Sunday, December 6, 2015

We lost a great one...

How do you sum up the life of a man like Jules Jack Van de Velde? You can't. So I won't. It's impossible to tie a bow around this kind of love. That, and he wasn't one to ever talk about his own accomplishments, so we want to honour him by not doing that. Rather, as a family we want to tell you how he lived, not what he did, and to share what he taught us and what he'd want us to never forget. And I think the best way to do that is to use his words. A while back, I asked him some questions, and I want to share a few of his responses with you:

Dad, who or what is your greatest love? My wife

What's the most useful lesson you learned in school? Mathematics

What's your biggest regret? (big pause) Dad...did you fall asleep? Are my questions boring you? Nope. But I can't think of anything. Nothing? There's not one thing you would have changed? Well, it would have been nice to be able to see. Although that could have happened to anyone, I guess.

Dad, at the end of each day, when you pause for a second to contemplate your life, what do you say to yourself? I thank the Lord for being as it is.

What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done, Dad? I don't think that should be told here.

What's one simple, magical thing that makes you smile every time you experience it? Harvest

If you could ask God one question, what would it be? Will I end up in heaven? Tell you what Dad…if you don’t make it, it’s not looking so good for your kids. We might as well give up trying to be good, so look out.

If you could make just one wish for your children, what would it be? That they always love God, and that they always feel his love. And that they love each other. That's all I could wish for anyone.

I’ll always treasure that he shared these responses, and what a message for all of us to remember. Love God, and love each other - the rest is easy.

There's a Parable of Immortality that tells the tale of standing upon a seashore, watching a ship spread its white sails to the morning breeze. It starts for the blue ocean, an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch until at last it hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to touch each other. Then someone at my side says, "There he goes!" Gone where? I ask. Gone from my sight, that is all. He is just as large in mast and hull as he was when he left my side. And just as able to bear his load to his final destination. His diminished size is in me, not in him. And just at that moment, someone at my side says again, "There he goes! He is gone." Just as other eyes are watching him approach from the other side, gladly shouting, “Here he comes! Here he comes!" 

There are a lot of happy people rejoicing with him right now - his friends that have gone before him, his family - but in our grief it's hard to comprehend that, because we selfishly want him here with us. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor is it a lack of faith. It’s the price of love. We know that we were better people with him here; he held us all together. He made you want to be a better person simply by watching how he lived his life. What he said and what he did was harmonious, always in line, and it was always straight with the world. He used to tell us, "Whatever you do in your life, whether it's building a shed or planting a crop, don't cut corners. Make sure it's right with the world."

Sadly, I don't think the world gets to see many men like him - his faith, his kindness, from the biggest of people to the smallest of God's creatures, his generosity, wisdom, strength and courage. He taught us the importance of a strong work ethic and of doing a good job, the importance of family ties and how to enjoy the simple things in life. As the saying goes, he had the gift of making the ordinary come alive. He helped us to find the wonder and marvel in an ordinary life - he showed us the joy of tasting apples off a tree, and drinking a strawberry milkshake in the field, and he showed us how to cry and grieve when people and pets died. Every single cat that bit it got a proper service, and trust me when I say there were more than a few. Dad would wrap each little one up in a soft cloth, load us into the truck, and we’d head up to the hill for a proper burial and good-bye. In doing so, he would teach us lessons long before we fully understood their meaning. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

He had the ability to find the good in absolutely everything and everyone, even in those where it was a little harder to find. Especially in those. Because Dad made finding the good in everybody a choice, a deliberate action, and he made that choice every single day, not just when it was easy or when he felt like it. He also taught us that if you couldn't find it in yourself to be kind, then it was better to just keep your mouth shut. And as his body continued to fail him, when we would ask if he was in pain, he would tell us that he had absolutely nothing to complain about. Through all that, he taught us that even though you were in pain, it didn't mean you had to be one. A stroke took away his ability to walk. A degenerative eye disease took away his ability to see. But nothing could ever take away this man's love for his family, and his love for life. As for what he did? In his eyes, farming was the most noble profession one could pursue - sowing, reaping and helping feed the world. I have yet to meet someone who loved what he did with his life more than him, nor do I suspect I ever will. He used that passion and thirst for knowledge to serve and give back to his community by being a member on various boards and committees over the years, fueled by a desire to make the most of the gifts he’d been given.

And right to the very end, he had his humour. The best kind - dry, witty, and a little bit bad. I remember a few of us playing cards a couple of years ago. For some reason that night, we had decided to play a game that we didn’t play very often, and not one of us could remember the rules. Finally someone said, “Dad, of all people, you must remember the rules!”  I still remember Dad’s reply like it was yesterday. "Hey”, he said, “Don't look at me. I had a stroke. At least I have an excuse."  Dad also had a knack for telling jokes, and he would tell them like a story, leading into it without you ever knowing he was telling you one, until you found yourself buried deep in the punch line. Back during my university days, I came upstairs one morning - chances are fairly good I was looking a little bit rough.  The conversation went like this:

"Morning, Dad."
“Oh, good morning sunshine. Just so happens you were in my dream last night.”
“Yup. We were in a terrible car crash and we both died.”
“Oh. That's terrible.”, I said.
“Yeah. And it gets worse. Much worse.”
“Worse? How's that even possible? We died.”
“Well, let me tell you. We started walking together up the staircase to heaven. It was so beautiful. I was so busy looking around, that I slipped and twisted my ankle.”
“Ugh. Good grief, Dad. This sounds more like a nightmare than a dream.”
“Yeah, well, I hurt myself pretty good. But, being the good child that you are, you threw me onto your back and crawled up the last few steps carrying your Father on your back.”
“Ah. I am SUCH a good person!”
“Yup.” he said. “And upon arrival at the gates of heaven, St. Peter was standing there, arms open wide, and you know what he said?  He said: Why, hello Jack! We've been expecting you. As for your mule, you can tie it up at the gate."

That was Dad’s kind way of telling some of us that we still had a bit of work to do.

So now we stand here, two ends of time neatly tied. We stand together missing him, hoping for one last chat, one last hug, one final kiss. I often wonder if people are scared when it comes time to let go - it's the one thing you have to do alone. But Dad, you knew you were going home, and you were ready. The day before you left us, you were telling everyone in the hospital that you were going home the next day. We weren't sure if it was possible to bring you home, because you were pretty weak, but you were adamant you were going home. So of course we were trying to figure out a way to make that happen. What we didn't realize was that you were talking about your other home. You weren’t coming home, you were going home, exactly like you said. The confusion was ours, not yours. Because you knew. Your beautiful mind was razor sharp, right to the end. You knew exactly when you were going to take your leave. You were ready to go...I'm just not sure we were ready to let you. Because how exactly do you say goodbye to the person who held it all together, the one who saw the good in everything and everyone? The one who loved us for who we were, not who we thought we should be. Unconditional love, how rare, and what a gift. To have someone believe in you completely, just the way you are, and to never be judged. I think that's why people would bloom in your presence, Dad, and feel like their best self. And maybe that's why you chose the exact moment you did, so that not one of us had to bear the pain of watching you go. You were always a gentleman that way, trying to keep others from hurting. And I also think you knew that you weren’t going alone - you knew you'd be taking a piece of every single one of us with you. You always had the ability to restore our faith, and you did so again in your final hours.

In closing, I’m going to share some words that came to me over the past few days. I don't think they're my words. I'd like to think they came from Dad, and I just held the pen. Here they are:

His heart is overflowing, for he carries a piece of everyone he's ever loved, and of all those who have loved him, with him. It's not heavy though, all that love. No, it's not heavy at all. The love carries him like wings. Ah, he says, this is what the wings are made of. He now knows. He now knows that he’s always known. This is what carries you forth through all of eternity. It's love, just love. Returning him home to the place from where he came. He returns beloved, beautiful, whole, complete. His joy bursts and floats across the fields of gold, dancing beads of light, flecks against the sky. He wants them all to know so he tells them, his voice flowing into the universe. He tells them, I am free, I am whole, I am home.

It’s hardest to say goodbye to those who were the easiest to love. And Dad, were you ever easy to love. Your heart was bigger than any room you entered, and you made the world better just by being in it. We miss you so incredibly much. But how lucky we are to have had the kind of love that makes saying goodbye so hard. Until next time sunshine, know that you were loved beyond measure, and we'll know that we were blessed beyond all treasures of this earth to have had you. You didn't tell us how to live our lives. You didn’t have to. You simply lived yours, and in doing so, we saw how it was meant to be done. Thank you Dad, for everything. May we honour you by living our lives to be a little more like you. Because simply put, you were the greatest person we have ever known, and everything in a person we could hope to be. And it just so happens we were blessed to call you Dad. We love you, we thank God for you, and may He hold you in the palm of his hand.

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