“In the years before David and I married, Oma often welcomed me at her apartment to learn how to make traditional Mennonite dishes like rouladen and meatbuns. See, I had asked for her recipes, but they weren’t written down. So we spent countless hours in her small kitchen, warmed by the overworked oven, and I think she considered it her duty to ensure David was fed well! Because of her, we put a mixer on our registry with a meat grinding attachment!
It was on those formative occasions that Oma shared her stories – escaping from Russia as a young girl during the war, sleeping in fields, and begging for bits of scraps from soldiers. And at the same time, despite her lived pain and turmoil, she tried in her way, to point out God’s goodness. I was writing down measurements, while her words were writing themselves into doses about God’s faithfulness in my own life.
When David and I had our own sons, we named them in honour of her birthplace – Yuri, which is a common form of George in Russia means “Light of God” in Hebrew and Lev – which is Russian for Lion means “Heart” in Hebrew. When they were toddlers, she used to wrap a swaddle blanket under their armpits, holding a corner in each hand behind their back and walk them to see neighbors down the hall. Soon enough, they were running up and down the whole floor and she would hide around the corner waiting to surprise them. Giggles galore.
Eventually, the baking sessions moved to our house and also included the boys. It was not that long ago that they were officially sanctioned meatbun makers by Oma. She loved baking, but even more, she loved giving it all away. She pulled staples out of our hardwood floor when we were renovating, she cleaned my house when I was at work, and babysat for us often. Most recently, the day before she would have dinner with us, she would call to remind me to put a load of laundry in so that she would have something to fold and iron when she came over.
A few weeks ago, Oma gave me her mother’s obituary, as though she didn’t want her history to be lost. She was thinking about what she would leave behind – but we know that her story has not ended here. Our boys tell proudly of the origin of their names, and we know the caretakers, whom she affectionately called “those nice Janzen boys” were always so good to her. We have seen God’s work through her children – Henry’s steadfastness, Harry’s empathy, Herb’s peacemaking, Connnie’s perseverance, and Dave’s hugs.
Oma was a doer. We used to joke that she had more energy than we did, though she sometimes admitted to being “all puckered out.” We also wondered if her running high normal had protected her and helped her even, to defy her prognosis. Then, all of a sudden, I was sitting late with Oma through some of her rawest emotions. She just wanted to go home. It’s not lost on me that she came to her final rest just after Labour day – she knew what it meant to labour. Ironically, my own to-dos had gotten in the way of calling her just one more time. By the next morning, while my mental checklist was complete, so was her earthly race. Perhaps it was my final lesson from her – be productive in serving others, not in your selfish ambition. As I sat in my kitchen, I remembered her hot little apartment when she used to pass me a ball of dough and tell me that soon I would learn to bake by feel. I had been writing down hallowed recipes for making, but she was handing out hard-won recipes for sharing, for living. She stumbled at times, but now she has run wildly into the forgiving arms of Jesus and we are grateful for the time she was gifted to us.”
Those are the words I said at her funeral.
But two years ago, Oma read from her journal on healing and forgiveness. And at just the right time, when our family is struggling with reconciliation, she had just the right words for us from hard-won lessons in relationships.
This is what she preached at her own funeral: