Thursday, December 21, 2006

Well it will soon be the day, the big holiday that has always been my favorite. Christmas is just so full of celebration. It's truly different this year. I keep telling myself that it is still worth celebrating and I know it is. In previous years either Carol or I would write a Christmas letter and usually include a family photo and send it to many of our friends and family. I did write a letter this year but only sent it to a few out of town friends.
I do really desire to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and am sorry that I didn't send a greeting card your way. Following is the letter:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 4-7

Dear Friends and Family,

It is my prayer that this Christmas greeting finds you well and enjoying this Holiday season.

This is, without doubt, the hardest Holiday letter I’ve ever written. To write one at all was a difficult decision. I think most of you know what the kids and I have gone through this year. How do we celebrate Christmas and a New Year now? The truth is that the event signified by Christmas is still worth celebrating.

On May 7 of this year Carol left this world and is now celebrating Christmas in Heaven. This happened only 2 months after my Dad passed away. The Bible text above was one of Carol’s favorite passages. In her things I found her written testimony, which was based on this passage. It was a way of living for her. It was also a passage we have turned to several times in the last 7 months. Now I’m looking at it again and seeing the Christmas message in it. Rejoice! The Lord is near! “The Prince of Peace” will give a peace that transcends understanding. It is a message that gives me new hope each day.

We are “surviving”. Amy has moved back home after a 10 month sojourn in Indiana. Actually, she applied for and got Carol’s Children’s Ministry job at Hillside Community Church. It seems to be a real good fit for her.

Sara is in her fourth year at Calvin with one more to go. She is in the nursing program and seems to be really enjoying the pursuit. She had already planned to move home for this year to save some shekels so she is now living at home also.

Matt is attending Community College still trying to determine a course of study that grabs his interest. He has not lost his wonderful sense of humor and is often the one providing the smiles in our group. He is also living at home so, for now, it is the four of us “making a living and doing the best we can”.

Thank you to all of you who have kept us in your thoughts and prayers in this last year. The love and kindness you have shown to us are so deeply appreciated. Please take time this Holiday season to show those close to you how much you love them. With words or deeds, hugs, or whatever, just make sure they know it. We simply can’t take their presence for granted.

May Christ come to you in a special way this year

Fred, Amy, Sara, Matt

Thank you to all of you who have been so supportive in so many ways to us.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I dreamt of Carol just the other night. It was notable because she said she would see me in a month.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A friend e-mailed me this poem that she had found.
Thought I would share it.

If tomorrow starts without me,
And I'm not there to see,
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me;

I wish so much you wouldn't cry
The way you did today,
While thinking of the many things,
We didn't get to say.

I know how much you love me,
As much as I love you,
And each time that you think of me,
I know you'll miss me too;

But when tomorrow starts without me,
Please try to understand,
That an angel came and called my name,
And took me by the hand,

And said my place was ready,
In heaven far above,
And that I'd have to leave behind
All those I dearly love.

But as I turned to walk away,
A tear fell from my eye,
For all my life, I'd always thought,
I didn't want to die.

I had so much to live for,
So much left yet to do,
It seemed almost impossible,
That I was leaving you.

I thought of all the yesterdays,
The good ones and the bad,
I thought of all that we shared,
And all the fun we had.

If I could relive yesterday,
Just even for a while,
I'd say good-bye and kiss you
And maybe see you smile.

But then I fully realized,
That this could never be,
For emptiness and memories,
Would take the place of me.

And when I thought of worldly things,
I might miss some tomorrow,
I thought of you, and when I did,
My heart was filled with sorrow.

But when I walked through heaven's gates,
I felt so much at home.
When God looked down and smiled at me,
From His great golden throne,

He said, "This is eternity,
And all I've promised you.
"Today your life on earth is past,
But here life starts anew.

I promise no tomorrow,
But today will always last,
And since each day is the same way,
There's no longing for the past.

So when tomorrow starts without me,
Don't think we're far apart,
For every time you think of me,
I'm right here, in your heart "

-- Author Unknown

Thanks Pat

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Following is a post on a bulletin board web site that I am a member of that expresses some of the pain associated with lossing a spouse. It was written by some one named Sabrina.

"Dear God,
My name is Sabrina. I am sure you have heard of me. I am the woman on earth left with 2 children to raise by myself…alone. You see, a wee bit over 6 months ago, my husband came to live with you for eternity. His name is Chris & I do miss him a lot. He was killed in a car accident in Salisbury, North Carolina on May 3, 2006. He was a very special man as you may already know since you had a reason for taking him to be with you. He was very a very loving, caring, giving man. Great father & husband. Couldn’t have asked for anything better. I guess you already knew all those things though because you sent him to me to begin with. I am really going crazy here on Earth. My heart aches for him every single second of every single day!!! I don’t know how I am going to do this by myself. I really need him here. I love him so much & I know he loves me. The stress is really playing a toll on me. I don’t know how to manage all of this. He was my everything. My life has been turned upside down without him. I need him back real bad. I need him to hold me, touch me, kiss me, talk to me, look at me, hug our children, tell me it’s all a dream. I need my sanity back. He is the reason I am the person I am today. He has always been by my side thru thick & thin. He gave me so much in my life & now it’s all gone. All except these two beautiful children. They miss their daddy real bad too. Heather will not have him to walk her down the isle when she gets married, monitor her boyfriends, teach her how to drive, tell her not to dress so skimpy, show her how to be a tom-boy. Austin will not be taught how to hunt, how to fish, what football team is best, how to work on his own car, how to drive, how to ask a girl on a date. Of course the list goes on & on. You see, God, we really are missing out on a lot. I sure could use him back. I know he has been busy working with you these last few months. I’m not really sure what he’s doing, but I sure could use him back. He has been a good man & didn’t deserve to be taken away from us. Neither did we deserve to have him taken away. He has been a great blessing to our family. We miss him so much. So, my question is could you spare him to come back. I would greatly appreciate your help. It would mean so much to me to have him back. I would never take him or life for granted again. I would spend every single moment possible with him. I would tell him I love him more often. I would be more patient with my children as I wouldn’t be under as much stress. I’m sure he’s doing a fine job up there in heaven but don’t you think you have enough souls already? Couldn’t you just spare this one? If there is something I need to do to get him back, PLEASE let me know. I would do anything in my power to get him back. I think he is needed here really bad…there’s so much unfinished life to live. I’m sure he would love to be here too. Thank you so much for your time & consideration of my letter. I’m sure you will see that I would be very happy if I had Chris back. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I would answer anything or do anything to have him back in my arms again.Yours truly---Sabrina"


Friday, December 01, 2006


It's late Friday night and I thought I would write a thought or two about my evening. Tonight was the Monsma Christmas Party. I have been working for Monsma for fifteen years and have attended every Christmas party with Carol each of those years. Prior to that for fourteen years we attended, together, parties hosted by my former employer. Also for the past several years we attended, together, staff parties for Hillside church where she worked. Anyway tonight was the first such party I attended alone. It was really tough deciding whether or not to even go, but I really did not want to not go. I felt I really should go and I did. It was really strange even just driving there alone. Sure I had the Christmas music on the cd player but there was no conversation. There was no talking about who will drink to much, etc. Just me and my thoughts. The party was at Meijer Gardens again. Carraige rides were again available. The grounds were beautiful with the newly fallen snow. It could have been a very "romantic" evening but not so much when you're alone. I was given special recognition for my fifteen years of service. She would have had the envelope open to check for a possible bonus before we were out of the room.
It went Ok. A few people, other wives mostly, talked to me and asked how the kids and me were doing and letting me know they were still thinking of me. I sure missed Carol again though. I guess this is just another of the hard "firsts" that this holiday season will be full of.
Mostly, I'm glad I went.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"They told me one day I would go twenty-four hours without thinking of my loss. I told them they were crazy.” Barbara Baumgardner


You were the one God brought into my life
You were so sweet and gentle
You were beautiful then and always
You were the best wife I could have dreamed of
You were my best friend for 29 years

You stood beside me through everything
You loved and supported me when I lost my job
You never attacked me
You were so proud of me that I could “fix anything”
You wanted me to be happy

You were a fantastic mother to our children
You loved them unconditionally
You taught them how to love
You left them a legacy of music
You modeled a servant heart to us all

You made our house a home
You made birthdays and holidays special
You made family vacation so much fun
You enjoyed laughter
Your beautiful smile came so easily

You loved God with all your heart
You loved your church
You loved your job and co-workers
You loved children and gave so much of your life to them
You touched so many lives young and old

You helped me so much with my parents
You happily made so many trips north
You helped pack and move Mom and Dad when the time came
You were there to support me when Dad died
You died two months later

Now we have only memories of you
Now nearly every night I dream of you
Now I wish I could hold you
Now life is so lonely without you
Now I’m waiting to again be with you

"Weep freely; share your anguish, your deep concern, but always with the joyful assurance that Jesus is with you. The Prince of Peace is with you” Dr. Bill Bright.

Monday, November 27, 2006

“Those who suffer loss live suspended between a past for which they long and a future for which they hope. “ A GRACE DISGUISED Gerald L. Sittser

QUESTIONS (5 months)

Why…Why her? Why now?
Why lung cancer?
Why didn’t the doctors find it?
Was it because of something I did or thought or didn’t do?
Is God punishing us?
What was God thinking?
Will we ever see the big picture?

Did she know I wasn’t there when she died?
Did she see all the family and friends that came to her room that night?
Can she see us now?
Can she hear us talk about her?
Can she see me cry?
Does she know that my heart has been ripped out?

What is she doing now?
Has she talked to Jesus face to face?
Has she asked Him to hold us close?
Has she laid her (sizable) crown at His feet?
Was she greeted by her grandparents?
By my Dad?
Was she surprised to see Uncle John arrive in heaven so soon?
Do they have pianos in heaven?
What would she tell us about heaven?
Would she be proud of the way we are “coping”?
How would she be doing if it was me that had died?

Where does joy come from now?
What replaces 29 years of companionship?
When does the pain stop or even ease?
Will I ever stop thinking of her?
Will there ever be a time when my mind is idle and I don’t see her lying dead in a hospital bed?

Who will love me as much as she loved me?
Who will hold my hand and give me hugs?
Who will care for the kids or me when we get sick?
Who will care for me when I get old?
Who will I travel with?
Who will I follow?
Who will I lead?
Who will encourage me?
Who will cheer me up after a rotten day at work?
Who will build up my self esteem?
Who will shape me into a better person?

How will our children learn more from her?
How will they get on without their greatest teacher?
Who will stand with me to give our daughters away on their wedding day?
How will her grandchildren know her?
How will they know how much she would have loved them?
How long before everyone forgets what an extraordinary person she was?

When will I trust God again?

When does Christ return?

Proverbs 3:5Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

2 Corinthians 5:7
We live by faith, not by sight.

Nahum 1:7
The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him…

Friday, November 24, 2006


Well it's Friday evening, the Friday after Thanksgiving. I/we survived the first of the "big three". The kids seem to be doing real well. I, on the other hand, well the jury's still out. All four of us were involved in the Thanksgiving Day service at church. The kids were playing instruments and singing and I was running the sound board. That means we had a Wednesday night rehearsal. Usually after the rehearsal the group goes out for coffee. I was asked to go along but declined because I just wanted a chance to be home and alone and do some "intentional" grieving. I did. Thursday morning got off to an early start with a run through at 8:30 AM. At the run through and then after the service many people came up to me and told me they knew it would be a hard day and that they would be praying for me. That always brings a few tears but that's ok. We went to Tim and Maxine's home for the traditional dinner. They have been by my side so faithfully for the whole time and I appreciate it so much. We had a great meal and a great time. The day really went very well.
Today I had to work. There is a friend at work who lost his wife in a car accident not quite two years ago. We talked about being alone at the holidays and I mentioned that maybe Christmas would be easier knowing that I made it through Thanksgiving alright. He said really for him it wasn't, Christmas was worse. I think he might be right. The kids were home today and started the decorating. They set up the tree and many of the other trimmings that Carol would always put out. Just seeing them is hitting me. I see the tree ornaments Carol hand made. I see the stockings that she made for each of us. I see the new wreath we bought after last Christmas to use this Christmas. Maybe the one that got me most was the new little nativity set the she so intentionally shopped for and bought when we were in Mexico in 2005. All these things are stabbing me in the heart and I know there will be more. I am going to my company Christmas party alone after having Carol at my side for 28 Christmas parties. I am really dreading New Year's Eve when all our friends are there with the spouses. I haven't figured that one out yet. Maybe it will be best if I just stay home that night.
Things are simply not the same and I have to get used to that

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Last night was the first night of the year for our men’s volleyball league. I pretty much blew up my calf muscle in the first game. I looked up “calf injuries” on the internet and found out that these injuries usually occur to “aging, weekend athletes, who no longer are in the shape they used to be and do not stretch properly before their activity.”
Who said you can’t believe what you read on the internet!

Monday, November 20, 2006

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived.

(09-2006, 4 ½ months)

Some say
“don’t dwell in the past, look back but don’t linger there”
Some say
“it’s good to look back and
remember everything your loved one meant to you”
Well, she meant so much to me that I cannot look back without
much “lingering”.

I miss her presence:
…her smile
…her hugs
…her good nature
…her encouragement
…her voice
…her laughter
…teasing and getting teased
…her touch
…the respect of all who knew her
…growing old(er) together
I miss her presence.

I miss her around home:
…goodbye kisses each morning
…welcome home kisses each night
…selflessly serving her family
…her cooking
…walks in the neighborhood
…talks we would have
…Friday night dates
…Saturday morning sleeping in
…her gardening
I miss her around home.

I miss her gifts.
…Gal. 5:22-23 (she had them all)
I miss her gifts.

I miss times away together:
…bed and breakfasts
…waking up in each others arms
…visiting lighthouses
…walks on the beach
…long drives
…bike rides
…watching movies
…visiting folks
I miss times away together.

Words cannot describe the person she was so forgive as I’ve only scratched the surface.
I can experience nothing new with her
And learn nothing new about her or from her.
I can only try to remember the beautiful person she was.
I pray, Lord help me always remember.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

There is a strong feeling I have had lately that my life is in limbo. I am living now “in between” existences. When Carol died, a large part of me, of who I was, died right along with her. The term “my better half” is a large understatement in my case. Much of my identity was to be known as Carol Vail’s husband. I’m not that anymore.
Who am I now? What does the future have in store for me? Will I have a chance at happiness at some point in the future? I am suspended between a former happy, contented, life and an unknown future. Between wanting to “move on” and just curling up and staying in the comfortable past as much as possible. In a very real way, I am between happiness and heaven.
I guess one could call this “…the valley of the shadow of death”.

Psalm 23:4
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Carol Loved The Children

Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

As many of you who may be reading this post know, Carol loved children. She not only had an obvious, unconditional love for our children, but for all children. It was one of her passions, one of her passions that defined her life.
Carol was a charter member of our church, Hillside Community Church (then Cutlerville Hills CRC). Almost from the beginning she was involved in the Sunday School program in some way. She enjoyed nothing more than to be teaching children Bible stories and about the love of God. As a helper, teacher, piano player, youth leader, she always made the time to be involved. In the 28+ years of our marraige, I can't remember a time when she wasn't involved with the ministry to children in our church and community.
When our own children were young and Carol was a "stay at home" Mom, we were struggling to make ends meet on just my income. Carol was trying to come up with ways she could contribute finacially without having "go to work". She came up with the excellent idea of teaching piano (another passion of hers). Within a few weeks she had a full slate of piano students. Again she was teaching children and loving it. She taught piano lessons for many years and really hated to give it up, which she did only recently. She just really enjoyed teaching the kids a skill the she got so much pleasure from.
When Hillside decided to open a staff position for a "Children's Ministry Director" she knew that was what she wanted. She was delighted when the job became hers. She loved our church and she loved her fellow staff members but for her it was all about the kids. She worked hard in that position and did an oustanding job. She loved hearing from new members that one of the main things attracting them to Hillside was the Children's Ministry programs. After one of her mission trips to Cuba she acquired a large frog shaped container which she filled with candy. The kids came to know her as the frog lady (another story) because they would love to sneak into her room for the candy. She loved it because kids would always be visiting her (for the candy) and she could talk with them. In Cuba, as well, it was the children. One of the main things she loved about going to Cuba was the children. She would comment that they were always so happy, and smiling, and eager to learn. Again she just couldn't resist going there to teach and enjoy those kids.
More recently, our church became involved in the Kids Hope USA ministry. Carol was very busy with our family and her duties at church, she was very involved in our music ministry also, (another story) but she knew that the need was great for mentors. She also knew that the program was producing many "success" stories of how a mentor's involvement was changing lives for these kids. She couldn't not say yes. It was in her heart.
We can't really measure the effect of someone like Carol on God's kingdom? I'm sure God knows what that effect has and will be for it will continue for generations. I don't know if any of her students or infuencees (new word) proceeded her to heaven, but if they have, I'm sure they gave her a big hug and like the old Ray Boltz song goes, they said "Thank You, Mrs Vail, I am a life that was changed...Thank you for giving to the Lord." I am sure there will be hundreds of her "kids" who will arive in heaven after her and she will welcome them with a big smile and a big hug and say something like "you made it, you learned your lessons well. It's so good to see you again. Let me show you around."
Another favorite song of mine is "Tell Me Again" by Geoff Moore. It talks about the faithful who teach Sunday School each week with very little thanks and how important that can be in a persons life. Carol was one of those faithful people!

"Tell Me Again"
(Words and Music by Geoff Moore and Steven Curtis Chapman)

A little boy sitting on a metal folding chair,
In what appears to be a Sunday school room.
He could see that shepherd boy, His sling up in the air,
He could feel that giant hit with a boom.
In that room I saw the Red Sea part,
And two by two animals get in the ark.
And Mrs. Keen gently would say,
The God of the past is still God today.

So tell me again of the old, old stories.
Tell me again of the faithful who walked,
In the lions' den and the fiery furnace,
Of Noah and rainbows and donkeys that talked.
I don't want to forget so please, tell me again.

A young man sitting at a desk with a wooden chair,
In what appears to be a high school class.
He can see a battlefield there's giants everywhere
saying, "The Bible is a thing of the past".
In this new age you believe what you want to believe.
'Cause god is whatever you want it to be,
And I can hear Mrs. Keen gently say,
The God of the past is still God today.

So tell me again of the old, old stories.
Tell me again of the faithful who walked,
In the lions' den and the fiery furnace,
Of Noah and rainbows and donkeys that talked.
I don't want to forget so please, tell me again.

How the God of the ages,
Turned history's pages and saw my need.
Tell me again of the shepherds and wise men,
And the star that would lead them to the baby who was born,
So that we could be born again.

Tell me again of the Gospel story.
Tell me again how the whole world was lost.
How the Only Begotten with grace so amazing,
Gave up His life on an old rugged cross.
I don't want to forget so please, tell me
Tell me again of the old, old stories.
Tell me again of the faithful who walked.
How the Only Begotten, with grace so amazing,
Gave up His life on an old rugged cross.
I don't want to forget so please, tell me again.
I dont' want to forget, so please, tell me again.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Over the past couple of months I have gone through a wide range of emotions, not many of them have been happy ones. At times I think that none of this can be happening, that she is really not dead, that she will some day return to us, I know that's not possible. My head is farther ahead in the process than my heart has been able to go.
The first "poem" I wrote is about that night she died. All I have do to know how very real this has all been is to remember "That Night".
Following is that poem:

It’s better to have loved… is not working for me.Why, if only to be given so fiercely, and then taken away.
Donna Michele Hill

THAT NIGHT (4 months)

We still had hope that night
We were given a little more hope that day
Two weeks in their care
What’s wrong
She was so brave
All the things they did to her
Doing their procedures
No answers
Many possible causes
All one by one eliminated
Still she got worse

One day they told us no cancer
We celebrated
She was almost giddy
Then she got worse
Could not find a vein
She was so brave
“What can I do, scream? Cry?”
She said
Another surgery Friday
It didn’t help
It made her weaker

We were together most of the time
We spoke of life together
Of love
Of dreams
Of children
Of friends
Of God’s plan
Of hope
We had hope to the end

Would you want hope
Or would you want to know the truth
The truth was cancer had consumed her
They missed it
We didn’t know
We didn’t say goodbye to each other
Not in a final way
We kissed each time I left the room
Except the last time
When the medical team came in
Her heart stopped
Her life ended
So much of my life ended

That night

Friday, November 10, 2006

It has been just over six months since the day Carol died. At times it seems like it has been so much longer than that and more often it seems like it was just yesterday and I haven't been able to "progress" much at all. For instance, yesterday I went to a visitation at a funeral home to offer condolences to friends of ours whose father had died and I could not complete the visit without losing it. That was another "first", the first time I had gone to a visitation with out Carol at my side. There have been so many "firsts" in the last six months that it seems I should be able to get through them now with out getting so emotional.
They say that the closer you were to the person you lost the harder it is to get over. That seems like an obvious observation, but it is so true. I was very close to Carol and to lose her continues to be devastating to me. I believe anybody who knew her, knew her smile, knew her gentle spirit, knew her servant heart, can understand the size of the hole left in the hearts of her loved ones. I do believe I have "progressed" a bit. I (usually) can control to what extent I feel pain. I can (and some times do) allow myself to wallow in the pain of loss, butI can choose to not go there also. When I look at a picture of her, or us, my first reaction now is almost like "who is that person?", "who was she?", "I seem to remember her". If I allow myself to really remember her, remember the intamacy, the love, the smiles, the flirting, the companionship, etc., etc., etc., I can easily fall apart still. I have to try to dwell on now and not then, but at the same time, I don't want to forget one minute of the love we had.
To "get to the other side of grief" (the name of a book I am reading) takes work. It requires actively doing things that will help. I am trying to do these things. It also takes God's presence and I know he has never left me.
I don't know how often I will be posting here but it is my intent to keep some memory of Carol alive here and share some of my thoughts. Some of the things I will post here are things I've written previously that are snapshots of certain feelings that I have gone through.