Tag Archive | loss

Over-the-top

“Your Mother’s Day gift is over-the-top,” said my youngest daughter, Susanna, as we prepared for our small charges to arrive for Sunday School. My children are normally thoughtful and generous but I had no idea what this gift might be.

After church we enjoyed lunch together. There was a special aura of excitement about my gift and the family urged me to open it.  A pretty spray painted box sat on the coffee table. Inside was this:

 

20248304_10159088014280156_25602449842744537_oMy daughter, Andrea, with her creative flair,  had  made up a piece of cardboard  to look like an airline boarding pass.  It included a picture of my sister, Brenda, and I. Although my family and I had left Ontario to move to Nova Scotia 17 years ago,  there were times when I greatly missed being “home.” I called Brenda and put my cell on speaker phone so everyone could hear her reaction. We were both very excited that I would soon be flying to Ontario.

The  timing was perfect. Perhaps my children sensed that I needed time away to process all that had happened over the past few years. There had been too many deaths, too many losses, too many changes, and with them questions I couldn’t adequately answer.  I needed my sister. I needed to go home.

Right from the start, my trip began filling me with a sense of peace. My close high school friend, Marie, met me at the Toronto airport. We talked about her adjustment to retirement and mine to my swiftly emptying nest. I had been asking myself, “If I am not a full time mother, who am I?” I am extremely blessed with my five adult children and their life partners but sometimes miss the little ones who sat on my knee. Marie is using her artistic talents to help with her life changes and over the week, I gained a new motivation to put a pen to paper (translate keyboard and computer). After having a delicious lunch together, Marie drove me to my sister’s home in Brantford.

I  hugged and hugged Brenda and was thrilled to see my brother-in-law, Mark, and nephew, Ben. The next days were filled to the brim with activity. I met some of Brenda’s friends, people who were bravely coping with difficulties in their own lives. Several friends from university days made trips to visit me. In both cases, I had not seen these dear friends for more years than I care to admit. We had reconnected on Facebook but to actually see them, hug them, catch up on their lives and meet one friend’s husband was an indescribable experience. We were older (well that happens) but essentially the same people. I asked them how they had coped with their children leaving home. When we were in university we likely talked a lot about boys and future husbands but this time we talked about our kids and past or present careers.  I was touched and reminded, as I had been the summer before when visitors arrived,   that no matter how much time goes by, those who are truly your friends will remain so. Karen and Beatrice, we will not let so many years go by again!! My family and I also had a wonderful visit with my husband’s sister and brother and his sister’s husband.  I felt very impressed with an important  project my sister-in-law is undertaking. She has the same drive my mother-in-law had.

On the weekend, we drove to Owen Sound,  the city where Brenda, Mark and I grew up, the place I think of as “home.” We stayed with Mark’s mother, Donna, a  lady who is quite an inspiration with all her  interests and activities. On Saturday  morning she drove me to Inglis Falls, Weaver’s Creek Falls and Harrison Park. I was struck by the sheer beauty surrounding Owen Sound. Even though, I had been back to Ontario  on a number of occasions, this time I felt more than ever that I was home. In the afternoon, we sat  in Donna’s backyard, which includes an immense flower garden, a pool  and waterfall, and visited with my cousin, Cindy, her husband, and a close friend of mine from elementary school who I love to see when I am in Owen Sound.   Cindy’s brother, Doug, had died the year before, too young and  very unexpectedly. It is  not easy to accept that one of the five “cousins” is no longer with us. Brenda, Cindy and I needed this chance to be together. 20294041_10159081441570156_6279791281752930520_n

The next day was the hardest but also brought a sense of closeness. Mark’s brother and his wife drove to Owen Sound and we went out to the cemetery to visit Sarah’s grave. Mark and Brenda’s daughter, Sarah, had died nearly three years ago. This had  marked the beginning of the things I was struggling with. She was only 31, just months older than my first child. Sarah’s grave stone had just been put in. We took solace  in being together again as a family, all feeling the same emotions in our love for Sarah Jane. I kept my arms tightly wrapped around Brenda, as Mark did a beautiful service, emphasizing the resurrection of the dead. Yes, some of us cried, but we gained a greater sense of closure.

Shortly after the service we returned to  Brantford and the next morning Mark drove me to the airport. I didn’t want to leave my sister, didn’t want to leave Ontario. For that brief week, I had felt so strongly that I was home again. I still didn’t have all the answers, but something  deep in my heart was starting to heal. Brenda’s courageous and accepting attitude towards life had touched me. My friends had reminded me that true friendship never fails. We had come another step forward in our grief over Sarah’s death.  I don’t know what the future holds but God impressed upon me the verse, “…Be still and know that I am God…”(Psalm 46:10, NIV). He knows all the answers, what is ahead, and shows His love for us every day.

And when I saw my daughter, Hannah, at the airport in Halifax, I  knew I was home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darkness and Light

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Perhaps at no other time than the Christmas season are we as aware of the contrasting presence of darkness and light. The nights grow long as we head towards the winter solstice. Yet, the dazzling array of lights on homes and businesses both dispels and is  accentuated by the darkness. People turn off the lights  in their homes so they can better see the beauty of the lit bulbs on their trees. Churches may hold candlelight services, or their equivalent, on Christmas Eve, which focus attention on what the light stands for.

2016 has held both darkness and light, in varying degrees, for all of us. As I reflect on my own experiences, I am reminded of the opening lines of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” Darkness  has come to me this year primarily in the form of loss. Our family could never have anticipated that my cousin, Doug, at 56, would be diagnosed in August with a rare form of cancer that would take his life just weeks later. When my aunt phoned me, I was strengthened by her sheer sense of courage in the midst of losing her son. Her words created light in my heart.14333103_10157432478945156_35679603554883442_n1

2016  has also brought unexpected joy.  During the summer and fall, we had wonderful visits from friends we had not seen for some time. One visit was such a surprise that I didn’t catch on when my friend sent me a picture of herself  near a Nova Scotia sign! Two of the other  families  were from Saskatchewan, where my husband pastored several churches  over 30 years ago. It was amazing, the sense of going far back in time, the thrill of making new memories while remembering the old.

Although I don’t know what 2017 will bring, I am believing for a year of brand new possibilities and dreams fulfilled. Doug’s story has not ended. Before his death, he was able to hold his first grandchild, a beautiful baby girl, in his arms. She will soon celebrate her first Christmas. Darkness has no  substance or power; only light does. When darkness invades, the solution is both simple and profound. Seek out the light. Believe that joy will come in unexpected ways and dispel the darkness, as the Christmas lights brighten the December skies. The shepherds discovered this joy in the fields, while doing their customary job of tending sheep.” An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them….”(Luke 2:9, NIV). The angel announced the birth of the Christ child, who brought light to the world. The shepherds responded in trust and worship. Let the Christ child be your light as well. 2017 is going to be awesome! The “best of times” is yet to come!

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Jane

Sarah

September 14, 2014 was a day full of celebration. In the afternoon, I went straight from church to attend the birthday party of a good friend’s nine year old son. Even though rain was predicted, the skies held off their downpour, and the party was held in the back yard, complete with a bouncy castle for the children. Then we went inside while Sam opened his gifts. It was a joyful event for a special child in my life. 

I also was aware that on the  same day, a surprise party was being thrown in Ontario, for my close friend, Donna, who was having a turn of the decade birthday. I would loved to have been there, but it made me very happy just to think of her excitement  and joy. 

When I went to bed that night, I was content and thankful for  the events of the day. The phone rang in the darkness, and I reached over to pick it up, thinking it was my daughter, Hannah, who sometimes called late. But it wasn’t Hannah. It was my sister, Brenda, from Ontario and her voice  was full of worry and fear. “Sarah is breathing like a fish,” she said. “She might die.”

Brenda and Mark’s daughter, Sarah Jane, had suffered for a number of years with kidney failure and sporadic incidents of a rare but very dangerous brain condition called PRES. On May 23, Sarah had had a kidney with a cancerous growth removed. The cancer was completely contained and no treatment was needed. Then, in the summer, she had a second operation, this time to remove most of her parathyroid glands, because of excessive hormone production. Generally this procedure only required an overnight stay but Sarah experienced another episode of PRES and dangerous and fluctuating blood pressure levels. Finally, after 46 days in  hospital, she was released. Now she was in Owen Sound, for a short family holiday, to see her grandmother. 

I went downstairs and sat at the kitchen table to wait for Brenda’s next call. All my family were asleep. I noticed, though, that my dear friend, Gina, was still up and on facebook. It was a comfort to chat with her online and tell her what was happening. 

About twenty minutes later, the phone rang again. I knew it wasn’t good news. “Sarah is dead,” Brenda said. We cried over the phone, overwhelmed with the pain and shock of the death of this beautiful, courageous and faith-filled young  woman. 

Over the next few days, family gathered at Sarah’s grandmother’s house in Owen Sound. Somehow we got through  all the formalities: the visitation, funeral and burial. We were comforted by being together and by all the friends and family members who joined us in our grieving. 

Eventually, though, we  had to return to our lives and responsibilities. For Sarah’s parents, it is a matter of putting one step in front of the other, of taking each day as it comes, of holding onto their faith in the midst of such a great loss. 

And now Christmas is coming. There is much joy at Christmas. The angels rejoiced and sang when the Christ child was born, and in our churches and homes, we try to keep that sense of expectation and thanksgiving alive. However, I am well aware, that in spite of our faith , this will not be an easy Christmas for our family. It will not be an easy Christmas for thousands of others who are experiencing loss, poverty, family and relationship issues or other types of suffering. The minister at Sarah’s funeral used as her text 1 Thessalonians 4:18: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (NIV). Rev. Zakamarko pointed out that while the Bible tells us not to grieve, as if we have no hope of seeing our loved ones again, it doesn’t say not to grieve at all. Sarah had a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and we know we will see her in heaven. In the meantime, we grieve that she is not with us on earth. This is where our hope comes in, hope for a better tomorrow, hope that God is still in control and will take care of us. This is what Christmas is about: Emmanuel, “God is with us.”