Memorial service for FGHS grad draws 300

by: COURTESY PHOTOS: HIGGINBOTHAM FAMILY - This shot of Sheyn Higginbotham contemplating the next step in sandcastle construction was one of many fun family settings - making jack-o-lanterns, visiting the Grand Canyon, splashing in the ocean, playing in the snow, resting in a hammock - in his memorial-service slide show that made it clear he was a well-loved boy.In March, a shocked and grieving Chris Higginbotham attended the memorial service for 18-year-old Cody Fellows, one of his star students in the Viking House class he teaches at Forest Grove High School.

Higginbotham listened to Dennis Fellows capture his son’s spirit with a wonderful, story-filled eulogy — and had no idea he’d be doing the same thing a month later for his own son.

Saturday, Higginbotham stood at the door of Sonrise Church in Forest Grove greeting the nearly 300 people who came to share his grief for Sheyn Higginbotham, 21, who died suddenly April 8.

The Higginbothams are not members of Sonrise but the church offered the compassion and flexibility they needed to personally tailor the service, which included a moving, heartbreaking, humorous eulogy Chris Higginbotham wrote for his son, who graduated from Forest Grove High School in 2010.

“The last eulogy I wrote was for my father and Sheyn was the one that helped me edit it,” he said. “Many times in our household over the years the question was asked, ‘Sheyn, how do you spell ...’ — mostly by me.” (See below for full eulogy.)

Higginbotham’s middle son, Ethan, performed a beautiful instrumental guitar piece he’d written for Sheyn. And Lucas, the youngest of the three brothers, spoke briefly later in the service about how Sheyn and Ethan were “the two best role models I could ever have.” Sheyn’s mother, Chantal Higginbotham, an instructional assistant at Joseph Gale Elementary School, did not speak.

Many of Sheyn’s friends shared their feelings and painted a picture of a young man who was strong, studious and sweet. Connor Divelbess and Sean Cullins, for example, each tearfully described how Sheyn was the first person to befriend them after they transferred (separately) to the Forest Grove School District and found themselves a little lost and lonely.

Azsha Preble confessed that “I don’t really know how to move forward from this. When you’re 21 you’re supposed to be going to weddings, not funerals.”

Christina Guzman, who shared a home economics class with Sheyn at FGHS, described how Allie Thomas came to her one day, saying she liked Sheyn and asking Guzman’s advice about whether she should write a letter to him. Shortly afterward, Sheyn came to Guzman, saying he’d gotten a letter from Allie and asking her advice about what to do with COURTESY PHOTO: HIGGINBOTHAM FAMILY - Sheyn Higginbotham (front left) poses for a family portrait with brothers Lucas (center) and Ethan, and parents Chantal and Chris.

Allie and Sheyn’s relationship lasted six years. When they broke up, Allie said, “even though we knew in our hearts it was time to go our separate ways, we knew we would be connected ... I love him so much. I love the Higginbothams so much,” she finished, speculating that if Sheyn walked in the door right then he’d exhort them all to “lighten up” and look at the positive things in life.

Former wrestling coach Frank Johnson remembered Sheyn — who wrestled all four years at FGHS — as selfless and disciplined, with an “attitude of gratitude.” After a difficult practice, he said, when everyone else was aching and exhausted and saying, “I never want to do that again,” Sheyn would always say, “Thanks for pushing me, coach.”

A wrestling teammate who’d wondered why Sheyn kept coming to practice and working so hard each day when he hardly ever won matches said he was inspired to realize that Sheyn put more importance on improving and trying than on winning.

Mason Jones described Sheyn as “the best friend in the world” and said “it was a great honor to live with him.” The two shared both an apartment and an employer (FedEx) for about a year.

It wasn’t enough for Mason, who, with rueful humor, recounted feeling jealous whenever Sheyn would stay at Allie’s house. “I’d just get so angry at his girlfriend: You’re taking him away from me!”

Near the end of his tribute, Mason told of how he and Sheyn had taken to calling each other “old sport” in jest, after watching “The Great Gatsby” together and being amused by Gatsby’s use of the term.

“I love you so much. I’ll never have anyone in my life like you,” he said to his missing friend Saturday, struggling to choke out the last words: “Goodbye, old sport.”

Higginbotham and his brothers were close. His younger brother commented at his funeral about the role model he had in Sheyn. The eulogy

Where does one begin to eulogize his own son? The last eulogy I wrote was for my father, and Sheyn was the one that helped me edit it. Sheyn was always the person I turned to when my writing needed to be coherent and correct. Many times in our household over the years the question was asked “Sheyn, how do you spell…?” mostly by me. He was a brilliant boy, in his mind and in his heart. He had so much to give and he left us too soon.

The first time I saw him it was his eyes that stood out, big, blue, deep, and intelligent. He and Chantal were a beautiful picture of mother and son, and they forever altered my life. They put me on the path of the life I was supposed to live. As I struggled to write this I could feel Sheyn glancing over my shoulder, gently and tactfully telling me, “Um, Dad, beautiful is e a u.”

We always knew he was bright, but more importantly he was very sweet. I taught him how to catch a ball, swing a hammer, and how to deliver a devastating crossface in wrestling. He taught me quiet dignity and that “din” was indeed a word when he placed it on a Scrabble board when he was in grade school. “You know Dad, din of noise, like when all the machinery in your woodshop is running.” I nodded, meaning now I knew.

Sheyn loved to read from a young age, it was one of his gifts. He tore through the Harry Potter Series like many kids did at that time, and then moved on to Lord of the Rings in the 5th grade during Mr. Hansen’s reading challenge, which he won. I picked it up one day thinking I might read it to bond with him, but the print was small and the people talked funny so I set it back down after page 2. It was easier to assign him the books I liked. Shane, Bendigo Shafter, the Sea Wolf, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Case for Christ. He assured me he found value in all of them, and we discovered later that we also both enjoyed Hemingway, but I told him he wasn’t supposed to really understand it until he was my age. He smiled patiently as he often did with me.

Sheyn gave me many prideful moments as a Dad. It was all I could do to keep from being an ugly parent at the 6th grade district spelling bee, remaining quiet, but I was rooting and yelling inside. And I thought it was interesting to look on his main competition, a very nice young man with a cool hippy style, and to see his Dad matched him. I looked at Sheyn, and he matched me with his buzzed hair and workman’s clothes. It was obvious who was with whom. He won and I tried to stay cool as I was bursting with pride. That’s my son! I would have a similar moment the same year when he spent a day in the focus room at school for punching a boy he perceived was bullying a girl. Correct or not, he did what he thought was right. That’s my son!

Later as he entered high school I was feeling very protective of him, wanting to shield my bookish son from the typical nonsense that boys go through, but realized he had to grow and learn from experiences like everyone else. Turns out he was fine. In fact that year he informed me that his grades were good and he felt he had high school under control, he wanted to wrestle, and I literally gulped. This was my former sport, and I was apprehensive. You know Sheyn, this isn’t like any other sport. It isn’t like when you tried it as a little kid. It is brutally hard and isn’t for everybody. I was proud that he had chosen it but concerned for his safety. And he replied “I know I’m good at academics, but I want to develop my physical attributes and see what I can accomplish. It is an area that needs improvement.” I cautiously agreed, comforting myself with fact that he would wrestle for who in my estimation was the best coach in the state, as a technician and as a man.

That first year was tough. He struggled with every facet, telling me once he lagged behind even the heavyweights during conditioning and that he couldn’t do a somersault. So we worked on that at home a bit. He won a few matches that year and the physical transformation over the next three was startling. His physical structure became lean, muscular, and powerful. He enjoyed limited success in matches but just became more determined. His senior year he was team co- captain and a leader in conditioning. I spent many hand wringing hours in the stands watching his progression. There were bitter defeats and some glorious victories. He would often say wrestling was the most important thing he did in high school, that it shaped him in ways he could never have imagined. He left feeling confident in every way. Coach Johnson awarded him the Gary Cammann award that year in recognition of his hard work, character, and citizenship.

I also enjoyed having him as a student, a unique opportunity for both of us. The 2010 Viking House Crew was very special to me in many ways, but it was the presence of Sheyn that made the experience beyond special. We worked many extra hours on weekends to keep it on schedule. He had always been my helper since he was old enough, building decks, remodeling bathrooms and such, but this time he wasn’t being paid. Once when giving a motivational talk to the crew I was quite amped up and told them “I love you all the same.” Then pausing I added “except Sheyn, I love him more.” They all chuckled and he smiled at me. He later said it was his favorite class by far, but knowing Sheyn he knew it was the polite thing to say.

In the senior edition of the school paper in response to “Favorite teacher?” he wrote “I’m gonna say Mr. Higginbotham, and that would be true even if he wasn’t my dad.” Thank you, Sheyn. It always made smile reading the part where he said “I also have to thank all of my math teachers for their unyielding patience…” Under Most support/best advice? Sheyn wrote “My parents and entire family. Also my wrestling coach Frank Johnson, who always leads by example. Under biggest difference? He wrote “The most noticeable difference is how much confidence I’ve gained. I used to be a really shy person.” I always got a kick out of what he wrote under Advice to underclassmen? “I know they hear this a lot, but absolutely get involved in sports. It doesn’t matter how athletic you think you are; you’ll make friends and get fitter. If you’re tough enough, try wrestling. If not, maybe basketball or baseball or something. Those count as sports too. And finally, under Best memory? “I predict graduation as a top candidate.” It was for me as unbeknownst to him I donned a cap and gown and slipped out from behind the line of presenters to hand him his diploma. It was an electric moment and I will never forget it.

He graduated with honors, but said he regretted not working harder at academics. I told him he had a good balance with school, his girlfriend Allie, friends, family, and wrestling. My favorite high school memory of Sheyn was the day Vice Principal Mr. Fitzpatrick came into my woodshop class and asked to make an announcement. He was there to recognize a student in that class that had achieved the status of top 1% in the nation with her ACT test scores. The class applauded as he awarded her a certificate. Then he said that only one other student had achieved the same that year and that he had just visited another class to award that certificate to Sheyn Higginbotham. The class applauded again and I could feel my head triple in size. Sheyn didn’t know I knew. Later that afternoon I pulled up in my truck to pick him up from practice. As he settled into his seat he excitedly said “Dad, guess what happened at school today!” “What?” I replied, feigning ignorance. “I bench pressed 200 pounds!” He had a good balance.

Growing up he had opportunities to travel. Visiting his Bonma Ria in Florida and enjoying all the theme parks and rides, one of which his Bonpa Ron and I took him on that turned out to be a little too thrilling for a little kid as we saw a tear moving horizontally on his cheek from the G forces. The three of us agreed not to tell his mom. His Grandma Sandra and Grandpa Mike took him on a long road trip and enjoyed Virgina City in particular. And his Uncle Remi and Aunt Kristen took him to Belgium one summer to stay with Ria and Ron. He loved that trip to Europe and all the places they visited. He also enjoyed our family trips to the beach, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon and the camping trips with Allie and the Thomas family.

After high school he attended both PSU and PCC, taking care of the basics while he waited for a career path to present itself. As always he enjoyed literature and writing classes, but also discovered jujitsu. He talked about it a lot, he was intrigued by the technical aspects and history of it and enjoyed the advantage his wrestling training gave him. I was glad that he was so passionate about a martial art and pleased that he continued to work on his physical fitness. He spent many hours training and one day offered to demonstrate a technique he was describing to me in our living room. I patiently let him apply the hold on me, sure that I would be able to squirm and muscle out of it, until I tried to get out of it. We were both laughing as I started to fight him off. He tightened it as I struggled until it felt like my arm would be snapped off and found myself tapping out. Wow, I told him, that stuff really works. He looked pleased and I always walked wide around him after that day if he was rolling around on our mat.

Sheyn worked nights at the FedEx shipping center, a job his best friend Mason got him. It worked well with his schedule for school and jujitsu and he seemed to have a busy life with too little time to sleep. He seemed happy and very much enjoyed the year he and Mason shared an apartment. I was glad he had that time on his own, by all accounts they had a blast, and I am grateful for that. As his friends have come to the house these past weeks we have learned more of his life with friends and they truly loved him. He and Mason had decided to move back in with their families this year to build up savings but they still hung out watching sports and listening to music. One of the reoccurring comments we heard was about what a great listener he was, and we knew that to be true too. Thank you guys for being such good friends to him.

Chantal, Ethan, Lucas, and I loved having Sheyn back home. We really missed him the time he was gone and it felt good to all be together again. He spent a few long Saturdays with me in the stands watching Lucas wrestle. He and Lucas played the UFC video game together and both seemed to be mixed martial arts encyclopedias. Sheyn and Ethan shared a love of music and attended the Pearl Jam concert with Chantal this year. It was so good to see the brothers together again. As we adjusted to having him home again he was surprised when Chantal packed his lunch for work. He seemed a little uncomfortable with it initially and said “You don’t need to do all that.” But she did and he quickly became accustomed to home cooked meals and her special sandwiches. I liked it because it meant she made my lunch too. Chantal was so proud of the way he experienced every moment with a person like you were the only one that existed, always listening and making you feel safe to be whatever you wanted to be. She often tells her boys, “I love you more than you can possibly imagine”, she is comforted by the fact that he now knows how much. A boy could not have a better mother.

Some of the greatest memories I have are just the simple picture of the three boys together. Sheyn, Ethan, Lucas. Their laughter together is the greatest gift to Chantal and I. I told them once one of my most cherished visions was the sight of the three walking into a wrestling practice together. Those are my boys. We were treated again when Sheyn helped coach Ethan and Lucas’s middle school wrestling team. Seeing the three together was just priceless to us. We were excited this last month when the three of them went to dinner at their Uncle Remi’s house, as a unit. Many laughs were had and they all spoke of the inspiring advice he gave them on life, career, girls, etc. Then a few weeks later the three went to Ria and Ron’s for dinner and again had many of the type of laughs and silliness that only siblings can share. Sheyn was a wonderful big brother, never too cool to play with his younger siblings.

I told him more than once, Sheyn, you were an easy child to raise. You have grown into a fine young man and I could not be more proud to call you my son. We were excited for what his future would hold, he seemed to have so many possibilities, he needed only to choose the path. But that ended on April 8.

Sheyn we love you, we miss you horribly, but we feel your presence. We will always remain a family of 5. The New Testament quote that stuck in my mind when I wrote this is: This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

Memorial Donations:

The Higginbotham family requests that any donations in honor of Sheyn be sent to the Forest Grove High School Wrestling Program. Checks may be made out to “FGHS” with “wrestling program” or “Sheyn Higginbotham donation” on the memo line. Please deliver in person or send them to: FGHS, Sheyn Higginbotham Memorial, 1401 Nichols Lane, Forest Grove, OR 97116.

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