Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

It’s not often I diverge from writing topics on the blog, but the unexpected death of a friend last Friday compels me to express my grief the best way I know how–with words.

I first met Ashley Gammon in 2006 when I interviewed her for a job at the public relations firm where I then worked. She was graduating from Mizzou, and her professionalism, bright spirit, and, of course, writing ability, impressed me. My boss agreed, and we hired her.

We were a small firm, so we worked in close quarters, and most days those of us in the younger generation ate lunch together. (I was the oldest of that group 🙂 ). In some situations, your co-workers just remain the people you work with and you never go any deeper, but that wasn’t the case in our office. Sure, we had surface discussions about the latest TV shows or which clients drove us crazy, but we talked about our lives and our dreams and what we hoped to achieve in the future. And when lunches weren’t enough, we had game nights. Ashley was usually on my husband’s team, and he claims they won more than my team, although I don’t remember it that way …

The point is that these girls became so much more to me than co-workers. When my son was born, they came to the hospital along with family and a few close friends to hold him. Which means Ashley was one of the first people to hold my newborn son. That’s more than someone I worked with. By the time my daughter was born, Ashley had moved to Washington, D.C., but she returned for another co-worker’s wedding (still more than co-workers!) and made a special point to come meet my daughter even though she was only in town a couple of days.

Ashley herself explained this friendship best in a 2009 Facebook post. I’d forgotten about it until someone commented on it again today. Titled “My Sweet 16,” the post listed sixteen things you might not know about Ashley. No. 15 was:

I wouldn’t trade the experience of [my first job] for the world. I met the most amazing women there that I consider my family.

Re-reading that about made me cry, especially as in tagging me she said some very nice things and also wanted me to know she edited the note at least 5 times. I could tell, Ashley :).

We mostly talked through Facebook during the years Ashley lived in Washington, D.C., so I was thrilled when she moved back to St. Louis to serve as PR director for the United Way. We set up a time for her to come over for lunch, and even though she wanted to watch her favorite Disney princess movie, “The Little Mermaid,” she let my daughter talk her into “Frozen” instead.

IMG_1556Ashley celebrated her 30th birthday last May, and that is the last picture I have with her. She’s the one in the center, while the girl on the left is our friend Alisha, who Ashley got us to hire, too, and was one of Ashley’s best friends. I wish our other friend Megan were in the picture, but she had already left when we took it. Anyway, I only saw Ashley one time after that, when Megan and I had lunch with her, along with my son, one day last August. We were supposed to plan another movie day–maybe to watch “The Little Mermaid” this time.

I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Ashley is gone, and I am just one person who knew her. Countless Facebook posts show how much she impacted people, from the casual acquaintance to the lifelong friend. And her impact extended beyond those she knew personally. After she left our agency, she chose work for causes she believed in, from the Obama campaign to her most recent work for the United Way. From a professional standpoint, I was so proud to see her excel.

My heart is breaking for her family. Her love for them was evident in nearly every conversation I had with her. She had a unique bond with her parents and clearly counted them among her best friends. When she sent me a slideshow of pictures from the rest of her 30th birthday festivities, her parents were right there with all of her friends. I loved that about her.

I debated whether I should post this, because I don’t want it to be about me. There are so many people who were closer to Ashley–her family, her group of best friends and long-time friends who knew her much longer and better than I did. I honor her memory in the best way I know how, and I continue to pray for those who knew her best and are grieving in ways I can’t even imagine. If you are someone who prays, I ask that you do the same.

But I also want Ashley’s family and close friends to know that when they are ready to hear the stories, here is another one. Ashley impacted me and my family. My husband remembers her infectious smile and loving heart. My son says, “Ashley was fun!” My daughter says, “Ashley was pretty!” And she’s right–Ashley was beautiful, inside and out.

I will miss Ashley. I cherish the time I spent with her and am so glad I knew her. I wish God hadn’t called her home, but I know that’s where she is.

And if you’re reading this, Ashley, I edited it at least five times.


A Halloween Memory

DSCN4215A couple of days ago I received an email that said, “Guess who’s turning 87 on October 31?”, and my breath hitched a bit. Because she’s not. My grandma passed away in January. I immediately went in and deleted her birthday from my BirthdayAlarm account, but I didn’t really need the reminder anyway. Halloween loomed as a day that would be haunted by a new ghost this year–except not the creepy, get-under-your-skin kind. She’d never do that. Or maybe she would for a laugh … Anyway, for my whole life, Halloween has been Grandma’s birthday, and with the exception of the years I was away at college, I always saw my grandma on Halloween. So for the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about how this Halloween would be different, and I know my family has, too.

I could be sad. I still miss her terribly. We used to visit her every week. I don’t know how many adults in their thirties can say their grandma is one of their best friends, but she was one of mine. She knew my writing dreams, and she was a constant source of encouragement. So, yes, I could be sad today. But she wouldn’t want that. She’d want me to celebrate. Heck, she’d want me to make a joke of it and sing something like “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.” If that sounds awful, it’s only because you didn’t know my grandma and her sense of humor. My other grandma once gave her a broom for her birthday, and she thought it was hilarious. She was the furthest you could get from a witch, but she had a lot of fun with her Halloween birthday.

So, I will, too. I’ll remember the times we had a Halloween birthday dinner and watched her and my grandpa pass out candy (he always counted how many trick-or-treaters came by). I’ll remember how even the last couple of years, when she wasn’t feeling well, she still wore something crazy to commemorate the day. Maybe I’ll even wear something a little crazy myself. And I’ll be thankful she’s dancing with angels today instead of stuck here in a failing body. Love you, Grandma!


Remembering My Grandma: Life Goals Accomplished

Between the holidays, sick kids, and snow days, it’s been a crazy few weeks. In the midst of that, my grandma went into the hospital, and after a week of trying several different treatments, she passed away peacefully on Saturday. I’ve spent the last several days working on a movie filled with pictures of her life and writing a eulogy for the funeral, which was yesterday. She left very detailed instructions for her funeral, and as part of that, she included her life goals. I don’t usually get too personal on this blog, but I’d like to share what I said here as a tribute to my grandma.

Grandma and Grandpa, late 1940s

The life goals of Ella Mae Faszold, Oct. 31, 1927-Jan. 3, 2014:

To live as close to my sweet Lord Jesus as possible.

I’ve often told people Grandma had a direct line to God. She always knew when something was wrong with one of us before we called to tell her. She’d pick up the phone and say, “What’s going on?” I always believed that’s because she was so in tune with God. She craved her time with the Lord and spent hours every day praying and reading her Bible.

Be a good wife and mother to my dear children.

Grandma and Grandpa were married for more than 60 years, so I think she can check being a good wife off her list.

Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Robin, Dad
Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Robin, Dad, 2001

And her love for her kids, including her daughter-in-law, was so evident. She had a special relationship with each of them, and they would have done anything for her.

Although this particular life goal only mentions her children, she was also an amazing grandmother. My brother and I were pretty spoiled by our grandparents, and I don’t just mean in the toy department. We spent a lot of time with them growing up, and neither of us realized until we were older how unique it was that our two sets of grandparents were best friends. Grandma knew it, though, and a few years ago she gave me a journal she put together about their trips.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“This all started when our two children decided in high school that they had very deep feelings for each other. Praise God they did something about it. Marriage.”

Image072Actually, 40 years as of Sunday. But back to Grandma.

“It is truly a beautiful feeling to know one has two very good friends who will stand by if and when needed. It’s a once in a lifetime happening. It was a few years before we began to take advantage of that friendship and realized how unusual it is for in-laws (to some a dreaded word) to thrive on the love their children have for each other and us hopefully.”

I include this in her goal about being a good mother because an important part of parenting is knowing that your parents—or grandparents—aren’t perfect. I felt guilty for years about hooking Grandma in the shoulder while fishing, and then I found this:

Grandma and Grandpa Baker, Grandma and Grandpa Faszold, early 1980s

“One day while fishing I told Beck he ought to move his fish box so I wouldn’t forget and sit in it. A few seconds later I backed up and sat in it. Had plugs and hooks all over my backside. What a mess. That was the same day Irene hooked Ray in the nose and I got Beck. It wasn’t too exciting for them, that’s for sure.”

I’m wondering why she didn’t tell me that story at the time …

Teach children about Jesus.

Grandma had such a heart for children. She taught Sunday school and volunteered at Vacation Bible School for years. And although it doesn’t have to do with Jesus, she especially loved Halloween. She figured all those kids didn’t just come for the candy. They were dressing up for her birthday.

To be a good person.

Being “a good person” is such a subjective thing to define, so I’m going to connect it with her last goal:

To conduct my life in a way to make my Lord Jesus proud of me.

Grandma, my brother, my dad, 2008
Grandma, my brother, my dad, 2008

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. If these are the commandments we should strive to follow, then Jesus is certainly proud of the way Grandma conducted her life. She loved people, and it wasn’t superficial. She cared about what was going on in your life and would pray about it and follow up. For many years, she kept in touch with people through the mail. I won’t even try to estimate how many letters and cards she sent out. I know that during college I received something from her every single week. Sometimes she put in crazy things like hair ties my three-year-old would wear, but they always made me smile.

And she was always joking. In a note she wrote to me for my birthday a couple of years ago, she referred to me as “frosting on the cake,” a “young whipper snapper,” “sassy pants,” and “top grade raw hide,” then ended by saying “my mind and heart are in tune with yours. Jesus is right there too.” That’s so Grandma.

When she moved to Briarcrest (assisted living) and even during her stays in the hospital and nursing homes, she collected new friends in addition to the family, old neighbors, and church friends who continued to visit and call regularly. It’s because she showed them love and she made them laugh. She was still joking around with the doctors and nurses a few days before she died.

Me and Grandma, Christmas Eve, 2013
Me and Grandma, Christmas Eve, 2013

She blessed so many lives. One of the last things I told her was that I wished I could keep her here forever, but in the scheme of things, the time I have left on Earth is nothing to the forever we’ll have together in heaven. Her example is one of the reasons I’ll be there eventually.

So, yes, Grandma, life goals accomplished.