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Christmas Approaches

Thanksgiving is long
gone now and Christmas has almost arrived.  Sometimes it's hard to believe
that Victor is not here, especially this first Christmas without him.  But I think overall, everyone is
processing their grief as best as we can expect right now.  There have
certainly been waves of tears, but also sweet remembrances.  Each of the
kids has found special ways to remind themselves of Victor ... pictures by
their bedside or computer screensavers, photo pins on backpacks, etc.  Meghan
hears one of Victor's favorite songs and asks to watch his "Victor-y"
video from the funeral.   She demands, "Watchy my Di-Der!"  She
also loves to sit on my lap and see photos of Victor and her together. 


I haven't had the
heart to go through all of Victor's clothes yet, but I know that the right time
will come soon. Until then, the clothes sit piled in a corner of our
bedroom.  One day I was just
looking through some of his things and asked Elise if she would want to keep a
piece of his clothing as a remembrance. She said that she would think on that,
then paused and picked up his Camp Shetek t-shirt and asked to save that. We
looked at each other and a flood of emotions overcame us both as we sat and
cried. I'm sure she was thinking of her weeks at our church's summer camp with
him while she was a counselor, and I was thinking about how much fun he always
had and the stories that he told when he came back. I remembered his friend
Davis telling me about what Victor said just before last summer's camp: "I
used to want to go to camp just to have fun, but this year I want to learn more
about God."  Oh, we miss him
so much, but it’s comforting to think of the reality of the joy he’s
experiencing now. 


We were able to get
Victor's headstone installed before the winter freeze, and that too brings some
closure. It was hard to remove the last vestiges of flowers that were from the funeral,
but now some silk Christmas flowers adorn the grave. Although it's good to
visit the gravesite, it reminds us of how much we miss him. The cemetery is
attached to the location where Emily and Eric attend the Thursday homeschool
group that Victor too used to be a part of. So at lunchtime, the kids often pay
a visit to the grave, which I believe is a healing time for all of them.


I have to mention two
pieces of artwork that have been painted in Victor's honor and which have
blessed us beyond measure.  First, a dear friend, Lynn Winkel, who is
herself battling cancer, did a beautiful watercolor for us to help us remember
Victor.   It is a scene of one of his favorite places - the headwaters of
the Mississippi in Itasca State Park - where we camp each Memorial Day weekend
and close to the White Earth Indian Reservation where Victor spent part of his
early years.  Above the waters of Lake Itasca, Lynn inscribed the verse
that became Victor's favorite in his last days:  Revelation 7:17, which says, "For the Lamb in the midst
of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of
Living Water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  
When Victor's biological siblings came to visit, he was driven to find that
verse even when it was hard for him to see (and he wouldn't accept help to find
it).  He wanted his siblings to know that Jesus was their hope and their
Shepherd who would comfort them when he (Victor) was gone.  So he would
find the verse and point with his finger to show them as he read it.  I'll ways remember his zeal for the
Lord and the many memories we shared in Itasca when I see Lynn's watercolor. 
What a gift.


We knew that Lynn's
painting was in progress, but Victor's portrait came to us as a complete
surprise.  In case we have friends who may receive this gift someday, I
don’t want to spoil the impact that receiving it had on us by divulging too
many details.  But I will tell you
that when I tore away the wrapping paper, I expected an enlarged photo or sweet
painted landscape painting to remind us of him.  But when I tore away the tissue paper to reveal Victor’s
smiling face in vivid oil color, it was as if he jumped from the canvas in 3-D,
and I couldn’t have been more shocked. 
I looked at Mike and we melted into tears, and so did the kids.   The man who painted this gift has
never met us.  In fact, he painted
the portrait while in prison on a 10-year drug sentence.  He never even knew he could paint until
he was imprisoned.  Now with the
help of his mother and aunt, he blesses families like ours.  He is due to be released in a few
weeks, and we cannot thank him enough for the balm it our souls that comes every
time we look at Victor’s sweet smile in the living room.


Last night I went to
a memorial service at our neighbor’s church.  It was a time to remember deceased loved ones during the
holidays, and the names of Victor and my father were read along with many
others, including our neighbor’s son. 
Well, the dimly lit church, soft music, votive candles for each name,
and reading of appropriate Bible verses was my undoing.  Let’s just say I cleared out my sinuses
and went through a few tissues! 
Whew.  It’s good to take
time to reflect and let God do his healing, comforting work in our hearts.


In November, the Christian news magazine, “World”
published a 2-page tribute to Victor after a writer interviewed Mike and I from
Germany over a two hour phone conversation.  You can find the article at the link below:



We have truly been overwhelmed with the care and
support that have come our way and eased our pain.  Putting together funeral arrangements seemed a massive endeavor
until friends offered to lighten our load by making phone calls, offering
advise, doing yard and house-work, creating the ‘Victor-y’ video, organizing
photo displays, housing out-of-town guests, making arrangements for funeral
childcare, videotaping the funeral, bringing food to the house, finding dress
shoes for the boys, praying for us, and the list goes on.  And beyond that, the cost of a funeral is almost overwhelming.  But as God has done over and over again on this journey, He provided for all of our needs (almost to the penny), and often from sources we didn't expect.  It's these times that we will be reminding ourselves about when the next battle comes ... what a trustworthy God we serve.


Another gift has been
another verdict of ‘all clear’ for Corinne after a series of scans, blood work,
EKG, and echocardiogram.  Her heart
function used to have a few markers that were on the borderline of normal,
which was a source of concern because of the common affects of a medicine she
received during treatment.  But now
her test results are all normal.   This summer marks 5 years since the end
of chemo, and that is a significant medical marker because your ‘chance’ of
recurrence drop dramatically during the 5-10 year post-treatment phase.  After that visit, we will transition on
to a new team of caregivers who monitor long-term effects of chemo and
radiation.  This too is a
bittersweet thought for us after developing meaningful relationships with our
current care team.


As you might imagine,
a concern right from the start of this journey 5 years ago was how Corinne
would process and associate what happens to Victor with her own health.  But we’ve always been careful to try to
gauge this without asking questions in a way that might plant seeds of thought
that weren’t there.   Well the
other day in the car we had a conversation that has me still shaking my head at
God’s goodness in completely protecting her from fear and worry.  As part of a school project, each of
Corinne’s classmates took a turn presenting to the class about a disease.   Corinne’s disease was Ewing’s
Sarcoma.  She is in 6th
grade and has always been fiercely independent and driven.  She did all of her own research and didn’t
want me to see her report until it was complete.   When I did finally read it, I thought it was well done
except for the conclusion.  I
thought she should add one last sentence to ‘wrap it up’ and ‘tie the ideas
together’.  So as we drove to
school, I suggested ways to do that but she just shook her head at each
one.   Then I said, “What
about comparing what’s bad about Ewing’s with with hopeful thoughts about a
cure or your health?”  I even
suggested, “Ewing’s is a deadly disease but …”  


However, Corinne cut
me of with an exasperated sigh, “Mooooooommmmmm” 


I said, “What?”
thinking that she was putting her foot down about not wanting to add one more
sentence to the report.


She replied, “Deadly?” (in an overdramatic way), “Come
on Mom … you only say that about stuff like snakes or spiders!” 


My mouth opened and
closed a few times like a fish out of water, but no sound came out.  How could I argue with her that her
brother was in the grave, so we could certainly say the word ‘deadly’?!  What we so want from the Lord for her
is a protection from fear and worry about her disease … so if she doesn’t
associate this word with herself or her disease, there is much cause for
rejoicing … but I am still shaking my head : )