Community rallies around a family after loved one dies

Scott Turner, KP News
Melissa Smeltzer and her son, Noah, were in good spirits at a recent family gathering. They hold a family photo taken with (father and husband) Aaron Smeltzer, who died suddenly last month while running near their Palmer Lake home. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

On May 30 Melissa Smeltzers life changed forever.

It was the seventh birthday of her son, Noah, and her husband, Aarons, day off.

The day started out like most Fridays. “We said happy birthday to our son and we talked about what we were going to do that day. It was very ordinary,” Melissa, 31, recalled.

After picking up some cupcakes and dropping them off at Vaughn Elementary, where Noah is a special education student in the Options Program, Aaron announced he was going for a short run.

“I was going to go to the gym to give another friend a birthday card, so I told him I wasnt going to be on my phone for a little while and that Id talk to him later,” Melissa said.

“He said he wasnt going to be running for very long because he wanted to relax before Noah got home. We said ‘I love you,and that was the last time we spoke.”

Aaron Smeltzer, 33, never made it home.

In the middle of his run, he collapsed and died on Whitman Road, near Camp Colman, not far from the couples Palmer Lake home.

At press time, the cause of his death had not yet been determined. “It takes 10 weeks for an autopsy report,” Melissa explained.

But the doctors at St. Anthony Hospital, where Aaron was taken, were baffled.

“He was a nonsmoker, nondrinker, no tattoos, no drugs because it never appealed to him,” Melissa said. “He was 33 and very healthy. They said it was very rare for a young man to be that healthy and to pass away that suddenly and for their organs to be so healthy.”

The family was able to fulfill Aarons desire to be an organ donor.

“The doctors said he saved hundreds of lives with what he was able to give –– parts of his heart, kidneys, pretty much everything,” she said.

Seven-year-old Noah, who is autistic, seems to be handling his fathers death fairly well.

“Someone gave me a book with lots of pictures of us as a family, and Noah said he didnt know whether to be sad or happy, but hes mainly sad,” Melissa said.

“Hes getting to understand that dad is in heaven. He pictures him with wings. We even had a burial for a piece of fruit (an apple) because he wanted his dad to have an apple in heaven. Its just his way of processing it,” she said.

As frequently happens, the KP community has reached out to help Melissa and Noah.

“Theres a lot of people looking at the KP Facebook page and a lot of people I dont even know have helped us,” she said. “One fellow came over and dug up our back yard where we were planning to put a patio. That was going to be our summer project and somehow this fellow heard about it and came over and just did it.

“People Ive never met are bringing food to us; a neighbor had a garage sale and donated part of the money to us. My LDS church has also helped out a lot,” she said.

Aarons family in Utah, Texas and Oregon have set up a account for Melissa and Noah, although they, too, were devastated by Aarons death.

“They havent ever had a death in their family,” Melissa said. “Aaron is the only person in their family who has passed away, so it was really hard for them.”

Melissas family also has rallied around her, including her older sister, Stephanie Sauter, who came from Montana.

“From the moment Melissa and Aaron started dating, they really enjoyed being with one another. He really loved her and he loved Noah and he looked forward to spending time with his family,” Stephanie said tearfully.

“But this community has been so supportive and helpful, and my sister is really strong. All the Facebook posts have been so amazing,” she added.

“I think all their immediate needs are being taken care of, but a couple of months or a year from now is when shell really need support,”she said.

One of the biggest ways people can help Melissa is to pray for her, Stephanie said. “And also they can give to the memorial fund thats been set up at Kitsap Credit Union. That will be what ultimately helps them get through the future.”

For her part, Melissa is relying on her faith and the love she feels around her.

“Having God in my life, I feel comforted knowing that hes gone to be with the Lord, that hes comfortable and hes happy and hes in a better place. That gives me comfort and hope,” she said, eyeing her son.

Want to Help?

Donations for the Smeltzer family can be made through Kitsap Credit Union –– Aaron Smeltzer Memorial Fund.