Larry Joens, Carol (Joens) Chapman and David Joens on 3/25/17
There are sometimes in life when the pain of loss seems unbearable. This is one of those times. My dear Uncle Larry died on April 11, 2017. The loss of his love, smile, laughter and love of the Cubs will leave a void in my heart forever.
When we love deeply, we grieve deeply. There is no way around it. Grief is the most extreme sense of anguish that a human can endure. And sometimes it feels as if it would be better not to love, so that the hurt never follows. I couldn’t disagree more. The risk of hurt – no, the certainty of hurt – is well outweighed by the gift of love. To experience the joy of God’s love flowing through another is unmatched and definitely outweighs the pain of grief.
I miss my uncle already. My thoughts rapidly switch between heartache and pain to joy and thanksgiving. Uncle Larry was not a perfect man. But, he perfectly tried and was a good and God fearing man. He loved his family, even though we have been known to let him down. He may have been disappointed, but he never stopped loving.
He served his church family and friends with the same love and devotion he showed his family. He loved Jesus and although he didn’t talk much about it. He constantly shared of himself in a way where I know that Jesus would say, “Larry, you are a good and faithful servant.” Larry was love and his memory will always fill me with love.
He always had a smile and a hug. He was one of the best huggers! It was one of those hugs where you felt safety and love. His sense of humor was dry and there was always a twinkle in his eye. I think he got this love of life from the Bremer side of the family. His mom, my Grandma, was always like that. I see that kind of love and humor in Dad and their youngest sibling, Carol, too. It is a Bremer jolliness that leaves us with feelings of warmth and family that I will always remember.
Recently, there was a Facebook thread between Aunt Carol, her cousin (Karen) and myself. I had shared how I remember sitting at Great-grandma Bremer’s dining room table when I was very little. I was on my Dad’s lap and the table was surrounded by men playing cards. I love that memory. I couldn’t have been in school yet, but I remember the laughter and joy of those times. Aunt Carol and her cousin, Karen both shared fondly of similar memories of these family times. It was a family filled with love and laughter. Uncle Larry embodied both. When seeing Uncle Larry, you always felt better than when you arrived. He was delightful and his love spilled out on to everyone.
My most cherished memories of Uncle Larry are pretty wonderful. My earliest memory was when I was very young. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. He was working the summer on a road crew and they happened to be working on the street where my family lived. Mom made some Kool-Aid and helped me set up a lemonade stand in the front yard for the guys working on the road. (It was hot and they were resurfacing the blacktop road.) I was charging a penny a glass and Larry gave me quarters. Every time he had a glass, I got a quarter. I don’t remember anything other than him giving me quarters and laughing at my reaction. It was a wonderful windfall for me and I remember vividly that I thought he was the most wonderful uncle in the world.
I also remember a special time when I was 17 years-old. Larry and Nanette asked that I sing for their wedding. I was so touched and moved that they would ask me to share in their special day. I will never forget the feeling I had. I was humbly honored to be able to share of myself on a day that was so important to them. For a 17 year-old, there isn’t much I had that I could give them. But, I could sing and I was able to give them something that I loved. I am sure neither Larry nor Nanette knew how much that day meant to me. It did and I will cherish the memory forever.
I also have vivid memories of Uncle Larry’s love in action while I was going through my divorce. Larry and Nanette attended St. John Lutheran Church and so did Brad, Steve and I. They attended the early service and we attended the latest service. (There were three services on Sunday.) I remember having just learned that my ex-husband was having an affair and wasn’t willing to give up his girlfriend. It was obviously very difficult for me and I had decided to divorce. To complicate the heartache, my son was the one who told me about the affair. It was difficult for all three of us.
It became even more difficult when a few months before the divorce was final, I found out that a new member of a few months (who attended the one service where I led the liturgy), was the woman with whom my ex was having the affair. She would pass me in the aisle every Sunday while she walked to the front to read the Scriptures and prayers. At first I didn’t know she was the other woman. When I found out that it was her, I was sickened and devastated. How could she start attending the same church, and even worse the same service where I sang?! What would lead a person to do something like this? We had three services and she chose the one I attended.
Every Sunday, I would go to church to sing and leave sobbing and in tears. It was agonizing to pass the other woman in the aisle every week, but I refused to give up my church – she already was taking my husband.
Uncle Larry found out about what was going on and he and Nanette would hang out for a while after their early service. We would meet in the atrium between services and he would visit with Brad and Steve about baseball and the Cubs. Every week, he would wait around and talk to the boys. It was good to see my sons laugh and talk about their first love, baseball with their great-uncle who shared the passion for the Cubs and baseball. It was one of the most selfless gifts of love I’ve ever seen in action.
We never talked about it. But, his presence filled me with God’s strength and I know that if it wasn’t for him, I would have had to leave my church home of 18 years. I got my Sunday hug and the boys got to talk baseball. He quietly filled my sons and I with love and reassurance that would sustain us for another church service with the “other woman”.
That is the way I knew Uncle Larry’s love. It was quiet and yet consistent. He was loyal and faithful to his family. He was a good man in his heart and he tried to live that goodness in his life. He was honest and giving. He was a servant heart and he showed up when he was needed. He was always welcome.
As a side note worthy of mentioning, I need to share about Mom. She suffers with a neurological disorder that mimics dementia, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Over the past number of years, she is often joyful discussing the conversations she’s had with her sister, Deloris and her mother. Deloris has been gone for 11 years and Grandma has been gone for close to 25 years.
Mom will occasionally talk about the phone calls she has with Deloris and Grandma. It is never anyone else, just those two. She shares about beautiful conversations recalling good times together. They are always happy and filled with smiles.
When Julie went to tell Mom and Dad the sad news of Larry’s death, Mom interrupted her. She said to Julie something to the effect of, “He can’t be gone. He called last night and said he was doing good. He didn’t sound sick last night. He just called me.” (Mom doesn’t have a phone.) She couldn’t believe he was gone because she had just talked to him when he called her. He sounded happy and healthy. He was doing good!
There is so much about the human brain that we do not understand. There is even more we do not understand about our God. I believe that Larry wanted us to all know he was good – he is doing well – he is healed. Just as Deloris and Grandma check in with us now and then, Larry checked in with Mom, too. I suppose, it is because Mom is the only one sitting still enough to listen since she can’t do anything on her own anymore. But the message is sound – Larry is good! My heart fills with Joy.
The next two days will be difficult for his family and extended family. He was and remains special to us all. We will be celebrating his life, but we will be grieving as we say “until we meet again.” To know that my dear Uncle Larry will be celebrating Easter with our Savior is wonderful to think about. To know that he no longer hurts and is no longer sick is a blessing. To know that there are few who walk this side of Heaven that are filled with the love he had in his heart, is a reminder of the blessing that is Larry Joens. He was and will always be love and loved!