Don’t cry because I am no longer here,
Smile because I was.

~Oom Jean

Some of my earliest memories are in my grandparents house. My fathers parents, in the south of the Netherlands on the German border. My memories are so clear. The old farmhouse, the smells. The carpet on the floor, the old bijkeuken (scullery, 2nd kitchen almost) where we used to play. The door between my grandparents & my uncles.

Back then my uncle, aunt & two sons lived in half the house, my grandparents in the other half. As time went by the whole house was remodeled into one home. At first I mourned the loss of familiar spaces, but as I grew older I realized those spaces still existed. A little modernized, sure, but there all the same. I loved, love, going home.

My uncle made it home. Oom Jean (pronounced more like George in  Dutch) always welcomed me with open arms. Always. Each time he hugged me I felt home. Loved. Welcomed. Wanted. With him there was never any doubt but that I was family & I belonged. There is nothing in the world like feeling like you belong. A part of something. A part of family.

We move so much. I moved with my family, my parents & sisters, sometimes every year. Dave & I moved every couple of years. Moving is part of who we are, but that doesn’t take away the desire to belong. To have a home base. To feel connected to a people for longer than 12 months, or 36 months if you are lucky.

Oom Jean gave me that sense of belonging. Something I am only now realizing I treasure so very much.

My Oom Jean died last week. My dads brother. His best friend. The same uncle we visited in May, to say goodbye. I knew then it was goodbye, but it didn’t feel that way. He was up, walking. Slower, true, but up. He held me in his arms, in a warm embrace, like he always does:

“We kunnen het goed met elkaar vinden he Toiny?” He said. Meaning we are friends. Not just family, we actually like each other. And I do I really, really like him. I love him. With all my heart. The world is a lesser place without him in it.

I cried when my dad called. Not just because my uncle was no more, but because my dad’s broke. My strong dad. My unshakeable dad. I cried later that night on Dave’s shoulder. I begged to go to the funeral. Me. Stuck in my bed with my foot above my heart. I begged. Luckily I had a Dr.’s appointment, and he okay’d the trip. Luckily I have a big bus, and Dave made me a bed fit for a princess to be driven home.

I cried at the funeral. Especially when my little cousins, my uncle’s grandchildren, brought up the coffin. They were so strong, so stoic. I learned later how they had been a big part of saying goodbye, caring for the body, even helping move his body into the casket. In Holland, at least my part of home, death is not feared but part of life. My uncle was ready for the next step in his journey.

After the funeral we all went to the “koffie tafel” (coffee table) to celebrate Jean. We had delicious broodjes (sandwiches), soup, vlaai (pie) and koffie. I sat in a room where half the faces were my own. I remembered my uncle with a smile.

I am sad he is gone, but I can smile that he was here. He was a beautiful soul. I miss him.

The last photo I took of my uncle. With the 50th wedding anniversary quilt I made them.                                               My mom, Oom Jean, Tante Riet, my dad

Tante Annie, the oldest & my sister Annelore

Dane & Oom Giel

My sister & favorite cousin Leny

my cousins!

Annie, my dad’s oldest sister, tante Riet (Jean’s wife) & my aunt Marga

The newest generations, Dane’s cousin’s! Foto by Dane.

More cousins. Family.

Me & sister, a rare photo (by Dane)