Grieving an unimaginable loss

summer field

On my first day of first grade, I made a new friend at recess who my dad advised me to hold on to for life, knowing that this little girl named Kathy Somerlade came from good people.

We’ve stood together in times of great joy, each having two children who have grown up as good friends to one another, and watching that circle of life go on.

We’ve been through the sorrows and struggles of each losing a dear father too soon, bonding us tighter than ever.

We each welcomed our very first grandchild within two weeks of one another, lifting us to shared joys.

When Kathy’s oldest was inducted into the Ashland County Sports Hall of Fame in October, I wrote about that great bunch of basketball boys, the sweetness of their inclusive hearts sharing the moment with the bus driver who had taken them to every game.

Today, together, we grieve an enormous loss. Through tears, I heard Kathy’s grief-stricken voice asking for my help.

“Anything….I will do anything,” was my instant response.

Kathy asked my help in writing the obituary for her eldest son, words no one should ever have to speak.

What seemed to be the flu, an illness that sent him to urgent care and back home again, proved instead to be much worse.

Mark died of a massive heart attack, one week after celebrating his 36th birthday.

Mark Grassman, born in 1983 to Jeff and Kathy, was the handsome guy with an infectious smile that drew people in.

Any friend was a forever friend, made evident from so many stories in a funeral attended by hundreds that went on for hours.

People stood in a very long line to pay tribute to the young man who lived his life with integrity wrapped in a happy and carefree style.

Mark was the guy always ready to jump in to help, no matter what was needed, and that carried into sports.

The community who cheered him on through his high school years will remember Mark being sent in to save Hillsdale’s perfect season with his incredible, high-arching 3-point shots on the basketball court.

Later he found great joy and solace exploring woods and streams, hunting and fishing, camping, spending time with friends and family.

Younger brother Joel, describing great brotherly competitive moments in their youth, has long called Mark his hero. Joel will remember Mark’s spark of orneriness throughout life that kept everyone laughing.

Mark enjoyed being the fun uncle who kept toddler niece Raya sassy to an ever-heightening degree, then sending her home with her parents Joel and Amber with a hearty laugh.

Mark lived with great compassion and genuine interest, always thinking of others, and truly happy for the accomplishments of friends.

Mark was the first person I thought to reach out to as we searched for our dog, and he responded instantly with help.

He circulated pictures to his fellow UPS drivers and kept in touch with me daily.

Mark spent a lot of time here, visiting at our table, laughing around some great bonfire gatherings, and sometimes just stopping by to see how we were doing.

As a UPS driver, mostly in the Ashland, Ohio, area, Mark had the perfect job to cultivate new friendships, and he treasured the opportunity.

Life-long friends say Mark is the one who brought them all together with carefree joy, the one who created memories held onto with a smile.

My favorite picture I’d taken of Mark a few years ago was one with his great smile, his right hand symbolizing the peace sign.

That picture speaks to me in a different way now than it once did.

Love shared is love multiplied in times of both joy and deep sorrow.

As we gathered to say our good-byes, our hearts breaking, I felt Mark’s legacy, urging us to be mindful.

Tomorrow is not promised. Live happily, love deeply, feel the peace. ‘Til we meet again.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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