Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Remembering love

Remembering Willem Jacobus,  Eric's father....

Baby Eric and his dad
He died 10 years ago this morning. Eric and I were newlyweds, not yet married a year when out of nowhere Eric's dad was diagnosed with cancer.  By the time he checked into the Royal Alex Hospital,  the cancer had so metastasized that he had just 10 days on earth left.

His death came after a difficult night where we hovered around his hospital bed, fearful, sad, wondering how to ease his transition from this world to the next.   There's no sugar coating it, even 10 years on.  It was what can only be described as a difficult death, capping off a life that likewise was not easy, a life whose final years were especially tough.

 But he loved and he was loved- so deeply, oh so deeply.  And isn't that really what life is about, love? He sure loved his three sons. He was so proud of his boys. If 10 years on after my death what my child Samantha most remembers about me is that I loved her deeply- I will have considered my life well lived.

 I agonized this week how to remember this man who doesn't even have a gravestone to cry at.  Should we buy a memorial bench in his honour? Donate in his name?   Take out a memorial notice in the local paper?

We didn't do any of that. Instead, Eric and I went on a walk (him) and roll (me) to our local corner store.  We bought popsicles and sat in the quiet evening while he shared a few stories of his dad.
To remember Willem in simplicity seemed to be the way he would have wanted to be remembered.  He wasn't flashy but he was kind hearted and genuine.

He was very private, and the morning he died- after a terrible night of hanging on, one I hope to never ever see another loved one experience- he and I shared one final moment, one I'll never forget.

The nurses told us that it would be okay to quickly run to the hospital cafeteria for a very fast breakfast, that there was time to take a quick 10 minute break after an all night spent sitting around his bed, that he had a few more hours.  However once we reached the elevator, I realized that I'd forgotten my purse in his room.  Everyone went on ahead to the cafeteria, while I ran back.  On entering his room, I was shocked to be told by a nurse he'd just passed, moments after we'd all stepped from the room.  His final gift to his sons was to spare them the pain of witnessing his final breaths.

I immediately texted them all to return, but it took a few minutes for them to catch the elevator back up and race through the halls to the room, and it was in this time that I experienced something I've never before or since experienced.

The nurse left the room, and for about 5 minutes, it was just he and me together. His body had stopped living seconds earlier, but the oddest sensation came over me- my spirit could still sense the presence of his.  I've heard it can take a while for the spirit to leave the body, and in those quiet moments I found that true.  I have no words to adequately describe the experience, other than in those moments my spirit recognized his.

Gently holding his hand, I whispered to him ( I could still talk back then) that it was all okay.  That he was okay. I ran my hand on his chin, and told him he was deeply loved by his family and sons. That it was okay to go.  It was then that I felt him leave, move from this life to eternity.  It was a sacred, quiet, gentle moment. It was a small parting of the here and now from forever- and for just a sliver of a second I was privileged with a glimpse of Eternity.

Now here we are 10 years on.... it's hard to believe so much time has passed. So much has changed in all our lives. Back then, he had a 6 year old granddaughter- he just didn't know it (Sam wouldn't join our family for another 4 years). How he would have adored Samantha and being a Grandpa to her.  I hope somewhere he's looking down and smiling, that he's found peace.

Rest in Peace Willem, and know that we all still love you very much.


  1. So tender, Jenna. Thank you. I was in the room with my father-in-law as my partner ran after her family members to call them back. The nurses came in for the chorus of last breaths, and one of them sang at his funeral. Rest in Peace, dear Bill.

    1. That's such a beautiful, poignant memory of your father in law. Your partner is lucky to have kind hearted you in her life. Also my father in law went by Bill sometimes (short for Willem). We seem to have lots in common :)

  2. Jenna your words and thoughts express a beautiful Grace.

    1. Thanks Henry, your encouragement means a lot

  3. Divinely arranged for you to be with him as he was promoted to eternity.