Missing Sara

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, and that which we take the least care of all to acquire. -Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Sara was a friend. Not just to me, but to many others. I’ve wanted to write about her for a long time, but the memories were bittersweet. I struggled to gather the words.

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Karen and Sara

Our story of friendship begins over 100 years ago with a brother and sister named Fred and Henrietta, the children of Dutch immigrants. Fred and Henrietta grew up, found spouses, married, lived a few houses apart, and both had families of their own. Fred took over his dad’s dairy farm. In 1947, Fred’s wife gave birth to a boy, Marvin. Henrietta gave birth to a son, David.

Marvin and David weren’t just cousins who happened to be neighbors. They became best friends. They went to the same church, the same Sunday school, and the same elementary and high schools. They played baseball at the farm and went to 4H Tractor Club. On Sunday afternoons they took walks, wandering around the Twin Lakes area.

Marvin and David grew up and each was married in 1970. Both became fathers for the first time in 1971 and they both had baby girls. That was Sara and me.

I suppose Sara and I played together since we were old enough to toddle around. Our parents often got together on weekends and for Bible study. Every year we attended New Year’s Eve service at church and then spent the evening talking, eating and playing games with our siblings until the exciting countdown to midnight. The next morning we would be at church, starting the New Year in God’s house.

Just like our dads, we attended the same church and Sunday school. We were in the same classes and grades all through our years at North Christian grade school. We played long days together in the summer, wandering all around the farm by Twin Lakes and often had sleepovers.  There were hours in her room with her amazing Barbie townhouse, complete with elevator. We dug up dusty dry calf bones behind the farm and pretended we had found an ancient dinosaur land.

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Riding bikes in 1982

John Deere mountain was what we named our special spot. We perched ourselves in the tall grass on a small hill above the farm. We hid there, talking and laughing as only two little girls can do. At my folk’s house we mixed up crazy concoctions in the kitchen and played with the cassette tape recorder for hours, creating silly radio programs and listening to them while we giggled late into the night.

Starting in second grade we took piano lessons together with Mrs. Grit.  Our moms took turns carpooling. The day that the tornado hit Kalamazoo in 1980, we were at Mrs. Grit’s house for our weekly lesson. We stopped at my aunt’s house to shelter in her cellar because my mom spotted the tornado over Westwood as she was driving us home. When Mrs. Grit moved to Costa Rica with her family to be missionaries, we switched to Mrs. Manni. We took turns  sitting at the dining room table and doing homework while the other had her lesson.

In high school, my cousin drove us to school every day for a couple of semesters. We sometimes carpooled to basketball games, cheering for our Kalamazoo Christian Comets.  We had several friends in common. After  graduating in 1989, Sara stayed at home with her folks and went to college. I moved in with my grandparents and went to work at a doctor’s office. We soon started getting together with friends every Sunday night after church. These were some of the happiest days I remember. Sara started dating Steve, the good-looking fellow who showed up in our Sunday school class in 6th grade. Many of us girls swooned over him, but it was Sara who won his heart.

I went away to college for one year. When I returned  home to Kalamazoo, Sara and I rented an apartment together. It was her first place away from her parents. We had great fun furnishing and decorating our little place. She would come home from her job at the flower shop and have Adventures in Odyssey on her car radio. I would have the radio on in the apartment and we would finish listening together. I can’t say how many nights were spent staying up late, talking and giggling.  There were serious conversations too, about our faith and relationships. It is almost crazy to admit, but at age 19, we joined with a group of friends for our first and only ballet class.  It was so fun(ny)! We loved having friends over and started a Bible study, too.

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Sara talking on the phone and washing dishes in our apartment, 1992

 

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A personal note from Sara.  The front of the card was inscribed with a verse:  “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11

One fine summer day, we were feeling a little tired and dull. We jumped into our friend  Jeff’s red Chevy Lumina  and he drove  a group of us to Lake Michigan. At the state park entrance booth, Sara pretended to give an order for McDonald’s, as if we were at the drive-thru. Because of that, we could not stop laughing. The guys gave up on us and walked down to the beach, but we remained in the back seat, rolling around, laughing and crying for at least ten more minutes. Then we laughed our way down to the beach; into the sun and waves and joy of a carefree day.

Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected. –Charles Lamb

On a warm August night in 1992, I had the honor of playing the piano for Sara and Steve’s wedding. Going though my old piano books, I found songs I heard her play while sitting at the dining room table doing homework at Mrs. Manni’s house. I found Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and hymns from Sunday School. All my heart went into that prelude. Our friend Rhonda and her dad sang a duet and I played the piano for that too. Imagine my surprise when I walked out of the church, and there was our first piano teacher, Mrs. Grit!

Sara started teaching school and settled into married life. I married a couple of years later, and moved out of state. Sara and I wrote letters and talked on the phone at first, but gradually we became busy and didn’t keep up. Sara and Steve eventually had six children and started homeschooling. Despite living out of state, I could count on seeing Sara and our group of friends every New Year’s Eve or 4th of July whenever I was in Kalamazoo.  It was always easy to get together on these occasions and catch up on our lives.  Eventually I moved back and we continued our tradition of gathering with our friends twice a year.

Nearly every time a year turned over, Sara and I were together.

These days our parents still get together. They go out to eat. Once a month they still have Bible study with their group of friends. You will always find them celebrating New Year’s Eve at one or the other’s home.

John Deere Mountain is gone now, excavated flat to the ground.

Sara is gone too. She left us suddenly one day seven years ago. She fed her family supper, went to lay down for a rest, and quietly slipped away to heaven. We later learned she had a rare heart condition.

For a long time my heart went flat too. Flat with missing, flat with grief. Flat with fear of loving and losing. It is taking a long time to heal and maybe it never will.

I have had losses. I’ve lost babies. I’ve lost my uncle. I’ve lost young friends and old friends and great aunts and uncles and grandparents. Truthfully, I don’t cry about them anymore, but sometimes I still cry about Sara.  I miss laughing together. Really, I just miss her.

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Sara and Karen on John Deere Mountain, drawn by Esther Kamps.*

Sara had a way of spending time, listening and being present with people. You can see by her notes that she was also an encourager. People were drawn to her, but she never wanted to draw attention to herself. She was living her dream of family, children and homeschooling. God only knows why her time was up, but it was. Sara trusted God with all her heart. I trust Him too, but  I admit it took  time to trust again after she was gone. I have faith in God that I will see her again and  someday all the sorrow of missing her will be gone forever.

 

We call that person who has lost his father, an orphan; and a widower that man who has lost his wife. But that man who has known the immense unhappiness of losing a friend, by what name do we call him? Here every language is silent and holds its peace in impotence. -Joseph Roux

For More Information

News article about Sara from The Kalamazoo Gazette

An online memorial (note this was created by someone named Karen, but not myself)

Update on the family  – God is amazing!

Plainwell couple celebrates new love, new life and 9 children (P.S.  Make that 11 blessings.)

*Some years ago I wrote down memories of Sara from childhood to give to Sara’s children, similar to what I’ve shared here. Mrs. Kamps  sketched this lovely picture for me to include with the stories.

You comments are always welcome and appreciated. If you knew Sara and have a memory you’d like to share, you are welcome to add those in the comments too.  I’m sure family and friends would enjoy reading them. Note: I  moderate comments to prevent spam, so they will appear after I’ve approved them.

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Diary of a short, but very real life

February 11, 2014

It was just last week when I called my husband into the bathroom, bawling my eyes out.  I couldn’t even speak while handing  him the little test, that showed two pink lines, clear as day.  I was crying for three reasons:

1. Shock.

2.  Joy.

3.  Terrified.

It has been about three years since my last pregnancy, and an ultrasound close to week 10 showed that baby stopped developing at nine weeks.  The actual physical miscarriage happened at thirteen weeks. Our children are now ages 5 & 6, and well out of baby stages.  Yet, my daughter has prayed on more than one occasion for a baby in our family.  We always told her, “It’s up to God.”   The past two moves, I haven’t quite had the heart to get rid of our favorite baby items.  In recent months, I had assumed we were probably done having children,  and was planning to give most things away.  This pregnancy is a big surprise (but welcome).

Children are a blessing.  I consider a baby a precious gift, and I’m one of those baby people.   Nothing makes me happier than the opportunity to hold a baby.  I am thrilled at the thought of a new child joining our family.

So why am I feeling fear?  Not so much because of my age. Never mind the fact that two days ago I received an invitation to my 25th year high school homecoming festivities!  It’s the fact that there are other health issues of concern, such as blood pressure, arthritis pain, and my weight.  I went to see my family doctor a few days after seeing the positive test.  Everything was confirmed. She wrote “high risk” on my paperwork and sent me to the referral department.  So here we go.  I’m expecting lots of tests, lab work, doctor appointments and ultrasounds over the next many months.  That is…..if we don’t miscarry again.

I am feeling overwhelmed.  I told my husband the first evening after we found out that I don’t want to live in fear.  I have spent the past week or two digesting this exciting news, yet struggling with anxiety and obsessive thoughts.  I am thankful to report that I have been having major pregnancy symptoms.  With the miscarriage, I noticed that the symptoms went away after only a few weeks, and were mild.  Frequently I am nauseated and have food aversions.  I am having to eat every couple hours or I get shaky (and I’m not diabetic–but have had issues with hypoglycemia in the past).  I’m glad to be on the prenatal vitamin along with with extra iron and hoping that will boost my energy level a little bit.

So that’s the story.  That’s where we are at.  This is brand new, fresh, hot-off-the-press news.

I am clinging to Psalm 138:8.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;

your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.

What I really see in this entire situation, is an opportunity to TRUST God.  I cannot control the outcome.  I can only take care of myself  and this baby the best I can.

March 10, 2014 (nearly one month after previous entry)

Went in for our first ultrasound a couple of weeks ago.  Based on dates, I figured we were close to 8 weeks.  What we saw on the screen was a five week, one day gestational sac.  The doctor told me that it was still well within the realm of possibility, and to remain “cautiously optimistic”.  It was torture waiting 9 more days for the next ultrasound. Over and over my husband and I prayed for peace, no matter the outcome.  In the meanwhile, pregnancy symptoms continue as strong as ever including extreme exhaustion.

Nine days later, we were disappointed and sad to see a sac measuring 5 weeks, 3 days. No sign of our baby.  How I had longed to see that little heart beating, but it is not to be.  My body still thinks it is pregnant, but at some point (unless there is a miracle), we are expecting a miscarriage.  The last miscarriage took nearly 3 weeks from hearing the news before it happened.  At least this time I know a little bit what to expect.

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March 15, 2014- Late at night

This is the pits.  The past three days I have been exhausted and nauseated and food tastes gross to me, just like normal pregnancy.  By my original calculations, I should be ten weeks by now.  Everything in my body feels like I’m ten weeks pregnant, but according to the doctor, based on the ultrasound, there is no hope.  I am hurting.  I keep hoping that somehow the ultrasounds were wrong.  I am sad that most people don’t know what I’m going through. We only shared our news with a few people.  I feel alone and like I’m “hiding something”.  I don’t want a bunch of sympathy and advice.  What I really want is to drop off the face of the earth for a few weeks till this is past.

This pregnancy is called a  “blighted ovum” and I feel like I’m a failure.  I wonder if this wee little fertilized egg means anything in the Kingdom of God and how that all works.  Do I now have two little ones in heaven?  Will I see them some day?  How can this be when they are so little, never really developed?  At other times I am calm and very accepting.  In other words, whether I want to or not (and I don’t want to), I am in the middle of some hefty grieving again.  I just want to be alone, but I want other people to know too.  My heart is aching tonight and I am finding the whole situation unbearable.  I don’t think the hormones are helping my emotions either.  I TRUST GOD.  I am disappointed.  I go to church and other places, but only a few people know about it.  I don’t want to hear a bunch of trite stuff.  But I do want to hear some kind words.  I wish I had someone to talk to right now, but it’s the middle of the night.   This could take weeks yet.  And then there are the fears about going through the actual miscarriage.  The last one I went through was painful, difficult, and scary at times.  I am really dreading it.

April 4, 2014  

It is moving so very slow.  This is hard to bear.  I want to plan my son’s birthday for the end of the week, but do not know how I will be feeling.  At this point I do not feel safe traveling outside of my immediate area.  It’s hard to plan anything.  I’m hurting.  Backaches and pain every day. I’m waiting.  I thank God for the midwife who delivered our daughter at home.  She has done more to reassure and comfort me the past few days about the waiting, than anything I’ve heard from the doctor’s office.

 April 5, 2014

Feeling greatly comforted tonight after reading Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur. Read the entire book this afternoon and evening.  If nothing else, I needed to go through this miscarriage to also receive comfort from the previous baby we lost, which I have been silently grieving the past three years.  I am comforted tonight, because I know that I have two precious little ones who are glorifying God in heaven.  I believe that they are among the saints, praising God and worshipping Him.  They have been spared all the grief, sadness, illness and sin of this world, and they are complete and perfect because of the blood of Jesus Christ.  They were sinners, as we all are, but they were not at an age of accountability.  These little ones are with Jesus.  Some day I will see them again.  They will know me, and I will know them, and we will all know Jesus as we should know Him.  Me, no longer through the lense of my own sin.  I read several paragraphs from the book out loud to my husband tonight, which explained, based on Scripture why I can be confident in God’s kindness and grace toward my tiny babies.  My conclusion tonight is this:   This physical suffering is worth it, knowing our baby is with God my Savior.  The babies are not suffering or missing me.  I am grieving my little ones, but I am comforted by that same Redeemer, who holds us all.  I praise God for comforting me through His Word.

April 11, 2014

I’m five days out from the miscarriage.  So thankful that I was able to manage everything at home.  It is similar to preparing for a home birth.  There is a mini-labor involved, very painful.  This time I was well prepared, compared to the previous miscarriage.  I felt really good the day AFTER, relieved to be through with the mini-labor after all the waiting.  Since then, I feel pretty lousy and down in the dumps.

April 15, 2014

I am feeling so low.  The post pregnancy hormones have arrived.  I have to keep myself together all day for the sake of the kids, and at night can’t sleep. I start to think about everything and need to weep and mourn and grieve my little one who I will never see until that day.  I thank God for the hope of the resurrection.

April 24, 2014

My pastor gave me some good advice.  I called him about something else, and then broke down a little bit when he asked how I was doing.  He said (in better words) that I need to give myself permission to grieve, even in front of the kids if need be.  He also told me that going outside always helps him feel better, and he would recommend going outdoors.  Every day I have been going outside a bit.  The best outside day was Easter Sunday when we took a very short hike at Snug Harbor.  The air was fresh and cool, but the sun was warm.  It was amazing to be among the trees, leftover leaves from last fall crunching at our feet.  My daughter running ahead of us in shear delight, my son grumbling because he wanted to go back to the open area and play catch with Dad.  It was truly bliss, especially after the long winter.

I am frustrated at the fatigue.  My husband has had to pick up my slack in many areas, but I’m getting the children schooled every day.  I’m managing to get supper together, but rarely have the energy to clean up.  He still had to do the grocery shopping for me this week.  I often hit a wall of exhaustion.  I’m too tired to go any further and have to lay down.  Perhaps anemia?  I’m taking lots of iron.

May 8, 2014

Anemia confirmed.  I am using every iron trick I know. Black strap molasses, cooking with my cast iron skillet, two types of iron supplements (have been taking those all along), herbal remedies, green leafy vegetables, ground beef.  Still feeling very fatigued. Need multiple mini- naps to get through the day.

May 15, 2014

The iron must be kicking in.  I am not needing the morning nap anymore and starting to get some energy back.  Was able to do some extra housework again besides the bare basics.

May 25, 2014

We buried the little sac today, just my husband and I, right near the spot where we buried our other little one.  We held hands, had a few tears, and prayed and committed our little one to God’s care.  We believe, by God’s grace and kindness, we will meet both of  these “glory babies” some day.

It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. -I Corinthians 15:43

 

Blessings

I wrote a couple of posts about preparing for a natural miscarriage on Hub Pages here and here, while the experience was fresh in my mind.  Hopefully  they will provide some practical help for others in a similar experience.

We’ve had great support from people through this ordeal.  We have seen the love of God displayed from friends, family and our church family.  One gave me a bouquet of flowers.  I was so happy to have them.  They were a visual reminder of our baby’s life. When the miscarriage finally took place, we let our church know.  We received prayers and cards, kind words of support, and people brought meals.  Others helped by taking care of our kids for medical appointments and on days when we needed extra help.  Another friend was going through an extremely difficult trial and sharing her struggles and hope via e-mails.  Her faith and trust in God in a time of deep pain brought much comfort to my own heart.

As I edit and write this final section in June, physically I am feeling better.  There are still days when I feel generally “low”.  The  feeling of loss is not as acute, but I am grieving that we may not have any more children. Yet after going through many years of my adult life longing for children, I am incredibly grateful to God for the two children we have with us.  God is so good to me.  I pray this situation, our baby’s life, our story will bring Him glory.  The hope of heaven is sweeter to me now, than it has ever been.

Psalm 26:8