Nothing can prepare you for the death of your soul mate, nothing. The loss of Leah has been completely devastating, and my heart is broken. For some reason, I thought that perhaps I was more prepared for Leah’s death as I’ve been mourning for quite a while now, but to watch her take her last breath, took me out.
Cali and I have spent the last week and a half, working through the intense grief, that apparently is supposed to get easier to deal with as time goes on, but will always be a part of your being. We spent last Saturday evening with Lindsey and Rosa, on the train for dinner, finding ourselves in tears most of the trip as we so desperately miss Leah. I didn’t know it was possible to cry so much, but it is and Cali and I share our tears freely. We both look forward to the day when we begin to remember all of the good times, and not so much of the past 17-months.
Our home feels empty now, somewhat larger than I remember, more like a shell, devoid of the laughter, fun, and conversation we so enjoyed as a tight knit family. I don’t know if I can stay here or what’s in my future. I know that in order to move on and stay healthy, I will need to make a life change. Don’t know what that is right now, but soon I’m sure a path will appear before me, and I’ll take it.
I met Leah the first day of college at Fort Lewis and fell madly in love with her and knew immediately that she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with at that very moment. We shared everything and loved each other passionately.
For some strange reason, I remember the day just prior to graduating from college, we decided to travel the world and living life a bit backward, going against the societal norm of finding a career and settling down, knowing that life is indeed short. And travel we did, at high speed, throwing caution to the wind, enjoying each and every new experience along the way.
Leah and I basically grew up together from the age of 18. She was always game for adventure, whether it was embarking on our first bicycle tour from Germany to Greece, covering some 3,200 miles, or planning flights to far away places with Cali in tow, Leah sitting “left seat” as trusty navigator, always enjoying the journey. We did everything together as a family, loving every moment, taking nothing for granted.
I look back now at our last bicycle tour from Germany to Venice, Italy just two summers ago, Leah happy and healthy. We remembered it as our favorite. It was the culmination of a life spent together as a family, watching Cali as she overcame her fears of cycling on her own, carrying her own gear, making decisions, meeting interesting people along the way, enjoying life and our time together. Leah and I remarked after the trip, that we now felt comfortable sending Cali off into the world alone, and that she was very capable of not only surviving, but thriving anywhere she wanted to travel.
Leah and I experienced some heartbreaking moments together during the last few days she was alive. We talked about how much we loved each other and how incredibly sad it was that we were so inseparable, so in love, that in fact death was the only thing that was ultimately going to end such a fortunate, passionate relationship. Leah told me just a couple weeks prior to her death that “she was now suffering.” We were enjoying the view of Lake Dillon together when she voiced this, and I remember thinking that I would have been complaining a heck of a lot sooner than this! Leah never complained, handling her disease with the same grace and courage in which she lived life each and every day.
Leah and I spoke freely of her dying, what she wanted in terms of a “celebration of life,” where she wished her ashes spread, how she wished Cali and I, along with her parents, friends and family, to continue on and to find happiness once again. Originally, we were going to ask our favorite pastor, Rich Mayfield to speak, but found that he now lives in California. I always enjoyed listening to Rich’s sermons as he was more a professor of Sociology than pastor of religion Since this wasn’t a possibility, Leah asked me to put together what she wished to be a party, as she didn’t want more tears shed, but instead wished family and friends to enjoy the day together, to remember her for her spirit and love of life. She asked if I would speak, so I will work to find the right words, peppered with the humor she was forced to live with, knowing that it is impossible to recount Leah’s life and passion in such a short time. I don’t know if it will be possible to hold it together, but believe I will find the positive energy through friends and family to get through the day, hopefully with the same grace that was Leah.
Here is Leah’s favorite passage from Rich Mayfield’s book Reconstructing Christianity which sums up her Christian belief:
“I have long advocated that the only understanding of heaven that I can fathom is a heaven where everyone is there… Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, everyone. It is the only image that is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus. Two nice women came to see me some years ago, Bibles in hand, to convince me of the error of my ways. We talked for awhile and, I suppose, they finally decided I was hopeless. As they left one of these sweeties turned to me and said, “How sad it will be when we get to heaven and you won’t be there.” I replied, “It won’t be heaven unless I am there!” God’s love is for everyone or it isn’t for anyone. As far as I can tell, Jesus never played favorites. Neither should we.”
Leah Jean Ashby Greksa 48, was born in Golden, Colo. February 14, 1964 and died May 16, 2012 in Georgetown, Colo. due to complications of a bone marrow transplant, following a diagnosis of a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Mother to Cali, a freshman at CU Boulder, and married to Mark, with whom she co-owned the Royal Gorge Route Railroad in Canon City, Colo., she possessed a passion for family and adventure travel that served her well throughout her life. Leah also never took her health for granted and became an accomplished kayaker, rafter, cycler and runner.
She grew up in Golden in the railroading business; helping her parents, Lindsey and Rosa Ashby, operate tourist trains in Central City and Georgetown. In 1999, she and Mark launched the Royal Gorge Route Railroad and spent the following years growing it into one of the finest rail experiences in the nation. They worked as a team to implement a vision of fine dining and great service, all based on their experiences traveling the world. Leah always worked diligently to ensure passengers were made to feel special, just as she wished to be treated throughout her many travels. Her favorite spot on the train wasn’t in one of the dining cars, but out in the open-air car, talking to guests from around the world. To commemorate her warm spirit, passion for travel and love of the Royal Gorge, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad has named its newest open-air car after Leah — it’s called the Leah Jean.
Leah attended Fort Lewis College, where she met Mark. They fell in love their freshman year and after graduating in 1986, traveled the world by bicycle and backpack. Together, they racked up thousands of miles traversing European cities and countryside. Shortly after the birth of their daughter Cali, Leah began leading the family on expeditions through Europe, Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia. Throughout her life, she also loved to fly in the family’s small plane. As navigator, she helped guide them to destinations like Mexico, the Bahamas, the San Juan Islands, and many points in between. During her 16-month battle with cancer, she often remarked that she had lived more in her 48 years than most experience in several lifetimes.
Leah’s final wish was for Cali to live a life filled with a passion for adventure, fearing little, and embracing people of all lifestyles and beliefs, learning and loving, just as she did, and always valuing diversity.
Leah and her family thank the many fine health care workers and especially the BMT nurses at CBCI and PSL, along with Summit County doctor Tanja Britton who delivered compassionate care each and every day. They understood the devastation of disease and shared a similar definition of quality of life that, unfortunately, many oncologists ignore. Leah and her family would also like to thank so many friends who were there for them, providing emotional support along the way.
Leah is survived by her daughter Cali and husband Mark, Summit County residents, and parents Rosa and Lindsey Ashby, who live in Georgetown.
Friends and family are invited to celebrate Leah’s life at the A-Frame at Arapahoe Basin, June 2 at 3 p.m..
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that donations be made to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or to a local hospice care facility.