By Michele DeLuca firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Jonathan Miller was just a normal teenage boy. Or so it seemed.
It wasn’t until after he died that his family knew just how many people’s lives he had touched. And if they had any doubt that his spirit was living on, the inexplicable grace-filled moments that began to appear in their lives, fortified their faith that they would see him once again someday.
J-Mill — as he was known to family and friends — had graduated in June 2009 from Lew-Port High School. A football, baseball and hockey player, he sat on the bench more than he might have liked, but never said a word to his coaches about it. Those who knew him said his was the voice his teammates listened to in the locker room. Loss or victory, it seemed he always knew just what to say.
The teen died in a car accident Nov. 15, 2009, while driving his SUV to Niagara University for a workout. The family was inconsolable, but somehow, they began receiving comfort from a wide variety of unexpected events. The coincidences and small wonders actually began about a year before his death.
His sister, Lauren, was also in a car accident. Alone and afraid and pinned inside her vehicle, she suddenly felt the presence of a calm, lovely woman who showed up at her side. The woman phoned the Millers to let them know that an accident had occurred but that Lauren was OK. She even let them talk with Lauren.,
“The lady was so calming to me,” Jeannine Miller remembered. “She kept saying ‘She’s going to be OK. She broke her leg. I’ll be with her until the ambulance comes.’”
Afterwards, at the hospital, Jeannine and her husband Kevin asked about the woman. But the paramedic told them that when he got there, Lauren had been alone.
All efforts to find the women failed. And the Millers were left with the idea they might have somehow been touched by an angel — an angel who told them with gentle certainty that “everything is going to be OK.”
Jeannine’s brother, Michael H. Brown, a former Gazette reporter who broke the story of Love Canal in the ‘70s, is currently a Christian writer in Florida, and he put Lauren’s story up on his website, www.spiritdaily.com. From there, the tale made its way to Women’s Day Magazine.
Jeannine, Kevin, and their daughters, Lauren, 25, and Alyssa, 23, believe the experience was divinely designed to show them there was more to life than what they could see. They also believe the angel was sent so that the memory of her impossible care might help them survive the terrible loss of Jonathan. And they believe that in the end, “everything is going to be OK.”
Part of that certainty is finding out the extraordinary impact their son had on the Lewiston community. The Orange Cat coffe shop sells a coffee created in his honor, with proceeds going to the a foundation the family had created in Jonathan’s name.
The family’s symbol for Jonathan is a dove, and they find white feathers everywhere. Kevin recently recalled how he was slowly coming to believe in the little miracles, partly due to the gentle onslaught of feather sightings. He found one as he climbed in bed one night, into a set of bedsheets that had just been washed and which he had, himself, helped place upon the bed. “I pulled back the sheets and there was a white feather on the pillow,” he recalled, his voice breaking with emotion.
Four years after Jonathan’s death, the 17-year-old’s presence is still felt at Lewiston-Porter. His principal at the high school, Paul Casseri, said Jonathan had friends in every quarter, from jocks to loners. The senior lounge is named for him, there is a mural in the school honoring “J-Mill” and his football number, 76, has been retired. “He was friends with everybody,” Casseri said recently. “It was uncanny.”
“Right before his death I had an issue at school,” Casseri added. “It was really bothersome for me, in my mind and in my heart.” The principal said he arrived at school early one day and there was no one else in the hall, except for Jonathan, who said he’d been lifting weights. The teen asked the principal how things were going.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’ve had better days,’” Casseri remembered. “Jonathan said, ‘Don’t worry Mr. Casseri. Everything’s going to be all right.’”
Jonathan’s passing, soon after, seemed to resolve the issue Casseri was troubled over. “We were all so upset at his death, his death brought us back together ... Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it was like he somehow knew.’”
When another student died in a car accident the following Sept., the boy’s mom told Jeannine that her son used to wear a bracelet made in Jonathan’s memory because J-Mill was the first person to befriend her boy when he first started at the school. Jeannine was able to guide that boy’s mom through her grief. It is one of the gift’s of her son’s death. “Grieving mothers are sent my way by people who know me,” Jeannine said. “People who see how I’m coping are intrigued by me.”
The family’s foundation, called the Jonathan “J-Mill” Giving Fund, provides scholarships to students like Jonathan, who live as he did in quiet service of others. The foundation also gives money to many charities. In an effort to bring hope and faith to others, the family is holding an event Wednesday examining matters of life and death. Jonathan’s uncle, Michael H. Brown, who has written many books including “The Spirits Around Us,” “The Other Side,” and “Afterlife,” will be speaking at the fundraiser. All proceeds will be donated to the J-Mill fund. The event will share some of the beliefs that are keeping Jonathan’s family strong, despite their broken hearts. “If I didn’t have the faith I did, and the comfort of knowing that noboby ever dies,” Jeannine Miller said of her unexpected strength to carry on, “I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
(For more information visit www.J-Mill.org.)IF YOU GO WHAT: An Evening of Inspiration: A talk by spiritual author Michael H. Brown about what happens when we die WHEN: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday WHERE: St. Vincent De Paul Parish Center, 2748 Military Road, Niagara Falls FOR MORE INFORMATION: Sign up online at www.j-mill.org or email Kevin Miller at email@example.com or call 946-8289