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.


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.




















I have a friend that I have never met.  His name is Roads.  Many of you have marvelled at the comments that he has left on this blog and that is because he gets it.  He sadly understands what is was like for me to watch Marisa die.  He had to watch his Jenny die.

He decribes that moment well in his blog the price of love.  I especially resonate with the part when Roads says that he didn’t realize that the days “would get so much harder still”.  How true, how true.

Thank you Roads.  I learn from you.  Peace to you.


I have received numerous requests for a DVD of the concert.  They WILL be available and we are now in the process to see how that is going to logistically work.

I will keep you posted.



If you were at the concert last week, you may have noticed that two of my sisters were great with child.

That is no longer the case, my sister Jacoba and her husband Peter had a healthy baby boy!

His name is Joseph Mendelt Doris.  Yep, the name Mendelt will live on…


My good and faithful friends Justin and Rachel sent this to me as a comment but I thought it was more fitting as a post because it is so fitting and beautiful.  I’ve asked their permission.   Thanks JC/RC.


Three people were each given different amounts of suffering. For each it was difficult.

The first was given one cup of suffering, and, because he thought his Master was a hard man, he tried to bury it.

Another was given two cups of suffering, but he knew he had been entrusted with it. So he made two cups of blessings with his.

Another and his whole family was given five cups of suffering. They also knew they were entrusted with it, and so they went to work, carrying the suffering the best way they knew how. They threw a number of parties. At the last party, everyone there was generous with what they had been given too. And by the end of the party, the five cups had turned into 30,000 dollars and honour in one of their names. The Master who had entrusted the five cups to the family turned to them all and said, “Well done, good and faithful servants. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.”

And also,

“Because she loves me,” says the LORD,
“I will rescue her;
I will protect her, for she
acknowledges my name.
“She will call upon me, and I will
answer her;
I will be with her in trouble,
I will deliver her and honour her.
With long life will I satisfy her
and show her my salvation.”
Psalm 91:14-16 (Thanks Mr. Vanderveen)

I received an e-mail from a good friend that said to me, “Mendelt,

“it is difficult to be your friend”.

This is the same person that calls my thoughts and words “Mendeltisms”.  I like that.

This friend said that is was difficult not because of me, MdH, but because I am bereaved.  I am up one day and more up another day.  This friend isn’t saying that I should change or be less open or more open, this person is just saying that it is difficult to walk with me during this time.  And I can understand this.  In fact, sometimes I wonder why people stick with me to begin with. 

Then the answer comes.  It is grace. 

In saying all that, I applaud those who stick by the bereaved.  We need you.  Because you are the grace we need.  The grace we crave. 

Your task is work.  It is difficult.  It is difficult work. 

But it is also beautiful.  It is also love.  It is righteous.  It is kindness.  It is gentleness.  And as you will read in a future post from my friends Justin and Rachel, it is faithfulness.  I know that each person supporting the bereaved aren’t believers in Jesus, but you won’t convince me that the support isn’t Spirit inspired.

A light is not just a light.

To that end, I wish you the spirit.  The spirit of faithfulness.



I have met a number of you since the concert.  I hope that to each person I have extended my appreciation for supporting us.

Most people that have talked to me about the new scholarship are thrilled and come up to me with exuberant passion.

I hope I haven’t extinguished that with my reaction.  The truth is, I don’t really know how to react.

Yes, I am thrilled that we raised enough money for sweet Marisa’s name to continue as a lasting legacy.  Yes, I am thrilled that Her name will help others.  Yes, I am thrilled that we actually raised more than 30G in one night.  Yes, I am thrilled that such hard work paid off.  Yes, I am thrilled that yet again, the Christian community witnessed that death doesn’t win.  Yes, I am thrilled that Zion, Jacoba and Zekijah can look back and be blown away with the support they had.  Yes, I am thrilled about all that.

But I am also sad.  Very, very sad.  Deeply grieved that we had to do all this.

Deeply shaken that at the end of the night we had to remember Marisa.  I miss Marisa terribly.  I didn’t want to have to do the concert.  I wanted Marisa to survive cancer. 

But She didn’t.  The concert was five days ago.  I am still shaken.

But I will go to my empty bed like I have done for almost a year now.  And I will get up in the morning and something will happen that will cause me to be re-shaken.  It may be joy.  It may be suffering.

I guess that is one thing about joy and suffering.  They can not cancel each other out.  They must live together.  Sometimes they must live holding hands.

Jacoba, age four, misses her mom right now something fierce.  When she is sad, like tonight, she likes to sleep in my bed.  I am about to crawl into bed with her and when I get to bed, she usually wakes up.  And then she will do what she usually does. 

She will reach out her hand and I will hold it.

And we will fall asleep holding hands.



The first count of the money totalled more than $30,000.

It’s hard to explain in words the range of emotions that swept through and over me when I heard that number.  There is much more to write about this but that can wait for another day.

Marisa will forever shine.  I don’t know how to explain what that means to me.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Shine on Marisa, Shine on.  Forever.


I don’t know what to write to all who came tonight.  “Thank you” doesn’t measure up to what I felt when I saw so many people there tonight.

It was a great night.  We laughed, we grieved and we watched Jacoba and Zion sing The Hiccup Song (my favourite song for the night).  We listened to stories of Marisa.  We learned a bit more about Marisa.

And hopefully we made enough money for the scholarship.  We won’t find out until the business office counts the money on Monday.  I will let you know.

And though it just doesn’t seem strong enough, thank you.

Shine on Marisa, Shine on. 


Two more days to the concert.

We are stoked to perform.  I hope you are coming.  MdH

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