After Amy Miller graduated from high school in 1988, she was headed to Hawaii with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Before she left, her boyfriend gave her a ring. She was young; her parents were not happy. She wasn’t certain she would stay engaged, but she returned and was married by August of 1990.
“It was not the most ideal relationship. We were young. We were raised differently...” Amy said.
Amy had been married for two years and two months and separated for two weeks (because the relationship had become volatile). In the early morning of October 3, 1992, the Stark County Coroner knocked on her door. Alone in her home, her parents out-of-state on vacation, Amy tried to wrap her mind around the words: “Your husband has been killed in a
single-car accident, driving under the influence…”
She’d invited Jason over, but he hadn’t shown. At the nearby intersection, he could’ve been turning left to go home. Or right to go to her house. He slammed into a fence instead. She would never know where he was headed.
“I had a lot of guilt, because when we were together he didn’t get out of control, and I would drive him home. Sadness too. Even though our marriage wasn’t ideal in a lot of people’s eyes, I was not ready for our marriage to end. I had no doubt we would work things out…”
How did someone so young face such tragedy?
“Time, family, God, obviously,” she said.
In the months following the accident, Amy also found comfort with a group of young people and was reacquainted with Jeff Otto, who was seven years older but had grown up in her church.
Nine months later, the two were married.
“It was March when he asked me, and I felt a bit rushed. My mind wasn’t in a good place to be making a decision like that, but he was 29, and he was ready to get married…” she said. “It was too soon, and I knew that, or at least other people thought so…
“But Jeff was truly my angel God sent to help me through my grief…” she quickly added. She did not regret her choice. “Our marriage was good. Very good with imperfections,” she laughed.
Two weeks after their July, 1993, wedding, the couple moved to Clearwater, Florida, to start a new life together. They secured work, Amy in the office of a building company and Jeff with “Mickey’s Peanut Company” selling boiled peanuts to sports organizations.
“He loved that job!” Amy laughed.
After a two year newlywed adventure, they moved back to Ohio to start a family. Three years later, their daughter Chais was born.
Before their baby had even turned 1, Jeff started having excruciating headaches. He was going through bottles of Tylenol every few days with no relief.
One day, Amy was leaving for church choir. Jeff turned to say goodbye, but instead uttered nonsense syllables.
“ ‘Was that real?’ I asked. He was always joking around.”
Jeff looked at her, thoroughly confused. He didn’t know what that
was. A few days later, he had a falling episode.
On a Saturday in January, 1999, the doctor called Amy almost immediately after Jeff’s MRI, saying to return to the hospital. Jeff was diagnosed with a glioblastoma-- the fastest growing, most deadly type of brain tumor, usually occurring in men much older. Jeff was only 36.
His condition was terminal; he likely had six to eighteen months to live.
“But I’m not God,” the doctor had said. “I can’t tell you…”
Six weeks later, Jeff was gone.
Though they had begun radiation and experimental chemotherapy, he never received his last scheduled treatment.
Even in his last weeks, Jeff Otto kept his trademark sense of humor. Once, heading out with several couples, he yelled at the women (who were taking too long getting ready): “Hurry up, Girls! I don’t have much time here!”
But beneath the humor were serious concerns.
On the day he was diagnosed, he (somewhat) jokingly asked Amy, “You’re not going to wind up in the insane asylum? You ARE going to take care of Chais, right?”
He was remembering Amy’s words from six years earlier: “If anything ever happens to you, I will simply go crazy…”
Her response: “Of course I’m going to take care of her!”
(Picture this five-foot-one-inch spitfire giving her six-two hubby a playful punch, even amidst tears.)
Even Jeff’s last words (before slipping into a comatose state a few days before his death) contained a pun. Amy’s is a family of accountants; tax season is a frenzy. Jeff whispered to his mother-in-law: “I can’t wait ‘til the end of tax season…”
He wanted to be assured Amy’s family would have time to care for his girls. He didn’t want his death to be inconvenient. But he didn’t know if he could hang on that long.
Jeff died in the wee hours of the morning on April 16th, 1999. The end of tax season had arrived.
Amy had promised to take care of their daughter, and that is what she did. In a way, Amy’s baby also took care of her.
“God sent angels to take care of me, because he knew exactly what I needed. My family and friends were always there, but when Jason died, he sent Jeff right away. Sure, at the time I thought it was all very fast, but looking back, I think, but God sent me Jeff! When Jeff was gone, God had Chais there for me. She was my angel who got me through everything. She still is.”
Next week, Amy Otto shares what the phrase “Fathering the Fatherless” means to her and we’ll meet the man her daughter has called “Dad” for most of her young life. We’ll also get the skinny on her upcoming wedding as “Amy’s Story” concludes (the part she’s sharing with Patch readers, anyway…I’m sure the honeymoon details will remain “top secret”!)