On October 6th, my grandmother, Erna Kowalski passed away at the age of 105. She played a huge part in our lives. The following is a message I wrote that my brother read for me at the funeral:
“If we don’t meet again here, we will meet on the other side.” These words of parting became a tradition, a ritual that closed each of our times together. Oma would have been in her 80’s and still going strong when she first spoke those words to me. I would laugh, awkwardly trying to deflect this moment. The first instance turned into a regular pattern. As Oma moved from her 80’s to 90’s and then turned the century mark, these moments of parting took on greater and deeper significance.
I was blessed to be able to live close to Oma for the majority of my formative years. She had a great impact on my life.
There is an important memory, or rather a whole string of memories of an oft-repeated scene, as far back as I can recall. I walk by Oma’s half-open bedroom door. Oma is kneeling and praying out loud. Early on the prayer would have been in German, but later there would be English, too. Countless occasions of hearing the passionate tone of my grandmother in intercessory prayer has left a lasting mark on my life. I grew up knowing that I was prayer for.
Oma’s love could be tasted in her perogies and rolladen, Christmas stollen and cinnamon rolls. Her love also took the form of carefully knitted and crocheted sweaters and afghans that went to both family and families in need. She was always available for a sleep-over, or supper, or a dinner out at “the Swiss.” When I moved away, first to Boston and then to Japan, there would be periodic phone calls for special occasions, or just to let me know that she was praying. When I got married, these calls would be for Akiko, too. Her concern for the cost would keep the conversation short and to the point: she would ask how we were doing, give a little news from home, and let us know of her prayers and love. Indeed, I grew up knowing that I was loved.
It is more recently that I began to see Oma (and Opa, too), as a different kind of model, a mentor in ministry. She well understood the struggles of leaving home for a new land, of learning a new language as an adult and of being in full-time ministry. I have always thought that I saw a bit of improvement in Oma’s English after she moved into the home here in Vineland in 1998. Whether true or not, this thought does give me hope in my on-going battle with the Japanese language to know that I still have decades left for improvement.
As Akiko and I have travelled around Canada, we have had the privilege to hear stories from so many whose lives were influenced by Oma and Opa. We have had but a glimpse of the legacy of a lifetime, and that also has helped me personally to keep a long-range perspective in challenging times. In Oma I have had a great model of faith in God and faithfully living out the Christian life.
And so, when the phone rang in the middle of night with news of Oma’s passing, I thought again of her last words to me after a final time of prayer together. They were words of parting, but words that reveal that great hope that she had, and I have. “If we don’t meet again here, we will meet on the other side.” And indeed we will.