by SARAH WEGLARZ - January 15, 2021 - A tribute to Miles and the unforgettable impact he left on the world.
As I sat in the Lantern staff meeting a month ago, I felt a nudge in my heart. It may have been little, but it was there. So, when the editor in chief asked me what I wanted to write about for this deadline, that little nudge convinced me that this was it. This was my story. I wasn’t sure why I felt so strongly about it. In fact, I’d never written anything like it. But nevertheless, I volunteered to take the story.
When I got home from the meeting that afternoon, I truly didn’t know where to begin. I felt honored that I was given the opportunity to write about a life that had touched so many, but I also felt the overwhelming responsibility of depicting Miles in a way that would make those that knew him proud. Having lost a family member myself, I understood the power that words can hold, especially when they are about your loved one. I wanted his family to be proud, and I wanted people to read the tribute and feel like they knew Miles, even if they didn’t.
To truly understand the essence of who Miles was, I figured I should start with the people that knew him best—his parents. So, I reached out to them, and we met about a week later at a coffee shop. As I began talking with them, I was astonished at their incredible strength and trust in God, even through the tragedy they had just endured. It was so evident to me that Miles’ parents loved him with the kind of love that only a parent can have for their child—it was unconditional, and raw, and beautiful. When I got back to my car after saying goodbye to Miles’ parents, I cried. I think, partly, because a loss that I had only heard about was now so much more real, and partly because I felt even more of the daunting responsibility of telling Miles’ story well.
I also spoke with Miles’ teachers, friends, and others that knew him. By the time I began writing this tribute, I felt like I’d known Miles my whole life. People’s faces would light up when they talked about him. Teachers said that other students were drawn to him, and friends said that he’d never fail to crack a joke or make them laugh.
My hope is that through this tribute, you’ll begin to understand who Miles was, the reasons why he was loved by so many, and the remarkable impact that he left on the world. I was honored not only to have been given the opportunity to write such a beautiful story, but also to have gotten to know the extraordinary Miles Jones.
- Sarah Weglarz
Miles’ smile was unlike any other. It had the rare but remarkable ability to draw people together and light up a room. It made him stand out, and it was a quality that was admired by his family, friends, and teachers.
“That’s the one thing that stands out to me more than anything is just that smile, always wanting to have something happen so that you would get to see it,” said Mrs. Sarah Worth.
Miles’ smile was so special that a family friend of the Joneses decided she wanted to honor it in a unique and meaningful way.
“One of my really, really good friends, she recently had a star named Miles L. Jones and it was recorded in Switzerland, and it’s going to be recorded in the United States as well,” said Miles’ mom, Lisa Jones. “There are coordinates, and it’s in the Aries sign because of his birthday, and so we have the coordinates of the star. She said one of the things that I loved about him was his smile. So when you look up in the sky, just know that that bright star is his smile.”
But, if Miles wasn’t smiling just to be friendly, it was probably because he was cracking a joke. Making people laugh was Miles’ specialty, and he enjoyed every minute of it.
“He was literally the funniest person I knew, like he was so goofy,” Evelyn Wright (12) said. “He was just very refreshing to be around. You just couldn’t be sad around him because he’d always make you laugh.”
While Miles always seemed to get a grin from his friends, he also enjoyed playing practical jokes on his family. Mrs. Jones described one of her favorite games that she and Miles created: slurbing. To get a slurb, one person has to slide their hand up the other person’s neck and chin.
“So I’m a hairstylist and I own a salon,” Mrs. Jones said. “I just got home from work, and you know, hairstylists, we change our hair often, we’ll do wigs, we’ll do different things. So I had a wig on this one day, and I walked in and I was exhausted, and he walked up to me and slurbed me so hard that the wig fell off. They screamed, I mean it was hilarious.”
Another important aspect of Miles’ eccentric personality was his sense of style. Not many high school boys have the ability to pick out the perfect outfit and wear it with confidence like Miles did.
“He was a very sharp dresser,” Mr. Denver Wade said. “Most freshman boys have no idea what they’re doing, they just put on a pair of shorts and an old t-shirt, but the guy knew how to dress.”
Miles also had a strong love for art and music and enjoyed classes at school where he was able to express his creativity.
“He loved pottery, I have this beautiful plate that he made and literally it was on the wheel, the clay wheel, and he fired it and painted it,” Mrs. Jones said. “I mean, it was just beautiful, absolutely beautiful. He was also in band, and he played the trumpet. He was named after Miles Davis, because we love music. We’re a very musical family, and he loved music, loved underground music. He had a beautiful voice himself, but he was very shy, so he didn’t share it with very many people, but he had a beautiful voice. He would always do rap battles, and he would start rapping, and my husband would add to it, and then he would do it, so we would always do stuff like that.”
In school, Miles was focused, thoughtful, and determined.
“He wasn’t the type of student that would necessarily be the first person to raise his hand in class, but you could tell that he was always thinking, and he was very kind,” Ms. Ali Campbell said.
Miles was also someone to which other kids were drawn.
“I felt like all the other kids enjoyed being around him, and I enjoyed him being in my class,” said Mrs. Robyn Pagington. “He did a good job with his work, and he worked hard.”
Miles had high aspirations for his future after high school. He planned to attend North Carolina A&T in the fall of 2021 and eventually pursue medicine as an anesthesiologist.
“Miles had an opportunity to fly out [to North Carolina A&T] last fall break, and spent some time on campus with [my nephew], and loved the culture,” Mrs. Jones said. “It was a HBCU, a historically black college or university, and he just loved the culture, he loved the rich history behind the school. The band is impeccable, they always go to competitions and different things like that, so he was interested in picking up band again and starting to play again.”
He knew how to make people laugh and he knew how to dress, but perhaps a lesser known part of Miles was his passion for travel and helping others. Miles and his family have been to over 18 states and many different countries, some of which include the Netherlands, the Philippines, China, Mexico, and South Africa.
“Miles has walked the streets of Amsterdam, and looked at all the coffee houses and the coffee shops,” Mrs. Jones said. “We were in the Philippines, and Miles swam with whale sharks. We took a canoe, in the middle of the ocean, and there were four wild whale sharks, and they were like twenty plus feet long, and Miles was snorkeling in the Philippines. Miles walked the streets of Hong Kong and ate all of the different kinds of crazy cuisine. And in Mexico, he went to Tijuana, he was legal and had a piña colada, or a half of one.”
Though all of Miles’ trips were full of adventures, some of them held more meaning. On his trip to South Africa, Miles volunteered at an orphanage that used horse therapy to help children who had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Mrs. Jones remembered one story that was particularly impactful.
“There was this beautiful African little girl, and she was probably close to Miles’s age,” Mrs. Jones said. “She would not take her eyes off of him. So, they would take [the children] out of their wheelchairs, they would lay them down on a big palette, and when it was their time, they would get them up and lay them across the horses. And so Miles stood up and leaned over her and shook her hand, and she just smiled, because Miles always wore like very eccentric hair, like mohawks, and I think it was red on the tips. She was just enamored that Miles just had this unique look, and he was an American. I mean, it just made her day, and his smile was just I think all she needed to get through.”
Another quality that Miles’ parents admired about their son was his warm and inviting nature and his ability to bring people together.
“When we were in South Africa, there were these kids and you could tell that they were very, very poor,” Mrs. Jones said. “They would just do whatever they could to get money, but Miles gathered them all together and he taught them how to dab. I have the greatest picture of him and these street boys, right in front of Nelson Mandela’s home. Miles had, just an impeccable life that I think most adults wouldn’t dare to have.”
When the news of Miles’ death reached Westfield High School, students, parents, and staff were heartbroken. It was nearly impossible to understand how his life had come to an end before it was supposed to.
“I think I woke up one morning, I think it was 5 or 6, and we had that news, it just was like a punch to the stomach,” Mr. Wade said. “Shocked, completely shocked, and I guess it was more shocking than what you may have with, and not to discount the tragedy of any loss of life, but I guess when you don’t personally know somebody, I guess for me it hits me different, versus with Miles, a young man who, I always thought only had a big bright happy future. So I guess that was really crazy for me.”
For students that had close personal relationships with Miles, the news was even more difficult to bear.
“When he died, I found out right after I got off from work, and I checked my phone right after when my car was warming up, and I sobbed because I remembered every little memory of him, and I couldn’t believe he was gone,” Laura McClintic (12) said. “He was so nice, he was so funny, and he had so much life and joy in him.”
Because of Miles’ close relationship with his family, many peoples’ thoughts immediately fled to them after the news of his death.
“I was pretty certain that he had an older sibling, but I knew he was the only one at home,” Mrs. Lyndsay Corya, Miles’ counselor, said. “I knew just how close-knit he was with his mom and dad, like my thoughts were just immediately to them. It always is just so heartbreaking to think about kids passing away.”
Not only has Miles’ death affected students and staff at WHS, but also the entire Westfield community.
“I think within the community, it just keeps on providing negative elements of shock,” Mr. Wade said. “It’s stressful, it’s stressful when you have young people, who shouldn’t be going, going. I think every time it happens, it feels a little worse. You feel a sense of loss, you feel a sense of grief. For our students, I think I would hope that these losses don’t isolate our students further. I think that’s crucial to remember in this time, when we’re distancing, and with the hybrid or all virtual context.”
Although Miles’ death was tragic, WHS staff are encouraged by the way those in the community have supported each other and looked to one another for comfort.
“I’ve been proud of our community and how they’ve wrapped their arms and love around the family,” Mrs. Corya said. “I think, it’s like a weird thing, to see people care about people they, in a lot of situations, don’t know. It’s that human nature just to love, and so that outpouring of love and sense of community, I think has brought students together.”
Miles’ parents also expressed their overwhelming gratitude for the support they’ve received over the past month.
“Our neighbors set up a food train and just two nights ago, we got another meal,” Mrs. Jones said. “We’ve had people, I mean all of [Miles’ dad’s] employees, came from all over Indiana to go support him. I get text messages every day still, five weeks, a month later. It’s been very comforting, knowing that we are so loved and so appreciated. You don’t realize it unfortunately until something like this happens. You just try to do good and be good neighbors and people, and boy, you don’t realize the impact that you really have on people.”
Often, we hear about the five stages of grief, and it can be easy to assume that a person will experience those stages in order. But grief is messy. While one day you may be laughing with a friend about a memory of your loved one, the next day, you might wake up feeling anxious or angry. And that’s perfectly okay.
“My husband and I, we always try to never compare our grief to each other’s, because we’re going through different cycles of grief at different times,” Mrs. Jones said. “So we try to have an understanding that if I’m having a good day or he’s having a bad day, I don’t hold it against him and he doesn’t hold it against me. You know, I’ll have a few really, really good days, where I think I’m turning the corner, like I’m okay. And then, boom, you just fall to your knees, and you can’t go to work. So I just think just being understanding [is important].”
However your grief may look, it should never be something you have to experience alone. It’s okay to recognize that you’re not feeling like yourself, or that you need to talk with someone, or that you need to cry.
“I have always just kind of likened [grief] to a roller coaster ride that you didn’t buy a ticket for or that you wanted to get on,” Mrs. Corya said. “You’re just on it and you don’t know where it’s going. It’s not cyclical, it’s not linear, and it’s just a really crazy thing. So I think just allowing yourself to go through those stages, however, they come to you, and be supported by people. Isolating yourself might seem like a short term fix, but I think that you really need to open yourself up and talk to your people, your tribe, your trusted adults, just to process that. Some kids are like well I haven’t cried yet, but it’s not about that, it’s about just making sure that you take that energy that you have and making sure you’re taking care of yourself and the people around you.”
Miles’ dad shared a brief story that encompasses some of the ups and downs of grieving.
“We went to Louisiana to do some deep-sea fishing, and when we got on the boat with the captain, the day was great, it was beautiful skies, and we’d go out,” Mr. Jones said. “We didn’t have any good luck fishing at all, but we went out, and enjoyed the companionship. So while we were out, the skies started changing, the weather started getting really, really bad, and we’re like in the bayous of Louisiana, where you got hurricane situations. Of course, at that time, you got, the skies got so bad, that the captain was even nervous. It was raining really, really hard, it was storming and lightning, so we had to leave and during that time it was so bad. I knew the captain, I could kind of sense that was trying to put on a brave face, but he knew there might actually be some issues.”
Although the beginning of the day proved to be difficult, the weather slowly began to clear up. The skies were beautiful and blue once more, the rain was gone, and the Joneses had gotten back safely.
“I just say that with life, things are gonna happen where hey, it’s gonna be really nice, you’re gonna enjoy it, but all of a sudden you’re gonna have those storms,” Mr. Jones said. “Those storms you look at, and ask yourself, are we gonna be able to get through it? They’re gonna be painful, they’re gonna scare you, and you’re really gonna have some anxiety. But if you have faith that you’re gonna get through, the skies, and that storm, will subside, and I knew at that time, you know, Jesus was with us, and he had that love and protection around us.”
It’s hard to know the impact that someone has on the world until they’re gone.
“You’re like, oh that’s my kid, you know, that’s just my kid,” Mrs. Jones said. “And then you look at all of the outpouring of people, and they’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I knew him’ and ‘Oh my gosh, he was the first friend that I met when I came to Westfield.’ I’d say that he lived a pretty impeccable life.”
Miles was one-of-a-kind. He lived boldly and was always up for an adventure. He knew how to make people feel loved, and he knew how to make people laugh. He understood the value of giving back and helping others. He touched so many lives, and the impact that he left on the world will never be forgotten.
If you are grieving and need help, this website lists a few resources to receive grief support online.
The WHS counseling team is also a great resource for grief support. Visit their website to learn more.