There are many things to learn in life, and one thing I learned is that living is precious.
When I began my eighth year of life, my Mom made me a desk for my room. She painted it a pristine white. I sat at my desk with one drawer and 3 shelves on the side, but nothing on the top. Then one day, I received a goldfish, and found a simple bowl for its home, and placed it on my desk.
I loved my Mom who could build furniture, props for my brother’s play, bake homemade bread, or sew me a winter coat and my wedding dress.
One day I came home from school and pulled out the wooden desk chair and sat down. The chair wobbled. When I investigated, I found out that my companion had jumped out of the bowl and lay on the floor. I imagined how it needed me, and I wasn’t there to return him to his fish-bowlish home. That was my first encounter with death.
A few years later I learned that my Grosmom Siemens (grandma) would come and stay with us. She would be in my room. Dad made a partition in Mom and his bedroom, and I would stay there. I didn’t mind. My Grosmom would be living with us. We would wash the dishes together and visited. For fourteen years I heard my parents visit with Grosmom Siemens in low German (Plautt Dietch) and halfway understood a lot of it. Grosmom could partially understand English.
We celebrated Grosmom’s birthday two days after mine. I was named Emily after my Grosmom, Emilie. I would stay with her a week at a time when I was a little girl. Grosmom baked ginger snap cookies and kept them in the kitchen in a drawer. When we visited, she wanted me to say, something that sounded like ‘High-Hoopa!’ After I said that, Grosmom laughed and laughed, and gave me two large cookies. I never knew what ‘High-Hoopa’ meant.
Dad bought her a steel rocker for the front porch. I would often find her there, rocking, as she sang, “Shall We Gather at the River!” What was she thinking about as she sang? She lived with us as WW II was beginning. She left Norka, South Russia, with her parents at the age of 16, to come to America in 1892. She married Jacob B. Siemens in 1897.
They raised one daughter and four sons and lost one daughter at sixteen months. The last six years of his life, Grospapa Jacob was paralyzed, and Grosmom cared for him. The sons made a pulley from the ceiling to raise her husband from the bed to ease the task of caring for him.
My parents told me that I sat on Grandpa Jacob Siemens’ lap as a baby in 1930. I have slowly built a picture of his life from the reflection of his life in his sons and daughter. He homesteaded a farm in western Oklahoma. He farmed and he also was a traveling evangelist. He learned how to preach striding back and forth behind the barn, holding the Bible. Then I understood why my Dad became such a great Bible teacher and story-teller.
Mom told me once that Jacob Siemens came to preach in Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church in Kansas when she was a girl. When Jacob Siemens preached, and spoke quietly, Mom fell asleep. When he raised his voice, it woke her up. She did not like that.
Grosmom’s health began declining in January 1930, that necessitated moving from her home in Corn, Oklahoma. Then came the day when my younger Uncle Johnny and Aunt Matilda came to visit and help care for Grossmom.
They needed some rest on the 7th day of August in 1943. They asked me to sit with my Grosmom and let them know if her breathing changed. I went into her room and sat down. She was asleep. As I sat there and thought about my Grosmom and all the things she experienced and endured in her lifetime. After an hour, I heard the change in breathing and told my parents. They sent me into the living room, but it wasn’t far enough. Even from there, I could hear her final cry of anguish that pierced my heart. I never forgot that moment. The funeral service was a blur in my mind, I lived over and over that moment as my beloved Grosmom left this earth and pictured her rocking and singing, “Shall We Gather at the River!”
Then I read again the scripture – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. I Thessalonians 5:16-18.
How is that possible to Rejoice, Pray without ceasing, Give Thanks in all experiences. I have had 8 family members who have gone through death. Yet for each one, I simply know, they are at home. And God is the Caretaker of their hearts. Yes, living is precious, and eternal life is priceless.
Rejoicing always when God is there, Pray without ceasing and Give Thanks in all experiences simply describes the beautiful relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven and come to Him as little children, trusting Him who gives Life Eternal.
On Grosmom’s tombstone are these words: Selig Sind Die in Dem Herrn Sterben! Blessed are those who die in the Lord!