A father’s final gift to his son

The Hamm family on the Hyman Avenue mall in 2017 during a visit.
Courtesy Tracy Hamm

While this winter has been an epic bonanza for powderhound skiers and snowboarders, it has brought our community its share of death, as well.

And when this unfortunate but nonetheless inevitable part of life happens to our family, friends and neighbors, reporters are often tasked with writing an obituary that attempts to capture the essence of the person. Often we fail.

But sometimes we succeed. And when we do, it underlines why obituaries and remembering our co-workers and loved ones and friends is important and healthy.

Which brings me to Tracy Hamm.

I was the reporter on duty one Sunday about a month ago when we got word that a snowboarder died after going off a jump at a terrain park in Snowmass. It turned out his name was Tyler Hamm, he was 20 years old and in his second winter as an on-mountain cook in Aspen.

I put together a mediocre obituary based mainly on Tyler’s Facebook page and a few details from Skico and the coroner. In the course of that, I sent a Facebook message to Tracy, who I guessed was a family member, asking to speak to him about Tyler, but didn’t hear back from him in time for the initial story.

It turned out that Tracy was indeed a family member — he’s Tyler’s dad — and he’d been traveling abroad when he got word of his son’s death. He responded to my message a couple days later, saying he’d be happy to speak to me about Tyler, though he understood if the time for the “breaking news story” had passed.

I said I still wanted to talk and we made arrangements to speak on the phone the next morning.

Let me say here that interviewing grieving parents is never high on any reporter’s list of favorite things to do. It’s heart-breaking and emotional and people think you’re a vulture for intruding on someone’s private grief.

Most of the time, family members are understandably too upset to speak to a reporter, which generally makes the obituary suffer because family often knows the person best.

But Tracy was wonderful. He willingly and joyfully and tearfully shared the story of his young son’s life with me. At the end of the conversation, he thanked me and said how much he’d enjoyed it. I enjoyed it, too. I think it was kind of cathartic for both of us.

I didn’t realize how cathartic it would be for others, too.

I received more emails about that follow-up story on Tyler Hamm than any other I’ve written in the last year. Most wrote thanking me for the vivid portrait of Tyler provided by his dad.

“I know it’s hard to be a journalist these days … but the work you do matters, even when it’s a smaller story that will never make the front page, but ought (to) be told just the same,” one woman wrote.

Said another, “I really appreciate your words and they will definintely help his family and friends get through this.”

But really, Tracy deserves the credit. His joy and love for his son in the face such tragedy really struck a chord with readers and with me.

So thanks, Tracy, for talking to me — to us — and showing your son, for the last time, how much you loved him.