As I write this, there have been 778 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents. By the time you read this, there likely are more.
On Sept. 6, those numbers became deeply personal when a longtime family friend died of the coronavirus.
Lance Lehman and I were born the same year. We met him and his wife Jodi at church in 1992, and soon Lance joined my husband’s men’s group. Every Friday morning a small group of guys met for Bible study and prayer. Before long, those friendships grew to include their wives – most of us at-home moms with young children.
The friends you make when your children are young often become like extended family. Baby showers, birthdays, girls’ nights, guys’ outings, all that time shared weaves cords of connection.
When Lance and Jodi and their four kids moved to Colville in 2005, those connections loosened but didn’t break.
What broke were our hearts at the devastating news of his death. He was 55. He and Jodi looked forward to celebrating their 30th anniversary in November. His three grandchildren adored their “G-Pa.” The adoration was mutual.
Lance often said, “If I’d known being a G-Pa was so much fun, I would have done that first!”
Here’s what I remember about Lance Lehman.
I remember his years working at Costco (18) and how brave he was when he decided to go back to school and pursue a career in dental hygiene.
Playing trivia-type games with him and Jodi was hilarious because he was six years older than she, and got our ‘80s music/movies themes while poor Jodi was still grooving to the ‘90s vibe.
He ALWAYS wore shorts. Even in winter. Even though his legs were as white as snow!
I remember the camping trips, game nights, Fourth of July celebrations and countless potlucks our families shared.
Lance adored his two girls and did his best to figure out the whole hair situation.
He delighted in his two sons.
I remember his unwavering faithfulness to Derek’s men’s group and how he never missed a meeting. How after they moved to Colville he pondered coming to Spokane, just for their Friday morning gathering.
Lance loved to golf and planned and organized many outings for the guys. He was complicit in an epic prank at one of those. I was pregnant with Sam, and one of Derek’s friends pretended to get a call from his wife, saying I was trying to reach him because I was in labor. I wasn’t. But the guys enjoyed watching Derek panic, and throw his golf bag over his shoulder while scrambling to the parking lot.
I remember the very distinct, Lance-way he said my name.
I can still see the beaming glow on his face when he walked his daughter, Lexi, down the aisle at her wedding.
On Friday morning amid funeral preparations, Jodi shared more memories with me.
“He loved to sing,” she said. “If he didn’t know the words, he made them up. Lance enjoyed going into the kid’s rooms in the morning to wake them up by singing ‘I Saw the Light.’ He thought it was hilarious. They did not.”
Lance loved camping, especially at Haag Cove Campground on the Columbia River near Kettle Falls. They’d recently purchased a new trailer and in July they took it up to the Cove. They had so many plans for that trailer.
They had so many plans.
His favorite food was Bonzai Burgers at Red Robin. Every time they came to Spokane, he had to have one.
His faith was vital to him, and he wanted to share it whenever he could.
“Lance’s heart was to reach the lost for Jesus,” said Jodi. “He’d offer to put his clients on his prayer list. His work became his ministry.”
She grieves for their three grandchildren, the oldest is only 4.
“I miss him on behalf of my grandbabies,” she said through tears. “They won’t remember him.”
She drew a shaking breath.
“Someday it will all make sense.”
While we wait for that day, I ask you to remember that those listed on the COVID-19 death tallies are more than sobering statistics. Each number represents an individual who left behind a grieving spouse, children, parents, siblings or friends.
To someone that number was a person like Lance, who meant everything to those who loved him.
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available locally at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble locations and on Amazon.