorary diploma. When the ceremony was over and the classmates recessed, another classmate came over and handed us the rose that had been on Dylan’s chair. It meant everything to us, for Dylan to be included…and for us to be welcomed to share in this very special moment in the lives of all of his classmates. It is an opportunity that we will remember forever.
Just three years later, we were faced with the senior year and graduation of Gavin’s classmates. We were grateful to walk across the field on senior night for Gavin, without needing to have to fight for this privilege. As we crossed the field on that fall evening, the students and others in the stands cheered loudly for their classmate…and we found ourselves practically floating across the field, with a combination of tears and smiles in the roller coaster of emotions that go along with such an act of remembrance.
Just a week ago, the class of 2017…Gavin’s classmates…graduated from high school. This time, it was a warm and clear evening and the ceremony took place outdoors, in the high school stadium. Gavin’s very good friend, from the time they were very young boys, was “in charge” of sharing his graduation with his friend. As the band began to play “Pomp and Circumstance,” we looked at the students walking in and spotted Brandon immediately. He was carrying a white rose, and a beautiful and confident smile on his face, as he walked in. He looked directly up at us in the stands, to be sure to share the moment with us.
He walked the rose over to the chair where Gavin would have been seated (in alphabetic order) and placed it there. When it came to the part of the ceremony where the graduates received their diplomas, Gavin’s name was read (just like Dylan’s had been just three years ago.) This time, Brandon got up, picked up Gavin’s rose, walked up to the principal and took the diploma, and then walked it up to where we were seated in the stands. He handed us the diploma and the rose, and in a moment filled with tears and racing hearts, we thanked him, hugged him and were so very grateful to once again have our son included in such a very important milestone event.
How we wish we would never have the need to consider even one act of remembrance for either of our children. How we wish that we could have experienced sharing their high school years and all that would have/should have happened during those special years. We are forever sad for all that we have missed out on during the years that they would have been in high school…but we are also forever grateful that they have been kept in the minds and hearts of their friends and classmates, and in their little small town community.
As Dylan and Gavin’s parents, being part of the graduation ceremonies of their classmates has been an important part of our ongoing grief journey. Facing these special milestones is a very tough part of missing our children, but to have the chance to know they’re remembered means the world to us. We will always hope that our sons’ classmates will carry their thoughts and memories of Dylan and Gavin with them throughout their lives. We also hope that, in the future, if there are more unfortunate families who go through our school system after the loss of their child, that the same compassionate consideration is given to them during the important milestones along the way. Perhaps not every parent will choose to be present, but even then, I believe that every mom and dad will be forever grateful to know the memory of their child lives on, in the hearts of their classmates.