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We have started the anniversary of the last week of Marisa’s life.

I feel young.  I feel old.  I feel much like when I walked into the monument place to design the headstone for Marisa’s grave.

(I still can’t believe that the words Marisa’s and grave go together)

When I walked into that place I never experienced a feeling like that.  I felt so young to bury my spouse at 33.  I felt so old because of the experience of burying my spouse at 33.  A strange feeling.

We went to church this morning.  I listened to a very capable pianist play this morning.  But I thought of Marisa.  Marisa used to play that piano.  Marisa used to amazingly grace those keys.  And I couldn’t, nor didn’t want to, shake that deep feeling of grief.

And then I wondered about what I should do with those memories.  Write it down for the kids? – for sure.  Write it on the blog?  – I guess so.  Cherish them? – you bet.

So I did what I normally do when I wonder about things.  I pray and then talk to Zion, Jacoba and Zekijah.  They didn’t have anything profound to say.  But then again, neither did I.

So we snowflaked the ceiling in the living room.



It happened again.

I was caught in a conversation that left me cringing to impart perspective.

I walked into the store where two people were around the counter.  One knew me, one didn’t.  The gentleman that knew me asked how the kids were doing.  I didn’t care to make time to explain things in great detail so I said that they were doing ‘okay’.  Which isn’t too far from the truth.

Then the other person, who didn’t know me, asked how many kids I have.  I told her.  3.  She asked for their ages.  I told her.  2, 4 and 6.

She said, “oh just wait until they are teenagers, then you become emotionally exhausted having to deal with them”.

I smiled.  And left.  (it was a fake smile)

And although I believe her and think she is right, what do I say?

And there it was.  Another ‘dangling conversation‘.

Another conversation that moves nothing along.  A conversation that furthers nothing.

But I chewed on it for a while. 

When kids are young with diapers, lunches, bedtime readings, showers, teeth brushing, scrapes, winter coats, snotty noses, putting on pyjamas, tying shoes, french braids, soccer balls, colds, toys, reading books and so on, life is supposed to be physically tiring for the parents.  Because as my children have said before, ‘that’s my job’.

(and yes I do french braids)

But when you raise children that have gone through suffering, emotional torment and tiredness go hand in hand with the physical exhaustion at then end of the day.

And just to get through the day can be a monumental task.

So I left the store and thought about what that woman said.

And then I thought – I am too tired to think about it.

Some things that the kids do mean something.  Sometimes they don’t. 

And sometimes I just don’t know.  I don’t know if Zion meant what I read into his art but at the end of the day, I guess I don’t really need to know.

And I don’t know exactly what this means but it might mean something…

Before Marisa died, whenever I would read books with the kids, I would do voices.  I do a number of different ethnic voices that the kids think are hilarious.  They would pick before the book what voice they would want to hear.

Then Marisa died.

We read books that night.  I thought I would try some voices to see if I could lighten things up a bit.

Jacoba and Zion both said no.  They was adamant that there would be no voices that night. 

just your regular self” Jacoba said.

I thought to myself, my ‘regular self’ has died.

So we read the books.  With no voices. 

Since then I would periodically ask if asked if anyone wanted to hear any voices.  No was always the answer.

Until last week.

We sat down to read, and Jacoba said she wanted a voice, “the scottish one please“.

Aye lassie, aye.


Big Zed's art Nov 2008

Big Zed

Zion came home from school with this piece of art.
I think that sometimes kids can say it way better than we can.

After this hike last night we came home and had supper.  Peanut butter sandwiches and bell peppers.  After supper we all sat on the couch and watched a movie.  20 minutes into the movie, Jacoba (4) turned to me and said, “shouldn’t you be doing the dishes now?”

A few years ago I was a presenter at a conference in Toronto.  It was the same weekend that Marisa went away with some of her friends to a cottage.  Marisa left on Thursday night and came back Sunday night.  On that Saturday, I spoke at the conference.

I started my presentation with this,

“For the last two nights and tonight I am riding solo with all our glorious, time consuming kids.  I had no idea how much work it is for one person to take care of children by themselves.  If there are any good single parents here, I will buy you lunch”.

There were three people that joined me for their free lunch.  They were all single moms.  At that time I thought I knew what busy was.  What a joke.

I’m not saying that trying to raise three kids by yourself is difficult because that is inaccurate.  Trying to raise three kids well is difficult.


Today I took Jacoba and her friend Ella to an indoor playground that we had visited before.

When we walked into the place, we were met by the attendant who hadn’t seen us in awhile and asked Jacoba what she has been up to.

Jacoba said,

“we celebrated Mommy’s birthday but she wasn’t there because she is dead”.



The attendant looked at me.  I looked at the attendant.

The attendant’s face said, ‘I think we should say something positive now’.

I purposely stayed silent. 


Sometimes when people find out that Zekijah is only 2 and she doesn’t have a living mother, they say to me “well maybe it is nice because she doesn’t know what is going on”.

They say that to make themselves (or possibly me) feel better.

The truth is, that doesn’t help.  And the truth is, that is wrong.

It isn’t nice that lil’ Zed is 2 and Marisa is gone.  It isn’t nice that big Zed is 6 and Marisa is gone.

I purposely stayed silent when looking at that attendant because life is like that sometimes.  Life needs to be groaned about.  Sometimes life forces you into empty space.  Maybe the attendant learned something in that 15 second pocket of empty space.  Maybe she didn’t.

I don’t know what Jacoba was thinking when she said that.  It didn’t come with much emotion.  But I do know that when Jacoba said that, she shined her badge.

Shine on kid, shine on.

Grief can be surprising.  It can pounce on you when you don’t expect it and it can lay low when you expect it to be high.  And anything in between.

I hesitantly expected the day of Marisa’s birthday to be okay since, for the past ‘big days’ such as birthdays and anniversary, it seemed that the lead up to the day was more difficult than the day.

And again, I was surprised.

Marisa’s birthday came.  ZJZ were allowed to buy a present to ‘celebrate’.  I didn’t really know what to do.  I was out of sorts because for Jacoba’s present, I even allowed her to buy plastic, made-in-china junk.  I was off my game. 

We went to visit Her grave.

(and I can not believe that I would ever have to write ‘we went to visit Her grave’.)

I took pictures.  Of the kids together, and of the kids by themselves.  Zekijah gave her huge smile in one of the pictures while she stood beside Marisa’s stone.

A beautiful, healthy two-year-old standing beside her dear mother’s grave and smiling for a camera.

That seems wrong.

We had some family over at night.  My parents, Marisa’s parents and Marisa’s sister and her family.

What do you do?  What do you talk about?  Do you eat pizza and talk about how difficult it is to live without Marisa and how much we miss Her?  Do you talk about the real, thick, pain that fills us when we think that Marisa will never turn 34?  Do you talk about how scary this journey would be without faith in a new heaven and a new earth?  Do you show emotion on how living without Marisa is just that, living without Marisa?

YES.  That is exactly what we should do.

Marisa Alison VanderVeen

Marisa Alison VanderVeen

Thank you for your comments and e-mail regarding my last post on the birthday week.

I have learned that when I write a post like that, people naturally get uncomfortable.  And they wonder and ask if I am ‘okay’.

The answer is both yes and no.  I am okay.  I am not okay.  And although that might be uncomfortable to hear, the truth is that is how this grief stuff works.

We miss Marisa. 

Zekijah asks for mommy.  Then she steals Jacoba’s candy.  She is not okay and then she is okay.  It’s a perfect example of the wave of grief.

As for us, we will keep riding the wave and see where it takes us.



Today last year we celebrated Marisa’s birthday.  It was a party.  Cake.  Balloons.  A bouncy castle.  And 300 of Marisa’s friends.

If you were there, you know how Marisa greeted each person with celestial strength.  It was a great day.  Thank you to everyone who came.  It is a good memory for us.

It was crazy to think that one month and 3 days after this party Marisa would die.

This is a thick week for people such as us.

So we will ‘party’ ourselves.  And we will grieve.  And we will celebrate.  And we will think of Marisa.  And it will hurt.  Oh, it will hurt so, so much.

But we will Shine.  Because that is what Marisa did and that is what She would want us to do.

The night that was.  A kids dream.  Free candy for just putting on a costume.   Seeing that I used to be a teacher, I was glad that trick or treating happened on a Friday and not a weekday.  I remember those days when students would come into class the next day hopped up on sugar.  Good times.

Zion wanted to be a pirate.  He looked great. 

Jacoba, as much as her father tried to reason with her against the decision, decided to be a princess.  She looked great. 

Zekijah decided to be Spiderman.  I was wondering how she would last walking all that way with her little legs so late in the day.  She led most of the time.   She would walk in front of the other kids (we went with some friends) and say “COME ON GUYS, LETS GO!”  Priceless.  She also got more candy than the others.  It helps to be adorable.




















Shine On DVD

This DVD is of a concert put on by Marisa's family that raised funds for a yearly scholarship in Marisa's name.

Donate Now to receive a DVD