2. Why, Why , Why

5 01 2017

img_9655Chapter 1: Why, Why, Why — “Affliction” By Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 2 of 13 posts)

If, out of the whole book, I had only read this chapter it would have been worth the purchase. As I am re-reading what I underlined, the truth of what Edith writes about, grabs me all over again!

As children, we drove our parents crazy with the question Why? and as teenagers we often rebelled against them because their answers didn’t make sense. As adults, we continue to wrestle with what we don’t understand and therefore we wrestle with God. We keep asking Why? to see if He will come up with an answer that is good enough (a measurement that differs for each person).

There are a lot of things we wonder about and Edith begins the chapter with plenty of true stories that naturally leave people asking Why? Why do children suffer, why is someone murdered, why is happy event ruined by a tragedy, why are there such injustices, betrayal, rebellion, broken dreams and so much sorrow and pain? Why is there…affliction?

Let’s talk about death.

For me, this chapter said what I have felt about it and took it further to affirm some amazing things about the God who made us. This chapter left me so THANKFUL!!

Enjoy these beautiful words Edith wrote:

“Death was not what God made man and woman to experience….” Can we just stop there for a moment? How many things do we assign to God (ie. blame God for) that are misplaced? Let’s just start here. Imagine God creating the first man and woman and the astounding detail He put into them. Look at us! We are not some experiment. We are crafted! Your fingers are amazing. Your eyes are astonishing. The way your “mind” works is confounding. Notice I said “mind” not brain because how do you even explain “the mind?” You know when you say, “I changed my mind.” What is that?!?!? And how, when you look upon a tree laden with snow, do those images float through some processor that whispers to your emotions that this beauty makes you want to cry? Do you think for a second that you are living and breathing and feeling without the pure delight of your Creator? Do you think He did all this and is content to see you decay? Is any one of us satisfied to see what we love, falter? No. Death is not what God made us to experience.

Is it just me or does that make your existence feel so ROYAL? Continue…

“Death was not what God made man and woman to experience. Body and spirit were made to be one, not to be torn apart. The body is a marvellous creation more intricate than any other individual part of the created universe. The body is precious, not only to each total personality of which each body is a part, but to God who created the body to fulfill the capacities of the whole person — to taste, smell, feel, hear, see, think, love, communicate, choose, and be creative. The body is involved along with the spirit in the oneness of the whole person to fulfill the possibility of expression in art and music, science and literature, agriculture and forestry, food preparation and architecture, and so many other areas something of the tremendous scope which Man — male or female — has been given to enjoy. Eyes can express love or scorn, response or revulsion. The vocal cords can communicate a fantastic range of things which seem to be intangible. The tongue and lips are important but cannot replace hands or feet…”

Stop for another minute. I don’t know how you felt reading that, but I just felt so much relief that ALL OF ME matters to God. I think people get this idea that this “spirit” we have, our “soul” is what is precious to God. That’s cool. But I am so thankful that my whole person matters to God. If this body is a throw-away, couldn’t all of me be? But it’s not. God did not give us a vehicle He was content to discard after a time. We are going to read more about that, but you and I in our entirety are precious to Him. He gave us these abilities, these human abilities, and is proud of them! He gave us a personality and never wanted one to be just like another. Taste and eyesight mattered to Him, vocal cords and facial expressions and the ability to run our hand over a surface and glean information, this all matters to Him.

“Yet, as we stand beside a body which has been separated from the spirit in death, although perhaps the physical parts are intact, one knows the person has gone…the body is there, but the person is not there to use it.” (18)

When my mom died, she did not die in pain. She did not die disfigured. She did not die alone. One might say she died a “good death” but as I stood beside her, as I touched her face and realized she was gone there was not one single good thing about it. I did not move quickly to the more comforting truths but stared at death, my enemy. It was abundantly clear to me in that moment that death was a vandal.

Why do we think death is just a part of our normal existence? “Death has been thought of as ‘normal’ only because it has taken place throughout all history” (19) but we need to stare at it and not be fooled. God did not include death as His plan. When He poured Himself, literally, into His creation and most distinctly into the creation of Man and Woman, He did not write death into it. For me, that is a very beautiful thing to reflect on. God’s plan for us was entirely good. That was the only time we could say that all was right in the world.

“Adam and Eve experienced the transition from living in a perfect world to living in a spoiled world. Adam and Eve had known what it was to be ‘normal human beings’ living in the ‘normal world,’ but they were the only ones who were able to compare by personal experience what ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ were like. Their choice to act upon the lie of Satan, as if it were the truth, brought about the result that God had predicted. The world became abnormal. We have lived — and do live in — an abnormal world. Things have been spoiled, vandalized by Satan…” (19)

When we ask Why? we need to travel way back to this point.

If you have ever lived with or walked with people who are stuck in a place of blame, you know what it feels like to think, “I wish they would just take responsibility for their behaviour!” It is so frustrating to listen to them, day after day, blame everyone but themselves. If only they would own what they have done, there would be a new freedom for them and they could move forward.

This very same principle as true for us. Why are we in such a mess? Because we made it. Why is there such evil?  Why does one person cause another pain? Why is the environment in ruins? Why are we getting sick all the time? Why is there such division? Why? Because we chose this over the loving guidance and boundaries our Good Father set for us. To ask Why? can only be answered “in the concept of the total picture of what history has been since the Fall…” (26).

We have what Edith calls a cause and effect history. It quickly became apparent to Eve what the “spoiled Creation” would mean for all relationships. When her eldest son murdered his brother, she knew as she stood before the inert body of her son that death was “now to be a part of the human experience, but was not normal. God had created the body and spirit to be one…” (20).

The ramifications of the literal Fall are terrible. We have got to wrap our minds around all of this causing an abnormal tilt to our planet. We shouldn’t get comfortable and think that the best that life has to offer, is actually the best.

What is our highest achievement? Some measure of wealth?

What is our greatest satisfaction? Some measure of beauty or recognition?

What gives us joy? A functional family around the dinner table?

What is a lifetime to us so that we feel OK at “the end”?

Friend, we live in an abnormal world and everything we think is everything is only a fraction of what God originally gave us. Is 85 years a good long life? Friend, death is an enemy. The end, is an enemy. Don’t settle!  We, as believers, “do not need to pretend that it is ‘lovely’ to feel the harshness of suddenly being out of communication…” (22) we can acknowledge “Death is an enemy, and it is something which God hates too. Death is a part of the battle between Satan and God — and the final victory will be God’s” (21). When I read this, I was so glad to reflect that God hates what we hate!

When I stood by my mom’s body, that is what I felt. I felt angry at the destruction and I felt worship for the Rescuer Who defied the enemy at the very same time: “The victory which Christ died to give us has a future aspect…that victory is the one that will destroy death”(25).

I so agree with Edith when she says when someone dies and the others stand about, “Smiling and saying, ‘It’s all so lovely and peaceful…'[it] is a type of hardness and coldness to the enemy death. Christians are blending into the truth of what exists in this fallen, abnormal world when they experience the emptiness of a room which a person has just left…Christians are behaving as God describes in His Word as ‘natural’ when they weep as a result of death. It is God who will wipe away all tears — not another human being” (21). Yes! Truth! Death highlights that we are waiting, consciously waiting for something FAR BETTER THAN THIS!

“True hope changes sorrow, but does not obliterate it. Death is not to be taken as a ‘normal, beautiful release’ but as an enemy which separates body from spirit and human beings from each other. It spoils the beautiful Creation of God. It is so basically an enemy that God says that He will pay a great price, a ransom, to deliver us from death’s power” (22). This idea that the body and spirit were meant to be together affects our whole view of death. God is not content to have these two things separated and that is why it necessitates new bodies. Have you thought about this? This idea that being a “spirit being” of some sort, floating around in the universe, is anti-good. Good is body and spirit, whole. If you want to know the difference between eastern religious thought and God’s truth, here is one distinct difference. Our highest attainment is not to be “one with the universe,”it is to be present with the Lord, intact as His creation: body, soul and spirit.

And here is where the most amazing truth ought to land on us, I mean really LAND ON US. If all this is true, that God loves us so much that he created us to be physical beings, valued us enough to put His breath in us and give us life — then our very worst thing, the thing that we ought to fear the most, is our total destruction through death. Death is our worst thing. Why did Jesus have to die? Why? Why? Why? He died to CONQUER OUR WORST THING. When death — death introduced by Satan — entered the world, we were in bondage to it. We had no way to escape death. It was coming, it was coming for every one of us but Jesus, through death, “destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-16

The devil is the one who brought about death, he has the power of death, but as Edith writes, “It is conclusive that death is a terrible enemy, since it could not be put out of the way, except by the coming of the Second Person of the Trinity as truly man — so that He could ‘taste death’ in our place. John 1:14 says: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”…He experienced death in order to abolish its sting” (23). Jesus took that sting, He took the worst thing we have, death!!

“To ignore the reality of death as an enemy is also to diminish the wonder of the available victory over sin and the permanent results of death” (23). When we comfort each other, “the comfort carries with it a reality of waiting, not only waiting to ‘go’ also — to depart for the same place someday — but a waiting for the return of Jesus which will finish the whole abnormality of the body’s being someplace other than with the spirit” (24).

So where does that leave us?

First, we need to remember our first mistake. It happened before, and it is still happening. We are finite and human, and we still are rebelling — creatures against Creator. We still demand equality because we still demand that God meet our demands. The old word is the word for today: we need to repent of this. We need to remember God is our Father and we are His children and no matter how much we don’t understand His ways, we must not think we can switch places.

Second, we need to recognize that this is an abnormal universe. We must not get comfortable with what we see now. We must not think that out of these ruins, we are going to build some perfect life. This is a false-hood we tell ourselves and then get angry at God for not giving us what we want. He is too good for that. His plans are too good for that. We need to stop being tempted by and lulled into a paltry satisfaction.

Third, we need to stop trying to come up with a genius answer for everything. We need to be willing to let God be God, and to stay in our own place as human beings. It is not necessary for us to give an explanation for everything that happens, good or bad (more about this in later chapters). Affliction is made up of many aspects, concentrating on one area is apt to be out of balance or tune. As we study Scripture about our lives here, “God’s Word picks up first one note, then another, but we are meant to consider it over a lifetime, with a growing understanding that never comes to a point of completion” (28). As we continue to walk with our Father “we ask for a measure of balance (a measure since none of us can ever have perfect balance in any other area of life, until Jesus returns)” (27).

On that same note, we need to stop analyzing everything to find the “key” so that from that point on everything will work out much better. Was it this decision that brought affliction? Was it that one? Sometimes we do make poor choices, but as we will see in the coming chapters, affliction is going to be with us, no matter what. “We cannot compare our own pattern to someone else’s to discover whether or not we are in the Lord’s will. God has individual and very diverse plans for the lives of His children, and Satan’s attempts to turn us aside are also diverse. Poverty can be an attack, but so can affluence. Hardship can be an attack, but so can ease. And when we face the death of a loved one, the attempt to twist us into bitterness can be an attack, but so can a false covering up of sorrow.” (29)

There is soooooo much I could write about this one quote, it could be a whole other blog. Think about it: do you look at people’s lives that seem so “perfect” and think they are really doing things right? What if their very ease is their spiritual undoing? What if it is destroying their character? What if their paradise is keeping them from fulfilling Jesus’ call to reach the lost? On the other hand, do you look at people’s lives who are struggling and naturally try to explain it/judge it? Their problems are their fault, it’s a punishment from God, it is cruel bad luck, it is a spiritual attack? — ponder that for a while and think about how the enemy, at this moment, might be trying to fool you.

Fourth, we need to help each other overcome. Edith writes, “There is no place to go for a vacation from the abnormality of the universe, from the effects of the Fall upon every area of life, and from the conflict of the ages. Persecution and affliction are a normal part of the Christian life. We need not be surprised or ashamed when our work, our family, our church, or our individual person is hit by some form of affliction, Satan does not fight against himself” (28). We need to stop being so private and separate from one another. Our desire “should be to help each other find victory in hidden places and ‘overcome him by the blood of the Lamb’ in very practical moment-by-moment happenings in our day-to-day lives” (29).

There is so much to think about here, but here is the most important thing, the thing Edith closes with and so will I. Friend, don’t let the question Why? create a wall for you for the rest of your life. We have an adequate answer to the main problem:

We messed up. Messing up caused a ripple effect, by a million ripple effects. The more “astray” things went, the more we forgot that things were normal once and what we have preferred abnormal over God ever since. Own it, but remember: That is not the end of the story.

“The enemy — death — has an end. Satan’s long attempts to separate every living being from God (and to separate every person from his or her own body in some sort of agonizing tearing apart) is not going to succeed. Death does not kill the spirit, nor does it spoil the truth.” (30)

— Teresa Klassen


1. “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer

4 01 2017

img_9655Preface — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978

(Part 1 of 13 posts)

A Preface to the Preface

A friend of mine recommended this old book, written in 1978. I found it used, online, and it arrived with an appropriately musty smell; I am pretty sure it was sitting in someone’s basement for the past 30 years. I knew in the prologue, this was going to be an important book for me and I knew in the last chapter, I was going to have to blog on it. I have underlined many pages, written notes all over it, spilled coffee and tears on its pages and even though I have finished the book, the book isn’t finished with me.

A book can be a mentor, and this is certainly one of those. I have listened to Edith for a few months now and by spending a little more time with her I think I will be able to remember more of what she said, and maybe it will serve someone else too.

Half way through reading the book I stopped and took out my journal and wrote a letter to her. She is no longer walking the earth, but I felt like I had been sitting with her for days and days and I was so grateful for the time she took to write these words for me and all the others. I was also thankful to pick up where she left off in praying for some things that matter, and people who matter, with a new picture of what those prayers mean historically. I pictured her as one of those witnesses the Bible refers to in Hebrews 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” in my own quest for perseverance in the race.

Of the people I look forward to seeing one day, she is one.

If anyone happens to read this blog and the ones to follow, I hope some new strength is passed on to you for your journey. I know I won’t be able to translate all the book said, but hopefully the bit I do write on will serve a good purpose and maybe you will find the book somewhere and read it too. At the end of the book I wished I could have given it to my 20-year-old-self  so I would have better understood affliction, suffering and hardship as it came, but mentors arrive as they arrive and I can only assume that I wouldn’t have taken it to heart in the same way I do now. I probably needed a few dings and bruises to appreciate these lessons.

As it was written in 1978, the language is from another time and the Scriptures quoted are often written in King James Version. There was something about this that worked for me; it slowed me down as I turned the phrases around so I was viewing them and thinking about them differently. I relaxed about the Thee’s and Thou’s and saw a lot of beauty in the differences between that version and the NIV or ESV I normally find myself in. So, if you do pick up the book, be patient and don’t get hung up on 1978. As Edith said, there is “true Truth” that transcends the generations and the peculiarities of our eras. In our time, the phrases we used in 2016 rotted much more quickly.

So, beginning with the Preface we dive in…

In the opening paragraphs of the Preface Edith says, “When people try to live on the basis of erroneous ideas they have picked up about what happens (or is supposed to happen) concerning affliction when one becomes a Christian, it is apt to be like riding with a flat tire, trying to carry all the weight in one bag, reading by the light of a candle, or ‘seeing through dirty glasses.'” (10) The question of suffering or affliction is one of the big stumbling blocks of our generation that keeps us an arms length from God. Because we are so prone to believe we can figure everything out so that it makes sense to us (“Science” and “Reasoning” we call it), affliction and suffering does not compute when we also say that God is loving. We form beliefs around what we believe and Edith refers to these as flat tires. If we believe what we believe without gathering enough information from the Bigger, Wider, Perspective…are our truths true? When we insist on changing places with our Creator and decide for ourselves what is what, we buy into the oldest lie: “you can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

The thing about affliction and our view of it is that as we are often in pain ourselves when we consider it. When we are in pain all our doubts and questions bubble up from the depths. When we have a plan for our lives and things unravel, where is God in that? When we hear of some atrocity, we are uncertain where to go with our indignation. When we pray, believing we can “ask anything” in the Name of Jesus, but the very thing we ask for does not come about, what then? Troubles large and small can throw us, turning our whole world upside down, anger and bitterness can take root or we can simply live in denial and settle for a weak, ineffective Faith and hold loosely onto a God we don’t entirely trust (I speak from experience).

There is an alternative and, I am learning, a victory in this if we are willing to stare at Affliction/Suffering for a while and step back to view the bigger picture of our existence to hopefully come to a place of joy — that place we cannot fathom which the Apostle Paul refers to when he says “but we rejoice in our sufferings” in Romans 5:3.

As to my role in this, don’t think for a second I have reached some “zen” place on the matter. To even pretend that I or anyone can, is to deny or displace the humanity God has given me and you. We feel. We wrestle. We live in the middle of. We cry. We question. We journey. We are not to be mystics, emptied of normal emotions in the middle of brokenness and sorrow. We are not robots who, if given the right programming, can walk stiffly through a battle. We can not look at the death of anything or anyone as if it is not our enemy.

What we can do is see better, think better, understand better and in gaining wisdom we can live with fewer “erroneous ideas.”

— Teresa Klassen

A Thousand Thoughts of You

11 03 2014

0007_###She would have come up the stairs today with her list and before I was even awake enough to have a single thought, she would have asked me the questions she had been thinking about for an hour already.

  • By any chance are you going grocery shopping today? I am almost out of cranberry juice.
  • Before too long, we should fertilize the lawn…
  • Did you notice there is a shingle missing off the roof?
  • I forgot to give you a bit of news from Aunt Hildegarde…

These were the kinds of things that were on my mother’s mind at the crack of dawn.

Usually there were dishes on the counter from someone’s late-night snack. These she would clean up immediately. Then a cup of coffee. A bran muffin. A greeting to everyone. She was never (and I do mean never) in a bad mood in the morning. Back downstairs to read her Bible and pray.

While everyone would be rushing about to get out the door, Nathan would always run down to say goodbye.

He is still saying goodbye, we all are. It is March 11: a year from the day she passed away.

If she could send a letter it would be in point form no doubt, but I would dearly love that. Then again, I forget to pick up the mail all the time now. Mom checked the mail…religiously. These days, the junk mail stacks up and the Carrier is cramming our letters into the box before I remember there is a postal system to contend with.

This past year I have thought a thousand thoughts about her, everyday things. She comes up all the time in conversation, “Mom would have…” or “Grandma would have…”. Lots of remembering. Lots of sighing.

There is never a good time to say goodbye to someone you really love. Then again, it doesn’t get any better, being able to say goodbye to someone you really loved. It is a good kind of grief to have — as Tennyson said, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.”

In memory, a little Nat King Cole:

A thousand thoughts of you
Will haunt me ever after
The music of your laughter
Will serenade my heart.

A thousand thoughts of you
Will roam the night and find me
With chains of love, they’ll bind me
To dreams that won’t depart.

Your face,
Your smile,
The moonlight in your hair

Your lips,
Your eyes,
I’ll see them everywhere.

A thousand [memories], too
Will keep me reminiscing
For there’ll be no dismissing
A thousand thoughts of you.

With fondness…

— Teresa Klassen


For What We Are About To Receive

This is the book she and I worked on before she passed away. It is filled with every day stories of her walk with God.

It was published recently and I so wish I could give her a copy.

See it/Order it here.


Violet: Her Life Story

13 04 2013

Mem - mom child family portrait bw

Part One — Pancreatic Cancer: Our Story

Part Two — Living Well/Dying Well

Part Three:

My mom, Violet, was born in Steinbach, Manitoba on December 30, 1937 to Peter & Marie Kaethler, two people who loved Jesus and brought their family up to know and love the Lord. She was the sixth child, with two older brothers and three older sisters. One more brother would be born after her to make a total of seven children.

Mom’s actual name was Bertha Violet but she never liked her first name and went by her second. She was named Bertha after an Aunt, but she also knew several cows with the same name, which didn’t impress her much; besides Bertha never suited her, she was more of a Violet.

In Steinbach, the family lived on a bit of acreage with an old barn and a very small old house. It had no glass in the windows at first, no electricity, and no running water. They had a fuel oil lamp to read by, and a wood burning stove to cook with and to heat the house, a wooden plank floor, a well with a pump and an outhouse not too far away. The bath water was heated on the stove and emptied into a metal tub (round and not very large). All the kids took turns in that water, from oldest to youngest, which mom never found quite fair.

The house was cold in winter and hot in summer with no insulation in the walls or ceiling.

In the summer mom remembers terrible lightening storms and one time the lightening hit the tree behind their house and split it in two! Fortunately the house didn’t catch fire.

95bwThe family had a car in those days, but it was up on blocks because gas was too expensive; so in summer they went to church with horse and buggy and in the winter on a horse-drawn sleigh with a tent like structure on it. They would heat stones, wrap them up and put them near their feet to keep warm.

The family was poor, but so were most families back then during the Great Depression so it didn’t seem very unusual. If the farming didn’t bring in enough, mom’s father would go help other farmers with their harvesting to make an extra bit of money. As poor as they were, mom remembered feeling quite carefree in those years, unaware of the struggles her parents were having to stay afloat. They had no neighbors for miles and so her friends were her brothers and sisters, and what a great time they had!

When mom was five the family moved to British Columbia, just outside of Yarrow. Mom and her mother had gone on a pre-trip to scout out the land which mom remembered very well. They went by train and arrived in Yarrow to meet a whole host of relatives. Mom was very small for her age, petite with thick blonde hair. She was a tomboy as well and was not used to being passed around from relative to relative, being patted on the head and kissed and held. They always said mom was shy, which she hated!

The men had prickly beards and smelled like the barn and the women were, as mom wrote, of a size that had indicated they had borne many children. To have 7-10 children was not uncommon. Their laps were short and she wasn’t sure what to hang on to so that she wouldn’t slide off. It is funny what a person remembers.

The family did move to Yarrow. At first they rented a place, and then they bought a farm on Veddar mountain. It had a great view and 60 acres of land. Some was treed and on the rest they had a house and a double-decker barn, a chicken house a milk house with a concrete tank which they filled with water to cool the cans of milk.

They planted a huge vegetable garden, cherry trees, nut trees, apples, grapes raspberries, strawberries and more. They had cows, work horses, pigs, chickens, cats and dogs. Mom and her siblings had lots of fun in the barn. When the hay loft was about half full they would climb up as high as they could to the rafters, grab a rope and swing down onto the hay.

Mom remembered the day the telephone came to Yarrow and then to their home.  It was a multi-line telephone and it was not unusual for people to listen in to the conversations other people were having. Or sometimes people would pick up their phone and interrupt other people’s conversation telling them to hang up because they needed the phone!

65Mom wrote down many of her memories from their life on the mountain. She remembers feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs; she remembers her father killing the chickens, and how she had to pluck their feathers and clean out their insides. She remembers the day they got a Ferguson tractor. She recalled being very frightened of the bulls on the farm, the butchering parties when they made sausage, roasts, ground beef and bacon.  She remembers how she and her siblings had pellet guns and would shoot the unwanted birds out of their fruit trees.

I should add, mom was a very good shot. When we lived in Richmond when it was a little more rural, mom was so annoyed at how the dogs always got into our garbage. So one day she set up in the living room, aiming her pellet gun out the living room window like a hillbilly and pegged off any dog that got near to our cans. They went yelping down the street, and that did the trick!

Mem - piano bwBack to Yarrow…the family loved piano music, and choir music. When they were able to they bought a piano and one of mom’s sisters was given piano lessons first and excelled at it. Mom was next to take lessons (for 5 long years which mom remembers as being horrible. She had this older sister who was amazing and could memorize anything, and then there came mom…who said to me, “Let’s just say I was in grade one for a while.” None of her teachers expressed much hope for her playing).

As an aside, when I was a child I often remember my mom plunking away at the piano in the morning before I got up and I always loved it. I don’t know if she was a great player or not, I just found it comforting to hear her; it was a nice way to wake up.

Mom also took one year of voice lessons in Chilliwack and began to sing in choirs and trios, this she did for many years.

Whenever possible mom’s family went to Sunday school and church. The custom in those days was men on one side and women and children on the other. The adults were very strict about children being seen and not heard and mom was always terrified that she would get a tap on the shoulder for being noisy.

At home, her parents impressed upon the kids that attending church and talking freely about God was a privilege not everyone has. Bible reading and prayer in their home was carried on regularly morning and evening.

Mom loved her father very much and would often say that he was the greatest influence in her life. Mom was never much of an indoors person, and her chores often meant working with her father. She saw how her father enjoyed life in good and bad times, had a lot of compassion for other people and a tremendous faith in God. When they experienced hardships or illnesses she always felt secure because God was very real to her dad and she trusted what he said, that things always would work out for good if they trusted God.

Mem - mom at around 16 bwMom says that she was keenly aware of the fact that she was a sinner and so at the age of ten, mom asked Jesus to forgive her and to lead her life. She was excited about this important thing she had done. She told her friends in school what she had done, but they just shrugged, “So what?” But to mom, she knew she had made an important decision, and that something had happened between her and God that would change the rest of her life. At 18 she was baptized.

After a while, the older siblings began to date and get married. Mom had some pretty funny stories to tell about those years. When a suitor came to court one of the girls, mom and her younger brother would go upstairs into his room which was above the living room. It had a grate in the floor for the purpose of letting the heat rise to the bedroom, but if they put their ears on the grate very carefully so as to not make any noise, careful to not be seen, they could hear everything!! What fun they had with that!

Though they were partners in crime, her little brother was also fond of making fun of mom. Any time he would see a single woman who was older and not married he said, “Watch out or you might become an old maid.”

Mom had plenty of time to find a husband, she was still in highschool in Yarrow, after all. Mom always had a hard time in school, she struggled with the inconsistencies in her friendships. One minute girls were her friend, the next minute not. It was so hurtful.

She says that her salvation was that her oldest sister loved her unconditionally and mom often dropped in at her home after school to help her or taste something she had just made. Mom says she was her sister’s guinea pig!

She always played an important role in mom’s life. Mom adored her and they spoke on the phone every week, and often more than once a week until now.

0013_###In 1956 mom was in her grade 12 year when the family moved to Vancouver. So mom never graduated as she needed to work when they got there. In Vancouver she found a job with a Medical Insurance company and worked for them for many years.

At that time she gave 90% of her income to her parents to help them. In order to afford clothing and bus fare mom did day-work on Saturdays. She says she never regretted giving her money to her parents because it helped them get into a house. She was glad she could do it.

One thing about mom, she was always a hard worker. She knew what had to be done, and she would do it. No-nonsense, hand to the plow, she would tackle any job and do it well. She was never afraid of physical labor, or the boring jobs most people procrastinate on. If anything, mom was not a procrastinator. She was an organizer, improviser, and if someone said it couldn’t be done…she would most often prove them wrong. 

Mom served both my brother and I and so many others in this way; helping, always helping to get tasks done whether in the house or in the yard or with some church work or helping a neighbor or doing something for the grandchildren. I haven’t hemmed a pair of pants or sewed a button in 15 years….oh no! Mom also did a fantastic job reminding me about things that needed doing, she had a list for herself and if she couldn’t do it, she’d make a list for you!

Mem - wedding carBack to Vancouver, Mom was attending Fraserview MB Church and it was there that mom met my dad, Harold. At that time the family was pretty involved in making sure a young lady would have a suitable match. Did he come from a good church-going family? Was he educated? Did anyone know his relatives? These were some of the things that mattered.

Mom had been dating someone she was very fond of, but he didn’t meet the criteria, and her parents discouraged the relationship.

With my father Harold, however, things seemed to line up. Mom’s parents knew dad’s parents enough to know they were a Christian family, serving as Deacons and Elders in the church, his father was a lay minister. Dad himself was educated, just completing his engineering degree. They dated for a year and then were married in March 1959.

Mem - wedding portrait1In 1961 they moved to Eastern Canada working there a while. They also lived in the Detroit for three months and then back to Vancouver.

So much of my mom’s story from this point to the end is affected by my dad’s story; dad was a complicated person. He presented himself one way to mom when they were dating, but when they were married, as mom describes it, three weeks in she saw a very different side to him. He was not the person she thought he was.

What a sobering realization that was for her but Mom had made a commitment and felt convicted that she needed to stick with that. She called out to God and would call out to God again and again over the years, for His help and guidance in her marriage. It isn’t that they never had good times, it’s not that dad didn’t have redeeming qualities, its just that in the areas that counted most, he fell short and this has affected us all. Still, they were married for 37 years.

In 1964 my brother was born and in 1968, I was born.

After each of us, mom required a major surgery and we were put in the care of relatives.

Mem - mom hold lloyd bwTwo months after giving birth to my brother, mom became violently ill and was faced with major surgery regarding her kidney and had to leave her baby boy to someone else’s care for three months. This particular surgery was still experimental but had some good success already. If it was not successful she would lose both kidneys. That really caused her to get on her knees and look for answers from God. She realized she had known God all her life, but she questioned at this point how well she knew Him. Did she really have confidence in God, did she really trust Him?

She vowed that if she came through this surgery and recovered, she would devote the rest of her life to really knowing God, loving Him, serving Him.

She has so many powerful stories that have come from fulfilling this promise to God, too many to tell here. If you are interested in reading her stories, we are currently publishing them and will include a link in this post at some point. They are beautiful and so precious to us.

Mem - beautiful2 bwGod became very real to mom through this surgery, another major surgery and all the hardships and challenges of life that would come. The surgeries left one of her kidneys severely damaged and the doctors said she might not live past 40. That’s one of the stories in her book of stories; God obviously decided He had more for her to do. Added to her own troubles, she walked through health problems I had, my brother had and has, my dad’s several heart-attacks, accidents, big financial difficulties, and more. Sometimes these things made my mom angry, but she could not be angry with God for long because he also gave us many good things which were tremendously encouraging, things beyond her dreams and expectations.

Instead of wearing her down, all of mom’s troubles made her a grateful person. As I wrote this, I thought, have I ever really heard my mom complain about her circumstances? No never.

Who knew that the girl that everyone said was shy was actually made of iron. My mom was made of iron. She had to have been…how is it that I had such a happy childhood when there were so many things going wrong in our life? My mom put on such a brave face and worked so hard to make sure my life and my brother’s was filled with opportunity and joy. Her family, my aunts and uncles stepped in and really were an extended family to us, showing us how moms and dads can love each other, how family life can be loud and fun and beautiful; they gave us both adventures we will never forget and mom blessed it all. We weren’t even aware of the burdens mom was carrying.

Mom was so selfless in these things and as I look at my own life, my own reactions to things, I am so challenged by how she handled it all. Her source of strength is clear if you read her stories. Not by might, not by power but by God’s Spirit she became this conqueror.

It is hard to put 75 years of experiences onto paper. Life is so much more than facts, places, where mom lived and the events she lived through. Mom’s story is so much about her walk with God. The lessons she learned, it’s the incredible answers to her prayers. It is the spiritual struggles. It’s the character building along the way. It’s the faith building and so on.

In one of mom’s testimonies she wrote, “If I were a writer, perhaps I could convey to you the depth and feelings of what is really in me. The extreme gratitude I feel to God for carrying me all these years.” The funny thing is, mom was a writer. She wrote pages and pages and pages about answers to prayer, about the facts of her life, about her siblings and their growing up years.

IMG_0010Our family moved from Richmond to Delta, and then Delta to Surrey and then Surrey to Abbotsford and of course many things happened throughout those years.  Mom was a stay at home mom at times, she worked in a Private School as a secretary, she helped my dad with his construction business, she worked for her brother for a time. She helped with a church plant, led girls clubs, volunteered in and outside of church in so many capacities.

In September of 1996 mom reached a place in her life where she wondered what her purpose was, what was the meaning of everything she had walked through and where was it all going. She felt discouraged and trapped and she cried out to God saying,

“Is this all you have for me?”

A short time later, that day in fact, mom got a call from one of dad’s co-workers. He said that dad had collapsed and she needed to come to the hospital in Burnaby. Actually, dad had already passed away by then.

So here she was at 58 and a widow…yet God did have something more for her.

Ten months later my husband Mike and I were moving to Kelowna with our four children and I said, “Do you want to come up and help us set up?”

Just like that, mom said yes. And mom never left Kelowna. She felt God’s call to be a missionary to us and in this community. She took her role so seriously and was a life-saver for us. She wanted to minister to our family, she wanted to free up my time so I could partner with Mike. She wanted our children to always have that feeling of stability, even when our lives became very busy.

Mem - mom and nateWhat a blessing mom was to us. I can’t even tell you. And what a lot of joy we had living together, it was meant to be. Mom enriched our lives and along the way she had a second life that was so different from the first part. She discovered new things about herself, she became part of our church family in such a significant way and so well-loved. She found her gifts, and used her gifts, and discovered even more gifts that she had.

She allowed herself to be stretched and she lived sacrificially and courageously in so many ways.

Mem - camping with momWhat great laughs we had, wonderful vacations together, countless meals, and a million conversations. She was so young, all the time physically and in her spirit.

That’s why it came as a complete surprise on December 10, 2009.  She was on the greyhound bus headed for Abbotsford when something truly remarkable happened. She had a little indigestion, nothing serious, but she clearly heard God whispering to her to get off the bus. Fifteen minutes later, when the bus pulled into the West Kelowna station, she got off the bus.

Roberta, her daughter in law came and picked her up and said, “Mom I think you should get to the hospital. This might be a heart-attack.”

It was a heart attack. At the hospital the cardiac unit had only been doing the stent procedure for two weeks and within an hour of her arrival, that stent was in. Everything went quickly from start to finish and she had next to no damage. By the time I got to the hospital she was sitting up in the bed joking and I said, “Did you really have a heart attack?” A couple of weeks later she was up at Big White with us, enjoying Christmas on the mountain. God had a plan and she was in it.

Collage 3 symbolsWhy now, only a few years later, did cancer take her? I don’t know. It is obvious when you see someone you adore, fading away because of sickness that sickness was not at all a part of God’s original plan and neither is death. We (humankind) brought this brokenness on ourselves as we have violated the earth and disregarded God’s instructions; it is so obvious that God would have rather had things perfect and death is not anything like perfect.

But as imperfect as it was, God made good out of it and these past two months were…to use a Violet word: tremendous. I will never ever forget the time spent together, the beautiful, honest words without any filter or caution. The hugs that were so firm now…so liberal. The soulish moments that have challenged me to the core.

As a family we met with mom at 10 pm each night to hear her stories of faith. It was redemptive and holy and right. Mom was not at all afraid of dying, she wasn’t depressed or discouraged, she was lovely and faith-filled and strong and this is how I will remember her, and this is what I will look forward to because I know who is the keeper of her soul.

I know that because she allowed Jesus to save her, to forgive her, to lead her that she is now in His presence, where she should be. And because of the faith she taught my brother and I our whole life, we too have received this salvation, and we will know where to find her.

Mom wrote, “I have done things and experienced things I never dreamed I would. Nor have I dreamed about all the places I have seen.” Now, I dream about the places she is seeing.

I close with Psalm 104:33-34, a favorite of moms:

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.

— Teresa Klassen

Part One — Pancreatic Cancer: Our Story

Part Two — Living Well/Dying Well

Part Three — Violet: Her Life Story

Part Four — Mother’s Day Tribute

Living Well/Dying Well

12 04 2013

Mem - mom on mountainPart Two:

Thanks to Michael Klassen for letting me use your journal entry as a framework for this post.

If you read my previous post, you know that my mother passed away on March 11, 2012 of Pancreatic Cancer. For the past 15 years, mom lived with my family, making our household a lively community with seven people in all. So much could be said about the past fifteen years, but what I want to reflect on here are the sixty-four days after she was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and how she handled it on a personal/spiritual level.

Mom came to know Jesus and follow him as a child (you can read her story on this blog) and over the years she grew to know Him and love Him in a way that transformed her life. It was this relationship that helped her face her living days and her dying days so beautifully. This is what she modeled for us:

1. Be open About Dying

Mom didn’t typically mince words; she didn’t “beat around the bush,” so to speak. Mom could be honest but she was also humble and loving, so it worked.

On January 6th my husband Michael, son Nathan and I sat in a hospital room with mom and she told us the bad news: the doctors had told her she had cancer and it could mean two months to live. We all felt like we had been punched in the stomach, but we were also amazed at how mom was able to speak so openly about it. She had poise and presence. She was honest and, as mom always was, she was direct.

From then on, there was no tip-toeing around the subject. We never needed to ease into what might have been the uncomfortable conversations associated with dying; it was completely acceptable to discuss it. I would look at mom while we talked, and I could see that she had complete peace in her eyes; at times I would ask, “Is this uncomfortable for you?” and she assured me she was just fine.

After she passed away, I sifted through her journals and there I read her spiritual reflections about life and death; it was completely evident that over the years she had developed a confidence that she was in God’s hands; in life or death. No wonder she was such an open book. She had lived this way – learning to trust God with everything; being open was a natural response to how she had learned and lived.

Jesus spoke openly about his dying. Matthew 16:21 says Jesus began to show His disciples that he would suffer and be killed; He kept bringing it up! Following His lead, if He talked about it, why shouldn’t she?

Mom’s approach to the news was so helpful because the topic was open and on the table. Whether it was with her children, her grandchildren, friends and even strangers, mom seemed to want to allow people to talk to her about this mysterious thing called “death” and “eternity.” She felt an obligation to do it, like it was a last gift she could give.

All of us were able to talk to her about what she was feeling, and what she was thinking about along the way. We had terrific and unflinching conversations about life and death.  Mom didn’t let us pretend either: she was dying, and there were practical things to talk about.

When we discussed the topic of her “pending” memorial, we ended up writing her life-story together. I asked her, “Are you ok with this, with me talking about you in the past tense?” She was (I cried more than her). We went through pictures together and took care of practical business together. Mom never hid.

When she struggled she talked about this too. We prayed with her, cried with her, hugged her, and admitted what was in our hearts and on our minds. It was so honest.

What a beautiful and brave example my mom was to me in all of this. I will never ever forget how she, like the woman described in Proverbs 31, could even laugh at the days to come. My mom had an inner strength I aspire to.

2. Enjoy life right to the end

Jesus enjoyed life right to the end. Matthew 26:26 happens around a table, right before Jesus dies, and there He is eating and drinking with friends.

Mom loved being with her family and friends especially if it meant eating out at a great restaurant, having people in our home, or going on a great get away; an adventure! Mom loved lively conversation, amusing stories, and coming along for the ride whatever the destination. Oh how I will miss saying to her,

“Hey mom, want to come grocery shopping with me?”

Simple things mom never said no to. She was always such terrific company.

In mom’s “dying days” we squeezed some last things in:

  • We went out to dinner together…one last time
  • Our girls, mom and I were able to go on one more adventure, to a local resort (Sparkling Hills)…one last time.
  • When mom’s brother and sisters came, we were able to celebrate The Lord’s Supper (Communion) around the table…one last time.
  • I made some traditional dishes for her, even if she could only have one bite…one last time.
  • We had a family picture taken…one last time.
  • Mom made the effort to get to a Sunday church gathering…one last time.
  • She always said “yes” to visits so she could see people…one last time

Another incredibly precious tradition was started when she learned she had a short time to live. We began a 10:00 p.m. meeting we called “Story Time.” In 1989 mom began writing out stories of answered prayer – she kept 47 of them.  Mom would read these stories to our family during her last days.  Other friends and family would join in here and there and it became something absolutely unforgettable. We learned so many lessons through this and our love grew and grew.

One must live well to die well.

Incidentally, we decided to publish these stories so that they would continue to be told. Mom thought it was pretty funny that, at 75, she was going to become an author.

That was mom, enjoying life right to the end.

3. It would be preferable to live than to die

Jesus didn’t look forward to death; He prayed, asking if it might be avoided, even while wanting to be obedient to His calling.

Once, in the last week of mom’s life she suddenly said, “I don’t want to go yet!” This came as a surprise, because she was so looking forward to heaven.

As we thought about this we saw that while her communication was limited and her body was weak, she loved the intimacy of relationships from sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, friends, and sons and daughters. I was her primary caregiver and we had a natural intimate role reversal, no wonder she didn’t want to go!

I saw that, no matter how close people can be, there are still little rules relationships are governed by. As she walked through these dying days, any last “walls” came down. Mom did not hold back any affection from me. She held my face and gazed into my eyes with such love it absolutely made me hold my breath. I felt as if she was studying me to remember every detail. I could see how she didn’t want to let go of me.

One night as I tucked her into bed, she held her arms out to me three times and hugged me three times and, words limited at this point, she said with such feeling, “I love you, I love you, I love you immensely.

There are many, many good things about life and loving relationships and mom didn’t simply “check out.” She didn’t have a fatalist attitude, or give up. Mom savored life and valued the time she had left in a healthy way; it was natural to think, “I don’t want to let go just yet” because over a life-time she had developed wonderful friendships…they were hard to let go of, as it should be.

4. Forgive

Jesus forgave everyone, to the very end; even those mistreating Him when He died (Luke 23:34).

In Mom’s stories, you could see there were people who had made life challenging; there were people who had never made things right. Some things were still unresolved, but as she was dying she said, “In the end, what does it matter? It’s not worth holding on to. We must forgive.”

Mom demonstrated graciousness towards people; forgiveness and perspective. In her journal I found a list of people who had hurt or disappointed her; it wasn’t a grudge list, it was a prayer list surrounded by Scriptures about grace and forgiveness. It is easy to forgive in the end, if you have forgiven all the way along. She lived this out well.

This keeps speaking to me, this aspect of not clinging to grievances; not letting them steal joy. We must live our lives free from such hindrances, and act with generosity and forgiveness towards people.

5. Willing to die

It is hard to accept that a person actually has no options. In the beginning of all this, Mike was looking for other treatment options, other things to consider. Even when we knew the cancer was Stage 4, he was still brainstorming.

One day she looked at him and said with clarity and resolve, “You know Mike, God has extended my life longer than I was told I would live (she had been told at one point she might not live past 40 due to a Kidney problem that troubled her earlier in her life). If God still has something for me to do, then God will heal me. If He says, ‘That’s good now,’ then He will take me. So no, I won’t be spending my days hunting for ways to live. God is in control.”

What a trust she had in God to be able to say this; Mom knew her life was in God’s hands and she trusted Him with her death. She didn’t get caught up in asking “why” over and over. She didn’t go into “survival mode.” She was going to die as she lived, with complete confidence that God’s will would be done.

You have to think about this long before you get there; think about dying while you live so that you know what you know what you know. Mom did this and it served her, and all of us, well.

* * *

As I watched my mom face her last days on earth I said to our kids, “We are being given a gift right now. We might not understand it all just yet, but one day we are going to come to look at death with far less fear than many. My mom has modeled for us what it looks like to be a follower of Christ in life, and now facing death with a sense of hope and courage. This will change you if you let it, and it will give you a strength you never knew you had.”

Just before mom died she said something funny. She said, “How will I know when I am dead?”

I asked her what she meant and she said, “How will I know when I have died? I have never done this before. Will someone tell me?”

I said, “You won’t need anyone to tell you. Jesus will be there.”

She said, “Yes Jesus will be there and He will say, ‘Welcome here, Violet.’”

I said, “Yes, He will say, ‘Welcome here, Violet. Well done.’”

Yes. Well done, well done.

— Teresa Klassen

Part One — Pancreatic Cancer: Our Story

Part Two — Living Well/Dying Well

Part Three — Violet: Her Life Story

Part Four — Mother’s Day Tribute

Pancreatic Cancer: Our Story

8 04 2013

cancerPart One

This blog post has three parts to it. This “Part One” post is about the journey I walked through with my mother who lived with and died from Pancreatic Cancer. It is mostly the practical facts of our experience. I will describe our journey with as much detail as I can, as I was her caregiver throughout. What happened to us? What did it look like? How did we handle the different stages? My goal is to leave a record for anyone who might find this kind of information helpful.

 “Part Two” is simply titled “Living Well/Dying Well” and is more about how she handled the dying process on a personal level.

“Part Three” is her life story.

 “Part Four” is a Mother’s Day tribute to my mom, whom I always have, and always will think of with the greatest amount of respect and love.


* * *

Every Story is Unique

This is complicated. Even as I begin to write on this topic, I am aware of the many variables present when a diagnosis of “Pancreatic Cancer” is made; everyone’s situation, everyone’s possibilities are different. Sometimes there is a surgical option, sometimes treatment; sometimes the inexplicable happens and a person turns around and is made well: miraculous.

All I can do is tell our story and reflect on what I would have done differently if I could have (I call these “do-overs”).

It seems fitting to tell you the end already: my mother passed away on March 11, 2013 sixty-four days after her diagnosis. At the beginning of this, the doctor’s estimated two months. That they ended up being right still makes me shake my head; how could it all happen that fast? The rapid progression of mom’s Pancreatic Cancer still baffles me.  We did not “walk” through it, we sprinted.

Early on, some said, “Never let anyone tell you how long a person has to live. So much depends on their attitude, on their sense of contentment, on their previous good health, on their faith, on the amount of goodness around them…” and that sounded hopeful; preferable. My mom had a phenomenal attitude, was the epitome of contentment, was physically fit, had an abiding faith, and had great amounts of joy and fellowship. I wanted to believe this would lengthen her stay.

My uncle, however, took me aside and said, kindly but frankly, “Teresa, if this is Pancreatic Cancer, things may go very quickly. I have had friends who have died from this. If it is, don’t wait: go through pictures, work through her story with her. Don’t delay because it could be a matter of weeks.” I heard his words, I took note of them, but I couldn’t wrap my head around them; mom looked so healthy.

Then, a short time later (after we confirmed the diagnosis), I was in the grocery store and an acquaintance was in front of me.  We made small talk and then the conversation turned to how, as a family, we were dealing with my mom and what looked like Pancreatic Cancer. “Oh,” she said softly, “My mother passed away from that.”  The line-up was slow, and even after I was done packing my groceries, she stayed and told me her story. Three weeks after her mom’s diagnosis, her mother had passed away.

For these two warnings, I am SO grateful. It put me on my toes, it made me ready for what could be the truth for us as well. It made me think about everything we should do before we couldn’t do it, say before we couldn’t say it; prepare ourselves for before it would all be upon us.

I will describe the more personal journey in the “Part Two: Dying Well” post, but I wanted to start this post off with the cold reality that Pancreatic Cancer, in our case, raced into our lives and left us breathless at the end. It was sixty-four days from start to finish.

It really was.

When We Noticed

My mom lived a healthy life. She wasn’t a smoker or a drinker. She was fit and paid close attention to what she ate and how she treated her body. My mom loved to work! She was constantly gardening, fixing something up, tending to the house. My mom had just turned 75 but you would never have guessed that she was. She had few wrinkles, great skin, and a rosy glow about her; in a day she got more done than people half her age.

For the past 15 years we had lived together, my mom and our family, making seven people in total. This in itself was healthy! We had tremendous joy living together; it was always alive and lively and we really lived together: sharing meals, running errands, splitting the chores around the place, going on vacation, working side by side in the same church. She had a lovely suite downstairs and her grandkids (they had grown up with Grandma and were now in their teens) always popped in when she was down there; the door was always open.

She lived well and loved well, serving in her community and church and maintaining an optimistic and faith-filled attitude.

And then she got an ache; a little discomfort.

It was in her upper abdominal area. Just a little something she noticed. This was mid-December 2012 and she decided to go to the doctor.  The doctor didn’t think it was much; but before she walked out the door he said, “Maybe we should get a CT scan just to be sure.”

So she had this scan done before Christmas. The doctor’s office called her after the scan and felt they needed to redo it, but it was during the holidays and she delayed it a week to be with family, up on the ski-hill. During that week she commented about the discomfort; that it made her feel a bit off, a bit nauseous.

Just a bit.

Is This Something?

When we got back home mom, who had always had a high pain tolerance, was in more discomfort. Mom seldom described things as “painful.” For something to be painful it would have to be broken, bleeding, or both. A date had been set for a second CT scan but as we talked about it as a family, we decided not to wait. If mom, who never complained about anything, was complaining it meant a trip to the emergency room. We had to see if this really meant something was up.

Off we went and six hours later she was admitted. During that time they had done some blood-work, and the CT Scan. The doctor who admitted her looked sympathetic; what did that mean?

Mom was in the hospital for a day or two and in good spirits, as always. She commented more than once that she was enjoying the hospital food; so this tells you a bit about my mom: happy wherever she was. She was making conversation with other patients, reading a good Biography. She was perfectly fine being there.

Then one night about 4 days in, a Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. a team of doctors came in and gathered around her bed. She was alone at this point. The doctors said they had some bad news. They said the scans had indicated some lesions on her liver and spleen and Pancreas. That it appeared to be cancer and it didn’t look good. They asked her what she would like to do at this point, continue with further tests (a biopsy, a bone scan) to see if treatment was an option, or go home.

Mom, trying to gather her thoughts, asked them what it meant; if she just went home and left it at that, what then?

They said at current course and speed: two months to live.

Do-Over: I want to say, first of all. I have a huge respect and appreciation for our Canadian medical system. I am incredibly thankful for what we have, so my “do-overs” are just that; things I would have done differently. People are fallible, systems are fallible, and my observations are from what I learned and are not written with a spirit of “blame.”

 So do-over one, if terrible news is about to come your way, you should never have to be alone. If at all possible: never.

 I felt so bad for my mom, alone at 9 p.m., not feeling well, ready to go to sleep, receiving such hard news.  To be surrounded by doctors at that hour and having to process some very serious information on her own just seemed like a misstep. It left her wide-awake, shaky, unsure. She asked for something to help her sleep and they brought some medication (it should be noted, mom hated taking medication unless absolutely necessary).

 My take-away, I should have communicated to the doctors and nurses that I would like to be present for any significant updates. I don’t care if you are 17 or 75, it is confusing when a lot of information comes your way, and a second set of ears is very helpful. Beyond that, someone should be there who can bring perspective and comfort.

 What Are Our Options?

The next day we heard the news when we visited her. It made us cry and then it put us into action. What should be the next step? The doctors mentioned further tests and that seemed wise. We didn’t really know the name of the “monster” and we needed to. Plus, mom did not want to say “yes” or “no” to treatment without all the information. She wanted the course to be clear; that it would be obvious either way.

Along the way, Mom asked for photocopies of all the reports (smart) and we emailed these to a family member who is a doctor. He just helped us understand what we were reading and gave some helpful ideas about what to ask, and what we could expect next.

Mom had more tests including two biopsies (the first one was inconclusive) and then, this is where we made a misstep.

A nurse came in and told mom that at this point she was free to go home; all the tests had been done and now it would be up to an Oncology team to be in contact and interpret the data and let us know where things were at. There was really no point in staying at the hospital, as the next step would happen in the cancer clinic. We would be getting a call in the next few days.

Do-over: If I would have a do-over, I would have had the overseeing or admitting doctor do the discharging. That way we would have known whom to contact if there was a problem. We could also have asked questions the nurses could not answer. When my mom was discharged and we got lost in the system, we didn’t know whom to contact. There was a list of doctors on the reports and none seemed to be “in charge.” If I had a do-over, I would insist on seeing “the” doctor before I would have let my mom leave.

 Better yet, I actually think it would have been smarter to have her stay in the hospital; the Oncology team would have been on-site and more motivated to see patients who are still in the hospital. I should have done that and it all would have moved along quicker; we would have had answers more quickly. One of the most stressful things that occurred through all of this was simply a lack of information/answers. Even if someone had called and would have said, “We know who you are, we are still waiting for reports, don’t worry we haven’t forgotten about you”…that would have helped.

How Important Is A Great GP?

In our case, we did get lost in the system. When mom left the hospital, it was like she disappeared! We were told she would be contacted in a few days, but two weeks went by. Reports were not being gathered, no one knew of her at the Cancer Clinic. Day after day went by and no one knew anything about her or could say if anything was in process.

Finally we were told that from here on in, she would need to work through her family doctor (her GP) and he would arrange the next steps. Time had already passed and if you are told you only have two months to live, every day counts!! We immediately made an appointment and would have done that earlier had we known.

Mom seldom went to the doctor; mostly to refill prescriptions here and there. Some time ago her GP had moved and she had “signed up” with a new GP in the area. She had commented that she had a hard time connecting with him, but didn’t make much of it since she seldom needed him.

When we found out that mom would need to now work through her GP, I went with her to two appointments to help keep track of information and make her feel more comfortable; both appointments were difficult, to put it mildly.

I won’t mention his name, but I questioned whether he was a doctor at all. This doctor was not like any doctor I had ever met: He was inattentive, disinterested, not forthcoming with information, made little effort to help mom understand the place she was in. I won’t go into all the details, but I walked away from his office terribly frustrated both times. He was the most unhelpful, un-compassionate, frustrating doctor I had ever encountered.

It makes me angry just thinking about how ridiculous those two visits were.

Things became so “out of order” when we were with him. Getting any information was like pulling teeth!  We knew next to nothing about the actual cancer mom had and whether there were treatment options, yet he was walking us through the stages of palliative care.

At the end of the second visit we found out he had talked to a specialist at the Cancer Clinic about mom and had not found this important enough to tell mom until I asked him to call them; then he admitted a conversation had happened. I was floored! When I tried to find out what the nature of the conversation was, he changed the subject…twice!

He strongly suggested mom sign up for palliative care and I turned to mom (again, we did not have any results from the biopsy and had no idea where we were at) and said, “Mom, don’t think of this as palliative care; think of it as getting a great team of nurses on your side to help us.”

What I didn’t realize until he sent us into the lobby is that I had to fill out a DNR form in order to complete the palliative care registration. What is a DNR form? I had no idea. I sat in the public waiting area of his office and mom asked me to read the details of the form out to her; I couldn’t make it!  Part way through I was sobbing: it was a “Do Not Resuscitate” form. I wasn’t prepared for this step at this point, I didn’t even know where things were at with her and we were being asked to sign forms about allowing her to die without intervention.


I told my mom she would never go to see him again or deal with him at all. After some brainstorming, she remembered a doctor she had seen here and there when her former doctor was away. We asked him if he would see her and take her on as a patient and he did. I cannot say enough GOOD about him. He was exactly as a doctor should be: informative, straight-forward but also kind; he spent as much time as mom needed to explain to her what was happening to her body and what could happen.

He talked to her about other cases he had seen so she could compare different people’s experiences. He didn’t mince words, but he also spoke with great compassion.

He began to work for her right away, discussing the few symptoms she was already experiencing and prescribing medications she would be comfortable taking. He made sure every question was answered and went to work to make sure all paperwork would find the right person and that she would be able to get to where she needed to go, quickly.

He told her that whenever she had a question, no matter how small, she could come in any time. He would always make room for her and she shouldn’t hesitate to come. We walked away relieved, happy to have had an honest, full-length conversation with a great doctor who would go to bat for mom.

Do-over: Even if a person hardly ever goes to the doctor, it is important to have a doctor you respect, trust and who knows what it means to be an advocate for his/her patients. I saw so clearly how, one day, if you need that kind of help, you will want someone you know is for you and will work on your behalf and not treat you like you don’t matter. Don’t ever, ever stick with a doctor because you think he/she is your only option or that “you’ve come this far, it’s better not to change.” My quick answer: its better and healthier to change. Giving this guy two chances was one too many; it added so much stress to an already stressful situation.

It Is What It Is: What Now?

When we finally saw the Oncologist and her assistant, it was actually a relief. They told mom that she had stage four, Pancreatic Cancer that had spread to other organs. They said treatment might give her slightly more time, but it could also kill her. They said that with the liver in the condition it already was, the treatment would be miserable and she would spend most of whatever time she had in the hospital.

Mom saw this as a clear answer: no treatment.

They said that it is very hard to put a number on “how long” but it is a quick moving cancer, so a few months could be accurate.

Mom and I went home. We sat on her couch, looked at each other and cried. Not a long cry, but just enough to admit it was all happening.

Then we talked about care-giving. I had always said to her that, to the best of my ability, I would take care of her to the end and this was where we were at.

We had a terrific and open talk about how sickness and death are so often far removed from us, but that caring for the ill and dying in a family should be the most natural thing of all. We talked about how women all over the world care for one another and are not ashamed of their bodies; not ashamed to be seen by a daughter. We talked about how that is only strange here, but it shouldn’t be.

We talked about the realities of that; about what it might be like when mom would not be able to care for herself. Would I be OK? I assured her that if it got beyond me, I would get help.

This was an important, honest conversation and I switched a gear in my mind: get ready for the hill.

Symptoms: The List

We were told that when you finally have symptoms of pancreatic cancer, it has often progressed beyond what can be treated. This was the case for mom. When she noticed the discomfort in her abdomen it was because her liver was already affected and suffering.

Looking back, as her caregiver, I was always caught off guard by how quickly things progressed. We would treat one issue and at times this solution would last a day, or even less. Especially in the last 3 weeks of mom’s life, in the morning she would be one way and by evening she would be another.

Do-over: well, hindsight is 20/20 but I think if I had asked someone to map out a typical progression of this kind of illness, I would have seen that medical equipment would have been helpful; I would have picked up medical equipment earlier than later. I would have watched for certain symptoms instead of reacting to them; like difficulty swallowing, I didn’t even know I could face that and when it happened I was making phone calls to figure out what to do.

If only there had been a map to follow! But here again, everyone is unique. I scoured the internet looking for people’s experiences, but it was hard to piece together a plan when many people were dealing with symptoms from treatment, versus the symptoms that the cancer itself was causing without any treatment at all.

Even though everyone is different, maybe some of what I write here will be helpful to someone. Maybe it will help someone feel more prepared; I will try to describe her symptoms in the order they happened. Remember, this happened over a two month period, and during the last three weeks, changes happened rapidly:

  1. Her first symptom of Pancreatic Cancer was this dull discomfort in her upper abdomen.
  2. Then came nausea. In mom’s case, the nausea meant she lost her appetite. It meant nothing appealed to her. It meant occasionally throwing-up (only in the first few weeks after we received the diagnosis). The nausea, in her case was more annoying than “extreme.”  The doctor gave her a strong anti-nausea drug (which she cut in half) and this made all the difference. Eventually the nausea subsided. That medication was called Ondansetron.
  3. Itching…for a while mom was really itchy. Some of the medications she took helped with itch, but we found the most effective help was Benedryl Spray.
  4. Mom found herself “burping” a lot during this time. She would ask for some Gingerale and burp; she said it brought relief to her stomach. This only happened for a few weeks and then her stomach settled.
  5. The next symptom was constipation. Mom’s diet was so mixed up now as she tried to find things to eat (one day she would like something, and the next day she wouldn’t) that it threw off her digestive/bowel system. So we started on the laxatives (Senecot) and then adding a stool softener. We also made the “jam” recommended by the Cancer clinic, which was a mix of figs, prunes, dates etc. It was delicious (I liked it!) and helped a bit. We called it “Gram Jam.” When we finally got her bowel system moving, it was a celebration! Mom continued with the laxatives until she couldn’t swallow anymore; and by then laxatives were not necessary.
  6. Then came an inability to sleep well. Because she felt sick and because she was constipated which caused her more abdominal pain, it kept her up at night. The doctor prescribed a very low dose of Hydromorphone (1 mg, of which she took half) and Zopiclone (again, half) to help her to sleep. This worked well and if she was in more discomfort, we could double the medications and she would still feel clear headed during the day. Over time when we needed to increase medications, we were fortunate enough to be able to still keep her medications quite low. This was important to mom, because she still wanted to visit and make conversation and not feel too “drugged.”
  7. After our visit to the Cancer Clinic, we met with specialists at the pain clinic. They worked out a plan for mom to keep her as comfortable and coherent as possible. It ended up looking like this:½ hour before breakfast, she would take 1Metoclopromide (10 mg)At Breakfast: 2 laxatives, 1 stool softener, 2 Dexamethasone (which helped increase appetite, energy, and decrease nausea) 4 mg each.½ hour before she ate lunch, she would take 1 MetoclopromideLunch: 2 laxatives, 1 stool softener and .5 mg Hydromorphone (so she could have a good nap in the afternoon which would give her a nice evening and the ability to visit and get a few things done)Before bed: 1 Metoclopromide, 2 laxatives, 1 stool softener, 1 mg Hydromorphone, 1 Zopiclone.
  8. When mom could no longer swallow, we switched to butterfly needles (lines in her arm) which I describe later and narrowed her medications down to 3.
  9. Very soon after mom’s diagnosis I noticed a slight skin-tone change. She was just slightly yellow (this was from her liver malfunctioning). About two weeks later she was golden yellow and often the whites of her eyes would be absolutely amber.
  10. Mom’s nausea subsided so that she could eat very small meals, and was comfortable with more of a variety of foods.
  11. Now the thirst set in. This is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer. Water made mom nauseous so I tried a lot of things: lemon in the water, lemonade, ginger ale, grape juice. I didn’t think about this until later, but Zopiclone gives a person a metallic taste in the mouth. I should have asked for a different sleeping medication because I am sure this added to the difficulty of trying to find something that would quench her thirst. Dealing with thirst became a big deal as she was continually thirsty. A great thirst quencher I made was frozen juice. I would freeze juice in plastic cups or ice cube trays (she loved pineapple juice frozen) and break this up into small bits; this would really cool her mouth and quench her thirst. Sherbet was also good, anything cold.
  12. In trying different foods I found my mom loved sweet things and fruity things. Protein was harder to find. She loved the home-made protein shakes that I made with lots of tangy fruit (like raspberries). We never used the pre-made shakes that were recommended because mom didn’t like the list of ingredients (“full of junk,” she said). Protein shakes were easy to make, I used a vanilla flavored protein, and helped with her energy when she didn’t feel like eating anything heavy. It also made her mouth feel good, it made her less thirsty if I made them nice and cold. She drank them through a straw. Something that would have helped was a cup that did not spill easy. When mom was lying in bed and had a harder time sitting up, straws were great but even better would have been a straw in a cup that had a lid. Didn’t think of that then.
  13. Weight loss was obviously a symptom as well. With her ability to eat being irregular, she began to lose quite a bit of weight. By the end she lost at least 20 pounds.
  14. Dark Urine. This happened quite early in her cancer and really shocked her at first.
  15. I noticed mom’s vision getting more fuzzy. For several weeks we would meet with mom to hear her read stories she had written about her life, then she started asking me to read them. I tried to establish whether the words were fuzzy or if she was becoming confused about the words. It was a little of both; as time went on it was more of the latter, not really connecting with what the words were saying on the page. I noticed this in the lists she kept writing as well…repeated words, misspelled words. She was much more clear with verbal communication then she was with anything on the page after a while.
  16. Mom also started feeling very cold. This lasted almost to the end, we always had a plan to keep mom warm. My aunt gave us a lovely heated shawl, soft and warm, to put around mom’s shoulders. That was awesome as it had a low temperature so mom wouldn’t overheat. I would usually have it draped over her shoulders when she would be sitting, and when she would lie in bed if I would notice she seemed cold I would put it over her and it was so comforting against the cold, and it relieved some of her achiness.
  17. Over time mom had some back pain; apparently this is from the kidneys struggling. I would rub her back or put the heated blanket on it. Also the nurses said she could take extra-strength Tylenol along with her other medications which we did quite regularly about a month in.
  18. The next symptom was more dizziness, more being out of breath…more weakness. In a very short time she went from walking carefully, to not daring to walk unless she had an arm to steady her.Her suite was downstairs in our home and she loved her area. We brought up the idea of her moving upstairs, but at that point she thought she was still ok to be downstairs. I was bringing her meals downstairs and got more concerned. What if she fell? When would we notice? What if she needed me during the night but was confused about the phone or couldn’t read the numbers?One day I brought it up again and tried to have her picture what it could look like if she would switch rooms with our daughter whose room was on the main floor, across from our room. I told her that she would be on the main floor of our house, she could sit with us at mealtimes and come to the living room and visit or watch TV; I would be able to hear her at all times and especially at night. Suddenly she was ready and excited about it!The next day I cleaned out my daughter’s room, cleaned it from top to bottom and then invited mom up to see how she would like to arrange things. I held mom around the waist as we went upstairs; she was already pretty unsteady. It was the last time she saw her suite; she stayed upstairs. We moved up furniture and put a chair right by the window so she could look out. She was thrilled!
  19. Mom’s walking was the next thing to be affected. When she moved upstairs she already needed a walking stick to steady her. Then, after a very short time she needed a walker. She used the walker for exactly 1 day and by the next day she needed a wheelchair. It happened that fast. Luckily we had a wheelchair; my brother had used it years ago, so we were at least prepared for that!
  20. The Red Cross has a medical equipment-lending program for those on palliative care, and if I had a do-over I would get everything all at once because symptoms changed so quickly. I got a “bed bar” that slipped under her mattress and allowed her to have something to hold on to if she needed to sit up. It also helped so that she wouldn’t easily fall out of bed. I got bars that attached to the toilet that would provide something for her to hold on to, to help her stand. I got a portable commode. This equipment was helpful and I wish I would have picked them up right away because it would have been easier on my back as I helped her. I just didn’t know what I needed or how quickly I would need it.
  21. The next major symptom involved the bathroom routine. At first I was just helping mom get to the bathroom. I would guide her to the room and then there were enough things to hold on to that she was fine on her own.Then she needed help once she had gone, to just get to the counter to wash her hands; I would steady her and make sure she would not fall.Then when she was using a wheelchair, it was getting the wheelchair into the bathroom and helping her get to the toilet. At this point I was helping her pull her pants down but she could still wipe and wash her hands.Very quickly mom could not wipe herself and that is when I started using the commode. It was easier. I also had adult diapers on mom by this time, a pad under her sheet and a pad (vinyl on the back side and cotton on top) on top of her sheet to help maneuver her if I needed to (this was the nurses suggestion, I never would have thought of it).

    Then she became confused about the bathroom. I would get her to sit down (this was very difficult, I have to admit; it isn’t that I was carrying her, but she leaned so heavily on me that it was taxing on my back) and then she wouldn’t know what to do.One night mom was clearly uncomfortable, clearly had to “go” but wouldn’t go when on the commode. It was SO hard to get her to the commode that it exhausted me. And because mom knew she had to go, she would try to get out of bed; every two hours at night!  At this point I called our GREAT palliative care nurse and she said it was time for a catheter. She came and set it up and drained a liter out of mom! No wonder she was uncomfortable! This did the trick, now it wasn’t necessary to get mom out of bed. She also helped me give mom a sponge bath.
  22.  A note about a catheter: at this point mom was already taking her medications via a butterfly line (I describe that later) and a slightly higher dose of Hydromorphone. She was much less aware of her surroundings. So the catheter worked great for her (we only needed it for a few days, as it turned out), but someone told me that sometimes catheters make patients restless, making them feel even more like they need to go; so sometimes the nurse needs to insert it, use it to drain the bladder and then remove it again.
  23. About half-way through our 64 day journey I noticed a little bit of confusion setting in. One day I gave mom breakfast and she asked, “Is this breakfast?” The thing is, usually mom knew she was confused or knew she had mixed up a word. So if mom was confused, I would take more time to explain whatever it was and then she would know.  Thankfully she had a lot of clarity until about two days before she passed away, but the words didn’t always come out right, or she would be confused about details (for example I would say “On Friday your sister is coming to visit and on Sunday your son is coming over” – she had the hardest time keeping that straight even if I would write it down for her. So I learned to simplify my communication to one single detail).
  24. Less to say. As mom neared the end, she became quieter. Her eyes were bright, she would smile a lot, hug a lot, want to hold hands, she would clearly be listening; she just had less to say. And then suddenly, surprisingly, she would suddenly say something very important. Sometimes she prayed absolutely clearly, or would express a thought about God. She would say beautiful things to me and express her gratitude and blessed me and others. It was incredible. For that alone, I would never trade this experience.
  25. Eventually mom needed help with everything, including eating.
  26. About a week before mom passed away she was not interested in food anymore. She would drink some of the protein shake I would make, but that was it.
  27. Then it was harder and harder for her to swallow so I did not attempt food. She could drink until about 2 days before she passed and then I just tried to keep her mouth cool with little tiny bits of frozen juice or with a special swab the nurse gave me.
  28. A few days before she died, when I was worried about her swallowing (not only is choking a concern, but taking liquid into her airways was also a concern) the nurse came and inserted several small needles into moms arm (a butterfly needle I think its called) with a plastic cap on the end. Then she gave me a few bags of syringes without needles, color coded to the different lines in moms arm. I then could give her the medicine by screwing these syringes onto the plastic caps on moms arm and give her the medicine this way. At the end she took three medications: the Dexamethasone, Hydromorphone, and a sedative.
  29. When mom was healthy she was always a quick moving person. When she fell ill and was very weak, I was amazed at how quick she could still be at times. At night if she was confused and wanted to get up, she would be at the edge of her bed in a flash! It scared me every time!  And sometimes she didn’t understand why she would need to lie down again.  This happened 2 days before she died, every couple of hours she would do this and she looked so bewildered about it. I slept in mom’s room at this point so that I could catch her at this and she wouldn’t get hurt. Also her voice was so small at this point, I wouldn’t have been able to hear her. A baby monitor was suggested, but I really don’t think I would have heard her.
  30. I felt that mom’s care was getting to the point that I would need some serious additional help. I would need to hire a night nurse and have help during the day. I had been able to adjust my work schedule, but now I would need some day help so that I could spend a few hours at work and run other errands.I would need a hospital bed to save my back and to help mom.I would need day-time hospice help.And who knows what else!I lay in bed about 24 hours before she died and I cried out to God and said, “God, Mom has learned so much through suffering during her lifetime; I don’t think there is anything left for her to learn, is there? Now I have learned so much through caring for her every need, and maybe there is more for me to learn, I am sure there is! But I so desire for this home to not become a hospital. I don’t want mom to be surrounded by strangers or for her to just exist with no connection to anyone anymore; I am willing to do whatever you ask here, but Lord please, please just take her home.”The next day the nurse came and brought a sedative to give mom which would help her be less restless especially at night; she said it would calm those impulses to get up. I was so grateful because it was hard to see mom restless through the night and I was so tired from having to watch her so carefully at night. We discussed next steps and began to line up some extra care.She left and mom rested well that evening and night. I finally crawled into my own bed and slept very deeply, peacefully and that night mom passed away, in her sleep; a gentle end to it all.

A Quiet Morning, Mourning

In the morning, our family was home and we all spent time in mom’s room just crying and talking and being with her; there was no rush for anything to happen. My brother and his family came. Eventually the nurse came to take the needles and catheter out. She did so quickly and quietly and left; kindly and tastefully done.

We wandered in and out of mom’s room. Mom had written last words for everyone individually; people read their letters and it was beautiful. We just dealt with this new reality…slowly.

It was a perfect ending in an imperfect situation. God took her exactly when I could not care for her “alone” anymore. The people who had helped me were either family, or her wonderful palliative care nurse who just came in here and there to give suggestions and help with each stage; so tasteful and just such little touches.

We didn’t need to go to another level of care, and I was so very, very grateful for that.

The Part I Avoided

Then we had a funeral director come (the part I dreaded the most).

Do-over: If I had a do-over, I would spend more time picking someone who actually had gentleness and a respect in such circumstances. The fellow who helped us was quite abrupt and all business and it was pretty tacky.

But I had experienced what I had wanted to experience with mom and I just left at that point and went downstairs into her suite. I really didn’t want to see her body removed for my own reasons, and so Mike my husband dealt with this part.

Mom was now gone, physically, in every way.

She chose to be cremated and so that is what we did for her.

I divided her ashes into smaller containers and gave them to each person in our family who wanted to say goodbye in their own way. Over this year each will think about what is symbolic and meaningful, and either privately or with family or friends, scatter her ashes accordingly.

By the way, ashes have weight to them and a texture liked bleached sand; not flaky and light like campfire ashes, in case you are interested. It is a great reminder that we are all just “dust of the earth” but God owns the breath of life.

Mom knew this without a doubt and as a result had NO fear of death. One day during all of this, mom said, “I feel emotional today, I don’t know why.” How funny, actually. Here she was dying but didn’t understand why that might make her emotional! That is how secure she was in her faith in Jesus Christ. I told her, “Mom, you are grieving too…you are allowed to be sad.”

Sad. That is a word we so often use in these circumstances but it doesn’t really capture it. I feel a sadness, a wistfulness that sighs, “What? It’s over?” But I feel more grateful for her and for how she died so gracefully than I do sad. I feel so blessed; she blessed me. I feel equipped: mom equipped me for life. I feel privileged to have been the one to care for her until “death do us part.” What a privilege that was.

More about that in these two posts:

I hope some of this was helpful to you.

— Teresa Klassen

Putting The Lonely In Families

6 03 2013

Photo Effect StudioIt has been a while since I have posted anything on this blog. Simply put, my mother (who lives with us) was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer this winter and so, added to everything else, it has felt impossible to write anything. But I could write; I could write so many things if I had the energy, as my time with my mom has been rich beyond measure.

Perhaps I can say something here and there. I will begin with this.

Last week we moved mom from her downstairs suite, to a bedroom on our main floor so it would be easier for her to get around and for us to look in on her. We were sorting through what to bring up, and in one of her boxes I found an embroidered handkerchief.

I said, “What’s this mom?”

“Oh, that’s very special,” she said, and proceeded to tell me the story.

Some months after my father had died (in 1996) mom was at a church service in Abbotsford, where she lived at the time.  Early on in the service, she realized it was Mother’s Day.  The pastor called the men in the room to recognize the special women in their lives — their wife, their mother — by standing with them and giving them a big hug.

Everyone stood and hugged someone they were with. My mom remained seated, as she was there on her own.

Nearby, a young man noticed her. He walked up to her and said, “Would you mind if I would give you a hug?”

Mom was surprised, and said, “I would love that.”

She stood and the young man gave her a big hug, “The kind a son would give,” she said.

She began to cry as he walked away, and found she could not stop crying! It had been so beautiful to her; to have someone she didn’t even know, see her need and want to offer such kindness.

An older couple sat nearby and the woman came to mom and pulled a handkerchief from her purse and offered it to mom. Mom could see that it must have been a gift. It was embroidered with the words, “There is no dearer friend than a sister.”

Mom said, “I can’t take this; I have a feeling it is something special to you.”

The woman said, “It is. That is why I want you to have it, sister.”

The meaning was clear. The church is a place where the lonely find family. Sisters are not just the naturally born ones; they are the ones Christ binds together in Christian love through His idea, the Church.

It made me think about hugs and handkerchiefs and how we are called to notice people; to move beyond our personal sense of space and what is “proper” to love no matter your age, no matter what you know or don’t know about a person.

God’s calling card is love; it is how we recognize Him.

— Teresa Klassen