Klaver finds strength after overcoming the loss of a child

Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Trudy Klaver had a quilt made featuring of all of her son's favorite things shortly after his death. (Sentinel photo by Earl Horlyk)

This year, Trudy Klaver has decided to put up a Christmas tree in the living room of her Le Mars home.

It will be the first time she's done so since the death of her son, James, over two years ago.

"When Jamie became ill, all of his priorities changed," Klaver says. "When he passed away, mine did too."

"Everything changed," she says, nodding her head. "Everything changed."

In April 1999, at age 19, Jamie was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. After months of treatment, he received a new lease on life via a stem cell transplant from his sister, Tricia.

"Jamie just had this unstoppable passion for life," Klaver remembers. "He had always lived his life to the fullest and that energy was contagious. His illness only made him more determined to make a difference."

In April 2003, Jamie was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. He spent the next three months at the Methodist Hospital in Rochester, Minn.

Jamie fought the disease with courage and a fierce determination that touched the lives of everyone around him, according to his mom, until his death on July 9, 2003.

He was 23 years old.

"With Jamie gone, I felt completely lost," Klaver offers. "I had no idea how it would feel to be totally bereaved."

"Jamie wasn't only my son," she explains. "He was my best friend. We'd been through so much that we were like war buddies to each other. When he passed away, I felt very alone."

Remembering Jamie's courage and allowing his love of life to serve as her beacon, Klaver began a long process of acceptance.

"My son wanted to make a difference with his life," she explains, "and he accomplished that. I knew I had to make a difference in my own life."

"And in the lives of others," Klaver quickly adds.

She soon became involved with The Compassionate Friends, a national bereavement support organization that had a chapter in Sioux City.

The mission of The Compassionate Friends is to assist families toward the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child.

"I had never heard of The Compassionate Friends but here was an organization made up entirely of parents and family members who've lost a child," Klaver says. "It made me feel so much better knowing I wasn't alone."

"It also made me more committed to making sure other families wouldn't feel alone either," she says purposefully.

Klaver became a member of The Compassionate Friends in November 2004 and became an area chairperson for the organization shortly thereafter.

Klaver and her family will be joining tens of thousands of other families worldwide in lighting candles at 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11, as an act of remembrance and a celebration of life.

The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting is an annual event where persons from around the globe, united in the loss of a child, light candles for one hour the second Sunday in December.

Candles are first lit at 7 p.m., local time just west of the International Date Line. As candles burn down in one time zone, they are then lit in the next, creating a virtual 24-hour wave of light as the observance continues around the world.

"The holiday time is an especially difficult time for families grieving the loss of a child," explains United States TCF executive director Patricia Loder. "The Worldwide Candle Lighting is one way in which we can show we are united with bereaved families everywhere in the love we continue to carry for our children, even though they are no longer with us."

Although there is no formal ceremony planned locally on Dec. 11, Klaver knows there will be many individuals and families lighting candles for Jamie and their own loved ones.

"I still have family in the Netherlands and I know they'll be lighting candles at 7 p.m., their time," Klaver says. "Jamie lived in Germany for a short while. They, too, will be lighting candles for him."

"I think that's pretty cool," she adds, wiping away a tear. "We do this because we we know Jamie's light will always shine bright."

"Society has a funny way of dealing with loss and with grief," Klaver contends. "We are a grief avoiding society. People feel they constantly have to walk on eggshells around me. Well, they don't have to. But they do. Or they'll say that over time, I'll get over it."

"Hey, y'know what? Losing a child is not something I want to get over," she continues. "Jamie was my own flesh and bone. He was someone that I loved more than life itself. The sense of his loss will always be there inside of me."

"But so will all of our awesome memories," she says softly. "Amazing memories."

Klaver likes to keep a poem near by. It's a piece entitled "Remember" and it was written by Frederick Buechner:

"When you remember me, it means that you have something of who I am with you; that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that when we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart."

This year, as Klaver hangs up the decorations on her Christmas tree, she does so with the acknowledgement that life goes yet everything has changed.

"The holidays aren't about 'things' anymore," she mentions. "Life isn't about 'things' anymore either. What's important, now, is love, relationships, and faith. That's all that really matters, isn't it?"

Klaver's home is filled with photos and mementoes of her son's life.

"People will ask me how many children I have," Klaver smiles, "and I always tell them I have four. Three of them are walking the earth. And one who is soaring up in Heaven."

"Or they'll ask me if all of the kids will make it home for the holidays. I'll say three of them will. Jamie? He couldn't make it this year."

Klaver becomes very quiet.

"Jamie is still very much alive to me," she says. "He's always in my thoughts, he's in my heart, he's in my soul. He's in my life. Nobody's really dead if they're not forgotten."

"I don't know exactly who I am yet," Klaver laughs. "I'm getting closer. I'm not quite there yet. But no matter what I turn out to be, he will always be a part of who I am."

"Jamie will always be remembered," she says.

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