Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Good Grief

How can “good” and “grief” go together? Aren’t they opposites? “Good” is good and “grief” is bad … right?

When I hear, “Good grief” I think of Charlie Brown who is famous for the expression. I love Charlie Brown. Poor little guy … nothing ever seems to go his way. We are big fans of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. As a family, we have two Charlie Brown specials that we like to watch in particular, the Halloween special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the Christmas special, A Charlie Brown Christmas

The kids know exactly where, in A Charlie Brown Christmas, I start to tear up and they give me the look like, are you going to cry again? Linus’ explanation of what Christmas is all about gets me every time, along with the scene where the Peanuts gang transform Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree into a spectacular display of ornaments and lights.

What we like best about It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is when the Peanuts gang compare what they get after each house they trick or treat at. One says, “I got a chocolate bar.” Another, “I got a pack of gum.” And another, “I got a quarter.” Charlie Brown exclaims, “I got a rock.” He gets a rock every time.

Anyway, back to good grief, I’ve been learning how grieving is good and how my mourning involves a little rock collecting of it’s own.

One day last week, I woke up with rocks on the brain (not to be confused with “rocks for brains”, but instead, rocks were on my mind). All of a sudden, I needed rocks. With way more “important” things to do, I was off to the river.

Pastor Art gave me some wise advice a few days after Mike passed away. He reminded me of Matthew 5:4 which says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” He said sometimes we busy ourselves, we avoid grieving, but only when we grieve do we fully experience God’s comfort.

Curious about “mourning”, I googled it like I do many things and this is what I found: Grief is the beginning of mourning. Grief is what you feel or think when someone dies, or when you lose someone or something (including divorce, illness, injury, loss of a job, pet, treasured possessions etc). Mourning is how you let it out, or how you express the grief—outward expression, actions and reactions. There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think I’m still in the “shock slash numb” stage … numb is normal, as well as shock, sadness, guilt, and anger.

I told Pastor Art that I wasn’t going to try to be happy and I wasn’t going to try to be sad; I was just going to “be” and see where that takes me. I just want to be available to God and whatever He has planned for me in the “mourning”. I’m trying to heed Pastor Art’s advice to not busy myself and not avoid grieving, but I’ll admit I’m not necessarily embracing it … but I have started collecting rocks.

I don’t think I’ve fully grieved the loss of pre ALS Mike. The man who took care of me, who held me and kissed me and enveloped me with his strong arms and legs in our warm bed. He was like my cocoon and I, his butterfly. 

The losses came fast and furious and I could barely keep up. Some things I’m over, some I’m not—I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. But now I can truly grieve and even though I’m a little scared of what that’s going to look like, I invite the comfort of God to envelop me … to be my cocoon and I, His butterfly. 

I got the idea from Pintrest to mod podge (glue) cloth hearts on rocks and stamp words on the back. I've used Mike's last "I Like Mike" Walk for ALS t-shirt for the cloth hearts.

South Alouette River at Maple Ridge Park

North Alouette River on 132 St

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Forever You'll Stay in My Heart

Our goal as a family was to honour Mike and to bless everyone who came to his memorial service last Friday with a glimpse of Mike’s life, but the blessings fell heavy on us. For me it was like a down pour of love and support … I had no idea how blessed I was going to be. Regarding the hundreds of hugs I received, I thought Mike would be so happy because he had been unable to hug me in a very long time. It was like hug therapy.

Our dear friend and Pastor, Art Birch, started Mike’s service with some exceptionally wonderful words. I can’t remember them exactly and I hope to gain a copy of his speech, but everything he said meant so much to me and honoured Mike perfectly. Many friends and family have since expressed similar feelings. He thoughtfully spoke with such eloquence which took me back to the many years Mike and I and the kids listened, with so much respect, to his preaching at the Maple Ridge Baptist Church (he pastors at a church now in Abbotsford).

One thing Pastor Art said during his beautiful tribute was, “Mike didn’t necessarily say, ‘I love you,’  he showed it.” ... so true!

Mike wasn’t great at expressing with words how he felt, but he certainly knew how to let his actions speak louder than words. One of his mottos was, “Talk is cheap” and he liked to “walk the walk”.

A number of months ago, feeling the need to say, “I love you” to our children, Mike dictated a message to me to relay to them. With their permission, the following is part of that message:

“…My goal when you were born was to protect and take care of you, to have fun with you and to love you with all my heart. I feel I accomplished that goal to the best of my abilities. I hope you felt protected and cared for and I hope you had fun with me and even though I didn’t say, “I love you” much, I hope you know I loved you and of course still love you more than anything. You are the sunshine of my life, the apple of my eye, forever you'll stay in my heart. I love you Erin, I love you Nathan, I love you Madison…from dad”

Mike quoted from one of our favourite songs, You are the Sunshine of My Life by Stevie Wonder. The song was played during Mike’s memorial service and even though, by my lack of proper communication, it wasn’t the same favourite version we listened to all the time, it of course contained the same sweet words: “You are the sunshine of my life, the apple of my eye, forever you'll stay in my heart.”

Madison, Mike, Erin and Nathan (Madison's grad, June 2012)

Erin and Mike at an ALS Walk

Nathan, Mike and Leah out for a walk in our neighbourhood

Madison and Mike at a favourite park close by

I asked four pastors to speak at the service; Art, Brad, Trevor and Paul … our pastors and dear friends.

Because the memorial service fell on Mike’s birthday and because Mike hadn’t really eaten anything for over a year and a half before he passed, I asked Pastor Brad to please speak about the banquet table in heaven. 

On Sept 17, 2013, I wrote a blog post called ‘Heaven Scent’. It was about Mike’s journey of letting go of food. I called the post ‘Heaven Scent’ because after our many summer evening walks, Mike and I both agreed that heaven must smell like BBQ. The following is some of that post: 

“A few months ago, when Mike’s food selection was becoming more and more limited and we were both becoming more and more disappointed, I would visualize a banquet table laid out for him in heaven. The table covered with the most mouth-watering dishes imaginable. If we saw a big, fat, juicy hamburger advertised on TV, I’d tell him that it was going to be at his “big feast” as well.

It was very appropriate that a sermon preached this summer by Brad Warner was on this very subject. The sermon topic was on ‘hospitality’, but Brad spoke about the banquet table in heaven … I loved hearing him describe the dinner, or ‘party’ as he put it. It helped with my vision of Mike’s feast … a meal fit for a king! And of course, much better and far more important than the meal itself, is the presence of a King; Jesus Christ!”

Brad quoted Isaiah 25:6 “…the LORD will prepare for all people a feast with the best foods, a banquet with aged wines, with the best foods and the finest wines (God’s Word Translation). I say, “Cheers Mike!”

                              At Barb's Fish and Chips in Victoria, Vancouver Island
                                Mike loved fish and chips with lots of malt vinegar 

                                 Cheers! All of us including my mom at Swiss Chalet     
                                          and Mike and brother-in-law Gary below


Pastor Trevor (from Discovery Church) went next and quoted one of Erin’s Facebook posts, which says: “I know that today you are running miles and miles with that big smile on your face. One day we will run together again. Your chains are gone, you've been set free!” Trevor said, out of all the many wonderful messages on Facebook, this one stood out to him the most. 

I thought it was extremely appropriate considering I asked him to please say something about Mike leaving his earthly body behind and receiving a new, perfect one in heaven. No more illness … no more ALS! Trevor couldn’t have done a better job of portraying Mike’s new life in God’s domain … running free - no more chains! 

                                                 Mike and Leah, 2010

Pastor Paul from the Burnett Baptist church closed the service in prayer. It was very meaningful to us because by God’s grace and perfect timing, Paul walked into the emergency room of our local hospital a couple of minutes after we did on Saturday night (the night we went in - two nights before Mike passed) and prayed for Mike. He was there to visit someone else, but came right over when he saw us and offered comfort and strength through prayer and encouraging words.

                           One of my favourite pictures of us on the dike, taken
                                  shortly after Mike was diagnosed in spring 2011

I just want to say a huge thank you to these wonderful men. Mike considered them spiritual mentors and dear friends. And thanks to Brad for also taking care of many ‘behind the scenes’ details.

Thanks to Helen and the Burnett Baptist Church for providing the food and bulletins and to Sheila and the Maple Ridge Baptist Church for hosting the service and to the other ladies, including Patty who served the food and cleaned up. And thanks to Pastor Shawn for operating the sound and projector etc. And to Nolan at Garden Hill Funeral Home, Elanna and I kept saying, "He's perfect for this job!"

A huge thank you to Alana and Vid Wadhwani for putting together the pre-service slide show and the middle slide show and the short one at the end. And thanks to Erin who put together the eulogy video (she, Nathan, Madison and I were in the video) and for revising the wonderful birthday video she did for Mike last year. Because of audio issues, she had to edit the video and take some of the clips out, but if you were in the original video, Mike saw it last year on his birthday. He loved that birthday video … his grin from ear to ear and the tears in his eyes told us so!

Last but not least … from the very bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone (from near and far) who came out to our celebration of Michael’s life, and to those of you who couldn’t be there, but sent a lovely message. To those who sent cards and for all the kind and comforting words on Facebook, on my email, on my phone and on the condolence page of Mike’s obituary (gardenhill.ca). And for the food, flowers and other gifts and for the donations to Project Wellness for Mike’s memorial well. God bless you all!

                         Mike in Malawi Africa sharing cereal with two friends, 2008

Nathan and my dad, George Klassen are leaving for Malawi on January 30 and will be drilling two wells and checking in on a building project already in progress (the trip to Malawi was already planned before Mike passed away). One well will be drilled in Mike's name.

                            My dad with orphan children in Malawi a couple of years ago

                                        Nathan and Madison in Malawi, 2008 

                         Mike with Erin and friend, Lauren in hospital in Malawi, 2007

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Ultimate Finish

Like I said to my Facebook friends, my heart is broken but the love of my life is free - I couldn't be more happy!  

I’m happy for him, sad for me.

I knew Mike was going to die, but I really didn’t believe it in my heart. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise, but it was. We all agree - we knew it was coming, but still, we’re shocked.

In the minutes leading to his last breath, I complimented Mike on his remarkable feat. I told him he fought a great fight and that he couldn’t have done it more brilliantly. I told him that, together, we made an exceptional team and we did our very best. I kept saying, "Tooth and nail dear, we fought tooth and nail!" I told him it was a great honour taking care of him and such an honour to be his wife. 

At a later time, my sister Elanna and I will blog about Mike’s last days (she was with us all the way). It will bring us so much joy to relay his peaceful passing and how the Lord showed exceeding mercy and grace.

I stayed up late the day after Mike died, trying to word his obituary. I laughed and cried as I penned the following with great pleasure (I think he’d really like it):

Michael David Sands (1962 - 2015) His glass was always half full. Lessons to be learned from this wise and courageous man: Give thanks in all circumstances. Have faith, be hopeful and love deeply. Talk is cheap so walk the walk. Be generous. Never give up! And if you don’t have a napkin, just wipe your hands on your socks (he always wore knee highs). Our beloved son, brother, husband, father, granddad, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend, was called home to heaven on Monday Jan 5. His chains are gone, he’s been set free! He’s doing cartwheels now with Jesus and enjoying steak dinners and fettuccine. For four years, Mike battled ALS with brilliance and when the Lord called him to give up the fight, he humbly obeyed. A friend says, “Though his earthly body may have ‘lost the battle with ALS’, his spirit conquered it tenfold.” Mike will be dearly missed, but his lessons live on forever! A celebration of the life he leaves behind and his new life in glory will take place on Mike’s birthday, January 16 at 3:30pm at Maple Ridge Baptist Church (Wear bright colours). A memorial well will be drilled in Malawi, Africa in Mike’s name this spring, so In lieu of flowers, a donation to Project Wellness is appreciated…that was Mike’s wish. Project Wellness address: #405 – 12090 227 St. Maple Ridge, BC V2X 6J5

My dearest Michael, I love you to the moon and back compared to an ant…and far more than that. Your sweetheart, Nadine

You can view Mike's full obituary online at gardenhill.ca

Thank you everyone for your care and concern, your love and support!