Tyler Wells couldn’t have known how much he influenced an entire community. He was too busy enjoying the simple things in life, like store logos, the movie “Toy Story” and dressing up for Halloween. Even at the age of 14, he never lost his childlike sense of wonder.
Kelly and Danny Wells, and their 8-year-old daughter, Millie, still are trying to understand exactly what happened Aug. 24, the day their sweet Tyler unexpectedly died.
“It just didn’t feel real; it still doesn’t,” Kelly Wells, Tyler’s mother, said. “A whole person just disappeared from our life. Our plans, the thoughts that the rest of our life we would have him with us. … The new home we were building would be a safe space, and he could live as an adult.”
Although Tyler was nonverbal, his lively expressions and hand gestures said so much. After years of tests, the Wells family learned Tyler had suffered a stroke, most likely at birth or shortly thereafter.
Everywhere Tyler went, people were drawn to his zest for life. His happiness made others happy, his mother said.
LAST NORMAL DAYS
“There were so many things that he was excited to do,” Kelly Wells said. “He didn’t have dreams of fast cars. The smallest, the simplest things made him happy. We didn’t realize how much of our daily lives were happy because of how he was.”
When Tyler was 8, he had the first of many seizures. They subsided after a few years but returned this summer, Danny Wells said.
Doctors conducted a battery of tests and put Tyler on medication that appeared to control the issue. He had a brief stay in the hospital and came home July 6.
“We did a bunch of fun things,” Kelly Wells said. “We went to Target, Marshalls; he loved Starbucks, Panera. All the things he loved doing. We went to Animal Kingdom so he could ride one of his favorite rides, Avatar. It’s a calmer ride. … I videoed it, and he was just so happy.”
The next day, the family visited the Wellses’ two older sons in their new homes. On their way home, they stopped to eat and Tyler and Millie played bingo.
It was late when they got home, and after baths, the children were tucked into bed with a movie playing. They had their own rooms, but Millie, always the protector of her older brother, slept by his side.
It had been a great day.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Millie ran to tell her parents something was wrong with Tyler. Danny Wells performed CPR until paramedics took over and whisked Tyler to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“I was just squeezing his toes, begging him to come back,” Kelly Wells said. “It’s so hard to understand how it could just go from everything was OK again to him being gone. It’s just so unfair.”
CELEBRATING HIS LIFE
The Wells family, who lived in Windermere for 20 years, wanted to give their son a huge sendoff, and they found the perfect location for his celebration of life — at Paradise Cove at Lake Buena Vista.
“The moment we walked into Paradise Cove, we knew it was the perfect place for it,” Kelly Wells said. “Later on, we can go back there and visit. We can go back there and walk, and it’s beautiful and tranquil, and we can go there and feel happiness.”
Tyler’s 15th birthday was coming up, so they created a grand celebration.
“We knew we couldn’t make it any sadder than it was already going to be,” Kelly Wells said. “We knew we had made a celebration. It was almost like the 15th birthday he didn’t have. … For a birthday you can plan for months, but for this you have only a week. We just didn’t want Tyler to just disappear.”
Kelly Wells and Millie wore custom dresses made from Tyler’s favorite T-shirts featuring myriad movies and movie characters, including the Minions, Spider-Man and other superheroes, Lightning McQueen, Muana, Baymax, The Incredibles and Cookie Monster.
Nearly 500 people came to celebrate Tyler’s life. The display was spectacular and bright, and Tyler would have loved the “Toy Story” theme, which was altered to “Ty’s Story.”
The family is waiting for Tyler’s urn to arrive. It will be a laugh cannister similar to the scream cannister in “Monsters Inc.,” another Tyler favorite.
ONE OF THE THINGS WE CAN STILL DO
Tyler’s unexpected death was two months ago, and the family, while still reeling, wants to make sure their son isn’t forgotten. They, and their community, continue to share Tyler stories.
“It’s more important now because it’s one of the things we can still do,” Kelly Wells said.
Tyler had quite the effect on everyone who met him, his mother said.
“He just had this happiness that people could tell,” she said. “He would burst with excitement at the smallest things, and people would smile. … He just glowed. You couldn’t help but be happy when he was around. … He couldn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. … His happiness made everyone else happy.”
Tyler loved food reviews, Kelly Wells said.
“I’d ask, ‘What do you want to eat today?’ and he would go through Uber Eats (on his iPad), and I would try to make it or we would order it,” she said.
Tyler loved Publix so much that Kelly Ball, the manager of the Lakeside store, gave him a job. Tyler had watched employees bag groceries for so long that he knew what to do.
“They gave him his first name badge and all kinds of goodies and then coloring books and crayons and a bag with a gift card and he could shop and check himself out,” Kelly Wells said. “(The manager) went around and picked food he liked. They gave him a whole uniform, a hat, a T-shirt, a badge, a coin and an apron.”
Following his death, the store made Tyler an honorary Employee of the Month and had his photo on display.
Tyler’s energy is all around, the Wells family said. His favorite holiday is next week, so they are remembering his love of Halloween and trick-or-treating and dressing up — usually as Woody from “Toy Story.” They still have a stack of the cards Tyler handed out while trick-or-treating. They explained that he’s nonverbal, and it gave Tyler a task, which he loved.
“The message that he had taught us was to enjoy every moment,” Kelly Wells said. “Don’t let it pass without realizing how special it was.”
“He put everything into perspective,” Danny Wells said. “He made us realize things people take for granted. He didn’t walk until he was 3. … We didn’t take stuff for granted much. We just learned to prioritize.”
On Monday, SunRidge Middle School planted a tree in Tyler’s memory. Kelly Wells said the sprinklers in the area were triggered and started spraying water, even though they weren’t set to turn on.
“He would have found it hilarious,” Kelly Wells said.
For years, friends of the Wells family have been treated to frequent Facebook updates in which Tyler’s parents shared sweet and funny stories about him. After Tyler’s death, family friends shared many stories of his impact on them.
“This young man … was only 14 and yet had touched the lives of countless people with his infectious smile and laugh,” one wrote.
The friend also posted a few lessons she learned from Tyler and his family: Live in the moment, take the pictures, and always look for the rainbows.
Another friend wrote: “So many of us are friends with Kelly Wells and her family and have followed along over the years as she gave us a daily glimpse into their life. … This special boy touched the life of so many people around the world.”
“He made every day special,” Kelly Wells wrote the day of her son’s death. “He was the light of our lives and so many others. I honestly don’t know how we will live this life without our sweet boy.”