#LiveLikeLuke: A mother's tale

 

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By HEATHER MILLER

The best kind of people are the ones that come into your life, and make you see the sun where you once saw clouds. The people that believe in you so much, you start to believe in yourself. The people that love you simply for being you … the once-in-a-lifetime kind of people.

Luke was one of these people.

Who is Luke Miller? Ask anyone around Champaign Centennial High School and everyone knew him — from the freshmen to the seniors, to the administrators, teachers and custodians. Everyone seemed to know him — and there was a reason for that.

In his mind everyone was equal, should be included and the more friends the merrier in his book. He was one of the first to walk over to someone sitting by themselves in the cafeteria and start a conversation so they felt they had a friend. When a new person joined his 4-H Club or the Centennial archery team, he would jump into action and help them get acclimated. I think that is why all of us are in shock as to why someone so kind and well-liked would be bullied or picked on. That is the million-dollar question we may never figure out.

Luke had a passion and a zest for life and was often called an "old soul" by many because of his maturity and compassion for others. He had so many interests and a big personality. He loved fishing for hours at subdivision ponds, photography, geology, drawing, Cardinal baseball, archery, golfing, looking for the next cool pair of tennis shoes, listening to the latest music, and spending time with his family and friends. He wanted to help others with anything they needed — someone to talk to during a tough time, help with a homework assignment, teaching someone how to fish or archery tips, giving a timely hug, or saying the perfect thing to make someone laugh when they needed it. Luke's smile was infectious, his jokes were legendary, and he had enough fishing equipment that would rival a sporting goods store.

However, no one is perfect, and as his parents we knew where his faults were. But he did nothing by halves, was honest, had impeccable character, had a strong faith in God, and loved his family and friends with all his heart. That is what mattered.

There are no words that can fix the hurt when we lose someone we love. All of us are hurting at the loss of Luke (who died March 11 at at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis) — his family, friends and the community. There are a lot of unknowns at this time. There is no doubt that Luke was bullied, but to the extent of if it causing his passing is yet to be determined. We ask that the community not pass on rumors, generate hate or point fingers.

It is a time to grieve, cry, and heal. We need to be patient as the authorities complete their investigation. They have been working tirelessly to find answers, and Ryan and I have the utmost respect for the Champaign Police Department for their efforts. We thank them for their service.

We have the commitment of Unit 4 schools to dig deeper into the bullying issue, and Ryan and I have offered to help with the discussion and implementation of future initiatives.

Because of Luke's story, bullying is at the front of people's minds, so we are not going to let this opportunity and momentum for change to be lost. Bullying is a complicated topic and unfortunately is a national problem — not just a local one.

However, each of us can make a difference immediately. Adults, this means we all need to focus on respecting our differences, loving each other more, and effectively communicating in appropriate ways so we set a good example for the youth around us. They observe everything we do and imitate it so change has to start with us. To our youth in the community, be the friend you would want to have, find a mentor you can trust if needed, do the right thing and tell someone when you see others getting bullied, and lastly always remember that you are special.

Over the past few weeks, Ryan and I have listened to hundreds and hundreds of heartwarming stories from our son's classmates, friends, family and others, and witnessed an equal number of acts of love for our family during this difficult time. He has touched so many lives in his 15 years that we are overwhelmed and so proud of our young man. We heard stories about the jokes he would tell, the gifts of art drawings he would give to his friends to cheer them up, the random acts of kindness, his smile, and several of his teachers said class was not near as fun when Luke was absent. People who never met our son (or even us in some cases) have reached out to tell us how this story has impacted their lives.

To the archery community in Illinois, we are extremely grateful for the love shown for us and our talented archer. You all knew that his team and teammates were more important to him than his many individual accomplishments. Although he didn't have the opportunity to shoot at the Illinois State Tournament, or make a run for the individual and team championships in person, his Centennial archery teammates picked up his bow and his arrows and gutted out a performance for the ages amid their grief to win the state title. We couldn't be more proud of their effort and love for their lost teammate. As two of the coaches of the Centennial archery team, as well as being Luke's parents, we are grateful for all the thoughtful ribbons, shirts, posters, banners, buttons and other acts of support in memory of Luke from archery teams all over the state of Illinois. There are too many people to thank in the archery community, but you know who you are!

We would also like to send a shout-out to the Urbana and Centennial girls' soccer teams as well, for honoring Luke this past week at their Thursday game by coming together in solidarity to wear "LUKE" on the back of all their jerseys and wear Luke's favorite color (red) instead of their own school colors. Thank you. You are the epitome of what Luke stood for.

Various groups and individuals have asked for a way to honor Luke. We wanted to let the community know that Campus Sportwear has graciously worked with us on a T-shirt design that speaks to Luke's character, integrity and loving nature toward everyone he met. The design includes the Centennial High School mascot, the Charger, and the tagline "#livelikeluke" so that we all can remember to be more kind to others.

Embedded within the Charger logo are words to describe Luke's character/personality that were given to us by his archery teammates or told to us in stories from other friends and family.

The T-shirts will be available through the online store through midnight Monday, April 10. The link is http://stores.campus.ink/livelikeluke. All proceeds will be used to support various activities and organizations that were important to Luke, including scholarships for those that cannot afford to participate in activities, academic scholarships, and student art activities at Centennial High School. We hope to designate some days throughout the year for everyone to wear their shirt in solidarity.

Out of our grief and loss, we hope and pray that some good can come about within the community and beyond. Love gave us Luke, and Luke loved even more in return.

Pastor Tom Corum asked us all during Luke's funeral, "What will we do now? What will we make of our tragic loss? What kind of people will we choose to be?"

The obvious answer is that we can be the friend we would like to have ourselves. Be more patient and kind, understand and respect our differences, give encouragement, smile, and love one another more, and then the world will be a better place.

Luke believed he could make a difference to others through little acts of kindness and encouragement, and he did it without even thinking about it — it was just part of his nature. I truly believe it can become second-nature to all of us.

One of Luke's loves was baseball. He had a wicked curveball he would often pitch during his Little League baseball years. Unfortunately, he threw us all one last curveball, leaving us confused and with questions as to why he had to leave us so soon. However, we each have the ability to pick up where he left off ... we can all follow his lead and live a little more like he did.

#livelikeluke

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson