Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Monday morning I wake up at 3:50 a.m. for a bathroom pit stop (seems to be mandatory at this stage of my life) and after laying back down realize I'm not going back to sleep. My mind is thin king about the day ahead and I realize this is a day I need to get behind me, even though it is going to be difficult.

For many years now we have spend the last week of the year at Bethany Beach and brought in the New Year with our very dear and very close friends from that place. Friends we have known for our entire married life. We raised our families together at Bethany which became this wonderful extended family for ourselves and our children. On Monday I was going to make the trip on my own and I was not looking forward to it.

So I got out of bed and was in the car at 5:00 a.m., having texted an apology to Julie Ann who I was going to meet for breakfast around 8:30 a.m., knowing I would be getting close to Madison by that time and should giving myself a good chance to have little problem with Chicago city traffic. The drive itself was uneventful and it was only after I pulled off the freeway and made my way into Bethany that it hit me will full force:
  • Here is the place that Jan started coming to when she was just a child of 2 or 3 years.
  • The Aiton family's little red cottage is where she lived during the summer and where she thrived as a child.
  • It was here that I first came with Jan in the summer of 1963 as I would be working for her father prior to our marriage in August.
  • It was here that we would bring our kids every summer so that they could have the kind of "growing up" experience that Jan had treasured so deeply.
  • Now here I was driving into this place for the first time without Jan being with me and going to our house alone.
  • I pulled into the driveway and sat there for a bit trying to think of any reason not to go inside.
  • Here was my problem: Jan could not imagine doing life without Bethany Beach as part of the equation. I was sitting in the car trying to imagine how I would be able to do Bethany Beach without Jan as part of the equation.

In so many ways Bethany had become the place where Jan was able to most fully express her personality and gifts. It was here that she strongly believed was the finest place in the world to raise children during the summer season. It was here that close friends provided an extended family and many sets of parenting and grandparenting eyes and arms loving your children. It was here she could walk the streets and know the history of each household and "family tree" connections of everyone. It was here that her ability on the piano and organ were maximized to the fullest in the Sunday services in the tabernacle and where for years she worked on the committee planning the worship services. It was here she could go to the beach and enjoy on beautiful sand beach of southern Michigan and the shores of Lake Michigan. It was here....I could go on for pages...that Jan could package all the best elements of life and revel in what she was experiencing. Bethany Beach was for Jan a "bit of heaven" and I suspect she felt that God was saying "walk around this place and you will have an idea of what the next life is like."

So now she is experiencing that next life and I know it is wonderful and good and blessed. And I continue to experience this life and I know it too is wonderful and good and blessed. It's just that here at Bethany I am trying to understand how to make it all happen without her. I look outside and the skies are blue and the sun is shining, it is a beautiful day. BUT!

BUT: I am maudlin and blue in a sad kind of way and what I see are trees without leaves, grass that is not green, flower beds without color, streets that are mostly empty. I read Psalm 23:4 which says "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" and that is what I see: the shadow of death. I am afraid that this will be a week to live in the shadows and slog through what has normally been one of the happiest weeks of the year.

YET: I know Who is my Shepherd and I know He will bring me to "green pastures" and He will lead me to "quiet waters" and He will "restore my soul" and He is the one who gives me comfort.

Monday, December 20, 2010


It's Monday morning Lord, and I have just spent some time staring at one of my screen saver pictures. They came installed with the computer and they rotate through every day, so I have looked at them over and over again. There should be nothing new in what I see.

When I booted up the computer this morning, I found myself looking at that beautiful picture of a lake with mountains in the background and big chunks of ice on the shore of the lake. I just assume the picture was taken in Alaska and the ice chunks are from a glacier. I really like the picture.

However, this morning my eyes were not drawn to the lake, or the mountains, or the ice chunks; as is usually the case. This morning my eyes were immediately drawn to the sun which was shining over the top of the mountain. I know the sun has always been part of the picture, but somehow I either of never noticed it before or have not paid attention to it.

This morning it was blazing with a brightness that made me wonder how I could have missed it or how is it that it was not the first thing I noticed each time I looked at that picture. It was right there in front of me like a beautiful gift blazing light and warmth and joy into the sadness of my heart that was so heavy this weekend.

I think it was Your gift to me. It was You who cast my eyes toward the sun. It was You who made that sun shine so brightly that I could not miss it. It was You who was sayng "not only is there light at the end of the tunnel; there is light right now". It was You who was saying "Christmas is not just a time of joy for others; it will be a time of joy for you John". It was You who was saying "you may feel like you are swimming in glacially cold water John, but get on the beach and let the sun fill you with warmth".

All I can say is THANK YOU! You know just how much I needed to see the sun. I needed to reflect with joy on last evening and time with my family. I needed to relish the wonder of grandchildren giving me a big hug and telling me how much they love me. I needed to be with my children and extended was a great evening...and...the sun was shining.

You know that this morning I needed not only to look at the sun, but I needed to look to the Son. I need to focus on the one who is the Light of the world. The Light that shines in darkness. I thank You for the gift of sunshine and most of all the gift of Your Son. He is my light and my salvation and the Joy of my Christmas. Thank You Lord...Amen

Saturday, December 18, 2010


My dearest Jan,

I lost it today...big time. It started at the store as I was looking for Christmas card and there staring at me was one that simply said "Happy Birthday Jesus". I haven't played that song yet, even though I know it was one you loved so much to hear this time of the year. What it did was bring a lump to my throat as I thought of you.

As I pulled into the garage at home is when I really lost. Remember how we used to sit in the car sometimes and listen to the end of a book on tape before going inside? I had gotten a book on tape on Tuesday when I drove up to Grand Rapids to see my sisters and today as I came home from the store I was getting to the very end, so I left the car idling and listened for a few minutes in the car.

The story involved a letter not to be delivered by the local postmistress to the writers wife, unless the postmistress received word that the writer had been killed while serving in London as a doctor during World War II. The word of his death came by way of telegram one day to the post office and so the postmistress sadly went over to deliver the telegram and the letter that she had been holding for several months.

The letter began this way: "My dearest Emma. If you are reading this letter it means that I have died in England and the hand that holds the pen with which to write you, will never again hold your hand. That thought is almost more than I can bear to consider..."

That's when I lost it. Right there in the car. Sitting in the garage. Once they started they were like a river and I could not stop them. After a few minutes I found myself putting the car into reverse and backing out of the garage. I found myself driving toward Sunset Cemetery where I parked on the street parallel to your grave.

That's when I lost it again. Big time. There is too much snow to walk up the hill to stand beside you, so I sat in the car and cried and actually talked to you. I was feeling very alone. I was feeling very lonely. I was feeling cast adrift. I was unprepared to go home and start wrapping Christmas presents without you making out the labels. I didn't want to make the fruit salad to bring to our Sunday School class party tonight. I couldn't bring myself to think "Merry" Christmas. I was missing you something fierce as once again I thought about life without you as a central part of the equation.

And now I am losing it again. I guess it is a day for tears. I simply want to say: "My dearest Jan. I write this with a heavy heart knowing that the fingers typing this letter will never again entwine themselves with yours as we hold hands. I realize that "lonely" and "alone" and not just words to me, they are a stark reality, and not even my family and friends can fill the spot reserved for you all these years. That is truly almost more than I can bear to consider on this day and during this season of the year. I love you honey, very, very much!"

But here's the deal:
  • I am going to wrap those presents.
  • I am going to make that fruit salad.
  • I am going to attend the party tonight.
  • I am going to celebrate a Merry Christmas a few days early tomorrow night with our kids. I am going to try and bring both my joy and your joy to these events.
  • I am going to give the grandkids extra hugs from both of us.
  • I am going to help our kids enjoy this time to the best of my ability.
  • I am going to do that because I love you.
  • I am going to do that because you are right.

The true spirit of Christmas is "Happy Birthday Jesus"!!!

As a family we need to be singing that in our hearts. I'll think of you every time the words come to my mind. I love you. John

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Morning Conversation--Dec. 12, 2010

It's Monday morning Lord and the word that comes to mind is "WOW"!
  • WOW...18 inches of new snow on the ground.
  • WOW...that snow makes for a beautiful scene.
  • WOW...the Metrodome roof collapsed and will cost big money to repair.
  • WOW...A Scandinavian Christmas done by the Minnesota Orchestra last night was great. hit me last night like a ton of bricks during a beautiful rendition of "I'll be Home for Christmas." It was the line "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams". Jan won't be home for Christmas except in our dreams and in our thoughts and in our conversations.

WOW...Christmas was a "really big deal" to her and I loved coming along for the ride.

  • It was a big deal to decorate the house.
  • It was a big deal to buy all the gifts.
  • It was a big deal to plan the parties and the smorgasbords.
  • It was a big deal to play the Swedish Christmas music all day long.
  • It was a big deal to listen to "Happy Birthday Jesus" a few times.
  • It was a big deal and I am missing all of that something awful.

WOW...the audience sang a medley of Christmas songs together last night. I can now say that I have "sung with the Minnesota Orchestra" and I really sounded good! That was the second time I almost lost it when during O Come, All Ye Faithful we sang "Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation, Sing, all ye citizens of heav'n above, Glory to God in the highest".

I don't know who all sings in the "choir of angels", but Jan is now one of "ye citizens of heav'n above". She had a beautiful low alto voice, but often she liked to sing soprano during a sing along (she sounded better as an alto than a soprano), but she would belt it out pretty good. I had an empty seat next to me, but my left arm was on the pile of coats in that seat most of the night, as we would have been holding hands had she been there. I had this rather vivid image in my head of a voice in that "heavenly choir" joining us last night and she sounded wonderful.'s Christmas and there is music in the air.

  • Joy to the world!
  • The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.
  • Glory to the newborn king.
  • Silent night. Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
  • O come, let us adore Him.


Monday, December 6, 2010


It's Monday morning Lord and I'm thinking about myself...yes that's right...myself.

I thought it would be easy to focus on what we had together and not fret about what will never be.

But I am finding that is easier said than done and

I've had a difficult week because I have in fact been fretting:

  • I decorated the house for Christmas, but it doesn't look the same. I'm not able to give it the same touch that Jan would have done.

  • I chose not to put up the big tree this year and now the house only looks "half decorated", which bothers me a bit, but also seems fitting as only "half" is here this year.

  • The bright spot is that the grandkids decorated the tree in the lower level and that gives me a lot of joy.

  • I had to go to the cemetery this week for some final paper work and that was a real bummer.

  • I went to the Festival of Christmas smorgasbord on Saturday and had to leave and go home before the concert started.

  • I did not really know what to say when people asked "How are you doing?" Should I be honest and say "not very good" or should I put up a good front and say "I am doing okay"?

  • Bottom line is I was there without my spouse at what was one of our favorite Christmas activities and I was not doing very good.

So now it's Monday morning and I'm asking you for help to get my focus off myself and focus on the good things I will be doing this week. I know Lord that you are acquainted with grief and the need for sorrow. I know that you are the God who walks with me and lives with me in the present moment. I know that you are my Immanuel, the God who is with me. I am trusting you to be with me this week.

I look forward to living this week with YOU by my side...Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday, November 29

It's Monday morning.
As usual I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and cannot go back to sleep.
I finish decorating the house for Christmas.
I think it looks all right, but I don't have the same touch as Jan.
The grandkids come over tonight to help me decorate the tree and that will be good.

Thanks giving was a special day as the Sahlin's and Carlson's were together and it was decided to not have the usual turkey dinner this year. Instead everyone made one of Jan's favorite foods and we had that for our meal. It was quite a spread and I even contributed by making the palmini, one of our favorite Ukrainian dishes.

At the meal we were encouraged to take the initials of our first name and use those letters to trigger thoughts of thankfulness. Here is what JOHN brought to my mind:

J: I am so thankful for "Jan" and our 47 years together. My memories are so good and she made my life very rich and full. I am determined to be thankful for "what we had together" and not dwell too much on "what will not be" in the future. We had a good life together.

O: I am thankful for the "Others" in my life who have stepped up to the plate to support me with their presence, their words and the generosity of their time. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful family and so many good people in my life.

H: I am thankful for the "Homes" of each of my family members and friends and the warmth they provide me each time I visit. My own home has such a different feel with the heart and soul of it no longer present. My home is filled with wonderful memories and because of the unique decorating touch of Jan it oozes her character and personality. But sometimes those memories overwhelm and I need to leave my home and visit you in your homes. Thank you for making your home a welcoming place for me.

N: I am thankful for a "Name", the name of Jesus, who is proving to be my Immanuel, my "God with me". I can truly echo the translation of John 1:14 in The Message ,when rather than saying "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us", it says he "pitched his tent" in our neighborhood. Truly He has pitched his tent in my neighborhood and is living and moving in my life. I am reminded daily that I do not navigate my life without Someone walking right beside me and that gives me courage and strength.

Advent has begun...join me in walking with the One who has pitched His tent in our neighborhoods.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

This is a week of heavy emotions as we said farewell to my 40 year old niece-in-law, Jackie, and now as I prepare to head out for Thanksgiving without Jan. At the Memorial Service for Jackie the priest gave a very helpful message when in part he said: "Each of us had a decision to make today. We can either give thanks for what was...or...we can be bitter over what might have been". He then went on to talk about all we learned from the 40 years of Jackie's life and what we can do as we move forward.

So today I want to be thankful for "what was" in my 47 years with Jan:
**Thankful for a truly happy and solid marriage.
**Thankful for wonderful memories that flood my mind and warm my spirit.
**Thankful for the things we accomplished and the things we learned together.
**Thankful for the joy our children brought to our lives.
**Thankful for such wonderful grandchildren who bring such happiness.
**Thankful for the many friendships we enjoyed and how those friendships endure.
**Thankful for our church family and the support they provide.
**Thankful for the faith in Jesus Christ that we shared together.

I do have so much for which to be thankful and I am so thankful for each of you. Thank you for all the ways you have expressed love and support. I am learning to appreciate the "body of Christ" at a whole new level of depth and meaning.

To each of you I simple say HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

May God richly bless you today.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Musings on a Monday Morning

Good morning friends...

In a few hours I will drive to Grand Rapids in northern Minnesota to be with my extended family. I have 3 sisters (all younger than me) and back in May my niece-in-law, Jackie, (wife of my middle sister's son Grant) discovered she had stage four lung cancer. Jackie had never smoked or done anything to harm her body, as she was a runner who took care of herself. But at the age of 40 this disease took her life and on Friday morning it took her life. She leaves behind her husband Grant and their 4 children and tonight will be the visitation at the funeral home and tomorrow the memorial service. I wrote a note that I included with my sympathy card and I want to share that with you this morning.


Over these past months Jan and I have prayed so often for you and Jackie. We have prayed for healing with a great deal of faith, knowing that ultimately she would be healed, but wanting that healing to take place in this life.

Now the two of us find ourselves on a road “less traveled” and a road that we wish were “never traveled” as we start down a path without our spouse. In the time it took for Jan to say “What is happening to me?” and the short seven months it took for cancer to take the life of Jackie; our lives have been forever altered.

I have been on the road for only a few days; but I have been learning some very important lessons:

· Jesus is a Loving Shepherd who walks the road with me.

· I am filled by the Spirit with the presence and comfort of God in my life.

· My children and grand-children are phenomenal in their love and support; and they give me reason to put my feet on the floor in the morning and look forward to a new day.

· I am blessed with happy memories of a truly great marriage and the wonderful woman I was fortunate enough to call my wife.

· My support group of friends and family are simply awesome.

· My church and my faith sustain me in new and deeper ways.

When your Mom called and said through tears: “Oh John, I have to tell you that Jackie is now in heaven with Jan and Jesus”; it broke my heart to hear the news. I was on my way to church for an early morning men’s Bible study and I had to stop the car and take some time to catch my breath. This morning I got to thinking about “what is heaven like right now because Jan and Jackie are there”? I think the two of them have got heaven buzzing with a new level of joy and enthusiasm and energy and love for Jesus. I take comfort in that, even though I selfishly wish that both of them were still here with us.

Please know Grant that I will be praying for you with the intensity of one who is traveling this road with you. We have a real learning curve ahead of us to understand how to navigate this road, but we don’t travel alone. We have two fantastic women cheering us on to make the most of life; and God the Father is leading the way; and Jesus walks beside us like a friend who is closer than a brother; and the Holy Spirit is filling us with the joy and comfort and peace of our Lord.

Walk with courage,

Uncle John

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15

It's Monday Lord and
my mind is somewhat blank and a bit confused.
In so many ways I feel lost or disoriented,
like I need to find a compass to learn what direction I'm moving.
I've passed the two week mark since losing Jan and
I've worked hard to keep myself busy.
Lot's of time with my kids and grandkids,
Lot's of times over breakfast, lunch and dinner with friends.
I think that "busy is good" right now and
some day I am sure that a "new normal" will emerge.

My confusion is partly a matter of identity,
of understanding how to think of myself.
How do you go from 47 years of thinking of yourself as John/Jan
to thinking of yourself as John?
How do you go from planning life together
to planning life for yourself without input from your other half?
I relished the life of "oneness" with Jan and
now there is no "two" but just "one".

I sat down for lunch today with Lee and Carol and
looked at Carol and said "this is all you get...just me."
I maybe shouldn't have said that but
that impulsive thought expressed how I felt at the moment.
We were best men in each others weddings and
we've spent a lifetime together as couple friends.
That's part of my confusion as
now we still be friends but with a new configuration.

So I've been feeling sorry for myself and
I should know better than that.
Because I am not alone and
you keep reminding me of that.
You keep nudging me with the awareness of Your presence.
I open cards and letters that tell me "I/we are praying for you".
Margot calls to ask me to come to school for lunch with her and
she's checked the menu to find a day when she thinks I will like the food.
Joel calls to tell me about a guy in Polly's Island, NC who is turning his life around
after hearing of Jan's death and her love of The Starfish Story.
Julie calls to check up on me to be sure everything is okay and
our long conversation encourages and lifts my spirits.

Then Lord you keep reminding me that you are I AM.
"I" am the One who will never leave you or forsake you.
"I" am the Good Shepherd who walks with you through the valley.
"I" am the Comforter.
"I" am the Voice that calms the troubled sea.
"I" am the Presence that indwells you.
John's gospel tells me that you are the great I AM.
Thank you for being the "I am" in my life.
I know that eventually I will find my own "I am" identity
as I move through the learning curve of this phase of my life.

I AM GRATEFUL to call you my Immanuel because
you truly are "God with me" and you have pitched your tent right next to mine.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the memorial service bulletin there was a page where each of the grandchildren had written something about Amma. In addition I have 7 poster boards with pictures of each of the grandchildren with their Amma and on these poster boards they also wrote comments. I love what they say so much that I want to share them with you.
Julie Ann and Mike's Children
Ryan (Age 5): I love that Amma took me to the train place and to the place with the little door and rooster (a children's bookstore). And I liked the way Amma smelled. I liked that she would give me presents. Amma gave me my Bazz Lightyear--I love that guy! Amma was pretty, too. I love Amma a whole much. Oh! And I loved that she had little kid chairs for me at her house.
Keira (Age 2): Keira loved her Amma. She loved to climb up into Amma's lap and have Amma read to her. Earlier in the evening before Mom died, Keira and Mom sat together and read/sang "The Wheels on the Bus"--including all the motions. Amma just glowed. Keira also shared Amma's love for music and hopes to grow up to play the piano as beautifully as Amma did. Right now Keira's favorite word is "hug" and she loves to give great big bear hugs just like her Amma. Maybe someday she'll have a license plate thyat reads "Keirahugs" just like her Amma had.
Joel and Kelly's Children
Anders (Age 12): I love how my Amma would take all of us to Disney World when we turned five. I loved spending time with her at Disney and Cabo San Lucas. My Amma was so caring, prayerful and loving to everyone.
On his poster board he made a long list of Amma Memories: sleepovers in the bathtub, Sound of Music, Joey and Julie stories, Palmini, swedish pancakes, Disney World, Mexico, Hope Avenue, Kidz Klozet, Ukraine, vacations, picture taking, fun dates, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, Taco Bell, cooking, golfing, piano, Happy Birthday Jesus Song, thoughtful gifts, asking questions more than once. amazing friend, loved very much, golf cart rides, hosting, loving Bethel, Uno, special songs with grandkids, always can start a conversation, outgoing, liked introducing people, match making, loved learned and teaching new things, prayerful, caring, funny names for thingts, movies, Chipolte. He ended by writing out the words from I Cor. 13:4-11 which talks about what love is all about.
Sofie (Age 10) One thing I really liked about Amm is the smell of her Swedish pancakes in the morning at Bethany Beach. I also love when Margot and I would wake up early and jump in bed with Amma and Appa. Amma was loving and caring and she was always happy giving to others, like at Hope Avenue.
On her poster board she made this list about Amma: Swedish pancakes, sleep overs, Taco Bell, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, Bethany Beach, Mexico, beach, cooking, movies, vacations, picture taking, golfing, prayer journal, caring, Hope Avenue, Disney World, Uno, gifts, golf cart rides, Kidz Klozet, Starfish Foundation, tacos, Sweden, Ukriane, palmeni, Joey and Julie stories, the Sound of Music, music, fun dates, Bethel, parities, believer, trustful, loving.
Margot (age 8): I love Amma because whenever we had sleepovers we slept in the bathtub with tons of blankets and pillows. She also does really fun parties and has awesome food. Amma was always so caring, loving, and I always had fun with her.
On her poster board she a picture of Bethany Beach which she labeled "Amma's Favorite Place."
She then had written Amma's Song: Happy Birthday Jesus. I'm so glad it's Christmas. All the candles and light. Happy Birthday Jesus. I love you. (Note: This was a song done by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir that Amma loved to play at Christmas time...more than once!)
She also wrote these wonderful words: "Amma was so caring, thoughtful, nice, and loving. It is so hard to lose her. She would open the door and have a huge smile on her face. She new how to cheer everyone up. I wish she didn't die. I love you Amma. And God keep her safe. Please, keep her safe. I love you!
Mallory (Age 3) My wike (like) my Amma. Her reads to me. Nenus (Jesus) wanted Amma to live with Him. I want Nenus (Jesus). Amma is going to find our dog and Nenus (Jesus) and give them a big hug.
On her poster board she printed out the word Amma in her own letters and also wrote Mallory by herself. She also drew a very pretty picture of Bethany Beach and two of the pictures on her poster board were of her in the water with Amma. Then she said some very touching words that her Mom wrote out for her: I love you Amma. My know you love me. Come back and live with us and make Appa feel better.
A note from Appa: One day while I was at their house, Mallory wanted me to bring some cookies home when I left. She got a Baggie and took me by the hand to where the cookies were and put some in the bag. When I said that was enough she then picked up a chocolate chip cookie and said to me: "This cookie is for Amma. She with Nenus now, but she still like to eat a cookie, and you can give to her."
I am so thankful to be a grandfather.
These kids mean the world to me.
I wouldn't know what to do without them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The memorial service bulletin included an insert in which my kids shared their thoughts on Jan. Each of them would have liked more space to write, but each of them spoke so beautifully of their Mom and Mom-in-Law.
Julie Ann: When I was a little girl, I asked Mom why she always said, 'I love you' whenever we would say goodbye. She told me that the last words she wanted me to hear was how much she loved me so if anything happened I would never doubt how she felt about me. Like most moms and daughters we had our ups and downs, but we navigated through to a place where we had a great friendship. We shared a love for knitting, traveling, reading (especially the 'Outlander' series), and watching chick flicks. I admire Mom for being as generaous with her heart and soul as she was with her resources--qualities I hope to have not only in myself, but to instill in my children as well. Mom left us so suddenly that there was no chance to say good bye, but Mom, I have NEVER for one moment doubted that you loved me and I hope that you knew that I loved you too; so much so that I don't know how I am going to do this next part of life without you. I am so blessed that the last picture taken of you, just moments before you left us, was you hugging me--a priceless treasure of my mother's love. Thank you for being an amazing woman and a wonderful example of a wife, mother and grandmother. Your are the best! I LOVE YOU!!!
Mike: Jan left us only a few days ago and her loss was, in a literal sense, felt around the world. More close to home I will notice her absence daily from the lives of Julie Ann, Ryan, Keira and myself. The first time I met Jan was while cooking dinner at Julie Ann's home. Julie Ann and I were having one of our first dates. Jan was leaving on a trip to South Africa for two weeks and could not wait to see this new boyfriend for herself. Over the years she proved to be exactly as advertised and so much more. She was friendly, warm and genuinely interested in knowing what and how I was doing. She would say I was her favorite son-in-law--I would remind her that I was the only one. Jan was generous with her time and gifts to me and to others. You had to be sneaky if you were going to pay for a meal. I will always remember the many trips to warm Southern regions and even a few to the North. No achievement or special event would go unnoticed by Jan. Most conversations would include Bethany Beach in Michigan along with an inquiry as to when I thought I could make it there. Jan was always makiing an effort to be with friends and family. She meant so much to so many--her passing will resonate long into the future. No beach or pool will be complete without Jan by it. She was not only my mother-in-law, she was my friend.
Joel: A I reflect on my mom's awesome life I keep coming back to one pharase: "Make a difference". My mother was all about making a difference in every area of her life. She wanted to make a difference for single mothers. She wanted to make a difference for her family, her husband, her daughter, her son and daughter in law and her grandkids. My mother made a difference in my life. Her servant heart challenged me to put others always before myself. She never thought of herself as better than anyone else and she made everyone around her feel comfortable. She taught me how to conduct and run a business; and mentored me as to how to treat my clients and my employees with love, respect and friendship. She always talked to me with a joyful heart and would not ever consider saying goodbye without making sure I knew she loved me. She was a wife to my father that modeled how marriage should be lived. She loved Jesus so much and reminded me all the time that life is so awesome because we love our God; and Mom showed that love with her passion for music and worship. She loved being Amma and my kids were so fortunate to have her in their lives. The memories they share prove that Amma made a difference to them. Mom I love you so much and I will continue to live my life to honor your legacy. I will never forget you and I will cherish the 39 years we had together. I can't wait to see you again!! I love you.
Kelly: I am so blessed because I had the chance to love two moms the way I have. God knew just what I needed when I married Joel. I was to gain a mother and a father in law who would help me become even more a woman of God, with a heart for truly loving others and a compassion for those often forgotten or ignored; and a person who believes in the power of prayer and the power of a hug. It is these qualities my mother-in-law, one of my closest friends, embodied and taught me; and I can only hope she knows that I am trying to live my life with the same compassionate heart which is a testament only to what my mother-in-law taught me.
I have read these comments several times and each time they bring tears to my eyes. Jan was so proud of her family and the wonderful marriages her children were enjoying.
I want to say thanks to them for expressing themselves so beautifully.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I need to call this "The hardest day of my life". At 11:00 a.m. today we met as a family at Sunset Cemetery for a private interment. It was a beautiful day, cold enough that everyone was wearing a coat and gloves/mittens, and it was quite windy. Our plot is situated in a beautiful do I describe my emotions as we followed the hearse to Jan's final resting place? I will just say that it was the hardest experience of my life.

I had asked for 7 chairs to be graveside...6 for my grandchildren and 1 chair for me. I sat in front of my grandkids and told the adults I would be talking just to the grandkids...but they were welcome to listen in on what I said.

I had prayed very hard to find the right words to say to help them understand what had happened to Amma...and decided to use an illustration that is not original to me but that I gave my own twist just for our family.

I asked the grandkids to take a gloved hand and pinch their nose, pull on their ear, tickle themselves under the chin...etc. Then I had them take their hand out of their glove and lay the glove on their leg. Then I told them to make the glove on their leg pinch their nose, pull on their ear, tickle themselves...etc. It was fun to watch them wiggle their legs or just look at me in a confused way. Then I had them put their hand back into their glove and repeat the exercise.

Then I showed them one of Amma's gloves and reminded them that when her hand was in the glove she used to pinch their nose, pull on their ear, tickle them under the chin, give them a big hug, etc. I also showed them that the love I held did not have Amma's hand in it and therefore it could not do any of those things.

That became a springboard for me to explain that Amma's body is like a glove and that inside her body was her spirit that gave her the ability to make her body move and laugh and talk to them and hug them. But when she died the part that was inside left her body and went to heaven. So here at the graveside we are thinking about Amma's body(glove) and we say that "Amma died"...but we really should be saying that "Amma is alive"; because the part of her that was inside her glove is now in heaven.

I closed by asking them to remember when they came to our house and one of them would ring the door bell and Amma would come to answer the door. When she opened the door I said: "Remember how excited she happy she was to see big was her she gave you a hug and told you she love you? Well that's what happened when Amma went to heaven. It was Jesus to opened the door and he was excited to see her and he had a big smile on his face and he welcomed her to her new home." It was talking like that which seemed to help the grandkids and they were listening with real interest.

We had a basket of individual roses with us and I invited everyone to take a rose and instructed them to find a space around the casket. We then each took as long as we wanted to meditate, pray, talk to Jan, talk to the Lord...and when we were finished we placed our rose on the casket and then stepped back to wait for everyone to finish. It was a very personal, touching and emotional time that meant something special for each of us.

I then closed our time with a prayer that included a prayer of committal. I have done these committal services so many times as a pastor, but it was a totally new experience to do this for my wife. God gave us all strength and I believe the family time on Wednesday and the service at the graveside have served us well in our grief and prepared us for the visitation that evening and the Memorial service on Friday morning.

That afternoon we all met at the funeral home to set up displays of pictures and remembrances of Jan. Each of the grandchildren had made a poster and there was a big bowl of chocolate hug kisses along with flowers. That evening we would see some 500 people come to visit with us. It was an overwhelming display of love that impacted me deeply and showed the degree of love and respect with which Jan was held.

Wednesday with Family

Wednesday night the 3rd the immediate family only (Carlson/Sahlin) met in a private room of a restaurant and sat around a large rectangular table where we could see each other easily. We ate a wonderful meal and then spent the evening talking about Jan and remembering so many things about her life. This was a beautiful evening for us to deal with our grief surrounded by a family that has always been very close. We will remember forever this time spent together for the rest of our lives and that evening brought a close knit family even closer together.

I closed the evening by suggesting I was going to talk about some things that they might not have expected. I said: "I am going to talk about the things that 'bugged' me and sometimes 'frustrated' me about Jan." I explained how that morning I had sat down at my computer to make a list and quickly had 3 things on the list and then my mind went blank. I printed that out and sat down in my favorite chair and wrote down the number "4" and thought of one more thing. I then wrote down the number "5" but was never able to think of another thing. I would come to understand in the early stages of my grief why that was a short list.

I talked about the 4 things on my list:
1. How Jan was never able to get herself out the door on what I thought was a timely manner. My pattern was to get dressed early when we were going out and then once ready spend time reading a book or something until we needed to leave. Invariably I would say to Jan "how much more time to you need" as we neared the agreed on time to leave and when she told me "3 minutes" or another "5 minutes" I would grow frustrated knowing that she was a terrible estimator of how much time she needed and it was going to take longer that she said. We always got to where we were going, not necessarily at the time I had hoped.
2. Jan was a conversationalist who enjoyed talking with me and her friends. Every night she would be on the telephone talking with kids, grandkids, her sister and friends. When talking with me she would often share things we had talked about before and I came to understand that if there was "emotional content" to what she was sharing; she had a need to talk about it with some frequency until it was resolved. I made the mistake a few weeks ago of saying " told me that a couple of days ago" and that did not come across as a loving statement. If I really loved I would understand that she had a need to talk about this and I would be a better listener. I am afraid that at times I was a frustrated listener.
3. Jan was most comfortable when she was in control of her calendar and she was the social secretary and planner of our lives. I often wanted to be more relaxed about things and "go with the flow" but she was most at ease when what we were doing was planned in advance, rather than letting events and invitations come to us. She liked to start or end the day by sitting down and going over the calendar with me...sometimes reviewing things that we had agreed to a day or two before. I guess she wanted to be sure that I did not forget what was happening, but I felt I didn't need to remember everything, because she had that part of our lives under control.
4. Jan loved to entertain and sometimes I would be frustrated about the style of our entertaining. Jan felt that whoever came over had to be entertained in the same way we would do it for the King and Queen of Sweden. Everything needed to be in place...planned with great care...and the house needed to look perfect. We have a joke in our family about asking Jan "what time do we need to be standing at attention" when doing entertaining...ready to entertain in a style that she required. I must confess to times of frustration when trying to do things right and getting things to look perfect.

I then went on to tell the family I was a bit surprised that only 4 things came to my mind as I am quite sure there must be other things that caused frustration at times. But I had learned something in the early stages of grief...those things that would cause frustration at times were sinking way below the level of the surface; they were becoming hard to reach. What was bubbling and alive on the surface were all the things we had talked about that night that made Jan such a special person.

I then went back over my list of 4:
1. You need to understand that I would give anything to ask Jan "how much time do you need" and I would not get frustrated if she was a bit late by my reckoning.
2. You need to know that I would give anything to hear the sound of her voice again and would not get frustrated if she talked about the same thing several times.
3. You need to know that I would give anything to sit Jan and let her talk about the calendar, because she did a superb job of planning our lives and I would love to have her doing that today.
4. You need to know that I would give anything to ask her "what time do you want me standing at attention" and helping her get ready for company, because she was a superb host and we had a great time entertaining family and friends. I will really miss all of that.

I closed by telling my family to be very careful to take good care of your relationships with the ones you love. Don't take anything for granted and don't get overly frustrated with little things that don't really matter in the long run. Jan and I had a great marriage that did in fact have an occasional bump in the road because we are a classic example of opposites being attracted to each other. But I would give anything to have that "opposite" in my life still; because she was the "other half of me" and I miss her terribly.

TDDUP on Monda

We call ourselves TDDUP (Till Death Do Us Part)...we are a small group from church that has been together for over 12 years. We have become very close and I asked if they would come over to my house on Monday night the 1st. They all showed up...I was amazed that they could open their schedules like that on such short notice.

I really needed this evening with them. I told them of everything that happened and we spent the evening remembering Jan. It was poignant and warm and happy and laughter filled and tear filled and hopeful and faith building and friendship deepening.

I was reminded that "I do not walk alone" but am surrounded by family and friends and church. I would not want to face this alone. As we prayed together I was again reminded that faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest sustaining force in the world. I said "Thank you Lord for the Body of Christ of which I am a part"!! In the midst of deep pain...God is faithful.

Prayer On A Monday Morning

For many years I have written Prayers on a Monday Morning that reflect something that is happening in my own life or that of someone else in my circle of friends. I wrote this prayer early on the morning of November 1, 2010, following Jan's death on October 30, 2010.

It's Monday morning Lord and
and my thoughts are with Jan.
I met this wonderful woman quite by accident because of that unusual
winter blizzard in Chicago that caused the Bethel Male Chorus to
stay an extra night in that city.
I have always felt that you sent that storm just for me Lord,
You wanted me to stay overnight at her house.
You wanted me to see that beautiful smile and those gorgeous eyes.
You wanted me to hear the sound of her voice.
You wanted me to have that snow ball fight and make snow angels in her front yard.
It as a magical night and later I got to know her heart and in 3 years we were married.
We said "thanks Lord" when we found the wall hanging that said "Think Snow" which
graced the decor of our house for so many years.

Thank you Lord for giving me 47 years to live with Jan.
We lived together as husband and wife
We "two" became "one"
Thank you for making the "oneness" of marriage part of your plan.
I only know of one way to think of myself and that is "John/Jan".
She was my soul mate and my partner.
It was she who brought such joy and meaning to my life.

She loved you Lord and gave her life to you as a young child.
You gifted her and she sought to use those gifts in service.
She brought music to so many places as she played the organ and the piano and
She brought music into our family and our lives.
She never missed an opportunity to say "I love you" and to give someone a hug.
It's the reason I bought that license plate for her that said "Janhugs".
With such joy we welcomed Julie Ann and Joel into our lives and how she relished
Being a mother to those two kids she loved and who loved her in return completely.
Our "two" became "one" and you brought Mike to Julie Ann and Kelly to Joel
And so often we prayed that our marriage would model what they needed to see.
Then to have 6 wonderful grandchildren who called her Amma and received her love
Through hugs and kisses and parties and palmini and Swedish pancakes.
She wore a Starfish necklace and Starfish earrings because she wanted to spend each day
Seeking to "make a difference" in the life of one person.

She made a difference Lord.
In my life.
In the lives of her children.
In the lives of her grandchildren.
In the lives of her friends and so many others.
Give her a big hug from us...tell her again how much we love her.
We want to say "Amen" as you tell her "Well done were a good and faithful servant.

Thank you Lord for this incredible woman who I loved with all my heart.


My Last Journey With Jan

Let me start with the story that brings me to this point. This is what I wrote in an email:
My dearest friends:
Late last night Jan and I returned from what had been a wonderful 2 weeks in St. Maarten with our close friends Viv and Larry Houk. This morning we got up and went down to Morningstar Baptist Church to enjoy a great breakfast with our friends there and make the final plans for our Thanksgiving Basket project. This is something we have done for 15 years through The Starfish Foundation and Elim Church and Calvary Church. We set our goal at 180 baskets which is what we did last year. This was a project very close to Jan's heart and we left there in high spirits and looking forward to make this happen.
We left there and went over to Cafe Latte with our wonderful friends Jim and Maydelle Fennick where we had our "dessert" following breakfast...and had a special visit for about 1 1/2 hours. We then went home to relax for a bit, wrap some birthday presents and around 3:15 headed over to Mike and Julie Ann's for Keira's 2nd birthday.
It was a very special time with all of the family being there and once we had eaten and bit and the presents had been opened, we were just sitting around visiting, playing with the afternoon that could not have been better. Jan was sitting in a lazy boy rocker and suddenly she started to lean back and said something like "What is happening to me?" It was obvious that she had totally blacked out...instantly there were 3 nurse practitioner's who took over (Julie plus 2 of her close friends)...we called 911 while those 3 did everything humanly possible.
We thought we had lost her right after the ambulance arrived...but they were able to restore the heart beat and she was rushed to the hospital. We knew from the start that it was very serious and after about an hour in emergency room the doctor used the word "catastrophic" to describe what had happened.
Apparently it was an aneurism that broke in the brain and because she is on coumadin and her blood is thin to protect against blood clots a massive amount of blood was found in her brain when they were able top do a quick CScan. The result is that there was no brain activity and no possibility that she would she would be able survive. Extraordinary measures would have only prolonged what was going to happen and tonight at about 11:00 p.m. she slipped away peacefully.
We were all together as a family and we all had ample opportunity to say our goodbyes. It was so hard to say goodbye, but thank God for our faith and the knowledge that she is now with the Lord. I have a friend staying the night at the house with me as I wanted the to go home and be with their kids and be able to process things both tonight and in the morning. They will all be coming over tomorrow at noon and we will try to make all the necessary decisions. At this time we are thinking of a Memorial Service on Friday of this week...but will let you all know the details once they are in place.
Thanks for all your prayers...I love you,