Giving thanks for the gift of knowing Gunilla Asher
November 26, 2015
Editor's note: When Shannon Asher asked if she could write a piece for The Aspen Times about her late aunt — and Aspen Times' publisher — Gunilla Asher, we of course said yes. The decision about when to publish these words proved a bit more difficult: On Gunilla's birthday? On the anniversary of her death? On Nov. 11, knowing the significance the numbers 11:11 had to Gunilla and still do to those who knew her? In the end, however, Thanksgiving Day seemed appropriate. Because on a day set aside to give thanks for all that we have, we at the Times wanted to give thanks for Gunilla — for the privilege of knowing her and for the legacy she left behind. G, you're forever in our hearts.
The other day, my friend told me that people die twice. They die when their physical body is gone and again when they are spoken about for the last time. For as long as I live, I know the latter will never happen with longtime Aspen local Gunilla Asher.
For those who had the honor of knowing Gunilla, they know she most certainly made a mark on the town of Aspen (for physical evidence, visit the Woody Creek Tavern). Some knew her as publisher of The Aspen Times, others as the Tequila Queen or the hummingbird whisperer, but I just knew her as Aunt G.
Last summer, I had the privilege of living with her family — my Uncle Mark and my two cousins Charlie, 7, and David, 6. During this time, I met and interacted with so many Aspen locals who knew Gunilla personally and who considered her a close friend. Although I must share this has not been easy to write about, as it marked the passing of a family member who I dearly looked up to, I decided that reflecting on the impact that one person can make on others was a story worth sharing.
“It is easy to forget the words people say to you, but it is hard to forget the way in which somebody made you feel. Gunilla made people feel good. She made people feel loved. Cancer may have taken my aunt’s life away, but it did not take away her spirit. ... So, instead of being sad about her today, I choose to send her light and love and appreciate the impact she made on the lives of so many different people.”
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We all hope and want to make a difference in the lives of those we interact with. How we will be remembered is something I think the majority of people think about and pay attention to on a somewhat regular basis. Gunilla, however, didn't pay much attention to what people thought of her or how people viewed her; rather, the legacy she left came from her contagious energy and her booming personality that made everyone wish they were her best friend. She was no doubt one of the easiest people to get along with. Maybe it was her sense of humor or her passionate love of life? But something about her personality stood out to me ever since the first time my uncle brought her home for Christmas. I was in fifth grade at the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday; I remember liking Gunilla immediately and deciding she was one of the coolest people I had ever met.
One thing Gunilla used to always tell me was that she perceived me as having an "old soul." I always blew that comment off and didn't think much of it — until recently. This summer I came to the realization (for me, anyway) that I don't believe in age.
As a 21-year-old, I believe that I can have best friends who are 27, 57 or 77. People naturally click better with some individuals over others, and the number of years they have been alive is irrelevant. The connection is greater than the years separating them in age. It didn't matter that Gunilla and I were 20 years apart. She was someone who I wanted to be around because of her fun and free-loving personality.
Those who knew Gunilla knew that she had a lot of friends. Interestingly enough, many of those friends were not close to her in age whatsoever. All of my new friends, or people I connected with this summer in Aspen, varied in ages from 21 to 61. I don't believe in age, and neither should you. Thank you, Gunilla, for making me truly see that age is just a number.
One June morning, after only living in Aspen a couple of weeks, I got pulled over on my way to work by a Pitkin County sheriff's deputy for speeding down McLain Flats. He must have been the nicest deputy I had ever encountered. After recognizing my last name and asking if there was any connection, his face suddenly changed and his eyes lowered with sympathy as if he remembered and as if he knew her personally. He let me go with a warning and called it a "Do-Better Slip." I chuckled to myself and drove away half-wondering how much of a role Gunilla played in watching over me that day.
To my surprise, all of these little moments kept recurring to me while floating around town. This gave me an itching feeling Gunilla was there and she was a part of it all. I met her friends and the people that knew her in some of the oddest and most unexpected ways. From getting my nails done at Salon Tulio, to friends who worked with her at the Times, to meeting the veterinarian who took care of Cowboy (the family dog), to the bartender at Eric's, to the man who recognized the scooter I was riding around town (formerly the way Gunilla would get to work every day), to Frieda from Queen B who knew Gunilla's stepmom, to the cowboys at the Woody Creek Tavern, to Hot Aunt Jules from the Dr. Phil show, to California friends coming to visit and to everyone in between who seemed to know her or to know of her. It was almost impossible for her name to be mentioned without someone sharing a hilarious anecdote about her.
No one knows what happens to us after we pass away. No one knows where we go or if they still live on in some way or another. One thing I do know for certain, though, is that Gunilla has not left Aspen. She is everywhere in this town and she is not leaving any time soon. She is sitting at the Woody Creek Tavern drinking tequila (preferably Milagro). She is at Kemo Sabe browsing the new cowboy hats. She is at the Eagles Club watching her brother Josh crush yet another pingpong game. She is at basketball camp with Charlie and David, encouraging them to keep going. She is with her husband Mark sitting in the front yard watching the sunset as the hummingbirds buzz by. She is with the staff at the Times making sure all hell doesn't break loose when trying to meet a deadline. She is everywhere. It is very evident that she has made her mark on the town and that she has left a resonating memory with many, many people.
It is easy to forget the words people say to you, but it is hard to forget the way in which somebody made you feel. Gunilla made people feel good. She made people feel loved. Cancer may have taken my aunt's life away, but it did not take away her spirit. I think of her often and I miss her often, as I'm sure many people do. It is comforting, however, for me to think about all of the different people she touched in her life. So, instead of being sad about her today, I choose to send her light and love and appreciate the impact she made on the lives of so many different people. Needless to say, Billy Joel's song took on a whole new meaning the moment my aunt passed away from breast cancer — on June 2, 2014, at just 41 years young. I can just see her now, dancing and singing, "Darlin' only the good die young."