Tony and Kelly Trent carry on Tyler’s legacy
WORDS & PHOTO // Jennifer S.H. Smith
“Nobody knows the amount of days we have left. Some could say we are all in hospice to a certain degree.” – Tyler Trent
The hospital bed at the Trent home is gone. The front room, once overflowing with autographed jerseys, honors and accolades is a dining room once again. The menagerie of medications, the wheelchair, the medical paraphernalia, the hospice nurses – all gone.
Because Tyler Trent is no longer here.
Tyler died as he lived, squeezing every ounce out of his 20 years on this planet, and when he completed his race on January 1, 2019, he was surrounded by his family, extended family and dear friends. He took his final breath while his pastor was reading Psalm 23. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Gut and grit and God’s undeniable grace sustained Tyler in those final days. He grew weaker in the days leading up to the Purdue football team’s bowl game in Nashville, but Tyler didn’t want to let his team down. “We were told he had two weeks to two months to live back in May of 2018,” says Tyler’s mom, Kelly, shaking her head in amazement. “That he lived to see 2019 is absolutely a miracle.” As the honorary captain for the team, Tyler’s lifespan defied all medical predictions, and then just four days after traveling to the bowl game – he and his wheelchair present on the sidelines – he died.
Twelve short weeks have passed since Tyler drew his final breath. Twelve bewildering, blessed, heart-bleeding weeks for Tyler’s parents, Tony and Kelly. In recent memory, their entire world revolved around Tyler: his care, his comfort, his pain and, most importantly, his passionate purpose – that God be honored in his illness. Tyler’s race is now complete, he is free from the confines of his frail body and finally, finally, free from pain. And yet, Tony and Kelly labor on, intentionally pursuing Tyler’s larger story – the story of the living God.
Tyler died as he lived, squeezing every ounce out of his 20 years on this planet.
“Tyler’s legacy is all about God,” says long-time Trent family friend Karen Snyder. “There is a living God and he can do amazing things in the most horrible circumstances. The Trents lived through every family’s worst nightmare – watching your child die and suffer unimaginable pain. And yet, you can’t look at Tyler’s life and not see God’s hand. Amid all the pain, there is reassurance that the pain was not wasted. Tyler’s life was used by God in ways most of us never experience, even if we live to old age.”
Kelly agrees. “The flip side of all the hard things we experienced was all the beautiful things.”
The Trents’ list of “beautiful things” is long. Some of the amazing things are simply how the community and church loved the Trent family well over the long haul. (During our interview, a friend arrived to clean the Trent home.) So many individuals stepped up and gave the Trents precious gifts, large and small: Starbucks delivered with a hug, a long weekend away, meals arriving unannounced on the porch, weekly visits, administrative support, and a prayer support team. Every time Tyler had surgeries, the Trent tribe would completely pack out the waiting room.
You can’t look at Tyler’s life and not see God’s hand. Amid all the pain, there is reassurance that the pain was not wasted.”
– Trent family friend, Karen Snyder
Other “beautiful things” relate directly to the last year of Tyler’s life and his relationship to Purdue athletics: Purdue’s honorary football captain. The Purdue-Ohio State upset prediction. ESPN gameday feature. Flights on private jets. The College Football Spirit Award. Contact with governors, members of congress, the Vice President and President of the United States. Attending the State of the Union Address in Washington, DC, in Tyler’s honor. More than 56,000 Twitter followers cheering from the sidelines. Phone calls and visits from celebrities. A Purdue scholarship endowed in his name. Interviews with countless national sports shows. Indiana’s prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash award. Columns appearing in the Indianapolis Star, USA Today and numerous other publications. Raising nearly $2 million to fund cancer research, family support for cancer patients and an endowed scholarship. Approximately 14,000 people viewing his memorial service, from 27 countries. Authoring a book.
Tyler’s book was unveiled just a few days before he died, and for Tyler, it was a dream come true. He had been writing for some time, detailing his journey with Osteosarcoma – bone cancer. Some chapters Tyler wrote, others are transcripts from the lengthy list of interviews and video footage shot over the past year. Family members, including Tyler’s younger brother, Blake, authored other chapters.
“The book is not watered down,” says Kelly. “It’s a raw account of our journey, even when things were devastatingly difficult and very dark. People may be surprised at all the things we went through that they might not have seen on the surface.”
Revisiting the pain of the past 4.5 years is not something parents enmeshed in grieving their firstborn son relish. But for Tony and Kelly, completing the book is a way to honor Tyler, but more importantly, honor God through the heart-wrenching moments. “We hope our story will bring hurting people closer to God,” says Kelly, “in addition to raising awareness and funds for families suffering with pediatric cancer.”
Despite the pain, The Upset (www.TylerTrentBook.com) offers readers a glimmering ribbon of beauty and redemption that permeates one family’s journey through suffering and death. “The book is called The Upset, because regardless of where you are in life, you will have an upset sooner or later,” Tony says. “This book will give courage and hope to readers, no matter the upset faced. Everyone will eventually die…are we prepared?”
“It’s a raw account of our journey, even when things were devastatingly difficult and very dark. People may be surprised at all the things we went through that they might not have seen on the surface.” -Kelly Trent, about her son’s book The Upset
Walking the Cancer Road
Cancer brought the Trents into a brotherhood of sorts – families with disabled children, families with sick children, families who lost children. “When my son got cancer, we all got cancer,” says Tony. “We all are devastated, we all hurt. What do we do with that hurt?” For the Trent family, walking the cancer road inspired them to intentionally give back to other families in need.
The Trents acknowledge other families of pediatric cancer patients don’t have the resources that Tyler’s fame and connections afforded them. The needs of these families are no less significant, however, and encompass a variety of areas—beyond physical care and even beyond cancer research that Tyler so heroically championed. How could they best serve the complex whole-person needs of these hurting people?
The answer seems to be the newly-formed Tyler Trent Foundation, a non-profit Tony and Kelly formed since Tyler’s death, helping families suffering through pediatric cancer. Marriages, strained by the illness or death of a child, need help. Finances run low. Siblings of cancer victims need childcare, support or counseling. Most critical from the Trents’ perspective is the spiritual toll pediatric cancer families endure. “To offer families hope in the middle of the unthinkable, even though we don’t have all the answers, is what we want to offer,” says Tony.
Starting a non-profit has taken a lot of time and energy in the weeks since Tyler’s death. “Being given the awesome responsibility to steward Tyler’s legacy has given me hope and purpose in moments of despair,” says Tony. But that stewardship is not without difficulty.
“It’s overwhelming,” says Kelly. “Starting a non-profit and pioneering its mission is so hard. Who do we partner with? Who do we not? We’re being offered a platform to share our story. How do we best capitalize on that?”
The Trents also have hundreds of hours of video footage, shot by a professional videographer over a two-year period, chronicling Tyler’s cancer battle, many of the honors and interviews he gave and his insatiable zest for life. “What does God want us to do with this footage?” Kelly wonders. “How can we help people by allowing them to see first-hand the ups and downs of our journey?”
“We’re being offered a platform to share our story. How do we best capitalize on that?” -Kelly Trent
The Hospice Mentality
“Tyler is in a much better place,” says Tony. “He’s with his Lord and how he was created to be. As hard as it is for us to not be with him anymore, it’s also selfish to want him back.”
“But we do grieve,” adds Kelly. “We grieve the things he never had a chance to do or to be. Tyler will never get married, he’ll never have children…it’s the future he never got to have.”
“We grieve that Tyler never got to be a normal teenager,” says Tony. “The time we lost, what Tyler’s brothers, Blake and Ethan, lost is significant. And yet, we’re all going to die. How are we living today? Will I live with conviction despite uncertainty? Tyler truly believed with strong conviction that God had a purpose for his life, lived out through cancer.”
In December, Tyler wrote an article for the Indy Star:
Though I am in hospice care and have to wake up every morning knowing that the day might be my last, I still have a choice to make: to make that day the best it can be. Yet, isn’t that a choice we all have every day? After all, nobody knows the amount of days we have left. Some could say we are all in hospice to a certain degree.
If Tyler’s life taught us anything, it was that sometimes the hardest “Yes”, the hardest surrender becomes a platform for great blessing. What if the Trents had (understandably) shielded their dying son in his final days and not shared him with the world? My first interview with Tyler was on a very difficult day, to say the least. And yet, Tyler was adamant that the interview and video shoot proceed. (http://multiplymagazine.org/tyler-trent/) So, so many would have missed the opportunity to know Tyler and understand his faith in a living God.
Sometimes the hardest “Yes” becomes a platform for great blessing.”
So, with clarity and conviction, the Trent family walks into another set of unknown circumstances, holding tight to their faith in Jesus, with their “Hospice Mentality” firmly intact.
“We all have a choice,” said another Trent family friend, Marisa Anderson. “I have a choice. You have a choice. When something comes into our lives, we have a choice of how we’re going to live out that circumstance. Tyler took the horrible three-time diagnosis of cancer and chose to live for God’s purpose.”
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