By Sheena Koops
I remember Christmas, must have been 1987. My Uncle Jelsing and Auntie Sheena, their three boys, and a tag-along-friend-of-the-family came to the farm for Christmas. The young man, like a brother to my cousins, was Michael Koops from Victoria, BC. This young guy, my cousin, and I walked over the prairie into the Souris Valley, sometimes knee deep in snow, pretending we were on a quest. We watched movies; we sang carols, we played games: my cousins and this tall, dark and handsome friend-of-the-family. In August of 1989, I married that guy. Three daughters later, my Uncle and Auntie consider our girls their granddaughters, because they consider Michael their son.
When we heard the news that Uncle Jelsing had passed, Michael immediately made plans to drive to Victoria. He travelled through the night, stopping only twice to catch an hour or two of sleep on the side of the road, mountains on either side, guiding him back to the coast.
On my own trip out for the funeral, I travelled with my sister, brother, our dad, and my youngest daughter. Mom flew, arriving just before Michael did. As we drove, we laughed and laughed, getting to know each other again, reverting to our teenage selves, listening to good Irish sing-along-music. Uncle Jess would have approved.
When Michael spoke at the funeral, he shared his story of being raised by a single mom, being in trouble at school, his buddies getting in trouble with the law. Uncle Jess (who had moved back to Saskatchewan) had told him, “Hey, you should come live with us, finish grade 11.” Michael told the gathering something like, “Jess chose me. You can believe in people, but the difference was that he sought me out. He didn’t let me go. Jess loved me.”
I can’t help thinking about the story of the prodigal son. Michael told this story at a dear friend’s funeral a couple of years ago. Our friend had lived a rough, difficult life, and he had taken comfort in the story of God as a father waiting for him to come home. Michael told that story at our friend’s funeral as our friend’s sons sat in the front row, themselves all needing to remember a father, waiting for them to come home. Just a few weeks ago, the youngest of our late friend’s sons said to me, “Tell me that story again.”
My uncle was a lost son. My husband was a lost son. Our friend was a lost son. His son is a lost son. My uncle went home. My husband went home for his funeral. Our late friend went home. His son is still finding his way. I am telling their stories because I’ve been honoured to walk alongside them, finding my own way home.