In the Dental Hygienist Chair

body memories of grief

Do you sometimes have body memories — that is, memories triggered by bodily experiences?

Today I sat down in a dentist chair, opened my mouth for Abby, my dental hygienist, and was pierced by grief and a sense of doom.

My body seemed to recall — more clearly than my mind — a teeth cleaning exactly one year previous. I had just gotten word that my father’s health was declining rapidly — in fact, he skipped church, saying he didn’t feel up to it. When I heard he skipped church I knew things were serious. (more…)

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Counting Dad’s Days

Week 1 & Week 2

Dad’s medications were already organized by the time I arrived at the house, dispensed into two identical trays which had been labeled with a Sharpie: Week 1 and Week 2.

I noticed the organizers on the dining room table, and for a moment wondered which of my sisters had filled the plastic compartments — my older sister Mary Lynn, who’s a nurse — or my youngest sister, Susan, who’s a hospice chaplain? I didn’t ask because it didn’t matter. And there was so much else to know.

How to help Dad in and out of his hospital bed, for starters. Mom had asked us to move Dad into his chair, now that he’d woken up from a nap. The hospice people had shown Susan how to move Dad safely. We used a wide webbed belt that clipped around Dad’s chest and had large cloth loops attached. The loops would give us something to grab onto. So Dad sat up and Susan clipped the belt around him. Then we got positioned, one of us on either side of our father.

“Slide your whole forearm under his armpit, like this, and use your other hand to grab the loop, like this, and 1-2-3-UP!”

Hold. Pivot. Re-position. And gently release him into the chair. Get him comfortable with pillows.

“Do we leave the belt on?” I asked. “Or should I slip it off?”

“Leave it,” said Dad. “For next time.”

“Does it remind you of that passage in the gospel of John?” I asked Dad. “About getting old and having a belt put on you?”

Dad didn’t respond at first, and I thought I’d been obtuse.


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This Is How We Grieve

My father died in the early morning hours of Father’s Day, about a month ago. My husband and I have been keeping my mother company since then. We’re grateful for flexible schedules — an upside of being a writer married to a teacher on summer vacation.

As the days pass, we are finding our way to a new normal. Lots of visits with old friends. Everyday tasks. Mentioning Dad whenever it feels right, which is often. As much sleep as we can manage, and a walk every evening.

Now and then we do something fun. Last week we spent a lovely afternoon and evening on the beach at Lake Michigan, at Holland SP. This week we decided to be even more adventurous and took a 2-night trip “up north” to the Grayling, MI area. We walked a one-mile loop through Hartwick Pines SP, enjoying old growth red pines, white pines, and hemlock. Along the way, a sudden late afternoon rainstorm forced us to seek shelter in a small chapel. Sanctuary! After that the path was a bit steeper than we expected, and we didn’t have an umbrella, but we persevered. And at the end, we laughed and had a good meal.

My mother, as always, is teaching me by example. This is how we manage, day by day. This is how we grieve.

The Big Red Lighthouse at Holland SP


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Service of Thanksgiving & Remembrance for the Life of Nicholas Huizenga

held at Church of the Servant, June 22, 2016

My father wrote the liturgy for his memorial service many years before his death. Working with it now, I felt very close to him, for I have planned and conducted so many funerals. Years ago Dad asked me to send him a list of suitable scriptures. He did a good job choosing —  one reading is very typical for memorial services, the other reading was not on the list — an unusual but appropriate choice.

As I prepared to post this liturgy, I wondered what it was like for my Dad to type out certain lines of text, such as the Prayer of Committal with his own name listed. Knowing him, I am sure that the typing brought tears to his eyes — tears of joy at the thought of being reunited with his Creator/ Redeemer/ Sustainer at last, and tears of grief at leaving my mother and all of this wonderful world. It is a source of comfort to all of us left behind that he was so firm in his faith and sure of his salvation. It was also a kind and generous act for Dad to prepare his own liturgy, saving us the last minute flurry of trying to get it right. His final illness went by very quickly and it was an overwhelming experience for all of us, as he died at home. There was a lot to manage physically, medically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was glad for the way the events went, I’m just acknowledging that it was a very packed span of days. I still feel a bit stunned.

The memorial service was held mid-week, and attended by more than 200 people. As my nephew commented, everyone should live so well that they make it to age 90 and there are hundreds of people who mourn your passing.

There were eight or so musicians who volunteered their time to play a variety of instruments, including strings. My sister Susan Joy Cleveland played in the duet. As she said, “I can play the violin and cry at the same time.” The singing was superb. Say what you will about the Dutch Reformed denominations, these folk know how to sing. I will paste the whole liturgy below the photo. See if you can spot the quotations from the Heidelberg Catechism and the Puritans’ Valley of Vision.

Rev. Jack Roeda preaching at the Memorial Service for Nicholas Huizenga, 22 June 2016

Rev. Jack Roeda preaching at the Memorial Service for Nicholas Huizenga, 22 June 2016

Prelude, ending with violin duet: I Know that My Redeemer Liveth

Lighting of the Resurrection Candle (by Timothy Scott Crane)


Leader: The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, which passes all understanding, be with you all.

People: Amen.


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Obituary for My Dad, Nicholas J. Huizenga

September 20, 1925 - June 19, 2016

Nicholas J. Huizenga

Nicholas J. Huizenga

Nicholas John Huizenga, of Grand Rapids, MI died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family on June 19, 2016. He was 90 years old.

Nick is survived by his wife of 64 years, Joan Huizenga (nee Katte); their children, Mary Lynn (Roger) Wesorick of Wyoming, MI, Timothy (Annette) Huizenga of Chicago, IL, Ruth (Douglas) Everhart of Sterling, VA, Beth (Rich) Huizenga-Murillo of San Francisco, CA and Susan (Bennett) Cleveland of Grand Rapids, MI; 13 grandchildren; and 11(+) great-grandchildren.

He is preceded in death by his parents, John and Gertrude Huizenga of Lansing, IL, and his three brothers, Bartel Huizenga of Visalia, CA, Gerald Huizenga and James Huizenga of Highland, IN. He is survived by his four sisters, Annamae VanDrunen of Lansing, IL, Kathryn Rottenberg of San Diego, CA, Carol Kapteyn of Lansing, IL and Joan Vredeveld of Ann Arbor, MI.

Nick was born on September 20, 1925 in Highland, IN. After graduating from Chicago Christian High School in 1943, he received an army deferment and worked on the Zandstra farm. He began studies at Calvin College in September of 1945, and was drafted in October. He served his country for 14 months, then returned to his studies. In his last year at Calvin he met the one and only love of his life, Joan Katte. After graduating, he taught for one year at Highland Christian School (Highland, IN). In August of 1951 he married Joan in Sunnyside, WA after hitch-hiking across the country to ask her parents’ blessing and having many adventures along the way.


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Remembrances of My Dad, Nicholas J. Huizenga

at Church of the Servant, 22 June 2016

Nicholas J. Huizenga

Nicholas J. Huizenga

REMEMBRANCES by Timothy, Ruth, and Susan Joy from the Memorial Service, 22 June 2016


My Dad lived both a conventional and unconventional life. He remained faithful to what he saw as the best parts of his tradition while sometimes pursuing a different path.

Conventionally, he remained a lifelong member of the Christian Reformed Church and maintained devotion to Joan, the one true love of his life. He sent his children to Christian schools and devoted his life to the cause of Christian education. He went to church twice on Sunday (as long as churches held two services) and encouraged his children to do the same, and he always wore his Sunday best. When his tradition told him to observe the Sabbath by not mowing his lawn or allowing his son to play baseball, he followed those rules.

But sometimes he departed from convention. He was a lifelong Democrat when most in his faith community voted Republican. He was an early supporter of civil rights when many in his community were not. He broke with tradition by advocating for inclusion of women in leadership in the CRC, and in recent years he support full participation for gays and lesbians in the life of the church.


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We laid my father to rest at Fort Custer National Cemetery on June 21, 2016. The day was clear and sunny, with a bright blue sky over the waving avenue of flags.

My mother and all of my siblings were present, as well as many of the grandchildren, and other family members. Because my father was an archivist at heart, I will preserve this record of the day. To read more about my dad, click on the category with his name in the right sidebar. Thanks to my sister, Beth Huizenga, for the brief video above, showing the arrival of the casket.

We stood for the brief service, which took place in a pavilion. My sister-in-law, Rev. Dr. Annette Bourland Huizenga, officiated, using words I put together from traditional sources, but shortened in order to allow time for the military honors, which came first. Military honors included three components: a 21 gun salute, the playing of Taps by a live bugler with a mute, and the folding and presentation of the flag. All of these honors were performed by volunteers.

The service continued with Annette leading.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Everyone who believes in me shall live,
even though they die, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

The Psalmist reminds us: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble, therefore we will not fear. (Psalm 46) (more…)

Final Words

About two months ago we celebrated my father’s 90th birthday. When I arrived at my parents’ home the night before the event, my mom handed me a typed page that said at the top: “Dad’s Final Words.” It was rather startling. I wondered if I had missed some family news!

What the page contained were Dad’s remarks for his birthday celebration the next day, which he intended to be the “final words” of the event. He asked me to edit them, which I was happy to do. Before I began, I asked him his goals in the remarks, and he quickly listed three of them: 1) to express thanks and gratitude to everyone in attendance; 2) to make a Christian testimony, especially as he experiences cancer which has spread to the bone; 3) to express a lighthearted tone. Knowing his intentions, I was able to help him tighten words here, and add words there. The end result pleased both him and my mother.


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The Real vs. The Idyll

idyll | noun — an extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque episode or scene, typically an idealized or unsustainable one.

Do you prefer the real thing? Or do you get attached to your idea of what ought to be real, in other words, the idyll?

The push and pull between these two applies to our powers of hindsight. Our memories easily become distorted. Sometimes the idyll of the past becomes an idol.

I idly considered these things as I drove home from a visit to Greenfield Village, where Henry Ford — that idol/icon of American enterprise — built his own version of reality. Ford’s idyll, set in the 1860s, occupies about 80 acres in Dearborn, Michigan, in the area where he grew up. The time-stamped setting is especially interesting/ironic because in a sense it encapsulates the era that Ford helped America leapfrog from.

Henry Ford was born in 1863 and was supposed to take over the family business of farming. But like many smart, ambitious people, he wanted something more than to follow in his father’s footsteps. Ford achieved success on an amazing scale. He did not invent the automobile, but he created The Ford Motor Company, which mass produced automobiles, specifically the Model T. By 1927, his company had produced and sold more than 15 million Model T’s. It’s hard to overstate the significance of 15 million anything in 1927. But automobiles? Automobiles revolutionized the culture and economy of America. In a very real sense, Ford helped America drive into a new era.

And then, it would appear, Ford hankered for the days he had once sprung from and been eager to leave behind. At the apex of his success — beginning in the 1920s and 30s — he began to use his vast wealth to reverse gears a bit. By purchasing historic buildings from around the country and moving them to the Dearborn area, he created a village which would be forever locked in the 1860s. You might even say that he recreated a past he never experienced (except in infancy), and which perhaps never existed.

Riding a Model-T through Greenfield Village.

Riding a Model-T through Greenfield Village.

I couldn’t help but see Greenfield Village with my pastor’s eyes and ponder the idyllic. I prize what is real, and I also prize what is potential. In fact, a pastor’s job is often to move between the two. We call it casting a vision, or doing a mission study, or transforming a congregation. What that amounts to is helping a church come to terms with its real past and move into the possibilities of the future, which are not yet real. This is more difficult than it sounds because church members — like all people — often prefer to cling to an idealized version of the past. Indulging in a past idyll can hamper the building of a future reality. We fancy that the “village” in our memory really was as homogenous, peaceful, and picture-perfect as we remember it to be. Incoming pastors often read golden-toned histories of how the church used to be. See how quaint we were!

Greenfield Village was quaint indeed. The day I was there, the fall weather was perfect and the crowds were few. How fun to wander through a village that’s like Disneyland: exactly real, and, at the same time, completely fake. There’s something about “picture-perfect” that just makes a person happy. Perhaps it pleases our aesthetic sensibilities.


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Happy Birthday Dad!

Nonagenarian is a word we don’t get to use very often. What an unforgettable day!


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