HAYDEN — "Follow the red balloons." Those were the instructions.
Those who followed them Saturday evening found themselves in a beautiful Hayden meadow at the Smiles for Miles Fun Run, an event where peace and happiness triumphed over tragedy, where everyone wore something red and all smiled in memory of one special little boy — Miles Haynie.
"It’s hard to be sad and depressed when you’re surrounded by so much love and joy," said Miles' mom, Chelsea. "My kids are enjoying every moment of this. We’re turning something tragic into a happy pleasant memory, and it allows them to know that they're loved and supported. I think that’s the biggest thing when you're going through loss with children. To know that they have support beyond just their parents is huge and that’s exactly what this is."
The Haynie family suffered the abrupt loss of one of their 5-year-olds, Miles, on July 22 of last year.
"He went to bed a healthy kid," Chelsea said. "He went to sleep with his twin (Jaxon) and didn’t wake up. He passed in his sleep."
He was beyond the point of resuscitation. Chelsea said his death simply has no answers.
"They classified his death as 'Sudden Unexplained Death in Children,’" she said. "That's the answer when they have no answer."
The last family outing the Haynies had with Miles was the Muddy Miles fun run at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. Their many friends, neighbors and church community planned to participate for Miles this year, but event sponsor Heritage Health announced it would be put on hold for 2017.
“When we found out that Muddy Miles was cancelled, we were like, ‘Let’s just do it ourselves,'" said Jenny Crandall, a good friend of the Haynie family. "We want to do (Smiles for Miles) every year. It’s a new milestone, a hard milestone, and we wanted to show the Haynies that we’re here.”
Chelsea and her husband, J.R., and their boys Elliot, Jaxon and Lincoln were surrounded by love and friends as water fights broke out before the start of the fun run. Northern Lakes Fire District made an appearance to commence the race with a blast of water from a fire truck. About 300 people came to the Hayden property, owned by Haynie friends Matt and Sarah Zastrow, to show their support and share their memories.
“My son is the same age and they were good buddies,” said Erin Grimmett, who lives near the Haynies and used to babysit Miles and his brothers with a co-op of other moms. “It’s amazing to look out and see his name and the colors and the Spider-Mans. The tears are going to flow and we’ll just let them. That kid was so special to all of us."
Dillon Matheson, 6, of Coeur d’Alene, was good friends with Miles and Jaxon. He took a moment from the water fighting to share a favorite memory with his friend.
“We always loved to play ‘Mario Kart,’” he said. “Miles played Mario, Jaxon played Luigi and I played Dry Bones.”
Friends of J.R. and Chelsea helped raise more than $1,500 to cover the cost of the event. Whatever funds are left will be donated to the Sudden Unexplained Death in Children Foundation, which supports families affected by the unexpected death of a child.
According to www.sudc.org, the exact number of deaths in children older than one year is unknown. But in examining data of deaths with undetermined causes, sudc.org concludes that only .2 percent per 100,000 children in Miles' age category (5-9) were affected by SUDC in 2015.
The Haynie family also suffered a loss before their oldest boy was born when their first set of twins didn't survive a premature birth.
"My kids are happy to tell you, 'We have three angels in Heaven and three of us on Earth,’” Chelsea said. “It’s our reality, but we're adjusting through it and loving the support."
Dillon's mom, Ivy, another good friend of the family, said Chelsea and J.R. "are the kindest, most generous, fun-loving people you’ll ever meet who have raised amazing children."
"As a result, their son left a legacy of happiness and kindness, and they did that for their son," she said. "They teach all their sons to love and to serve and to be kind to the community and to make this place better. We feel that from them and we feel that through his memories.”