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Rhythm of Life

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40 Year Rememberence!

June 01, 2018
By Siska DeVries

Forty years have passed since the fateful day of June 26, 1978.  How does one begin to summarise the journey since?  An event so tragic and powerful shapes how you go on and have to get used to a new normal.  It was a life changing event, something one never really is ready for.

We thought we had the perfect picture:  happy marriage with two beautiful children - Jodie, born July 14, 1973 and our son Chris born January 8, 1975.  We owned a house and had a dog, Toby, who was very much loved by Jodie! Andy, my husband had a steady job and I was a stay-at-home mom.  My extended family lived and still lives in the Netherlands.  I am the second of 6 siblings.

I had immigrated to Canada in 1970.  I was originally only intending to stay for a year!  I lived with my aunt, uncle and cousins.  I met Andy very early in that year and it became clear that I would not be going back to live in The Netherlands.  Canada became my permanent home.

My family in Holland were eager to come and see where I had settled.  My parents along with my elder sister and her baby son came to visit in 1975. In 1976 my next sister came with her husband-to-be. In 1978 it was my youngest sister that wanted to come, along with our cousin Djoke.  They were eighteen and nineteen years old respectively.  They arrived on June 22, 1978 and planned three weeks in Canada. 

It was very exciting for them and we were eager to show them our corner of the world.  We had a great time getting reacquainted. We talked, shared and explored.  (Believe me; I have lived those last days over and over again in my mind!)  The girls were excited to go see the lake and beach, so on Monday morning June 26, 1978 we packed a lunch and set off with five of us to Port Stanley.  (Even as I write this I am experiencing anxiety!)    It was a windy day as June days often are on Lake Erie.  We spent time on the beach and had lunch.  After lunch, we went for a walk and continued on the pier.  The gate was open and there was a person fishing.  Chris, our little guy, was tired, so I decided to return to the beach with him and sat in the sand watching the girls walk further on the pier, Jodie in the middle with Djoke and my sister each holding a little hand.  Jodie was just three weeks shy of her fifth birthday.  She was skipping along, a happy healthy little girl along with two beautiful young woman full of promise.

How do you explain and reason in your mind why there were two that never came back from that walk? Due to the wind, a big wave came and swept all three in the water.  My sister, Hendrika, was the only one that survived.  The person that was fishing was a sixteen year old boy.  He jumped in risking his own life to save her.  A piece of us had been ripped away… Oh, the heartache! 

Was this God`s will?   Anger, hurt and deep, deep sadness?  We wanted to hide and crawl in a corner and never come out!   People arrived at the door with food.  The mailbox was full of cards and letters with messages of condolence.  Visitors filled our living room.  Family stayed and slept on our floor, not wanting to leave our side.  The congregation of our church arranged search parties on the lake to look for the bodies, while other church members cook and bring food to the searchers.  The communion of the Saints is alive and well!  We are thankful, oh so thankful for all the support then and the years after.  It is through His people that the Lord has shown His love and mercy!

We were blessed with three more children, very healthy beautiful boys in years following.  Our church family rejoiced with us and encouraged us to go on, with their love and support.

Forty years is a long time, but in our minds Jodie still is our little four year old and we miss her so very much!

About two years ago we were able to connect with the boy that saved my sister.  He is now in his fifties. It was a very difficult experience for him also.  He is a very compassionate and caring man and our lives have been enriched by meeting him.

Djoke`s family was forever changed by her loss.  She was the eldest of five siblings.  The distance between Port Stanley and The Netherlands made the tragedy complicated and unreal for her family. I visited whenever I was there, but those visits were so very difficult!  It is never easy to see other people grieving. 

My sister had her own healing journey.  She has been able to overcome her Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome through counselling in the last five years.  Life is much better for her now.

We will never know what our lives would have been like had we been able to keep our daughter, but we often wonder.  This is our new normal and we have lived it 40 years since.

Life is good - Retirement, health, children and grandchildren - yet we look back and see a cloud following us - a cloud of sadness!  One cannot live with a burden of guilt and regret!    We pray to God to take it so we are able to go on when we truly believe He frees us from it.

After forty years, we are not celebrating a sad event, but reflecting, acknowledging, and cherishing the constant support and care from a loving church.    

Hanneke Kalsbeek-Dijkstra says:
June 09, 2018 04:18 PM CST

I am the yougest sister of Djoke an a niece of Siska. I was 8 when this tragedy came into our family. What I remember is the many, many postcards we received from Canada! Siska has written down her, and our parents and our, feelings very well! We will never forget. As is written on the bench at Port Stanley: Never more than a thought away! ❤❤


Trudy says:
June 15, 2018 10:15 AM CST

The emotions of loss and grief are still very real in this article – it’s powerfully written, and difficult to read without tears. What does also become very evident is that love endures, it also is as real now as it was then. Love for those we grieve for, love of a community that supported you and Andy and Chris as best as they knew how, the love of God that sustained you as you continued on to raise your family. We will never understand completely, but trust in a God who sees a much bigger picture than we ever will.


Linda says:
June 19, 2018 02:02 PM CST

We thank you for sharing such a warm and heartfelt story of your beloved Jodie. The flow of your feelings are felt as they move from sorrow and joy, pain and strong love. We are grateful for the support you have felt from the loved ones around you and above all...for the strength God has blessed you with throughout these amazing 40 years.