Remembering my daughter's friends lost in plane crash

Tuesday , July 29, 2014 - 1:31 PM

Standard-Examiner contributor

My daughter lives and attends college in Los Angeles. She was looking forward to August, when several of her now-graduated pals from Syracuse High School planned to board a small plane and fly to Southern California, stay with her for several days and see the sights. The aircraft was to be piloted by one of those friends.

That won’t happen now because her pilot friend, Daulton Whatcott, was killed – along with his younger brother, Jaxon – in a single-engine plane crash near Littlefield, Ariz., on July 20.

Daulton was no stranger at the Porter house. Over the years, he and a wide circle of my daughter Chelsea’s friends gathered at our home regularly. How regular? My wife habitually stocked the refrigerator with plenty of food for the ravenous crowd.

It’s the kind of thing you hope for when you’re a parent: That your children will have friends – lots of them – and that they’ll be kind to each other.

I don’t know Daulton’s parents. I saw them once on the porch of their home as they took photos of Chelsea and Daulton before a high school dance. Having never lost a child – let alone two at once – I have no real clue as to the depth of pain and sadness they must be suffering. When you hear a person describe an event as “too terrible to fathom,” this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

My heart aches for them. It’s something no one should have to experience.

So, why am I writing a column related to the deaths of Daulton and Jaxon if I’m not really a friend of the family or a reporter covering the news of their passing?

Because I want to add my voice to the chorus of mournful reactions to the passing of their sons. I want Eileen and Rhett Whatcott and the rest of their family to know that the waves of friends who visited their home in the days after the accident was so large it spilled into our home, too. The surge was so significant, it took multiple homes to contain the outpouring of grief and celebration. They cried, yes, but laughed and spent hours and hours over a couple of days telling stories and sharing memories.

Our home was not the only location for these impromptu gatherings. Daulton and Jaxon meant so much to their friends. This is a testament to the fine young men the Whatcotts raised.

But now Daulton and Jaxon are gone, and there’s an empty space where they ought to be. For many of these 16- to 20-year-olds, this is the first time they’ve experienced the death of a close friend – one of their peers, someone their own age. I’m no mental health expert, just a parent trying to help a child cope with a real shock that has been so unfair, so awful. I know I am inadequate to the task, but I’m doing my best.

It seems to me the lesson for all of us in the wake of a loved one’s death is to keep the happy moments alive in our memories. By all accounts, that will be an easy chore in the case of Daulton and Jaxon.

After Wednesday’s funeral service, my daughter will travel back to Los Angeles. Her friend will not be flying there to see her. The promise of those fun times will remain unfulfilled, and she’ll be sad about that.

But if Chelsea and her friends work at it, the sadness will subside – a little, not completely – and the memories of good times and laughter and the shared experiences of youth will crowd out the sorrow. From all that I’ve heard at my home, Daulton and Jaxon would want their friends smiling when they are remembered. Of that, I sincerely believe, there can be no doubt whatsoever.

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