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.
Ashley 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.