Emmett Rychner and Erling Kindem were best friends even though a full 85 years separated them in age.
The two famlies had been neighbors for about a decade, but when Emmett was about 2, he started noticing Kindem tending to his garden and walking over to join him, always helping himself to his favorite cherry tomatoes.
"He would also go knock on Erling’s door and ask if Erling could play,” Rychner said.
“A lot of kids are not comfortable around elderly people because they look different. Emmett always was," his mother Anika Rychner said. "He was never was shy about hugging Erling and holding his hand."
Charlie Kindem echoed Rychner saying his father had always been great with children. “It was a natural thing. He didn't talk down to him at all. He talked to him like he was a regular person and not a little kid."
The Rychners had moved to the countryside and the Kindems to an assisted living facility, but long distance never kept them apart.
“Erling was still driving when we moved away, so we would sometimes come home and find tomatoes from his garden on our front porch, or a note for Emmett with some other treasure he brought him”
"If we hadn’t visited in a while, Erling would call, and we would go visit," Rychner continued. "Or sometimes the kids we’d say, ‘We should go see Erling,’ and we would stop on our way home from school."
On the friends' last visit, Emmett read Earling the Lord's prayer and Erling encouraged Emmett to always be a good listener before hugging the boy.
“It felt like a goodbye,” Rychner said.
Three days later the World War II veteran passed away from complications of his heart condition.
“After we told Emmett that Erling had passed away, he was very quiet for a while. The first thing he said was, ‘So we’ll just have to wait a really long time. I know we’ll see him again in heaven.’”
Rychner is thankful Emmett had a natural, healthy first encounter with the death of a loved one but is saddened that her son's buddy is gone.
"We all have to experience death at some point in our life of a loved one. That's an important part of growing up. You can’t avoid it," she said.