Six-year-old Emmett Rychner dealt with something most other kids his age are lucky enough to be spared of — his best friend and former next-door neighbor, 91-year-old Erling Kindem, passed away. The young boy and the World War II veteran began bonding when Emmett was 2 and would watch Erling performing yard work and tending to his tomato garden — their connection was instant.
"He would go knock on Erling's door and ask if Erling could play," his mother, Anika Rychner, told TODAY. Although the Rychners moved to a new neighborhood two years ago, the two stayed close, Emmett visiting Erling after school and Erling leaving tomatoes from his garden and other treats for Emmett on the family's doorstep to find. Erling moved to an assisted living last Spring, but when a heart condition began to worsen last month, he was moved to a nursing home to receive hospice care.
Emmett saw his best friend last week, just three days before he died. "It felt like a goodbye," Rychner said of their last visit. "After we told Emmett that Erling had passed away, he was very quiet for a while. The first thing he said was, 'So we'll just have to wait a really long time. I know we'll see him again in heaven.' He has strong faith that he will see him again."