Faith and Grief

Back when I was about ten years old, I met the girl who moved into the house behind me. The family; a mom and dad brother and sister, had come to Michigan from South Dakota. Jan and I were the same age, and we became friends quickly and easily. We had only to climb the back fence to visit each other after school, or in the summer, and I was often at their house, especially when their mom was making mashed-potato donuts.

Jan’s brother Jim was always a part of our lives during those years, but more on the periphery. He had his buddies to hang with and didn’t spend much time with us girls. When he did, it was often just to tease us, but never in a way that was hurtful. That was something that he had learned from his father who was also a bit of a tease.

Have fun but don’t wound.

At a very difficult time in my life these parents invited me to come and live with them. I needed some stability and they provided that, along with a glimpse of what a healthy family relationship is all about. Part of that experience was shared here in my post The Simple Way to Lasting Love, and you can check that out if you want more details.

Through the years since, I’ve stayed in close contact with this family. Being there with Jan and Jim at the loss of their parents, who were like parents to me as well.

And yesterday, I stood with Jan at Jim’s bedside as he took his last breath.

This brother/friend, as I refer to Jim, was a man of God and served Him well for many years, sharing his faith through his work and his words. He and his late wife raised a family deeply rooted in faith and religion, and that legacy is reflected in the words and work of his children today. They, too, walk closely with their God, and it was a blessing to be there to hear their words of prayer at their father’s bedside.

Back in 2015, Jan came to Texas from South Dakota, and after spending time with Jim and his family, she came to my place out in the country. Jim came with her, and the three of us had a great time telling stories and sharing memories.

Since Jim lived in a city, he really seemed to enjoy being out there at “Grandma’s Ranch” and liked throwing the ball for my dog, Poppy. He said it felt a little like being back on the farm in South Dakota, only warmer.

Man in a marron sweatshirt, crouching on wooden steps with his hand on a big dog. Australian Shepard.

Jan and I spent some time coloring, and at one point talked Jim into joining us. He was reluctant at first, saying that was kid stuff, but since Jan and I kept coloring, he finally grabbed a colored pencil and joined in.

Man leaning over a table with a colored pencil in his hand, coloring a picture. Balding on top with a fringe of gray hair and gray beard. Wearing glasses and a maroon sweat shirt.

We colored and talked. And talked and laughed. And colored some more. And shared stories. One that Jim always liked to tell was how the family would wait to see how long it would take for me to smell the donuts when Mom was making them. Then I’d knock on the back door and someone would say, “Here’s Maryann.”

Remembering that story now brings a smile because it reminds me of how welcome I always was.

We didn’t make donuts while Jan and Jim visited me, but they made some together when they got back to his place.

They sent pictures.

Didn’t send donuts.

Just pictures.

And the tease that he was, Jim had to send a photo of him enjoying the donuts while I had to try to remember how good they taste.

Man standing by a stove that has donuts cooling on a rack. He is eating a donut while smiling. He's wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans.

I’ll always remember Jim as this fun-loving guy who enjoyed a good joke, and I’ll miss our lunches together. In recent years, we’d started meeting halfway between our respective homes and have lunch and a nice visit. It was a way to recapture memories of the past that bound us together, and we’d often call Jan in South Dakota so she could be part of the conversations.

I’m incredibly sad that he is gone and the intensity of that feeling surprised me. Jim had texted with me a few days ago that he was ready to go to God and quoted John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

My husband liked to use that verse when he preached but changed it to: “For God so loved Jim, that he gave his only Son, that if Jim believes in Him, Jim shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I believe that, but the message isn’t something that eases my sadness right now.

And in my years of working as a chaplain, I heard many other people say similar things. That while their faith isn’t wavering, the belief that their loved one is in heaven, isn’t dulling the stab of grief.

Thinking about that dichotomy, I’ve come to the conclusion that faith and grief occupy two different places in the human spirit. While faith can say that Jim is at peace and we should take comfort from that, our grief is still strong enough that there’s little we can find comfort in right now.

Peace and comfort come much later when the grief is not so intense, and comfort from faith comes to people at different times.

So, it’s okay to cry and feel sad when we lose someone we have loved.

Rest in Peace, Jim Oldenkamp, brother/friend.

6 thoughts on “Faith and Grief”

  1. Thanks for sharing your memories, Maryann…those are the things we hold onto throughout the years. One has to be able to grieve and cry in those times to get through that stage no matter how long that will be. ‘Down the line’ the good times are what sustain us.

  2. So nice and well documented Maryann. You brought tears . Especially at this time of year we think of all our dear loved ones and friends who have left our World. Sometimes sadness
    and sometimes happy for them. I guess depending on where they were headed, which we
    don’t really know as only HE knows. Thank you Maryann and we wish you a very blessed
    and beautiful celebration of our precious Lord and saviors birth.

    Love you, Margit & York

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Margit, and for the affirmation of my message. Definitely mixed feelings about our loved ones who are gone. We hope to a heavenly reward. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and York. Loved seeing you last time I was in Winnsboro.

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