This morning, I felt sad.
I felt loss.
I felt heartbreak.
Death and loss breaks into your life.
It tries to steal your spirit.
It crushes your heart.
It breaks a circle that once felt complete.
Cooper started to wake up.
He opened his little eyes.
“Hi mommy,” he said.
With teary eyes, I faked a smile and said, “Good morning, baby.”
He must have noticed.
He is sensitive like that.
He is aware of people and their emotions.
He always knows when something is wrong with me. It’s also impossible for me to hide my emotions.
He took his little arm and pulled me toward him.
He kissed my forehead.
“It’s okay, mommy,” he said. “Everything will be OK.”
I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have Cooper. He loves me so much. On the way to preschool, he shouted over the radio, “HEY MOMMY!”
“Yeah, buddy?” I replied.
“No, mommy,” he said. “When little boys ask their mommy’s something you don’t say ‘YEAH’ – you say ‘WHAT?'”
He is also extremely particular.
“What buddy?” I asked.
“I LOVE YOU!” he said.
“I love you too, sweetie!”
I looked in the mirror and saw a smile appear on his face. Then he looked out the window and watched the trees quickly pass by.
That’s how fast life passes by too.
I remember being 17-years-old. I would visit Grandma and Grandpa Strickler EVERY single day after school. I would visit, eat snacks or their leftover food, tell stories, watch basketball or Lifetime movies, and then hurry off to work or cheerleading practice or track.
Then, I blinked my eyes and I was 30-years-old. Sitting at my grandpa’s funeral service, hearing and seeing people all around me crying. Listening to stories about his life. Watching a video full of silly pictures that illustrated his personality.
Not too long ago, we were doing the same thing for Justin’s amazing Grandpa Sieb. He touched my heart and life in ways that hard to explain. I remember one day, he called me to share a video that he found on YouTube about motherhood. He always told me that I was a great mom and raising Cooper right.
He thought I would appreciate and be inspired by the message. He just thought of people that way. He cared deeply about his family and friends. He always wanted them to know he was thinking about them and their lives. Every single time I saw him, he asked about work. And it wasn’t just a filler question. He cared. He wanted to know the details of my projects, struggles, and successes. He wanted to know what I was looking forward to next.
Every time I saw him, he told me that I looked great or beautiful! In fact, my last words to him were, “I’ll see you at the gym on Monday!” I was in denial that Grandpa Sieb was dying. Just like I felt like my Grandpa Strickler couldn’t ever die. They were strong. They were unbreakable, right?!
I had the flu, so I never got to go back and see Grandpa Sieb while he was awake. I was devastated when Justin told me that he would be sedated until he passed.
NO! How!? Why!?
“I never got to hug him harder or say goodbye!” I said.
Death does that. It makes losing someone about you instead of them. At least, at first.
It makes you think about all the things you should have done. What you would have changed or done better. What you would have said.
But, I know in my heart – that he the last hug we shared was special. And I think of him every single time I am at the gym.
I remember at Granpa Sieb’s funeral service, Justin got up to speak. He was nervous, obviously. And he was filled with emotions. He couldn’t find the words to begin. He was crying.
Suddenly, Cooper leaned forward in his chair and whisper-yelled (he’s so good at that), “JUST SAY IT!”
Everyone laughed so hard. Cooper knew how to make people smile and laugh, even during such a hard time (he’s so good at that too).
Losing our grandparents within months apart was just heart-wrenching. Grandparents fill such a special place in our hearts. I have so many incredible memories with them. I spent countless summer days at their house – chasing around the neighbor kids, slamming down Popsicles, and drinking Squirt pop.
I can remember the smell of steak cooking at his house. Or my other personal favorite, his smoked sausage and potato skillet.
And when I close my eyes and focus, I can still hear his voice when he called to sing me happy birthday. His voice was unexpectedly beautiful and raw. It was a gift every single year to get that phone call.
During the funeral service, the preacher told a story about Grandpa Don. I don’t recall the story word for word – but it went something like this:
“What do you preach? When people look and around interact with you- what do you preach to them? I’ll tell you one thing Donald preached -he was a people person. He cared about the people in his life.
And he always tried to make them laugh and smile. I remember in high school, I played basketball. I wasn’t a strong player at the time. I was always afraid to shoot. Because if I missed, I knew that the coach could pull me out of the game. I was nervous.
I recall Don coming up to me after one game. He pulled me aside and told me that if he was my coach, he would make me play the entire game. And he would make me keep shooting until I made it. He said that’s the only way to learn and get better. Keep shooting. That’s what he said. But what he really said was this: never give up.
Through my life – even as a grown man – I’ve used that phrase: keep shooting. It’s been a reminder for me to keep going and never give up. And that’s what Don taught me. Because he cared so much about people.”
When someone dies or you lose someone from your life for one reason or another, it’s hard to move on. It’s hard to let go. My Grandma Kaye told me after Grandpa’s funeral, “I miss him, Ashley. I love him so much. He was my soulmate. And our family, well – we love hard. And we don’t move on. We can’t. Not once we love someone.”
I didn’t have the right words. What do you even say to that, especially when you understand and agree? All I could say was, “I know, Grandma. I’m so sorry. I love you so much.”
So while I feel sad today, I am reminded of the beautiful life lessons that my grandparents taught.
I am reminded of the lives they touched.
The memories we made.
The ways that they have changed me and made me better.
I am also reminded of the love that is right in front of me. And while the circle feels broken because of death and loss in my life, I will heal. I will find ways to honor their lives. Share their stories and memories.
I am sure both Grandpa Sieb and Grandpa Don would encourage to keep shooting. To keep placing the people in my life at the forefront of everything I do.
One of the best gifts you can ever give is your time. Time together leads to more memories and stories down the road, when you need them the most.