Monday, November 14, 2011

Tribute to Jacob

Jona with his boys: Jacob, Joshua, and Noah
 I know of a sleep in Jesus' name,  
A rest from all toil and sorrow;
Earth folds in her arms my weary frame  
And shelters it till the morrow.
My soul is at home with God in heav'n;  
Her sorrows are past and over.

I've been wanting to post about our friend Jake's sudden death, but until now have not.  At first, it seemed as though I'd somehow cheapen his death, or the pain the closer friends and relatives are suffering to post about it on a blog.  I also don't want to seem to glorify my own pain, when others must be hurting exponentially more than I am.  But I generally post about the things that are on my mind and this certainly has been the dominant incident on my mind of late. 

Jacob Robert Bernier, son of Jona and Alsion Bernier,  died suddenly at nearly 18 years of age, from problems related to the multiple congenital heart defects with which he was born.  

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. 
Job 1:21

When we first moved here, almost ten years ago, Jake was seven, almost eight.  My Matt was also seven.  Trisha Bernier was almost nine when we moved here, and Jeremy was eight and a half.  Louisa and Noah Bernier were both five.  And Josh Bernier was three and a half, right between Clara, who was almost two,  and Elsie who was almost four.  

Their family homeschooled and so did we.  They lived only about five miles from us at that time; and although that sounds like a somewhat large distance, in this neighborhood, it is not.  They were near neighbors who lived just around the corner, and down the block a ways.  Of course, the "corner" was a mile and half up the road and "just down the block" was another 2 1/2 miles.  And so the Berniers ended up being some of our first friends in our new community.

When we arrived at our new home sight unseen, in early December of 2001, after driving for a day and a half through a horrible blizzard, many of the members of the churches Joe was to serve were here to meet and greet the new pastor, to feed us supper, and help unload the van.  They were strangers to us, but they welcomed us with open arms and open hearts.  Alison tore off a piece of a paper plate, wrote her phone number on it for me and said, "Call if you need anything.  Anything.  Really."

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor, giving preference to one another.
Romans 12:10

Alison and Trisha
And after a few days, I did call Alison.  I don't remember what I called about.  But I do remember how nice it was to have another young mom who had put herself at my disposal to help with whatever I needed at my new home.  That paper plate stayed hooked to my fridge with a magnet for several years.  Long after my fingers had memorized the order of the digits in her number, I liked to see that corner of paper plate.  It reminded me of the kindness Alison and her family showed to us when we were strangers in a strange land.

A few weeks later, we were invited to the Bernier's house for pizza.  Jona had won a big "pizza party" from PizzaHut and they kindly offered to share it with their new pastor and his family, as their Christmas gift to us.  The pizza was great; but the friendship, and the invitation for an evening with another family, was nicer than the pizza.

"Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?"  
C. S. Lewis

During the course of that evening, Alison and Jona told us about the things their Jake had been through.  I may get some of these details wrong.   He had been through many things already at that young age.  Jake was born with only two functioning chambers in his heart.  He had a little tiny bit of a third chamber that was undeveloped, and no fourth chamber at all.  Jake had some transposed vessels, and faulty valves.

Jake had two heart surgeries when he was young, during one of which he suffered a stroke.  At the time Alison was telling us about this, the doctors had done all they could.  Jake was monitored regularly and was on a mix of medicines that was keeping him alive.  I believe Alison described it as being the vascular pressure which was mostly responsible for circulating his blood; his weak heart was only adding a small amount of help.

But Jake was surviving, and even thriving as a young boy.  He was not able to participate in everything in which his siblings participated.  And everyone knew that his life was precarious.  God might decide to take him home at any time.  But Jake was always active and stayed plenty busy.  He was a great reader and kept his mom busy as she schooled him at home.

Jake and Matt hit it off right away, having many of the same interests.  Throughout the years, they built forts and made campfires; they hunted and fished; rode snowmobiles and four wheelers; and just plain bummed around.  After the Berniers moved closer to Thief River Falls, we didn't see them as often, but the boys still managed to get together.  Joe or I would often drop Matt off at their house on our way into town; sometimes we'd pick him up again on our way home, but often we'd arrange a ride the next afternoon with one of our neighbors who work in Thief River.  Matt would take his school work along, and the boys would have a sleep over with plenty of time to play and do school.

Once Matt started attending public school, the boys saw each other even less, but they still managed to spend time together now and then.  Sometimes Jake's family would spend Sunday afternoons at Alison's parent's house, and when they did, Matt was usually there for part of that time.  And when Matt didn't have after school activities, the two boys spend many Wednesday afternoons together.  One of Jake's chores once he got his driver's license was to drive his younger siblings to our church's Wednesday school, and then find something to do to pass the time until they were done.  He always came up to the parsonage to see if Matt was free.  If Matt was around, they'd take off to parts unknown.  Sometimes they went into Oklee to see Jake's Bernier grandparents, or his Uncle Cole at the body shop.  Sometimes they went to the Lundeen grandparent's place or the great grandparent's farm.  Sometimes they went to the river to fish, or just hike around and visit.

A friend loves at all times.  
Proverbs 17:17

Although Matt and Jake were good buddies, and although Alison and I became close friends, I feel as though I never knew Jake very well.  I was always a kind of scary mom, being not of a gushy type of friendliness.  I often think of myself as Aunt Marilla, Anne's adopted mother in Anne of Green Gables.  So especially until I began to teach Sunday School, I didn't get to know the other kids at church very well.  I think they were kind of scared of me.  I seemed a bit stern.  So Jake would come up to the house, ask for Matt and then hustle back down to church.  If Matt was home, he might hustle down to Matt's bedroom.  Perhaps it was partly due to his heart troubles, and not only because I was scary; or maybe it was just because of the constant commotion around here, with so many more people than most homes contain.  But somehow, Jake never really hung around our house much, so I didn't get to know him well.

Regardless of how well I knew Jake, my heart is breaking for all who grieve his departure.  For my son, who at only 17 was pall bearer for his best friend.  My heart is breaking for Alison and Jona; although they knew they might have Jake only a short time, and although God granted Jake almost 18 years, their human hearts cry out that it was not enough.  My heart is breaking for Josh and Noah and Trisha, because they will never see their dear brother again in this life.  My heart breaks for Jake's grandparents and great grandparents, and aunts and uncles, who not only grieve themselves, but also will worry about everyone else who is hurting.

I'm not much of a crier, but I have cried over this.  I've cried more in the last week than I have over anything else in my life.  I don't cry much around the house, but I cry in the car.  The car is my thinking spot and some things are just easier to not think about, I suppose.  But whenever I am alone, my sadness is hiding just around the corner, waiting to jump out at me in the quiet moments.  I have yet to drive anywhere and not ended up sobbing as I'm driving down the road.  (Watch out everyone, if you see me coming.)

But, alas, we know that this world and this life are temporal.  We know that Jake believed in Jesus as his Savior.  In spite of our great grief, we know that we will see him again.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  
I Thessalonians 4:13

In spite of having such a severely malformed heart at birth that the doctors didn't quite know what to do for this child, God allowed the doctors to keep Jake alive for 17+ years to give joy to his family and friends.  The Holy Spirit put His name on Jake through the washing of Holy Baptism; and kept him in faith through His Word and Holy Communion. 

But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “ Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine."  
Isaiah 43:1

Jake is in heaven with his Lord and our Lord, and his sufferings are over.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
      And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
      That in my flesh I shall see God,

 Whom I shall see for myself,
      And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!  
Job 19:25-27

It's easy to remember, in our brains, those promises of God.  Our hearts need constant reminders.  I pray that God grant peace and healing to all the broken hearts in our community.

The LORD is my shepherd;
         I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
         He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
         He leads me in the paths of righteousness
         For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I will fear no evil;
         For You
are with me;
         Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
         You anoint my head with oil;
         My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
         All the days of my life;
         And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

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