When my cell phone rang and I saw “Grandma Koch” on the display I always knew what was coming out of her mouth next:
“How is my handsome boyfriend,” she’d say.
“I’m doing great beautiful. How are you?” I’d offer back.
You see when I was 13 years old my grandpa and grandma Koch moved into an “in-laws” apartment-suite that my parents had built onto my boyhood home.
Any time I wished I could go through the garage and go visit them.
When grandpa Koch passed, in May 1999, my relationship with Grandma became even stronger. I would bring her flowers 1-2 times per month and when I was able to drive at 16 I would take her on dates to Red Lobster.
My love for the Detroit Pistons almost always took me over to her apartment to watch upwards of 60-65 games together per season.
In college, when golf and music started taking me all over the country, she would often call me after games to give me the score of the Pistons that night.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her my cell phone had internet where I could find any score, to any game I wanted. I looked forward to those phone calls. It had very little to do with the Pistons.
Grandma meant a lot to a vast amount of people. I’ve been overwhelmed with the messages, comments, emails, phone calls, and other condolences I’ve received since Saturday evening.
I’m currently back in the town of Vassar where I grew up for the funeral. This morning on my run I was stopped often by people offering sympathy or telling me a story about Grandma.
My relationship with basketball and Grandma has continued to mature and grow. The last 5 years in particular I’ve gone from a fan to a game official. This past season I refereed 84 basketball games. My game day routine always included calling Grandma Koch on the way to the gym or the arena.
We would talk about the upcoming game. She would ask if I knew the other referees I was working with that night. She would even ask what color costumes the teams would be wearing during the game. Yes, she called them costumes.
Then almost always our conversation would work it’s way to Jesus and Grandpa Joey.
Grandma loved her Joey.
She would often tell me how proud of me he’d be. She’d also, through tears, tell me how much she missed him. That never changed in the 17 years since his passing. She’s with him now. Holding his hand with the same smile she is wearing in the picture above.
Grandma Koch was ferociously in love with Jesus. She cared for people like I’ve never seen from another person. Every single one of the condolence messages I’ve received, from people that knew Grandma, included the words “Prayer Warrior.”
Zachariah Stevens and Bart Rittenberg were two of my best friends growing up. There wasn’t a conversation I had with Grandma, about those two, that she didn’t tell me how often she prayed for them.
Grandma had fallen off of her porch awhile back and was put into a facility to rehab. She had recently been told that she would be able to return home in a couple of weeks if the improvement continued.
I had the opportunity to come home the week of July 4th. On July 5th, my mom, Aunt Kim, and I were able to go to the rehab facility to visit her. We sang hymns and worship music together for 2 hours. This was a standard line on the agenda whenever the 4 of us were together.
I visited Grandma every day at the rehab center that week. Little did I know when I left at the end of that week that was the last time I would ever get to sing to that beautiful face.
This was the last time I saw Grandma. So pretty, always smiling, and always had something smart to say.
Saturday July 16th at around 8:45pm I walked off the court of a pro league camp I was working. I had just been asked if I’d be interested in working the Indy Pro-Am in August.
This is some of the best news I could have received because the chance to referee current NBA players and top collegiate players would bring with it a lot of exposure. I was emotionally on top of the world and couldn’t wait to tell Amy.
As I walked to my car Amy called and told me the news. My beautiful little girlfriend had passed away, almost to the minute, when I tossed the ball up for the last game of the night. I fell to my knees in the parking lot and started to sob.
I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets. She was my girl. We spoke often. We spent time together every time I came home. We had 5 years together living at the same address until I left for college.
However, selfishly I think of the upcoming basketball season. I imagine I’ll get in my car or in the airport terminal and reach for my phone like I’ve done many times before to call my little lady.
Only this time I won’t be able to speak with her.
I won’t be able to hear her tell me she loves me.
I won’t be able to hear her tell me for the 1 billionth time how lucky I am to have Amy as my wife.
I won’t be able to hear her ask about her two great-grandsons Amy & I were able to give her. One of which, Jack, is named after her.
Sweet little Jackie is with her Joey again. As much as she loved Joey, though, she loved Jesus even more. That’s what gives me comfort. That’s what gave everyone comfort about her, whether they believed in Jesus or not. There was something different and special about this woman.
So Grandma…for the final time in writing. I love you. So very much. You are beautiful. I can’t wait to see you again. Thank you for believing in me and showing me Jesus throughout the entirety of my life. Please hug Grandpa Joey for me.
-Your Handsome Boyfriend