Every November 22nd brings unimaginable sadness to members of the Spethman family, as well as the rest of our family, as we remember the baby most of us never got to meet. Laila Elizabeth Spethman was just 18 days old when she went to Heaven, leaving behind her a family wishing that things could have been different. There are never any easy answers for why a child dies, only questions. The biggest question is, “Why did this happen to us?” Of course, there is no answer. Things like the loss of a child don’t go after certain families. Death is not vindictive…it’s just painful. It just leaves us feeling empty…just horribly, and irreversibly empty.
That’s what Laila left behind, when she went to Heaven…emptiness. There is an empty spot in the family, where she should be…six years between her big brother, Isaac and her little sister, Aleesia. And empty chair at the table that Laila never got to sit in. And empty spot in the first grade, where she should be learning. There is an empty spot for Aleesia, who will never have a sister, and empty spot for Xander, Zack, and Isaac because they knew her for those days, knew that they were supposed to have a little sister named Laila, and then they didn’t. And there is an empty spot for her parents, Jenny and Steve, who have had the feeling of empty arms since that awful day…they have a daughter named Laila, but they can’t hold her, raise her, or know her. But all they have in emptiness where Laila is concerned. It is an emptiness we all feel.
Yes, Jenny and Steve have four beautiful, happy children, but that can never fill the emptiness that the lost one left. That’s because each child is their own person. They are not interchangeable. One cannot replace another. While each of their children is a joy in their own right, they are never going to be able to fill that one empty spot…the one Laila left behind. We will always love and miss you Laila Elizabeth Spethman, and we will see you again someday in Heaven.
You can think you are prepared for life’s changes, but until the exact moment they happen, you don’t really know. When my daughter, Amy Royce, her husband Travis, and son, Caalab moved to Washington state a year ago, I thought I would never get used to it, over it, or on with it, but time marches on, and I had no choice but to march along with it. Amy and Travis’ daughter, Shai stayed here in Casper, and I think it helped that I felt the need to try to lift her spirit and help her make the transition from being a kid living at home to an adult living in her own place. It was such a hard change for both of us. Memories of Amy, Travis, and Caalab were everywhere, but for me, especially Amy, since we worked together. I think that the hardest part with Amy’s move was the empty chairs at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast. It will be no different this time, since Shai worked with me too. Now I have that empty chair at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast…again.
I have always been close with all my children and grandchildren, so as each one spreads their wings and flies away, I find myself tearing up, as I look at their empty places and think about the length of time before I will see them again. For Shai, I know it is for the best. She has missed her family terribly, and while her grandparents might play a close second, we just aren’t her parents and brother. That isn’t a bad thing, because I know how much she loves us. It’s just impossible to replace your own family. Shai and Caalab have not always been good friends, but as the grew, they became very close, and I think this last year has been extremely hard on both of them. And she is very close to her parents, as well. My logical side is really very happy for her to be rejoining them, it’s just my emotional side that can’t seem to wrap itself around the logic, and every time I see a place where Shai used to be, I feel lonely all over again.
When I came home at lunch I thought about the last few days. Caalab flew in on July 8th, and with both of their things here at my house, we had quite a disaster area going. Now all their things are gone, and the house seems very empty and very quiet. Of course, Bob isn’t here either, since he went with the kids to help with the move. Still, I think it will feel a little empty even when he gets home. It’s not because Shai lived with us, because she didn’t, but she moved out of her apartment on June 30th, and so for eleven days, her things were here. Now, after a whirlwind visit for Caalab, and the date of their departure coming up far too fast, I find myself facing that empty chair…again. I know I’ll be ok, because I’ve been through this before, but that empty chair will be a stumbling block for a while yet, no matter how I feel about it, or how much I try to avoid looking at it. Shai…I know that your life will be wonderful, just don’t forget where your grandpa and grandma live, and remember that we love you more than words can ever say.
As Corrie’s birthday draws near, I am reminded of another of her birthdays…her first. Corrie’s birth put her in close connection with her great grandmother, with whom she shares that birthday. Her first birthday put Corrie, and her little sister Amy, in touch with the only set of great great grandparents they ever got to know…the in-laws of the great grandmother with whom Corrie shares her birthday. It would be their only meeting with their great great grandfather, as he would pass away less than two months later, on August 28, 1976, at the age of 93 years. He had not been ill or in a nursing home, but rather lived in his own home all the years of his marriage. His death came after he fell off of a ladder, while doing home maintenance…at the age of 93!! How amazing is that?
That first meeting between, great great grandparents and great great granddaughters was so special. This loving, sweet couple holding my daughters, was such a precious sight for me. You could just see how they felt about my girls, and it was a beautiful moment. In fact, it was at that very moment that Bob and I decided that we needed to go visit them again…soon. We wanted our girls to have a relationship with these loving people. We did make the trip to see them in late September, but it was too late to see their great great grandpa, and that made me very sad. Such a kind, loving man was gone before we hardly got to know him.
The visit to Washington to see Great Grandma was a precious one. Amy was too little to remember it, at almost 4 months, but Corrie and her great great grandmother got along famously. Great Grandma allowed Corrie to explore her home and play with the pans in the kitchen, and when I tried to stop Corrie from making messes and so much noise, she told me to let her play, because she loved to see her youthful curiosity and her smiling face. She even sent Corrie home with a little chair that she loved to sit on…it was over 100 years old then, so it is about 140 years old now…and still a treasure to Corrie.
The girls would get to see their great great grandma again, and she would also meet another great great granddaughter, Machelle and her great great grandson, Barry the next time she visited. The kids all had a wonderful time on that visit too. She was just the kind of person kids flock to. She continued to live in her home for most of the rest of her life, and stayed active and of sound mind for all of it. These were amazing people and such a great part of my children’s heritage. I feel very blessed to have known these special people.
The first time I met my niece, Toni’s future husband, Dave, I thought that he was pretty quiet…which surprised me because Toni is so outgoing. Like most first impressions, this one was wrong, because Dave is very outgoing and quite fun. On Christmas I got to see the goofy side of him, when for lack of a chair, he sat on his brother-in-law, Steve’s lap. I could tell, that neither of them were surprised by his antics, but I certainly was. I won’t be fooled into thinking that Dave doesn’t have an outgoing, and very humorous side again.
Since that first meeting, I have watched how Dave is and looked at the pictures they have taken, and while his goofy side is fun to watch, the thing about Dave that most impresses me is the loving side. It is so obvious to me that Dave loves Toni with his whole being, and that is high on my list of what a husband should be toward his wife. It is so easy to see how in love these two are. Toni is absolutely glowing these days, and as her aunt, I can say that I really like seeing that. I think these two will have a long happy life together.
Another thing that really impresses me about Dave is the way he worked to make a relationship between him and Toni’s son, James work. Blended families are sometimes difficult, and for a kid, it’s hard to accept that your mom is marrying someone that isn’t your dad, but Dave has found a way to win James over. He won’t ever try to replace James dad, but they have a better relationship than so many steps do, because Dave took the time to let James ease into a friendship with him. He included him and even found things that they could do together…guy things, that are important to a kid. I think that has endeared Dave to many in the family.
I think Dave is a really good fit in this family, and will be great to be around. We are a family of teasers, and Dave is that way too, and yet that isn’t all he is about. He steps up and pitches in whenever he is needed, even offering his help with things like raking the leaves up when the rest of us just couldn’t get around to it. Basically, Dave is one of the family. Today is Dave’s birthday…the first since his marriage to Toni. And it’s Super Bowl Sunday too, so that should help make it a good day!! Happy birthday Dave!! We love you!! Have a super birthday!!
Every boy has the same dream at some point…to be as big as their daddy. Of course, it is the little boys who most want that to happen. And it seems like it will just take forever. That’s when most dads try to give their little guys a helping hand, by giving them a lift up. It might be up on their shoulders, or up on a chair, or as in the case of Bob and his dad, a lift up onto the hood of the truck. Bob was so excited, that he was telling his dad, “Look, I’m as big as you, Daddy!”
It something that has been going on for ages. Boys wanting to follow in the footsteps of their fathers…whether it be height, occupation, or just mannerisms. Boys look up to their daddies, and so they should. Daddies are the model that boys use to decide who they will become. It is a big responsibility, and one that should never be taken lightly. Every man wants his children to grow up to be successful, and it is important that children have a role model to follow that will show them how they can achieve success and good moral standards. A dad needs to aspire to be better than he thought he could be so that his children, and especially his sons, in that they tend to look more to their dads as their role models, have a good example to follow. The children of this generation will produce the next generation, so it is important to teach this generation how to teach the next. Many people don’t think about that, or they think that their children will somehow pick up on it…but they won’t unless it is taught.
Yes, it is fun to watch how little boys try so hard to be just like their daddies, but daddies must also take that very seriously, so that they do more than just nourish their son’s body to help him grow up big and strong, but also, nourish his mind and spirit, so he grows up brave, wise, and moral.In reality, it is those traits that will ultimately become the deciding factor in the making of the man their sons will become…and after all, isn’t that the most important thing…not how tall or muscular they are, but what a brave, good, wise, and moral man they are.
For a number of years, we went with my father-in-law and the guys in the family, to the Shirley Mountains to cut up downed wood to bring home for firewood. Sometimes the girls got to come with us. When they came, we tried to turn things into an adventure. If you wander around the woods long enough, you are bound to find something that is unusual. Sometimes trees and other plants can take on unusual forms. While exploring the area around where we were working, the kids found a tree that was so totally deformed that it went up a ways and bent straight over and then curved back up again. I suspect that it may have been struck by lightning or maybe the wind partially broke it, and then persevered to continue growing. It was, to say the least, a very strange sight…and one tough tree.
What happened to it didn’t really matter to my daughters. Corrie and Amy were completely thrilled with this tree. When it swung down to the ground, it came down quite low, and it made the perfect, goofy tree chair. They spend the rest of the day playing around it and having a great time. They liked the tree so much that they wished they could take it home. Of course, we all know that was impossible, so we took a picture of it so they could always remember it. They talked about that tree for quite some time, and have looked in other places we have camped to see if they can find more of them.
Kids can make an imaginary world using lots of things. My girls loved to play house and clubhouse, so having a chair appear out of the middle of a forest, made out of a tree, was very cool to them. It was a like a whole new way to play. They imagined living in the forest, the mountains in the old west, or maybe a tree house. I can’t say as I blamed them for coming up with so many ways to imagine their lives to be. We have all have wanted to live an adventure, and maybe…just for a minute, my girls got to do just that.
Some people have such a wonderful way with children that they seem ageless. That is the way Bob’s great grandma was. When we went to visit her in Yakima, Washington, when Corrie was just 15 months old, and Amy was 4 months old. Corrie and her great great grandma had such a connection. It didn’t matter that there was an 88 year difference in their ages. Grandma understood Corrie, and Corrie loved her very much. The chair she gave to Corrie was part of that connection they had. Grandma saw that Corrie would cherish the little chair, and her instincts were correct. It has been a treasure to Corrie.
Grandma truly was a timeless person. So many people who are in their 80’s and 90’s, have little tolerance for the silliness of children, but Grandma was no ordinary person. She loved life, and the people in it…especially her little great great grandchildren. And she was so full of life. She was one of those people whose age is hard to guess, because they are so much younger than their years. Grandma lived alone for the 8 years after Grandpa passed away, and prior to that, they had lived together in their own home, with Grandpa doing the maintenance on the house. They were both amazing people. Grandpa was 93 years young, and Grandma was 96 years young when the left us, but they weren’t feeble and weak. They lived their lives fully right up until the end.
When Grandma was 93, her son Frank and his wife Helen brought her out for a second visit since the birth of her first great great granddaughter, Corrie was born. Even though they had not seen each other. 4 years, and it is hard too say just how much Corrie remembers of that visit, but the connection between her and her great great grandmother is very obvious. Grandma and her little great great grandchildren were all having a wonderful time together.
It would be a short 4 years later when Grandma went home to be with the Lord on February 10, 1984, but the influence she left behind for all of her family was huge. She was a woman who took an interest in life, both past and future. It was Grandma that gave me a good start on Bob’s side of the family history, and not just it’s people, but the history of things too. Sometimes it is the history of things that brings home the history of people. Those were the stories that Grandma told me on that visit, and looking back now, I can see that what she was doing, was passing along our heritage…just like she did for her grandchildren, to the best of her ability, even if they don’t remember much of it. We do, and we will keep it and her alive, to pass on to those little ones, now grown.
When Corrie was just a little over a year old, and Amy was just 3 months old, we took a trip to Yakima, Washington to visit Bob’s great grandmother. His great grandparents had come to Casper for a visit just 3 months earlier, and shortly after returning home, Great Grandpa passed away. He was 93 years old, and fell off a ladder while doing some repairs to the home they lived in and broke his hip. He lived an amazing life, as you can see.
When we went to visit Great Grandma, Corrie was just learning to walk. Grandma had a little chair with short legs, just the right size for a little girl. Corrie loved that chair so much. She sat on it a lot during the time that we were there. So much so, in fact, that Great Grandma decided to give the chair to Corrie, after telling us about it’s history. The chair had belonged to her sister, and she had given it to Grandma. At the time that she gave the chair to Corrie, it was over 100 years old. That was in 1976. So that chair today is over 135 years old.
Throughout the years that chair has been a part of our lives, and has been used by many a small child. I’m sure that many of those kids would have loved to take that chair home, but I knew that it was a special gift given to Corrie, by a great great grandmother, now long since gone. Grandma passed away in early 1984 at the ripe old age of 96 years. She had continued to live alone in her own home all those years. Another amazing feat, but then she was an amazing woman.
When Corrie got married in 1993, that little chair went to a new home after all…Corrie’s. It was a piece of furniture that Corrie has cherished through the years. It has had to have several paint jobs during all those years, and is in the midst of one as I write this story, but the memories that have been built around that little chair…well, if it could only talk. It has seen many a little girl, and doll sit on it for tea parties, and other little gatherings. It has been used as a little table of sorts at times, and when Corrie and Kevin had children, the little chair saw a new generation of children, this time boys get to enjoy its perfect size, as they found out that they could get up on it easily, and without any help, which was the same thing that had so attracted Corrie to it all those years ago. Not a bad life…for a little chair.
Christopher and Shai were best friends from the very beginning of their lives. They were born 1 day apart, cousins and friends. They shared so many things in those early days…mostly because they spent most of their days together at Shai’s house, because her mom, Amy, my daughter babysat Christopher. Those were special days, for all of us. The kids got loving care from mom/Auntie Amy, and Corrie, Christopher’s mom, my oldest daughter, and I got to go over at lunch and spend quality time with the kids and Amy. It just doesn’t get better than that. I will always treasure those early days spent getting to know my grandchildren well. They were the foundation for the great relationships I have with them to this day over 15 years later.
Watching the kids play and their friendship grow was wonderful, as well as interesting. As most of you know, the friendships of children go through many twists and turns. One minute they are best friends, and the next minute they are worst enemies, and the next, they are friends again. That was the case between Christopher and Shai. They played together so well most of the time, but there were just things that were not allowed, and moments when they both wanted to choke the other…and might have even tried…or at least tried to beat the other one up. These are just typical parts of the lives of children, and the source of many headaches for the parents and other adults. Those little territorial issues, “that’s mine” or “I had it first” are simply a part of life.
Such was the case when Christopher one day decided that Shai’s infant car seat, that was soon to be used for her little brother, Caalab, was a great place to play. While Amy was waiting for Caalab’s arrival, Christopher and Shai played in the car seat. A car seat that the kids hated to be in as infants, became a great chair. So the kids would get in it to play, and it became a bit of a fight sometimes…like here, when Christopher was sitting in the car seat, only to attract the attention of Shai, who also wanted to be in the car seat. Her solution was to climb into the car seat behind Christopher, in an attempt to force him to get out of the car seat, so she could get in. Well, Christopher was having none of it, and they began screaming. Oh my gosh!! You would have thought they were killing each other.
Most times there was a way to decide who had things first, or who it belonged to, but every so often, the only solution was to take the item away from both children. Of course that didn’t exactly solve the situation. Not only did you still have both children crying, but now they were both blaming each other for being the one to start the whole fight in the first place. “If you had just let me have it, things would have been just fine” sort of comments rage back and forth at each other, until the parents, who have had enough of it, tell both kids to get away from each other. That solution usually solves the problem too, because the minute you tell them they can’t play with each other, that becomes the most important thing in the world. So, now all they can think of is playing with the very friend their parents have told them that they can’t, and they are friends again. Hmmmm…problem solved.
In my living room is an unusual chair. It is an office chair, but it does not sit at a desk. Someday, I suppose it will be taken away, but for now it serves to remind me of some happy memories. The chair was one that was given to me by my boss (don’t tell him I used that word, because he hates that word…so it will be our secret, ok). It was intended to go downstairs to my office, but it just never got there.
You see, my 4 little grandchildren found out that the chair turns around, and…well, it was my fault really…if they were fussy, we would put them in the Whee Chair, and turn it around like a merry-go-round. Within minutes the fussy grandbaby was squealing happily, “Whee, whee!!!!” Hence the Whee Chair. It was a great way to entertain them. There were many times we would have more than one of them in the chair, and even the occasional fight over who got to be in it. We finally had to make them take turns.
As time went on, the kids learned to maneuver the chair themselves. Rarely did a day go by, since I have had the great blessing of being able to see my grandchildren almost every day, that one or up to three little kids weren’t squeezed into that chair, begging to be spun around. And rarely was once or twice enough, so it was a relief when they were big enough to do it themselves too. Had it not been for that, we might have been worn out a lot.
Yes, it’s funny the things that kids can find amusing, given the chance to use their imaginations. So, the Whee Chair still sits in my living room, although it no longer provides rides for children. I suppose one day I will reassign it to another location in the house, but I think that day will make me a little sad, because it will be the closing of the childhood days chapter of my grandchildrens’ lives. Not that those days aren’t all but over now, since my youngest grandchild will be 13 in September, but rather it will mark the point when I accept that those days have come to a close.