5:45 a. m. , Wednesday, Boxing Day, 2013. I was sleeping soundly in my bed when the phone rang. I could hear the sound of someone getting up to pick up the phone. Shortly afterwards, I could hear the sound of weeping. I heard my Mom tell my Dad that Oma had passed away. Two days ago we had received word that she had fallen on her back and suffered a concussion. The fall might have been caused by her struggle with Alzheimer’s. I heard my parents discussing how and when my Mom would fly out to Ontario.
One thing was certain, though: she was the only one from our family going to the funeral. At 8:00 a. m. , we received another phone call from my Uncle Gord. He told us that we could all come to Ontario, and that Opa would pay for the tickets! Suddenly, we were bound for a trip to Ontario, all six of us! The fact that it was Christmas holidays worked out perfectly. My Dad, being a teacher, didn’t have to take time off school and neither did we! The plane tickets were booked, bags were packed, and substitute newspaper carriers were arranged.
We also went to Value Village to buy some more winter clothes, since the forecast in Ontario was for sub-zero temperatures. On Thursday morning we finished packing, and somehow managed to get to Abbotsford International Airport in time for our flight (a trip with my whole family is always chaotic). We had a two-hour stopover in Calgary and ate a late pizza supper at the restaurant there. We arrived in Hamilton at 1:00 a. m. Ontario time. The land was covered by a layer of snow delivered the night before in a bit of a blizzard. To say it was chilly would be an understatement!
We were picked up by my Aunt Gerry, who drove us to her house in Smithville. The next day we went to Spring Creek CANRC to view the body and be together with Opa and the rest of the family. The casket was in the front of the church, and a slideshow with pictures of Oma was playing on the right side of the pulpit. After we had spent a lot of time together all the grandchildren and great grandchildren went to Niel and Kerilyn’s house so that the adults could have visitation with whoever came to give their condolences. We watched a movie and spent time talking with each other.
Later we returned to the church and sang with the whole family, accompanied by the organ, which was played by one of my cousins. Everyone was there except for Colleen and Doug with their kids. In total, including aunts and uncles, first cousins and their children, there were seventy-four people! We got up on time Saturday morning to go to the burial. We arrived, and once again it was frigid outside! It was so cold that the funeral company hadn’t been able to dig a hole for the coffin yet. I suppose there was a special process that they would go through to thaw the ground once we had left.
One of my cousins, Joel Vandergriendt, had the misadventure of driving his car off the road and into a ditch because of the slippery road conditions. He left his car parked there until after the ceremony. I got to be an “honorary pallbearer”. The family had decided that the oldest boy from each family (seven in total) would be a pallbearer of some kind. This meant that I got to walk behind the casket with Jason and the minister from the hearse to the gravesite. As we stood at the gravesite, hearing Rev. Holtvluwer read the Bible and give a short speech, it began to snow.
But it was not light, peaceful snow. There was a strong wind that blew the snow like little needles into our faces. I know that sounds like a cliche but that is exactly what it felt like! Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged, and although it was an incredibly tough time for Opa, it made a big difference that we were all there to support him. Afterwards, we all drove to Spring Creek church for the funeral service. Most of the family (yes, seventy-something people! ) was crammed into the Spring Creek consistory room waiting for the service to start. We entered the church by order of family age.
First came Aunt Gerry, Uncle Herman and family, next Aunt Linda, Uncle Jack and family, then Uncle Rick, Aunt Liz and family, next Aunt Trudy, Uncle John and family, then my family, next Aunt Jean, Uncle Bernie and family, and finally Uncle Gord, Aunt Michelle and family. There were also several great-aunts and uncles. Together we took up about a third of the space in the church pews! The main point of the sermon was that when Oma could no longer express her faith by singing or praying, it only became more evident that she was going home to her Father in heaven and that he was even more sustaining her.
In addition to the sermon, my Aunt Trudy read a poem about Alzheimer’s and my Uncle Rick gave a short speech about Oma. One of the songs we sang in church was Hymn 78. Whenever I sing that song in church now it always reminds me of standing there, surrounded by family and singing the words “How oft in grief has he not brought you relief, / spreading his wings to o’ershade you” (478). Later that evening, long after the funeral, my Uncle, Dad, and I pulled a great trick on my Mom and my Aunt.
We had been talking for awhile when it suddenly dawned on us that it would be a lot of fun to pull out a great deal of empty beer bottles and strew them around the room. My Mom and my Aunt, gullible as they are, walked in and their jaws dropped open! We told them my Dad and Uncle had each had four or five beers, and that | had had my first one (I was only in grade eight). They actually believed it! We got quite the scolding, but when we told them it was a joke, all of us had a good laugh. On Sunday we went to Spring Creek Church and Smithville Church.
In the evening, all seventy-four relatives got together and took a picture at the front of Lincoln Church. After an eternity of moving around, practice shots and retakes, a good picture was finally made. The next day was New Year’s Eve. I spent the day helping out at my cousin Ed’s place. He had purchased a rural property with an old dairy barn on it and had plans to renovate and turn it into a kind of office building for his work. We emptied out old junk from the barn, threw it on a gigantic pile, and burned it. We found some old paint cans and propane that we threw on the fire to make it burn better.
They certainly helped! In the evening we went to a New Year’s Eve service at Spring Creek Church again. Afterwards we went to a big New Year’s party at my Uncle Jack and Aunt Linda’s. There were all kinds of delicious appies; sweet and sour meatballs, shrimp, sour herring, baking, oliebollen, and pickles with ham. We were also served ice cream downstairs in a typical Aunt Trudy fashion with all sorts of toppings and garnishes. Just before twelve, all the cousins went upstairs and sat in the living room with the adults. Uncle Jack read the Bible and prayed with us.
Then there was a bit of confusion as to when it really was twelve o’clock, but finally it was confirmed by someone with a smartphone. Everyone jumped up, hugging each other and shaking hands. It was magnificent to be together like that to celebrate New Year’s with so many relatives. The next few days were spent doing things that typical tourists would do. We went to the Niagara Falls and also received a tour from my Mom on the area of Niagara Falls where she grew up. We took the Gotrain to Toronto and visited the hockey hall of fame. We even went up the CN Tower. We also visited Opa at his apartment in Shalom Gardens.
My Mom brought along Dutch bacon pancakes for us to eat. We went up the elevator and walked down the hallway towards Opa’s apartment. The noise of a hammer striking against something echoed through the hall. Was something being renovated? We entered Opa’s apartment and there was our answer. My eighty-something-year-old Opa was using a hammer on brown sugar! It had become hard inside the bag, and he figured we really needed brown sugar for our pancakes. Well, it was quite effective! The sugar was nice and small enough to put on pancakes.
On Friday we flew back to BC. We had another stop-over in Calgary and we finally arrived at 12:00 a. . Ontario time. We had become acclimatized to the winter in Ontario, so the weather when we stepped out of the airplane seemed quite balmy, even though it was only a few degrees above zero. Thave been on many trips in my life but this one is by far the most memorable. It was incredible to be together with family during a difficult time but to still have a lot of fun and see people who I hadn’t seen in years. But what was the most amazing was how perfectly everything worked out. Often when someone passes away the closest relatives go to the funeral, but they can’t stay for very long because of work schedules and busy lives.
My Oma passed away the day after Christmas, only three days into the Christmas holidays. Almost all the grandchildren in BC could make it because school was out. The extra holidays; Boxing Day and New Year’s Day made it easy for my uncles to fly out. My own family was able to stay for eight days and most of my other relatives from B. C. stayed about the same length of time. God made it clear to us that he always has a plan in mind. The timing of my Oma’s death was unexpected, but it worked out in a wonderful way for my family. God’s love, power, and faithfulness were demonstrated to us during that extraordinary Christmas break.