Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Another bittersweet goodbye

Wool sweaters, cheese puffs ("cheesies"), pink wafer cookies, jelly beans, and afghan (blankets).

Yep, that's a bit of what comes to mind when I think about my Oma DeJonge.  She made beautiful sweaters and blankets and almost always served her grandkids (and great grandkids) jelly beans, wafer cookies, and stale cheesies.

Oma DeJonge died this past Sunday. On Thursday, I will join my brother Dave and other cousins as pallbearers.  She was 91 years old and ready for her heavenly home.  She was not afraid to admit that she was tired and worn out.

And rightly so.  At first glance, parts of her life seem almost romantic.  As a young woman living in The Netherlands, she met and married a handsome Dutch boy who had to hide on her father's farm along with her brother and a Jewish friend.  The three boys were hoping to escape the German army - work camps for two of them and the death camp for the other.  All three boys survived the war - and Opa married Oma.  The same three boys emigrated to Canada and lived long lives.

A novel could be written with that as a plot line.

But the true story lies in my Oma's memories.  It was a difficult life, moving to a strange cold country, raising babies in a culture that was different from home and a language that was not familiar.  As grandkids, we learned that good experiences came from the challenges.  But I don't think Oma would describe her life as romantic.

She and I wrote letters because I was unable to visit her as often as I wanted.  In fact, I received a letter from her a few days before she died.  I'll be keeping that letter close.

She often asked how I was able to cope with my kids and their needs.  I reminded her that I was not boiling my diapers on the stove to clean them!  We always had a good laugh about that.

My Oma was honest about her life and how she felt, kind thoughts or not-so-kind thoughts.  A difficult life makes the emotional side of living complicated, and she knew that.

In recent weeks, I've had a number of conversations and experiences related to suffering and death.  I have been reminded how quickly we jump to platitudes and cliches - either in trying to gloss over our troubles or in trying to bring comfort.

Those tidy phrases may have their place, but when we are sitting in the shadow of suffering, those words fall short.

I think my one of my favourite verses in the Bible is from Job when his friends come to visit:

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  
No one said a word to him [Job] because they saw how great his suffering was.

They sat on the ground with him. No one said a word.

Sometimes the silent company of a good friend is far more comforting than a handy phrase or expression of concern. Gives a person time to think - and find honest words.

Oma was not afraid to be honest with her troubles, yet she knew her difficulties wouldn't consume her. She showed a quiet resiliency and strong faith that carried her over many challenges, giving her glimpses of joy in her knitting, grandkids, books, and adventures in that small blue (VW?) van she and Opa would take over the country.

I want to learn how to balance the honesty of living with the promise that God will provide the strength to live and the grace to accept what doesn't always measure up to my expectations.

* * *

Before I put on a sweater, throw an afghan over my legs, and snack on stale cheesies, jelly beans and wafer cookies, here are a few photos from the week:

Rachel actually slept through her casting procedure last week.  These will be on for two weeks, hopefully helping to strengthen her legs and gain more flexibility in her feet and ankles.  We started two weeks ago, and already she is doing some supported active weight-bearing on her feet!

Janneke took time to explore the back hallway of Beacon while I watched Em and Soph sing at chapel.

The garage has shown purpose for more than just storage.  It's handy for kids who are learning to play band instruments.  Enough said.

And we had a great visit with Christina who was back from Calvin College for American Thanksgiving.  Poor Christina had to listen to Ralph and I pull out our college memories, not wanting to admit it has been quite some time since we were on campus...

Peace for your week.

Monday, November 19, 2012

balancing sorrow and joy

We said our earthly farewell to a dear friend last week. The two photos above show just a glimpse of the love given to Rachel (and to the rest of our family) from Miss Ruth.  Ruth Maher was our first nurse, assigned to our home when Rachel was discharged from the NICU in June 2006.  She worked in our home until the end of 2010 when she had to leave for health reasons. 

Ruth and I shared many cups of coffee, conversations, recipes, and stories.  She brought us into her life by way of stories of her husband and children, and we quickly counted her as part of our family.  At a time in my own life when I especially missed the presence of my mom, Ruth stepped into our home and added a beautiful piece to our puzzle of a family.  We give thanks for her life and the fact that she is no longer in pain, but we acknowledge her absence will be felt by her family forever.  We will always remember the gift of love she so easily gave.  I cannot help but wonder if part of Emily's inspiration to play piano comes from those early days when Ruth would play for us.

* * *

I had a wonderful walk with a friend on Friday.  We shared a lot of laughs, some good stories, a few dreams, and some private heartache.  Good for the soul.  And I let her drive the Sprinter.  That brought more laughter - and will probably become exaggerated into a story or one of her plays someday.

In one of our more serious moments, we talked about trying to reconcile the sorrow and the joy that comes with living this journey of faith.  It isn't about first grieving and then being happy... it's about balancing the sorrow and the joy that is ever present.  The challenge lies in remembering that our sorrow ought not shadow someone's joy - or our joy to diminish someone's sorrow.  

From my kids' perspective that means even when they are sad about someone they love dying, they can still make a fort with a friend and tell jokes by flashlight.

That's probably something many of us can relate to... the idea of balancing the ups and downs, knowing the future can be uncertain.

For me, Friday night had some tough moments when Janneke's blood sugar level kept dropping with no cause.  Though within a span of 90 minutes her levels resolved and stabilized again, I am not a fan of these critical "down" moments.

Savouring the joy is preferred: sharing jokes under a canopy of blankets, a walk along the water with a friend, a impromptu family dance (CBC Radio 2 Drive is a favourite) , having chili and soup with dear friends... just a few moments from the past week.

* * *

We took seriously #6 from a previous post and enjoyed a walk in the quarry with friends: 6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person [or cows]. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their "divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic" existence.

And I am thoroughly enjoying Janneke's wonderment with her swimming class (part of the preschool program at the children's centre): 7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the "child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder."

Behold those dreaming eyes of wonder.  Eyes that want to go under the water - but can't for Mom's legitimate fear of aspiration.  So, I let her put her nose and chin in for now.

And look at this little standing queen in the water. Such poise.  She is free-standing and loving it.  Yep, there was joy in the morning swim today.

I am thankful that God's arms span beyond our doubts, tears, angst, and questions.  He can handle it.

Peace for your week.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

a cousin's speech and our Sprinter shuttle

We found some fish.  The aquarium channel provides low-maintenance pets - friends for Janneke to holler at as she moves around in her walker.  Here she is, eyeing her blue and yellow buddy, complete with a whale spout ponytail on her own head.

Makes us think about getting a high-definition TV someday just so we can see the anemones clearer.  That, and maybe the occasional hockey game.

These past few weeks have been filled with stuff.  It seems these last few months have been busier than I anticipated.  It's been challenging to find time to journal and blog.

Not long ago, our family had a chance to hear cousin Chantal Huinink speak and the Momentum Choir sing.  The event celebrated Christian Horizons, an organization that serves adults with exceptional needs.  For my mom's family, CH provided a place in a home in Woodstock for my uncle John when the Oxford Regional Centre closed.  When I attended my uncle's funeral, I was overwhelmed by the love John's CH family gave to him.  It was a beautiful extension of family and community that my oma, opa, aunts and uncles desired.

I loved listening to Chantal articulate living with disability.  She was serious and funny - reminding all of us of our own inadequacies and encouraging us to live in community with each other.  During my high school and university years, my parents used be caregivers for Chantal (respite), and I couldn't help but think my mom would have been mighty proud to hear Chantal speak.  Chantal continues to study, having already accomplished a Master's Degree.  The three letters of "dis" fade when she talks - showing us her ability to do so much more...

And the choir? It is always a treat to hear Momentum Choir sing.  You can see Janneke's ponytails in the foreground here, but when the choir started with "Born This Way" - yes, that's Lady Gaga music, Janneke was spinning around and around in her walker, anxious to move right in front of the choir.  I had to pull her to the side to prevent her from stealing the show.

Talking to Mendelt (choir director) later, we agreed that high compliments of the night were found in both the tears of a woman listening to Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the jubilant swaying/clapping of a young man sitting cross-legged on the floor right behind Mendelt as he directed through the songs.  A choir of exceptional needs singing for an audience of exceptional needs is a rare and beautiful moment.

Yep, Rachel loved the music too, while also battling some muscle spasms -poor kid.  By the way, if you want to hear the choir, come November 20 to their fundraising gala... click here.

This past weekend, I had a chance to catch my breath and take three days away... two in Minneapolis and one day flying.  A chance to sleep through the night uninterrupted and a chance to do some reflecting.  More on that later.

Tonight, it is the kids, laundry, and typical night stuff.  Rachel and Janneke are both dealing with colds - and Rachel is still bothered by muscle pain.  They have both missed school and are spending more time in their beds.  It is never easy trying to decipher what helps a kid feel better, but tonight, Rachel was rubbing my hand and arm while I read to the two of them.  For a kid who isn't able to verbalize her feelings, I will take that as an indication of comfort.  Very sweet.

Janneke seems to be feeling a bit better - evidenced in more hollering at the fish; today's nurse concluded there were clear chest sounds when she examined the girls with the stethoscope. (Did I mention before how much I appreciate the help of nurses each day?)  Here's hoping they can both be back in the saddle by Thursday.

For the next couple of weeks, we are going to try serial casting with Rachel's feet. She's been casted before, and she's had surgery before - all to correct her club feet.  We are going to try one more time with the casting, and we hope to straighten her feet enough to encourage her to bear weight on her feet. The expectations are low, but we are still optimistic she has the desire to stand.  Time will tell.

Though I am still mulling over the days I spent away from home, I can at the very least say that returning from a respite can be overwhelming.  When you have the time to step away, coming back reminds you that the busy routine hasn't changed.  Ordinarily, I am consumed by my daily routine; stepping away is emotional because I see beyond my little life for a brief moment - and realize that there may not be a choice in the life I have, but there is a choice in how I live it.  Lots of thinking to do...

Wait.  Funny moment to share: Ralph came to pick me up from the airport with the girls in the Sprinter. As I prepared to step into the van, a man and his daughter also proceeded to come along.  They mistook our family Sprinter for an airport shuttle.  He was very apologetic when we said there wasn't any more room in the family.

Hmmm, maybe we could visit the airport more often and make a little cash on the side....

Peace for your days.