When a loved one dies…….

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace”. (Wisdom of Solomon chapter 3)

On June 21, 2022, we said to good-bye to Gerald (Gerrit – 1942 – 2022). He was the husband of my wife’s sister Jackie for 56 years. A son, a brother, a husband, a father, a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus, a man, a child of God. A first direct passing of the spouse of one of my wife’s siblings.

We had seen this day coming as that Multiple Myeloma (an incurable cancer that affects the blood cells in the bone marrow) was slowing taking control of his ability to move around. This magnified by the chemo treatments (which are supposed to help) sometimes made things worse.

We were not aware of this disease till we saw it close-up and looked on helplessly and noting at each visit, yes! it seems worse.

An important and well-known US journalist, reporter and TV commentator (NBC News) wrote a book about his journey with multiple myeloma. The book title ‘A Lucky Life Interrupted’ by Tom Brokaw, he writes about his denials, struggles, acceptance, turning points and courage, all emotions that affected him as he journeyed (from 2013) through the unknowns of this disease.

I would say that 2013 was about the time that Gerrit began to have pains in his knee and then more in his neck. Many were the doctor and chiropractic visits and then a neck operation at Juravinski Hospital, after which Gerrit was almost convinced that he would not walk again. As I visited with him he said that the hymns in the ‘Psalter Hymnal’ (he loved to sing and had a very large voice) had comforted him in his devotions and those hymns were his prayer book. Although he was doubtful about walking, the hospital therapy staff encouraged him and after many weeks of recuperation, he went home to Jackie. Soon a decision needed to be made about moving to a Senior Living space where the ‘house-keeping obligations’ for Jackie and him would be less and they could be surrounded by other Senior friends and acquaintances.

But after the move to ‘Wellingstone Christian Home’ Senior Apartments the journey was just starting. His diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma was scheduled into a cancer care regime at Juravinski Hospital. The chemo and the steroids started to make his life difficult. Sleep was erratic and the chemo affected his legs giving him neuropathy numbing his ability to feel his legs and gave way to weakness and he began using a walker for his mobility to get around. Not only that, but he also developed ‘shingles’ on his body which seemed to last for over a year. I remember seeing him at concerts (religious and classical music concerts were his passion) and other events bent over in the pew from the pain of the not only ever present cancer but also those ‘shingles’ (an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus – chickenpox) which somehow refused to go away.

He had given up his participation in the Brantford Choir ‘the Grand River Chorus’ as he was no longer able to stand up for periods of time. Instead his son in law provided him with a new music system (speakers and amplifier) so that he could access and play (and directing imaginary choirs with his hands) his favourite music usually Bach, and other early classical sacred choral favourites.

Eventually he came to the understanding that he was not longer able to drive his car and Jackie became the designated chauffeur as they went on small outings, attended family gatherings and doctor appointments. The coming of the ‘Covid Pandemic’ in 2020 had already put a slow down on their going-outs and became a time of staying put with cautions as to visits, shopping etc.

Gerrit was a person of realities. Fast to express his distaste for certain practices or actions (‘that’s crap!’) and also quick to acknowledge easy to go (‘yes’) agreements to others was his style. So as the disease took hold he would often talk about his funeral as he realistically knew that this journey (‘disease’) would hasten his end. As time went by he started to think about what his funeral service would look like. For sure, his and Jackie’s hymnal theme song ‘If you but Trust in God to Hide You – PH 446’ would be sung.

In his last sermon preached in Mount Hope Community Christian Reformed Church in, I believe, October 2019, his text was taking from 2 Corinthians 5 – “We know that if our earthly housea mere tent that can easily be taken downis destroyed, we will then live in an eternal home in the heavens, a building crafted by divine—not human—hands…Currently, in this tent of a house, we continue to groan and ache with a deep desire to be sheltered in our permanent home because then we will be truly clothed and comfortable, protected by a covering for our current nakedness. The fact is that in this tent we anxiously moan, fearing the naked truth of our reality. What we crave above all is to be clothed so that what is temporary and mortal can be wrapped completely in life…………The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. There is no doubt that we live with a daring passion, but in the end we prefer to be gone from this body so that we can be at home with the Lord.” (Translation ‘The Voice’) Here he spoke that he will die, as we all will, a typical straight talking Gerrit about our life and our human condition here and also God’s promises to those who walk by faith in Jesus, for them a transfer from an earthly tent to a home with Jesus, our (his) Lord. That was his way, straight forward, what we say ‘calling a spade a spade’!

Life was now getting tougher and as time progressed (2020-2021) through the Pandemic his mobility lessened. In the Fall and Winter of 2021 -22 there were several times Jackie had to get assistance to lift him up for bathroom breaks as the strength (and neuropathy) in his legs and his body were failing. And so in April/May of 2022 COVID (he had received all the shots available) also somehow invaded his body and in the week before he died, he made mention, that it turned so bad, he had thought for sure he would die while lying on a hospital bed in his living room for more than a week, deathly ill with the virus, while Jackie and family taking turns attending to him together with the help of the medical care available under the Ontario Home Care plan. It was a most trying time!

Hospice care was needed but because of COVID, acceptance to such a facility was put off and delayed. The (timely) event (in May 2022) of him breaking his arm (as he was escorted to the bathroom) triggered an emergency hospital attendance which in turn led for a doctor finding him at place at St. Peter’s Hospital on Maplewood Ave for palliative care. Because of COVID, he was first isolated in a private room with only Jackie and family allowed to visit and later in the beginning of June transferred to a ward with 3 other palliative care patients. When he got trouble with his right eye, the resident doctor had noted that Gerrit’s life expectancy was now 2 weeks to 2 months, no more.

The last 2 weeks of his life allowed for more restricted visits by others and designated family, still with COVID masking. We attended him on June 5 and fed him his supper as he was unable to help himself due to his broken arm. He was in good spirits, listening to his favourite music and expressed the fact that ‘Ancaster Christian Reformed Church’ church building’s renovations would for sure be completed in time for his funeral. How typical Gerrit!

On Sunday June 12th Jackie called to arrange for us to come the next day for a lunch break and warned us that Gerrit’s condition had drastically changed. And yes it had. He was no longer able to eat anything or talk, and needed to have his mouth and throat soothed with water. His hearing and listening abilities were strong and so we ministered as much as we could while relieving Jackie for lunch. This is hard work for anyone who attends the care of a loved one in their last days of life. The family was now present in shifts around the clock and the staff moved him to a private room. Jackie was given a comfortable chair so she could continually be with him during these last hours. Son Paul’s friend John Terpstra had written a contemporary version of the 23rd Psalm especially for Gerrit. When it was read to him, he loved it. It is hard to minister to someone who can hear but no longer respond verbally. Holding his hand (his grip was strong) and reading from Scripture or just telling him that we thought him a brother, was for us, very moving and meaningful.

Yet the call on Friday was unexpected! Gerrit is home! He was now before the face of God, the One who he had dedicated his life’s work to. Always proclaiming the grace of God to people under his care. Repent and believe and enjoy with thanks, the good news of the Gospel.

Next comes the hard part for the living, those left behind. Taking care of Gerrit’s body, taking care through visitations and notices sent, and then the hard part; laying his body to rest in the earth.

On that morning at 10 o’clock on June 21 (the fist day of Summer) under a sweltering sun and its heat, we attended the burial, saying our last farewell to Gerrit. In St. George cemetery with the oriole singing in the trees and with sounds of a drum and pine boughs and roses to lay on the simple casket, together we spoke our pastoral expressions of Gospel communal confessions, Christian hope and prayer, and led by Gerrit’s brother in the song: ‘Sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home, O, sweet chariot comin’ for to carry me home’, we set his body at rest. “O death where is your string, O grave your victory!……..But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (Epistle to the Corinthians chapter 15)

The service of ‘Celebration of Life and Resurrection’ at ‘Ancaster Christian Reformed Church’ followed at 1 PM. The remembrances of his children were on the theme of hands….Gerrit’s – Dad’s hands…. how they moved, held, molded and folded in and for their family life and experiences throughout the many years. The message from Scripture was on the Epistle to the Ephesians chapter 2 – ‘it is by grace you have been saved‘ – with a reference by the preacher that Gerrit (typical) in a conversation long ago said to him: that believing Jesus’ death on the cross took care of (his) our sins is: – like the flushing of our dirty mess down the toilet in one stroke and it is gone! and from Revelation chapter 21 – ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We together sang the hymn – of course – ‘If you but suffer God to guide you’ and ‘Jesus lives and so do we’ – PH 399 – and so ended our spoken remembrances of Gerrit, but the memory of him will be ever with us. A life well lived with small pretenses but a very large hope. Hope for the good things God has promised to all who love him and keep his Gospel front and center!

My gratitude and love! Well done! Rest in peace, my brother!

Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving, offer your service faithfully,
and trust his word; though undeserving, you’ll find his promise true to be.
God never will forsake in need the soul that trusts in him indeed.

JS June 29, 2022

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Opa JanS

Retired; Octogenarian; Opa and husband; interested in celebrating/contributing to the blessings we have as Christians in Canada's fair land.