Monday, March 10, 2008

A Community Mourns: Todd Miller's Death Inspires Thousands

Over the past few days, the small campus community here in Farmville has been turned upside down. And it ended this past weekend with a respected and loved student-athlete leaving this mortal Earth.

Todd Miller, a senior rugby player, passed away yesterday morning after spending the past seven days in a coma. Miller was injured in a match against VMI on Sunday, March 2nd. Having already scored three tries and adding five conversion kicks that day, Miller's squad was dominating...the game winding down. However, this towering young man wasn't the sort to shy away from contact. He wanted to play on for his team. But late in the match, Miller went for a tackle. After a significant collision, Miller exited the playing field and, to the shock of teammates and spectators, collapsed on the sidelines. He was eventually taken by MedEvac to MCV Hospital in Richmond but seized on the way, severely complicating his situation and chance for survival. Miller was then kept alive in the hopes that reducing swelling to his brain would allow for a miraculous recovery. But that was not to be.

Todd died at 10:20am Sunday, on a morning when people all over the world lifted their voices in prayer for him. His soul was guided to the afterlife by those who cared for him. A fitting tribute to an incredibly strong young man. A young man that has affected the lives and thoughts of thousands. Most of whom never met him...but never had to.

Last Tuesday night inside Longwood University's Willett Hall gymnasium, over a thousand people gathered in a vigil to pray for Miller's recovery. Among them were 'ruggers' from all across the state, players and coaches that had come to fear and respect this man's ability and leadership skill. Standing 6'3" and weighing just over 200 pounds, Miller was the quintessential rugby that combined God-given size and speed with a tenacious desire to win. Miller had long served as a leader for the club team and was Vice President his junior year. That night in the LU gym, coaches, teammates and friends spoke in turn about Todd's positive affects on their lives. They all wanted Todd and his family to know exactly how they they loved. Todd's mother Ellie was able to watch the entire vigil via simulcast...from Farmville to the MCV intensive care unit. A wonderful way for the university to bring the campus into his family's life at a very hard time.

Five days later, Todd died. But his friends and those who wished to have known him still talk to him. Not only through prayer, but through the one great global communications device...the Internet. The night Todd was injured Chris Foster, a teammate, created a group called "Pray for TODD MILLER" on the social networking phenomenon Facebook. That group now has over 2,300 members...people that constantly visited the site to see the latest news on their friend. Last night at 4:51, Todd's mother posted the information that so many had feared to read. Ever since, dozens of people have left their own personal goodbyes to Todd.

And many of those people are so-called 'perfect strangers.' People that never met Todd Miller but were so touched by his story that they prayed and hoped as if they were family. And through those unselfish actions they became family, at least temporarily. And in acknowledging and embracing that love for her son, Ellie Miller has taught us all a great deal.

In the 'Recent News' column of the group page, Ellie's post has been updated several times. But the orginal words are intact:

Todd passed away this morning at 10:20 am. Thank you all so very much for your prayers, loving thoughts, shared memories and pictures.....they have helped me so have no idea. I have felt your love surrounding me during this horrific week. I know Todd will live on in our hearts and memories forever.....and through the miracle of organ donations Todd may save the lives of as many as 7 people over the next 48 hours and impact the health of countless other people..Think of the miracle of that....his legacy and "his life" will live on."

What a wonderful woman Ellie must be. She was more than ready and willing to share her son's final moments with his friends and all concerned. A hard thing to do for certain. Something that only a person with superior inner strength and wisdom could handle. This amazing woman answered phone call after phone call and acquiesced to every information request his teammates and friends made. In doing so, Ellie's grace allowed for so many to intimately share in her relationship with her son. The young man's Facebook profile, Mrs. Miller's own profile, and the group page dedicated to him, are all adorned with pictures of Ellie and Todd together. It's clear their love truly defined that which only a mother and son could share.

Todd's final act of unselfishness is truly inspiring. It is reminiscent of the story of former UNC mascot, Jason Ray, a young man who was killed in a hit-and-run but whose organs saved or vastly improved the lives of several others. Ray's story was made famous with extended coverage on ESPN. Each story is equally impressive...both horrifically tragic but simultaneously uplifting.

Todd donated his very body to strangers in hopes of improving or saving their lives. A mortal way of being immortal. A 'Christ-like' gift one can only give in death.

Let us all learn valuable lessons from Todd's passing.

Love all of those around you, everyone you come in contact with. Todd clearly did, the love returned was intense and passionate.

Live your life to the fullest. Absorb it all. Every moment is one fewer God intended you to have. Todd literally attacked life. We should all be so bold.

When we face the bleakest times in our lives, turn to those that love you and that love will lift you to a higher place. While nothing will replace her son, Ellie Miller has already displayed ultimate courage. Those who have publicly voiced their love and appreciation for Todd have shown her so much. Ellie raised a wonderful man. Todd's legacy is so immense, it can't be measured.

Every day, take a moment...just a express your love to those who matter to you most. Never go to bed mad. Never leave something unsaid.

Love as God has commanded us.

Live as God has demanded us.

Todd & Ellie deserve our collective thanks. God bless them both. May we all be better people as a result of having heard their story. May we all love, and be loved, as much as they.

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