Written by Jeremy Baumhower | The Toledo Free Press | [email protected]
May 26, 2013, is the date I never imagined would arrive — the day my oldest daughter and first love, Mackenzie, graduates from high school. I remember doing the math when she was born; I was going to be 37 years old, and how far away that felt. She is graduating exactly 20 years after I did, and thankfully we are two different people.
This entire school year has gone by too fast. I saw her cheer on the sidelines for the last time, witnessed her final and best performance as Nancy in “Oliver!” on Genoa High School’s stage and followed the ups and downs of watching her try to get into the BGSU musical theater program to pursue her dreams. The stress, the buildup, the anticipation … and I have been blessed to have her alive and well through the entire process.
I am a lucky one; Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger were not.
Last year, my column “Congratulations … now don’t be stupid,” was penned for the graduating class of 2012. I used the space Toledo Free Press gave me to ask the senior class to just survive. I encouraged them to not drink and drive, tried to offer solutions for those who did drink and warned them of all those before who had graduated and died tragically a short time later. It is really easy to understand — you just started driving at the age of 16 and maybe you just started drinking, illegally. This inexperienced combination is as deadly as it can get. The key is to simply survive through the graduation season, so all of your hard work is not wasted by one bad choice.
On Feb. 2, Brian Hoeflinger, a senior at Ottawa Hills High School, died as a result of drinking and driving. I had never met Brian, but I coach some Ottawa Hills seventh-graders and saw various pictures of the boys honoring his memory at basketball games and on Facebook. The tragedy of his death was apparent on their faces and homemade T-shirts, it hit home.
I was one degree from this boy, his family and this tragedy … until I picked up the phone. I heard Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger were trying to share a message with promgoers about the dangers of making a bad choice and its potentially awful consequences. Just 100 days after they lost their oldest son, they were trying to save others while sharing his dreams and tragic ending. I wanted to offer Brian’s parents my column space for their message, but I wanted it for the classes graduating, not just prom. I wanted my daughter and her friends to read it.
My phone conversations with Cindy, gave me an insight into Brian’s life and his family’s life now. I shared my fears of being a parent with a woman who was living my worst nightmare. I heard her voice crack numerous times while describing how troll comments about her son’s death left on various news sites wrecked her day. Her pain is so raw and yet she is so motivated to help others, it is nothing short of heroic. I was inspired by her candidness and her desire to save lives, all while sharing her ongoing pain of losing a child.
Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger’s strength and character serves as an inspiration. Their courageous message to others while their hearts are shattered is beyond noble. Their pain is the most relatable suffering any parent could ever feel and they are sharing their sorrow in hopes of saving just one of our children. That is the very definition of a hero. The Hoeflingers are fighting through their personal misery so that Brian’s death does not go in vain, a war I believe they are winning.
If you are graduating high school this year or anytime soon, may their letter on this page be your last reading assignment of the 2012-13 school year. It may be the most important thing you ever read.
One bad choice stole a family’s dreams … please don’t let one steal yours.
Find Jeremy Baumhower on Facebook or Twitter @jeremytheproduc.