Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Patricia Revisited - Part I

“This letting go process is not for wimps.”
~ Nikki

Last weekend my four sisters, Peggy, Connie, Joanne, and Mary, held a mini-reunion in Kansas City. On Saturday we enjoyed a wonderful dinner hosted by my brother Bill and his wife, Connie, at their home in Olathe. Connie prepared a feast which was served on our late mother’s good china. The table setting also included Mom’s good silver, so that made the gathering even more meaningful.

From left to right - Joanne, Eileen, Mary, Connie & Peggy
Front Row - Our host and hostess with the "Most and Mostess" - Brother Bill & wife, Connie

The special guest for the evening was Katelyn Seraphina Umbehr, accompanied by her parents, Josh and Lisa. (By the way, Katelyn just learned that she’s going to be a big sister in October!)

Katelyn entertained the guests for hours with her smiles, giggles, waves, and kisses. Her aunts were so thrilled to finally get the chance to meet and hug little Katelyn.

Katelyn with her new Easter bonnet and purse

Katelyn clapping hands on Daddy's lap

Katelyn kissing Mommy

On Friday night Nikki called from Whidbey Island at the start of the evening filled with memories of Patricia on the 2nd anniversary of her death. It was great to be able to connect with Nikki that way. We sang a couple of songs over the phone and read a tribute that our niece Naomi wrote for Patricia. (Naomi lives in Minnesota and is Connie’s oldest daughter. She is also the mother of Connie’s 7-year old granddaughter, Kelsey Constance.)

Naomi (on left as a child) and Kelsey on right

Naomi gave me permission to share her thoughts:

March 23, 2007

My celebration of Aunt Patricia’s’ life took place at the Mississippi River right in my back yard. It’s a beautiful spring day here with the birds chirping, geese flying home and splashing into the river; even heard a few woodpeckers doing their thing.

I found my place, lit my candle and took a seat in the sand. (Yes, still a bit cold.) The river had risen in the past week since I had last been there. I was amazed by the power of the water. The ice and branches all flowing downriver so fast; with no particular outcome and so many possible destinations!

It got me thinking of life, (mine in particular), and how it seemed to be doing just that, going with the flow. The power of the water (life) mesmerized me. How does anyone fight that? How did Aunt Patricia? She saw the best and beautiful in everyone and everything around her and was always so full of laughter and happiness!

That is when I saw it. Against the flow of the melting Mississippi, came the bravest, cutest baby beaver I had ever seen! (Especially so close.) I burst into tears and laughter at the same time. At that moment I realized she was with me and I heard the sweetest voice telling me, “It’s spring and all things are new, it’s never too early or too late to go against the flow in search of happiness. There is nothing stopping you!”

Even now after you’ve been gone from us, you still find a way to inspire and uplift. Thank you, Aunt Patricia. I love you… Naomi

Naomi's "visitor"

After Patricia’s passing, my friend Kat wrote to me and said:


It is fortunate for us that you are gifted at grieving ~ in prose. So many of the things you have written or copied from songs, scripture, and poetry have touched me deeply.

Since my mother died in December, I am reminded of her in so many little ways.....and of course, in the big ones. Reading your words about your sister's early passing from this earthly place, and from your family simply allows me to feel what I need to, and also to be thankful, like you, that I had the privilege of knowing this wonderful woman, of being alive, of loving and losing, and for all the pieces that continue to fall into place along the journey....

After reading last week’s column about Patricia, Kat shared the following insights:

You know, as a science teacher I continuously make (personal) connections between spirituality and the purity and balance of nature. These help me deal with the loss of my mother as well as others close to my heart.

I hope they help you, too.

Water comes in three distinct shapes and forms.
There's ice ~ solid, clear, defined;
Water ~ fluid, shapeless, agile;
And water vapor ~ invisible, omnipresent, weightless.

Water couldn't return to the atmosphere in any shape other than gas without severely disturbing the inhabitants of this planet! (Think about water returning to the sky as rain.... stay on the sidewalk!)

We know that water vapor is around us all the time...sometimes in huge percentages, other times just a tad.'s there. A solid that's now invisible and as light as the breeze. A glass of water that's now everywhere and not even wet!

How brilliant God is!

Patricia is now free to experience the beauty all around us, to be a part of all that she held so dear.

I know this ceremony will be a tremendous experience for everyone.

My thoughts are with you, Eileen.



This next poem was printed onto a photo of Patricia taking pictures at Chiricuhua National Park in Arizona during a visit with Victoria (“Magic Dance”) and her partner Janice.

The poem was written by Victoria:

By the power of every moment of her goodness
May her soul’s brightest wishes be fulfilled
As magnificently as each sunset she captured,
As completely as the shining full moon.

For all in whose hearts dwells respect,
Who have known Patricia’s wisdom and humanity,
May their lives prosper together in the blessings
Of her generosity, compassion and strength.

Just as the soft rains fill the streams,
Pour into the rivers and join together in the oceans,
So may the power of every moment of her goodness
Blow forth to heal the hearts of all those who miss her.

Nikki and Patricia

Finally, I found this Irish blessing on the internet recently. Nikki decided to read it last Friday when Patricia’s ashes were spread at Ebey’s Landing:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am the thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you waken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of gentle birds in circling flight
I am the soft star that shines at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry –
I am not there, I did not die.

Sunset on Mazatlan's shores one year after Patricia's passing

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sad Remembrance

“I go and prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there you may be also.” ~ John 14:1-3 (NKJV)

Through Your Eyes

By Eileen Umbehr

This Friday marks two years ago
Since we had to say good-bye
Your passing came without warning
And all we could do was cry

But how could we protest
When you died in such a way
Laughing and swimming with all of your friends
On Mazatlan’s shores that day

And who could ever forget
The sunset you caught the night before
Or how you saved it on your computer
And named it, “What I came here for.”

Although your death seemed so tragic in many ways,
In other ways it was eerily fitting
That one such as you – a lover of life
Would die while truly living.

Now your ashes will be spread at the water’s edge
With Nikki surrounded by her circle of friends
While the rest of the Van Kirk family
Gathers in spirit and love that transcends

We love you and miss you, Patricia
Our continuing grief we cannot disguise
But in honor of your childlike love of life,
We’ll strive to see God’s world through your eyes.

“It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography, everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary.”

~ David Bailey

“She hated to be in front of the camera. She wanted to be behind it. She wanted to be snapping pictures of Connor's funny faces.

She wanted to catch me with my hand on the back of my swimsuit, after a nose dive onto the sand. She wanted to say "Get closer together! Zach! Lean in!" – as the cousins laughed, and tried to hold photogenic smiles.

She wanted to create collages, calendars, greeting cards – each bearing a bit of her heart – a bit of her spirit, joy, and passion. She wanted to be outside her home, taking the most fantastic pictures of birds, of green fields, of the people she lived for.

It makes my head reel and hurt and my fingers go numb, grabbing tissue after tissue after tissue to soak up tears, to soak up memories, to soak up the muffled sound of my mother saying, ‘Patricia,’ into my dad's shoulder.”

~ Amy Jo O’Connor, niece

Nikki & Patricia

The November after Patricia’s death, her partner Nikki held a gathering on Whidbey Island with several dear friends from Seattle (Bev, Caroline, Terry, Felicia, Sylvia, Diana, and family), and Whidbey Island (Roxy, Laura, Jan, Kat, Shawn, Lucy et al), to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and what would have been Patricia's 55th birthday. They spent the day story telling, collage making, rock painting, and walking Ebey’s Landing (one of Patricia’s favorite places on Whidbey Island).

The day ended with singing and the lighting of 55 candles in honor of Patricia’s life and memory.

This Friday Nikki will be gathering once again at Ebey’s Landing with all of the loving friends she shared with Patricia (including Martha from Alaska, who described Patricia as "My dearest friend of the heart"). Here is the invitation she sent asking us to join them:

My dear family and friends,

My thoughts and prayers are with you as we approach the second anniversary of Patricia's passing. My heart wishes you continued peace and healing and pure joy of the memories you hold of our dear Patricia. She lives in each of us.

On March 23rd I plan to scatter Patricia's ashes at Ebey's Landing, a peaceful, beautiful place on Whidbey Island, where Patricia loved to walk and take in the sunsets. One late summer evening Patricia and I went to Ebey's Landing to chase the sun as it was going down and suddenly we came to the end of the path just missing the sunset as it disappeared behind the bluff. A huge pine tree stood in front of us and when we looked up, right over our heads, almost at arms reach, we saw two bald eagles staring down at us. Eye to eye. I'm sure you can imagine the sheer glee and the quiet squeal-whispers Patricia tried so hard to hold in so as not to disturb our new feathered friends! What an awesome moment of pure joy for both of us. Whenever I go to Ebey’s Landing I can hear Patricia's giggle and feel her absolute love and delight for life, family, friends, blue skies, sunsets, eagles, fresh air, and all the beauty that surrounded us that day. Today I find peace knowing her spirit is always near.

I invite you to join me on March 23rd. I know many of you may not be able to come to Whidbey so I will take you with me in spirit to the sacred circle near the tree of the bald eagles to remember and celebrate Patricia's life and the precious and loving ways she touched each of us. If you have a passage or poem you would like read feel free to let me know.

Thank you for all your love, prayers and support during these past two years. I hold you dearly in my heart.

Love, Nikki

My Sister, My Friend
By Joanne O’Connor, sister

Patricia, Patty, Patty Paprika
My sister and friend
As children and women
Memories, laughter, crocodile tears
Too few years
To know and love you
And though I know you’re
“Dancing with the Angels”
How my heart will miss you
My sister, my friend
Joanne, Janny, Jan

Say not in grief that she is no more
But say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light
But the putting out of the lamp
Because the dawn has come.



Nine Minus One

Eileen Umbehr

Nine minus one
I don’t like that equation
Nine minus one isn’t right
We’re a family
And families always stay together
“Patricia’s lost,” Keen said.
I wanted to physically push the words back
Back through the air to where they came from.
“We lost our Patricia today,” Nikki said.
“Why did you tell me that, Daddy?” Caitlyn asked.
Kyle cried. Right before his birthday.
We all cried.
We cried together.
And now we cry again
As a family of eight
Instead of nine
Five girls
And three boys
Just isn’t right
Our circle is lopsided now
Without our Patricia

Nine minus one . . .Nine minus one

Will we ever get used to this?

“We will miss her beyond what words can say. However, I believe her spirit is now with us all, and we will never truly be without her . . . I hope and pray that Patricia will experience in eternal life what she has shared with us in her earthly life: God’s great strength, eternal peace, and immense joy. Peace, Patricia.”

~ Joe Van Kirk, brother

There’s a gathering of spirits
There’s a festival of friends
And we’ll take up where we left off
When we all meet again. . . .

Just east of Eden
But there’s heaven in our midst
And we’re never really all that far
From those we love and miss

The Gathering of Spirits ~ recorded by Carrie Newcomer (with Alison Krauss)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Love Lost

”How fair is your love . . .my spouse! How much better than wine is
your love . . .”
~ Song of Songs 4:10 (NKJV)

Through a collection of poems, this week’s column will be dealing with the subject of grief, an emotion we all experience at one time or another in our life.

Six years ago, Keen and I were celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary at our favorite hideaway, The Cottage House Bed and Breakfast in Council Grove, Kansas. We always reserve the same room – the Honeymoon Suite that has a veranda where we like to relax while we enjoy our breakfast. Before we check out, I always record a few comments in the guest book/journal. That year I wrote a short poem about our favorite room.

Friend of Mine
Peaceful quiet
So sublime
Love renewed
Memories refreshed
Blessed rest

As we paged through the guest book, Keen and I enjoyed reading some of the past entries. Some guests wrote predictable comments such as: “Had a great time. Thanks for the rose and card. This is a beautiful setting.” But others shared glimpses into their lives and hearts and emotions. We read about one couple who had been considering divorce, but felt their love had been rekindled during their stay. Another woman wrote about all the tragedy their family had experienced in the past year. She said she also gained 20 pounds since their wedding and felt so sad about it. But her husband said, “Let me be your mirror.” It was very touching.

But the most poignant entry was written a year earlier by a pediatrician from Wichita named Dwight Lindholm. Dwight wrote a heartrending poem titled “Beyond,” which was about the tragic death of his infant son, Andrew. When Keen and I returned home, I got in touch with the Lindholm’s to let them know how moved we were by his poem, and we’ve been exchanging Christmas cards ever since. Recently I contacted the Lindholm’s by email and asked permission to share Dwight’s comments and poem in my column. I am happy to report that they graciously agreed. Dwight’s wife Pam also informed me that they are expecting another little blessing this October.

Dwight and Pam Lindholm and Family

Here are Dwight’s comments and poem dated 6-6-2000 – 6-9-2000:

We were here to regroup. This has given us time to share with each other, assimilating our present situation following the death of our son (April 8, 2000) as an infant. It’s also our belated 1st anniversary celebration (April 17, 2000).

God had given us grace to work through the loss. The day of the funeral God provided Pam and I the same message separately from different places in the Bible – “by faith we stand,” from II Corinthians 1:24 and Romans 5:2.

The grief is still there but knowing God cares and that we will see Andrew again in Heaven gives us hope.

While here we saw the historical sites around town. We also visited the lake and the National Prairie Park. This is Pamela’s first visit here. It is also my first since the loss of my first wife to breast cancer over 4 years ago. This was a perfect tranquil setting to be still and to relate to each other at every level.


Beyond the stain glass window I can’t see
But hear the birds chirping with glee
Beyond the closed door sleeps my bride
A virtuous woman who gives me pride

Beyond the clouds are Heaven’s portals high
Way above this open prairie sky

Does my God care for me so small?
Yes, He does, why doubt at all?
He sent the birds to give me glee,
He sent my wife to stand by me

God gives me hope of heavenly realms
A home for all who here have God at their helm

Though I can’t see God as I see man
I know He’s here by the work of His hand
Why else would we have a beautiful earth?
Why else would our soul yearn for a second birth?

As each day goes by I love Pam more
More as we struggle, as life’s clouds pour
More as ones dear are washed away
More through the fear before night becomes day

So give me your hand, my precious wife
And we’ll go hand in hand through this perilous life
Though we can’t see more than a step at a time
We can walk boldly with Jesus as yours and mine

With much love to my precious wife Pam,
Dwight Lindholm

(I wrote this next poem for a friend of ours who lost his wife to Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is based on an actual conversation.)

Half Long Enough
By Eileen Umbehr

How long has it been?
I asked him that day
Since your precious wife
Sadly passed away

It will be two years
Come May 7th
Since the good Lord
Took her to Heaven

I’m so sorry for your loss
Are you doing all right?
I miss her very much
And I still cry every night

Although I was blessed
To share those fifty years
It wasn’t half long enough
For someone so dear

She was the center of my life
And she was the glue
That held our family together
No matter what we went through

I always thought I would go first
And I told her to remarry
But now she’s been taken
And I’m the one to tarry

I’m left alone with my memories
But I’m thankful for our love
And the life we shared together
Though not half long enough


Before My Mother Died

By Connie Hinnen Cook

Before my Mother died
Daddy always had a smile,
Fun-loving, playful, upbeat ~
"carefree joy" described his style.

Each day when he came home from work
you'd hear his happy song,
The men who worked beside him said
he whistled all day long!

He looked for folks that he could bless
and hugged each who came near,
Townfolk would rush up to his side
to hear his jokes and cheer.

His love was unconditional,
he spread it far and wide ~
Yes, Daddy was a different man
before my Mother died.

After her death I never saw
that glee once in his eyes...
To me, Daddy seemed haunted
by a ghost that never dies.

Daddy went Home on August 12th,
his suffering is no more ~
But in my heart I feel he "died"
eleven years before.

And when the prayers for me have stopped
and sorrow takes its toll,
I'll find my peace and comfort
that now, Daddy is made whole.

He's once again with Mother,
and with Jesus by his side...
Daddy is now the man I knew
before my Mother died.

"Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death." ~ Song of Songs 8:6 (KJV)

I’d like to close with part of a prayer that has been attributed to St. Patrick. It is called “Lorica” – named for a Roman coat of armor that is meant for the protection of the one wearing it.

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me
God’s might to uphold me
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s eye to look before me
God’s ear to hear me
God’s word to speak for me
God’s hand to guard me.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Word Count

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” ~Prov. 17:27-28

This past weekend I made a blunder with my words that reminded me of how powerful words can be and the positive – and negative – affect they can have on others.

“Every word you speak boosts someone’s hope a bit, or kills it just a little.” ~ John Ortberg

Although I didn’t mean what I said the way it sounded, that didn’t seem to matter.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge it shall eat the fruit of it (for death or life).” ~ Poverbs 18:21

That’s why it’s so important to think BEFORE we speak!

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. . . .” ~ James 1:19

I know this column is a little heavy on Bible verses, but this next section from the third chapter of James addresses this subject so thoroughly. And since I don’t think I’m the only person who has trouble controlling their tongue, I decided to include it.

“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.

See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. . . .

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Finally, since I’ve been trying to “count my words” in another way by limiting my Reflections columns to around 1,000 words, I’m going to close by sharing two letters which illustrate the positive impact our words can have on the lives of those we love.

My niece Mimi wrote this first letter to her younger sister Jessica:

Dear Jessica,

I never thought writing a letter like this would be so hard. There's so much I want to say, but will I be able to find the right words?

I can't even begin to describe how happy I am that we have become such good friends. I finally learned to let go of whatever was keeping me from knowing the most amazing person I have ever met and will ever meet. You truly do amaze me, Jessica. You are the only person I know who is capable of anything. You're so full of talent, charisma, and kindness, I don't know how you do everything you do. You just have this energy about you that glows. I know that you'll always be that way, helping others, and just being yourself.

Jessica, I want you to know that I am who I am today because of you. Even though you may not realize it, you helped me open up and showed me that it was okay to express my opinion, and it was okay to actually have a personality. (Imagine that!) I look up to you more than you'll ever know. You're smart, funny, beautiful, someone I can tell anything to, but most of all, you're my friend. No, you're my best friend. If I could somehow find my way to becoming even half the person you are, I would consider my life to be a success. So this letter is to you, Jessica... my hero.

Love always and forever,


Mimi & Jessica (Then and Now)

Our third son, Keen II, wrote this next letter to his younger brother Kirk after Kirk found out that he didn’t make the basketball team:

Hey bro, what’s up man? Well I’m sure you’re sick of talking about it and everything but I gotta do what big brothers and family do. I just wanted to write you a little something to tell you that today life is full of disappointments but we show our character when we are able to handle them like a man. We’re Umbehr men and we handle our disappointments like men and move on. Why? Because we have something that not all your friends have in their lives. We have a God that loves us and wants what is 100% best for us. BE EXCITED KIRK! If God didn’t want you to play on that basketball team it is only because he has something 100 times better waiting for you. I don’t want to get preachy on you bro, but you know there is that verse that says “The eye has not seen, the ear has not heard, nor has entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him.” Seriously bro you can’t even imagine what might happen. Maybe you’ll end up taking this off season to get in contact with some serious paintball sponsors and look into hooking up with some semi-pro teams in the nation. Teams who will PAY YOU to play paintball instead of you paying them! Who knows what has been prepared for you, but it’s something special.

Love you, Bro -


“Pleasant words are as honey, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.” ~ Proverbs 16:24

Keen and Kirk Van (Then and Now)