You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2008.

It is hard to think that we made it through a calendar year without Marisa.

I would say that our children are doing relatively well.  They play and love and fight and listen and sing like regular kids.  If you are in their inner circle, you can quickly see signs of grief but overall I am pleased with where they are.  If you asked me last year how I would have wanted them to be, how they are now would be the answer.

Zion is a beautiful, good, strong, athletic boy.  I am proud of him.  He has a responsibility that few 6 years old have.  And he is doing an exceptional job.  He adores his sisters.  No one else gets to tease them.  He will stick up for them without a second thought.  I like that. 

Jacoba is a beautiful, good, strong, artistic girl.  She speaks her mind.  I like that.  I have often said that I would much rather have spice than vanilla.  2008 is the year that I believe Jacoba went from not understanding that Marisa died to understanding that Marisa died.  That is a crazy realization.  Crazy.

Zekijah is a beautiful, wonderful, hilarious, busy girl.  She speaks her mind.  I like that.  She often reminds me of Marisa.  Especially the way she can walk into a room and raise the spirit of the room just with her presence.  Sometimes I look at her and wonder how she will come to know what happened.

The beginning of 2009 will see my return back to full time work.

I should clarify that…

The beginning of 2009 will se my return back to full time work outside the home.

Peace to you all in 2009.



This is an blog edited version of the column – My Window Seat – that I write for a

biweekly publication called the Christian Courier ( ) This comes

from the December 8 issue of this year.  I hope you like it.  MdH



“A shoot will come up from the stump…” Isaiah 11 vs.1a


I’ve always found Christmas to be a polarized time.  Reuniting with loved ones is rightfully treasured and emphasized while those without family are hopefully brought in and comforted.

With my work at Bethesda, an organization that supports adults with developmental disabilities, many individuals there had a difficult time at Christmas.  These individuals had a difficult time because they don’t have nuclear or extended families who will take them in, and so they have to wade through the Christmas season by themselves while others often speak about and cherish family gatherings.

Christmas is a time when local Food Banks are used more often than in other parts of the year, when Canada Post is the busiest with mailings, cards and gifts and when people plan to give to others so that the love of Christ is tangibly felt.

It is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  It is a time when the shoot that was proclaimed in Isaiah comes to fruition. 

It is also a time that some of us will heavily miss our loved ones.  It will be a time when some of us will remember those who left us long ago.  It will be a time for some to look forward and plan on a blessed new year.  It will be time to look back and spend time thankful for the blessings received. 

And for some it will be a wonderful time.  And for some it will be a difficult time.

For us, Christmas will be all of that and more.  We will have wonderful days and we will have difficult days.  And we will have wonderfully difficult days.  I can’t explain the difference between a wonderful and difficult day except that I know for certain that they exist.

Entering the first anniversary of Marisa’s death from cancer at age 33, our three children and I will again be wading in emotionally difficult territory.  I often wonder how we are to effectively take the past, wrap it up, hold and honour it and continue on.  The past is like a stump for us – painfully cut down but in need of harvest.  We need to continue to seek the wisdom and understanding to see the shoots that either have or will come to us.

Christmas is like that.  The actual event of Jesus’ birth is nothing unless we know the past and the future meaning of it.  What would Christmas mean if it wasn’t foretold or it wasn’t planned for a sovereign purpose?

I and our three children ages 2, 4 and 6 are not different from many other families.  We are experiencing what I call our ‘stumptime’.  We are like many others, people who are living with suffering and joy.  Many people will offer advice and try and provide comfort.  Some of it will work.  Some of it will not work.  Some people will tell you that your faith will bring you through it and will quote a piece of scripture to prove that.  Sometimes that helps and can make one feel better.  And the truth is sometimes it doesn’t work.

For some this Christmas will be a time when despair and hurt need to be acknowledged but reminded that during their ‘stumptime’ a shoot will come forth. 

That is the promise from the manger.  I wish you a blessed and peaceful Christmas.

Today while we were driving Jacoba asked Zion,

“Zion, what is a widow again?”

Zion said, “it’s when a mom’s husband dies”.

Jacoba said “oh yeah”. 

I listened.

Zion then said to me, “Do you know what you are?”

I asked him to tell me.

He said ” You are a windo..err a widnn…err widoor…err…a widower.  A widower”.

He then quickly added, “that’s hard to say”.

Yes it is my son, yes it is.


It was two years ago today that Marisa walked into our door with those surprising and dreaded words…

“I have cancer”.

I don’t remember much about that day.  I remember calling my parents and asking them to take the kids.  My dad dropped what he was doing and drove here.  It is a 10 minute ride.  He was here in 7 minutes.  And I remember being with Marisa.  Being loud.  And being quiet.

As I write this, I am looking at the spot where she stood.

Strange to be looking at that spot and remembering where she stood, what she said and what she looked like then.

And as I look at that spot, there is nothing there.  It is gone.  Like Marisa.

Two years.  Seems like a long time.  Seems like yesterday.

I am a different person now then 2 years ago.  There is a new Mendelt. 

It isn’t a shiny, polished, cherry flavoured, new-and-improved Mendelt.

It is a weathered, experienced, stretched, torn, reshaped, somehow more content, peace seeking, suffered and deeper Mendelt.

And in many ways it feels like the old Mendelt knew much more than this new version.


Loss isn’t a single event.

It is a series of rememberings, reminders and marked milestones.

Marisa’s death is surely like that.  Marisa’s death isn’t only December 6, 2007.

It is…

02 – July two, the day Marisa said yes to me beside Beaver Lake in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

20 – December twenty, the day of diagnosis.

The entire season of late fall.  I wonder if late fall will always be Marisa to me.

30 – August thirty, the news that Marisa wouldn’t live till Christmas.

70 – The amount of money for a seasons pass to all the Conservation Area’s in Niagara.  Hiking with four.

12 – June twelve, our wedding anniversary.  We will have always been married nine-and-a-half years.

11, 13, 29 – The days of Zekijah, Jacoba and Zion’s birthday.

1 – The first of anything without Marisa.

20 and 08 – The days of our birthdays.  While I may continue to grow in years, Marisa will stay 33 to me.

It is a lot of math.


This blog has received over 900,000 views.  In less than two years.  That blows my mind.

This blog started as a way of getting the correct information out about Marisa’s cancer.  This blog became much, much more than that.

It became a love story.  It became a love story with many different players.  A love story between Marisa and me, between us and the kids, between us and you, between us and Jesus. 

I often wonder why this blog is read by so many. 

Do some people come here to learn?  Yes.

Do some people come here to grieve?  Yes.

Do some people come here because they have something to say?  Yes.

Do some people come here for morbid curiousity?  Probably.

Do some people come here for a tangible link to Marisa?  Yes.

But it is probably more than that.

While I don’t know the full answer, I think one of the reasons is that there is a point in everyone’s life that we will realize something, a place where we come to understand that,

 This world breaks everybody.

And I think that people have seen brokenness here.  They have read about it through stories, through pictures and through the experience that we decided to allow the public to digest.

And after people have seen this brokenness, I wonder why they continue to read. 

I think it is because people want to see what grows out of broken places.


I have thought deeply about what to write on this day.  The first year anniversary of Marisa’s death.  She wanted me to thank you,  so that I will do.

Thank you to all the people that prayed for us.

Thank you to the congregation of Fruitland Christian Reformed Church who were loving and kind to Marisa and I and the kids.  Thank you to those who ask how I am doing and those that can see in my tears that I don’t want to talk.

Thank you to Marisa’s quilting group.  She loved being with you.  Blessed are the Piecemakers.

Thank you to Janis who took the kids when Marisa was dying.

Thank you to friends like Darren, Chris, Justin, Josh who allow me to have deep, meaningful conversations as well as get in touch with my inner frat boy.

Thank you to Matt and Trevor, two friends that were with me through every groan and every gospel.

Thank you to the doctors and nurses at the Juravinski Cancer Clinic who continue to work to provide comfort.

Thank you to those who haven’t experienced deep suffering but are now more understanding and kind to a single mom or dad.

Thank you to Gary, Rose and Lauren for the much needed fun times. 

Thank you to Faye, Jen and Dan, for their visits with Marisa and your love to Her.

Thank you to my morning basketball buddies who provide me with much needed fitness.

Thank you to the Feddema’s, Harold for being a good tennis partner and Donna and the girls for babysitting and being so kind to the kids.

Thank to you Pastor Andrew and Kim for so many of those visits and for allowing and encouraging conversations that I used to think were not allowed with a minister.

Thank you to Paul, Del, Rachel, Caleb and Elysha.  Your willingness to open your home is Christ-like.

Thank you to Jen, who has been a constant babysitter for ZJZ.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog, either in silence or in written word, as well as those who have sent cards and letters to us.

Thank you to Jean and Paul Koorneef, who have sent us a card every other week for this whole year.

Thank you to Roads, Shannon, Lisa, Darren and those who have suffered before me and are willing to allow me to learn from you.

Thank you to my neices and nephews who give Zion, Jacoba and Zekijah a beautiful release.

Thank you to Marisa’s sisters; Monica for always being willing to help and organize with VanderVeen functions and to Christy for being a easy place for Marisa to land, especially that weekend a few weeks before She died.

Thank you to my brothers and sisters, Frances and James, John and Henri, Monique and Alec, Jacoba and Peter, Klaas and Tanya for being a constant source of support.

Thank you to Mom and Dad VanderVeen, a better set of in-laws a person couldn’t have.  Your shepherding of Marisa was why She grew to be so loved.

Thank you to my parents, Dr. Gerzinus and Jeannetta Hoekstra, Mem and Heit for being our number 1 support and always being willing to do anything for us.  You welcomed Marisa into our family like She was one of yours.  And She was.

Thank you to those who have been a support to the VanderVeen and Hoekstra families.

Thank you to Zion who will never allow anyone tease Jacoba or Zekijah because that is his job and his job alone.

Thank you to Jacoba who sometimes crawls in bed with me and holds my hand and who calls me from her bed when she is scared.

Thank you to Zekijah who often, especially this week, asks where Mommy is.  When you do that you prove my importance in your life.

Many tears were shed this week.   

So thank you to Jesus, who promises that one day, hopefully one day soon, there will be no more tears.  No more suffering.  No more pain.  No more tears.

Unspeakable peace to you all.


Tomorrow will mark one year since Marisa died.

I remember.

That day, this blog received 10,790 hits.  That still blows me away.

I remember those who helped us on our journey.  And I am eternally thankful.

I remember what it was like to have to make those dreaded phone calls.

I remember what it was like to have to carry Marisa to Her resting place.

I remember what it was like to have three sleepless nights before She took Her last breath.

I remember what it was like to hold Her while She took her last breath.

I remember what it was like to watch a dear father weep over his still daughter.

I remember what it was like to fill Marisa’s room with songs of lament and praise.

I remember what it was like to curse cancer.

I remember what it was like to feel unexplainable peace.

I remember what  it was like to feel the old Mendelt die.

I remember that the feeling relieved when Marisa died.

I remember taking off Marisa’s wedding ring.

I remember what it was like to have to tell Zion, Jacoba and Zekijah that their mother, their friend, the one that they were knit inside, one of their providers, their mom, their Marisa, is now in heaven. 

Last year, I didn’t know how I would get to this day while staying relatively healthy.  More about that tomorrow.  For today, we will hold our breath and see what we are given tomorrow.  I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid of the sunset.

I remember.

I remember Marisa.

A kind woman stopped me yesterday.

She told me that she reads this blogand that she appreciates it.  She said that she specifically connected with the post – tired. 

I wondered where she was coming from.

She explained.  She said that when she read that post it was the 45th anniversary of when her father died.  She explained that when she read that post, she further appreciated what her mom had to go through raising young kids on her own.  She was six when her father died.

The tears welled up in her eyes.

The tears welled up in my eyes.

45 years later.

I can not explain to you in words what my initial emotional reaction was. 

I hugged her.  I selfishly asked her if she could give me some advice about what her mom did right.  She said to me, “our mom stayed home with us”.

That seems like good advice.

45 years later, the hurt was evident in her eyes.  And that hurt tore through me.

I don’t think about Zion, Jacoba and Zekijah as 50 year olds.  And at this point, I am not going to start.

But this just goes to show the multi-faceted sides of grief.


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