A tradition for Tyler: Local family uses tragedy to help others

MILL CREEK, Wash. -- The letter to Julia, Danniel, and Gabriel Bartley is in a gift bag with cookies, pumpkin bread, a copy of "The Night Before Christmas" and $800.

Rachel Wierda starts her letter to the family she's never met by describing her son Tyler's drowning in the Green River 10 years ago.

"It's just a missing, a void," said Jim Wierda.

Tyler was celebrating his 30th birthday with friends when he slipped on a rock, got caught in the current and trapped under a tree. Rachel reads from the letter, "Each year we've been led somehow to just the right family."

Jim and Rachel, their son Trevor, and his Uncle Jack keep Tyler's spirit alive at Christmas every year by finding a deserving family they can help. They give the equivalent of what they might have spent on their youngest son.

The sorrow of his absence never disappears, but Rachel said, "It gets softer. That gifts that come from it are helping other people."

Four-year old Gabriel Bartley is too young to understand he's about to be on the receiving end of the Wierda's wish to help a military family.

His dad Danniel served three tours in Iraq, but the battle to keep the Bartley's boy alive has taken an even tougher toll. This month he underwent his third heart surgery and received a pacemaker. ,

"Cause of all the costs and stuff haven't been able to get Christmas presents for him," Danniel said.

Danniel's car is broken down but he said he couldn't afford the $150 to fix it.

"Oh wow," the Bartley's said when surprised by the gift bag with 8 crisp $100 bills inside a hand-painted card. The note continued, "Please use it as you wish to give yourself some simple joys during this holiday season."

Danniel choked up as he read the next line.

"We hope and pray that Gabriel's heart will stay healthy and that he will grow up to be a healthy young man. Never doubt miracles do happen," he said.

Tyler's mom said gratitude got them through grief. On this Christmas Eve, the Bartley's feel blessed.

Julia cried as she said, "I have my son with me and they don't. I wish they could have their's too."

When the KOMO Problem Solvers found a family for the Wierda's to help, they didn't know Rachel also had open heart surgery. They just knew Tyler's family opened their hearts to help a family they never met.