Army veteran Bill Kohler wanted to make the last month of his son’s life one filled with wonderful memories.
Ayden Zeigler-Kohler, 10, was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) last summer and his doctors quickly discovered two tumors in his brain. He was given eight to 12 months to live.
On March 9, Ayden held three bear cubs in a bear den, went backstage at a WWE show on March 19 and was supposed to meet the Harlem Globetrotters at the end of March, but passed away before he could.
Four days before he died on March 22, he told his dad he was ready to die.
“He said, ‘Dad I gotta quit,’ ” Kohler, 48, told PEOPLE. “I said, ‘What do you mean you gotta quit?’ He said, ‘My hand is starting to not work again. I can’t eat…I just want to go to a better place.’ I told him, “You fought as hard as you could. It’s alright to quit.’”
Kohler announced his passing on Facebook that day. “To all who have been following Ayden, we lost our battle today,” Kohler wrote. “Ayden has passed to a better place, and I would like to think all those who have supported or followed him. He was my heart…He was the greatest son I could ask for, and the greatest friend a son could be.”
Ayden’s memorial service was held in York, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, April 1. He was buried on Monday during in a private ceremony.
Kohler was a member of the Army for 17 years, but left in July 2006 after being injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He hopes his son’s story can help other families battling the disease and wants to start a foundation in his son’s name to help find a cure.
“Cancer picked the wrong dad to go to war with,” he says. “I’ve got do do something to advance this.”