When death came knocking unexpectedly at my neighbor’s door, I felt a twinge of guilt as I quietly and quickly sighed in relief that it wasn’t at my doorstep where he stopped.
I was in deep disbelief after tapping on my cell phone last week and read Andy Stetz’ post that announced the love of his life, his wife Vicki Griffith, had passed away.
I talked to Vicki only a few days earlier. She provided the statistics for my quarterly news story about the Tooele County housing market.
As I read Andy’s Facebook post, I thought, “Andy, you have an unusual sense of humor but this is sick. People will read this and believe it …” But there was no tortured twist at the end.
All that followed was a growing list of comments with condolences and gratitude for Vicki’s service to the community and quiet ministry to individuals.
That’s when I realized Vicki was gone.
I have called and still do call Vicki a friend, even though I have been told as a journalist I’m not supposed to have friends.
I first met Vicki 21 years ago. My job with the Boy Scouts of America brought me to the Great Salt Lake Council and I needed a place to live.
Remarks from my friends and co-workers about the communities in Salt Lake County where I could afford a home went like, “The drive-by shootings in that neighborhood aren’t as bad as people say they are,” or “The gangs in that area haven’t turned on the general public yet. So far they’re just attacking each other.”
After some thought, my wife, Jenine, and I decided to take the 300-mile drive out to Tooele. After all, it would only be 30 miles back.
We had visited Tooele a few years earlier while on a vacation to visit some people we knew.
If you weren’t here 21 years ago, everything north of C-A-L Ranch didn’t exist. A wooded lot stood where the strip mall anchored by Macy’s sits and 1000 North did not run to the west of Main Street and to the east 1000 North was an unpaved road.
Driving into Tooele City, one of the first buildings we saw had a big “Real Estate” sign in the window. That’s where we stopped.
Walking into the building we found the front desk empty. After waiting a while, I wandered past the counter to a room full of empty desks, but for one in the back.
As I approached the only occupied desk, the woman sitting there stood up, looked at me and said, with a southern accent that sounded like Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women, “Hi, may I help you?”
“I want to buy a house,” I replied.
“I’m Vicki Griffith and I think I can help you,” she said, again in her southern accent.
“Does everybody in Tooele talk like that,” I thought.
Born in Georgia, raised in Alabama, Tooele was Vicki’s adopted hometown for almost 40 years, but she never lost her southern charm or accent.
Ten years ago, when I started writing for the Transcript Bulletin, I was assigned the beat for real estate. Not knowing where to start, I called Vicki. I was in luck, because at the time she was the president of the Tooele County Board of Realtors.
I met her in her office. She shared statistics with me and answered all my questions about real estate. This was just after the real estate “bubble” burst and the start of what is now called the Great Recession.
At one point she was trying to tell me that although home prices had gone down, what was happening was a “market correction” to “pre-bubble” normal conditions.
I pointed to a graph on her desk and mentioned that it showed a definite downward trend. With a smile, Vicki turned the graph upside down and said, “See, now it’s all going up. It just depends how you look at it.”
Now Vicki is gone. Her sudden passing was a shocking reminder of how this life is just a fleeting moment. We never know when we will be called to travel to whatever existence we believe lies beyond this mortal coil.
That renewed awareness filled me with gratitude that I get to wake up each morning to a new day with new possibilities. I may not have the power to control everything that happens to me, but I do have control of what I let the things that happen in life do to me.
In several conversations with Vicki it was obvious that she, as everyone does, had struggles in life. But she never complained nor played the victim. Instead, she reached out to help others who were struggling.
As I pondered life, I realized that it seems like lately I’ve been coasting, maybe just putting in my time until I meet the end of my days. Vicki’s passing, if there may be light in the darkness of death, may have been the Christmas ghost to my Scrooge.
I determined to be more determined. More determined to live fully with what days I have left. Each day I will strive harder to do the things I know I should do, like be more kind and patient. I want to love others more fully in word and deed.
Each day I want to not only be thankful for that day, but I want to search through each individual day, with the passion of a hunter seeking a lost treasure, for the purpose for which I have been granted to live that day. Each day is a gem to be found.
“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” (from Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”)