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On these days surrounding the second Sunday of Advent, I wear a chain around my neck. The chain holds the wedding band that used to be worn by my first husband, Layton. He wore it from the day we were married in the sweet summer of 1999, until the 8th of December, a year and a half later, when a nurse delivered it to me in a denture container as I sat in the waiting room of Spectrum Butterworth hospital. That morning, on his way from Grand Rapids to Lansing to teach music and coach basketball at the Christian school, he had been in a car accident. Three and a half days later, just before midnight on the 11th of December, he died.

Every year I honour his memory by wearing this ring around my neck. I have a new chain this year that I particularly like because it is built with two interlocking little rings. To me, these little rings represent my marriage to Tim – my beloved husband of sixteen years. I love Tim deeply. And the chain of my memory holds the truth of my time married to Layton. Love and loss are built into and carried by the chains of our lives.

I carry another memory on the days surrounding the second Sunday of Advent. On the sixth anniversary of Layton’s death, I found myself in the same hospital, wearing Layton’s ring around my neck and holding Tim’s and my three month old daughter.

This picture was taken as Samara was waking up from being anesthetized for a CT scan and minutes before Tim and I received the news that our only child had neuroblastoma.

The chain of Samara’s life is built with the truth that God healed her. Within months of her diagnosis, her cancer was gone. On the first anniversary of her diagnosis (which was also the seventh anniversary of Layton’s death), I wrote a poem. It felt like it came out of me in one breath. This poem is a chain that holds two memories – linked by love and loss and by the date they share.

The love of my heart.
The fruit of my womb.

On the same long advent day strung apart by years
you both lay in the same building.

Whirring machines breathing your breath and beating your heart –
A whirring machine looking inside you
As you slept an unnatural sleep.

“He’s going.”
“She has cancer.”

I’ll never forget what you felt like in my arms that day.
How warm you were.
How heavy you were.
How still you were.
How light you were.

I lost you that day.
I thought I was losing you that day.

I let you go…
Into the Father’s keeping.

And now you dance and have our being in a place or time or dimension
so far away, or perhaps so close?

Perhaps as close as you – who dance in winter boots
and holiday dress by the Christmas tree.

A saint above.
A saint below.

You are healed.

O Child of God, I miss you.
And I will see you someday…

O Child of God, I miss you.
And I will see you this afternoon, after work.

Your mothers’ arms long to hold you
on this long advent day.

I’ll never forget what you felt like in my arms that day.
How warm you were.
How heavy you were.
How still you were.
How light you were.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

 

Each of our life chains holds love and loss. Some of the love and loss feels built in; some of it feels like things we carry. In this advent season, may we steward and honour both the love and the loss as we long for restoration of all things.

 

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

15 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    Well that was very moving and powerful. And joyful and sad. What real joy is like, with sadness in it.

  • Jan Price says:

    Oh dear Heidi,
    This. My heart aches and is there with you. Grief at the holidays is so so bittersweet. Especially for us who are followers of Jesus. We have joy and peace mixed up with deep sorrow which we feel all kinds of emotions. My mom died in my ICU 30 years ago at age 61- it was sudden and swift and for a long time I blamed myself for not seeing how sick she was. And yet… she is with Him. Our community has experienced sudden deaths of three young men this month. Your poem is exquisite. I saw the references to an accident report, and now this helps me understand your story. Your family is so sweet. Thanks for sharing so much.

  • mstair says:

    wow
    grateful for your sharing of your gift of faith this Christmas
    for some of the flock, it is most needed and joyfully received

  • Norma Hook says:

    Thanks Heidi for this moving piece. I remember hearing the story of Layton’s accident when it happened. Now as we journey with Andrew with his Neuroblastoma we have hope because of God’s healing ability and because of hearing stories like Samara who are cancer free! Blessings to you and your family for a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

  • Dale Cooper says:

    Thanks, Heidi–and thanks be to God for you and your gifts. You are a blessing to me, and to others too whose Advent joy is marked also by remembered sadnesses.

    Dale Cooper

  • Henry Lise says:

    I really appreciated this devotional. It is personal and real!
    THANKS!
    Henry Lise

  • James Schaap says:

    Thanks for telling us all the story, Heidi. Blessings to you and your family this day and this season.

  • Duane VandenBrink says:

    Thanks for sharing part of your story…… Powerful……

  • Tony Vis says:

    Thank you! It was a needed gift this morning.

  • Terry DeYoung says:

    Thank you for this remarkable testimony and beautiful writing, Heidi. Peace to you in Christ, this day and always.

  • Henry Baron says:

    You made your experience of loss and love, of sadness and joy so real to all of us. Thank you, Heidi.

  • Todd Zuidema says:

    Thanks, Heidi. Remembering your story with you.

  • Jan VanKooten says:

    So moving, so powerful, so exquisite. You have turned your mourning into dancing and traded sackcloth for clothes of joy. May the the remainder of your Advent season be filled with blessings as rich as those you have gifted us.

  • Marjorie Hoogeboom says:

    Dear Heidi, thanks so much for sharing your “remembering” again this year. With your beautiful writing, you capture so many of my feelings and gratitude to our God and Savior this time of year. I so miss the man of my life too each day, but God is also good each day to give me joy. Thanks for letting my tears come today.

    Loving you and your family and wishing you continued blessings in this special time of year, Marge

  • Jan VanKooten says:

    So moving, so powerful, so exquisite. You have turned your mourning into dancing and traded sackcloth for clothes of joy. May the remainder of your Advent season be filled with blessings as rich as those you have gifted us.

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