Friendship is an integral part of life, established at different points. Many create these all-important bonds when in grade school, while others form them with new people in later years.
Age doesn’t always have a factor in friendship though, which is apparent for one particular boy from Spokane, Washington.
Mason Allen is a fifth grader living with autism.
Mason struggles with the social aspects of society, which has hindered his ability to make friends. While most kids his age are friends with their classmates, Mason formed a special bond with a firefighter.
At a birthday party for Mason in March, a swarm of dozens of firefighters surrounded him to sing happy birthday. Garrett Paiz, a 38-year-old firefighter from Noel, Missouri, wasn’t at the party, but was moved upon viewing the video of the celebration and decided to reach out to the boy.
Mason’s mother, Danielle Thomas, was touched by the firefighter’s gesture of friendship.
“He talked so highly of Mason, and wanted to make sure Mason knew he was there for him,” Thomas explained to msn.com.
Though never meeting, Mason and Paiz became good friends. They’d frequently have talks over the phone, and Paiz took precious time to always answer all of Mason’s questions.
Paiz even revealed to the boy that he was in possession of a rare challenge coin, which is an award given to serving individuals for special achievements.
Paiz mentioned that he intended to give the coin to Mason when they would finally meet, a promise he fully intended to honor.
But then tragedy struck.
“I’m headed to the fire line k. Pray for us, this one is bad.”
Those were some of the last words Thomas and Mason heard from Paiz, received in a text message. Paiz had been driving a water tanker to assist with a fire in Napa when the tanker fell down a ravine in a freak incident. Paiz unfortunately didn’t survive the crash.
The news of Paiz’s death was a devastating blow to Mason and his mom.
“When I found out he passed, I was in complete shock,” Thomas explained. “Literally almost still don’t believe it.”
Mason took things pretty badly. With one of his few good friends now gone, he was really saddened by the loss of this confidant with whom he could share his thoughts.
He had no idea the surprise that was on its way for him.
Paiz’s widow, Bobby Paiz, had managed to find the special challenge coin. She recalled how her husband had said he would give it to Mason, and decided to complete that promise. Bobby also decided to send along the very flag that had draped her love’s coffin.
The moment when Mason opened the gift was caught on video. Remarking on the sadness of the situation, Mason was able to find comfort in the fact that he’d now always have something to remember his dear friend by.
“Mason told me he was trying so hard not to cry,” Thomas said. “Seeing him hug that flag—what an honor.”