Some friendships last a lifetime. Some special ones last even longer than that.
It’s been more than 10 years since Austin Sizemore, 14, last saw his best friend, Brady Bowers. They were just shy of their fourth birthdays when Bowers died of spinal meningitis on Christmas Day 2003.
Austin never forgot that optimistic, creative character who shared so many giggles with him in those formative years.
“He was my best friend back before he died,” Austin said, pausing to find the right words. “You know, it was kind of hard.”
Thursday was graduation day for the eighth-graders at Elida Middle School. It was another milestone the two buddies wouldn’t be able to share. Then Austin, who said he still thinks about his friend nearly every day, decided to include his friend’s memory in the special day.
“He would’ve graduated with me if he was still here,” Austin said. “I thought even though he’s not here, he should be able to graduate with the rest of the class.”
As the eighth-graders processed Thursday, Austin carried a photograph of a 3-year-old Brady.
“He teared up a little when he pulled it out of his pocket,” said Heather Cole, Austin’s mother. “He was fairly young, but he remembers Brady very well.”
Nikki Bowers, Brady’s mother, remains friends with Cole and watched Austin grow up. A few days ago, she posted something on Facebook recalling her son would be graduating eighth grade if he’d survived. She stayed home from that ceremony, but her husband, Jason, a member of the Elida school board and an American Township firefighter, went. She was surprised when she heard about Austin’s tribute and saw the picture online.
“I wasn’t there, but my husband had went to see Brady’s preschool friends in that class,” Nikki Bowers said. “To be honest, I cried when I heard about it. I thought it was pretty awesome that he would do that.”
Cole recalled promising Nikki Bowers her son wouldn’t be forgotten.
“It started right after Brady passed away,” Cole said. “We were worried it would be hard around graduation and holidays. I said, ‘Don’t worry. He’ll walk with his graduating class. When Austin walks at graduation, Brady will walk with him.’”
Austin said he cleared the idea with the school’s principal. Some of his longtime friends didn’t know about Brady’s death — they were only 3 or 4 at the time.
“I run into different people all the time who tell me they prayed for my family years ago but didn’t make the connection,” Nikki Bowers said.
It gave Austin, who was born two weeks after his friend, a chance to reminisce about his playful pal.
“I remember when me and him were little, our families would watch the ball drop every New Year’s,” Austin said. “A couple days before that, we watched a movie that had a big bomb drop. We took some big foam blocks that kids build stuff with and built a big old shelter. We thought that ball dropping was the bomb from the movie we watched. We hid in it, and didn’t know if we would blow up or not.”
The two were inseparable, Nikki Bowers recalled.
“Brady was just wise beyond his years, and Austin was at the same point,” she said. “Granted he was only almost 4 when he died, but they would do stuff 6- or 7-year-olds would do all the time.”
Austin is now at an age where fitting in can seem like the most important thing in the world. Instead, on Thursday, he chose to stand out, in memory of a friend.
“He’s a pretty sentimental guy,” Cole said. “He’s kind, caring. He’s more worried about the other person than himself. That’s how he’s always been.”