On Distance and Grieving

This week I received the news that two wonderful men of God passed away.  One more recently than the other but I heard news of both less than 24 hours apart.  These men had different spheres of influence, however they are both dearly loved and will be sorely missed.

Earlier this year Ryan’s beloved Grandmother died.  She was a strong woman of God and a prayer warrior.  Although Ryan did return to Wisconsin for her funeral, most of the grieving process was still at a distance.


Grief takes on many forms and everyone feels their grief differently.  For me, being able to grieve with people, to share in the raw emotion and to exhaust the tears is freeing and allows me to get to those deeper places more quickly.  However, when I grieve at a distance those layers peel back more slowly in moments of memory and valleys of sadness.

Grief is also different when you know that person is a believer in Jesus Christ and that for them death is a glorious reunion with Christ.  It doesn’t remove the sadness, it doesn’t remove the pain but it is a reminder of the truth of the gospel and what as a Christian we should be striving for, storing up our treasures where it actually matters.

For many reasons, the song Christ is Risen by Matt Maher has been playing in my mind these past few days.  As Christians we know who the victor is, we can celebrate Christ’s victory over death and what that means for us eternally.  For us here on earth- “Blessed are those who mourn.”  But for those in Christ who die- “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.”  The heavens rejoiced as they welcomed home these saints.

Christ is Risen- Matt Maher

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
But fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to Him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely You’ve bled for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bowed to none but heaven’s will
No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown
No burden great can hold You down
In strength You reign
Forever let Your church proclaim

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
The glory of God has defeated the night

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
Our God is not dead
He’s alive! He’s alive!

Ryan’s Grandma

Please be in prayer for Ryan and his family.  On Monday night his 96 year old grandmother died peacefully in her sleep.  This woman had an amazing influence on her grandsons.  I had the privilege of meeting her twice and I’m so thankful that I can share, at least some, memories of her with Ryan.  We will never forget her reaction to seeing my engagement ring for the first time.  And we have other sweet reminders of her too.  She made the dishcloths that we use every day in our kitchen.  I love the tangible, useful reminder of her.  Ryan’s Grandma was a strong, wonderful, Christian woman and her legacy lives on in her family.  They are rejoicing that she is in heaven but still mourning their loss.Grandma

Ryan will be flying to Wisconsin on Thursday.  All of Ryan’s brothers will be there with the family.  This is important for them to have time together to mourn and remember.  Please pray for safe travels and please pray for Ryan and I, because 4 days will be the longest we’ve been apart since we’ve been married.

Losing a loved one is never easy.  Expecting it doesn’t take away the pain but the mourning is much sweeter when you know that the person you lost is a believer.  We can rejoice because Ryan’s Grandma is in the presence of her savior.

In Loving Memory of Grandpa Candee

Two weeks ago my Grandpa died peacefully in his sleep.  While he may no longer be around to play his harmonica, build beds for my dolls, tease all the grandkids, whistle, grow his beautiful roses, cook amazing breakfasts and do all the other things grandpas do, I will hold onto my many happy memories from my childhood with Grandpa.

Grandpa was strong.  He could lift me up when I couldn’t see.  My brother and I always enjoyed visiting the grandparents in San Francisco where they would take us to the zoo, to see the golden gate bridge, to parks and to many other fun places.  We also enjoyed taking trips up to the cabin in Lake Tahoe, driving through Yellowstone and visiting family in Montana.

Grandpa was generous.  You could always count on getting a dollar or two from Grandpa.  He loved giving gifts.  This letter I received while I was at summer camp and it’s the only letter I remember ever getting from him that he wrote himself.  Grandma always wrote something too but this one was just from Grandpa.  He cut out all sorts of little pictures and behind each picture was a quarter or a dime or penny for me to find.  Even though those pennies have long been spent, I kept this letter all these years because it was something special just from Grandpa.

Grandpa was funny.  He always wanted to make the grandkids laugh.  Ok so maybe in this picture Quinn didn’t think he was too funny but you could always count on Grandpa for a joke.  Sometimes the jokes weren’t funny and sometimes his humor was exasperating but that’s a typical Candee man trait.  I guess that’s why I still laugh at things that aren’t funny.

Thanks Grandpa for leaving us with such happy memories of your life with us.





The Mixed Blessings of Being in California

One of the challenges of living overseas is not being able to be a part of my family and friend’s everyday lives.  When I am not in the United States, typical patterns of life still go on for everyone else.  People get married, they divorce, babies are born, people die, they graduate from school, get new jobs, lose their job, move away and everything else that happens in between.  Of course I do usually hear about major life events but often it ends up being later or through third parties.  And while I was in PNG and I did know about an upcoming event, it was hard to celebrate or grieve properly being away and isolated from those I should have been celebrating or grieving with.  Sometimes I missed things completely.  Of course this same thing can happen when you live in different states or even different cities but it’s much easier to hop on a plane, get in a car or make a phone call from the US.

Since I arrived back in California at the end of January, I have tried to take advantage of being here and being able to visit with family and friends.  Despite all the traveling and coming and going, I have done my best to be around for big events and partake in just the little everyday life things as well.  An hour drive to see a friend or cousin doesn’t seem so long now.  Or taking a week vacation with my immediate family, which would be a lot more of a challenge to organize and pull off if I wasn’t in the US.  Taking the time to do these things is very worth it.  Of course these events have also included the memorial for my cousin Megan as well as the upcoming memorial service for my grandpa.  But I am thankful that I don’t have to be away from family during these times.  Attending weddings, meeting new family members, looking forward to the holidays and just enjoying family meals, are all perks of being in the US right now.

I still miss being overseas but I am so thankful for the special time I have now with family and friends.  I also keep reminding myself that I also have an extra gift of flexibility and time.  If I was living in the US and had a typical 9 to 5 job, I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with people as I do now.  This won’t continue forever so I need to be thankful, take the good with the bad and just enjoy it while I can.

In Loving Memory of my Cousin Megan

Megan, you were a special part of our family.  From summer weeks spent fishing, hiking and camping in the mountains to family holidays at Mimi’s with petticoats, card playing and fun, you were just one of the girls.  I will cherish our times together as happy memories.  Thank you for being part of my life.

I spent today at the memorial service for my cousin.  While this was not the family reunion I wanted to have, I was very thankful that I could be there and support my family.  It is difficult to be around for events like this but it would have been harder to be away.

Megan was an amazing, motivated runner.  I will never be a runner like Megan but at the very least in spirit, we all can run for Megan.

What did I do yesterday?

Every day in the village yields a different answer to the question, “What did you do today?” Yesterday I had a great optimistic plan but plans don’t guarantee anything and I should be use to it by now…plans change. In the morning I handed my co-workers the little push mower and the rake and said good-bye to them as they walked down to the airstrip to work. I then went over to the literacy office, printed some books and worked on some fixing some numbering mistakes that I had found in the curriculum. Then I plugged in the computer to charge and headed over to the house to do emails. I was followed by an entourage of little girls who were waiting with me and would walk down with me to the airstrip when I was ready. I checked my email, did some other things around the house and got myself together to go down to the airstrip. The plan was to see what work was being done and give them some encouragement, come back to the house and keep working.

The walk down to the airstrip was quite amusing because one little girl had a sore on her foot and so her friends who were about the same size were taking turns carrying her. I finally convinced her that she wouldn’t break my riding on my back so (except for the bridges) I carried her most of the way down the hill. Part of the way because I was hot they also took turns carrying an umbrella over us. This was probably a sight because I am so tall, the little girls were walking beside me on their tips toes trying not to hit me or my little human backpack in the heads. We finally got to the second to the last bridge and spent some time discussing what the best way for me to cross would be. Two of the four logs had already split and the other two were far apart. However, thanks to a wiggly hand rail I walked across the smallest log just fine. The little girls were relieved that I didn’t tumble into the creek on their watch. We finally made it up to the airstrip and there was no work being done and I could hear the sounds of wailing coming from the village.

We crossed another bridge into the village and I left my airstrip tools at a house before making my way around to where the funeral was still going on. The body of John Malimi had been buried on Saturday but earlier in the morning a helicopter arrived with some of his children who live in cities so they were now having their chance to grieve and mourn. There were groups of men and women sitting throughout the area and so I approached the group with the largest concentration of women. I then chook hands with John’s oldest daughter and greeted some other people before sitting down next to a friend and her daughter. My friend explained who the people were on top of the grave crying and wailing. John had 5 wives and lots of children and one of these children had not seen his father in 5 years but was planning on coming for Christmas. However, since his father died before Christmas, he will never see him again. This man in particular was showing his grief very loudly and openly.

The body was buried in the middle of a large open area, on top of a trapezoid-ish shaped mound so when the sun was up, it must have been blazing hot to sit or lay on the red clay covering the burial area. The mourners closest to it would sob and beat the ground and return with their faces and clothes covered in the clay. I watched as many would mourn and then leave to go bath and return some time later in fresh clothes with the dirt removed from their faces. Others wept silently near the grave and many more looked on speaking in hushed whispers from the shade underneath the houses surrounding the area.

We all noticed the rain beginning to come closer as the wall of white swept down from the hills towards us from Mt.Bosavi and we everyone moved in under the houses where it was drier. I sat on a log with a group of women, listening to them talk, watching other women cook and the children playing a game like marbles but with rocks instead. Some of the kids would try to play with me but most of them were sent away by their mothers who were afraid I would fall off the precariously placed log. We sat for a long time as the rain poured and slowly the conversation turned to the airstrip. The man’s children from town had chartered a large plane to come and bring supplies for the gravesite and other relatives in from other places. However with the airstrips poor condition and now with the rain, no one was sure if the plane would come or not. I listened to the conversations around me and told them that I was afraid what would happen if I large plane landed now. If small planes were not happy landing here, I couldn’t even imagine what would happen if a big plane landed.

The conversation ended as the ripples of what was said slowly moved through the groups of people sitting together under the houses. I was offered a slice of pineapple and munched happily while the kids continued playing and watched as the women started removing the sago from the fire. Sago wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over the fire leaves the outside the consistency of a firm gummy bear and the inside dry and flakey. I was given a hunk of sago and tried not to laugh as the women around me used me as an excuse to get more for our area. Since they had to share with the white lady, they should get another bundle to eat. I ate the sago happily since it was well after noon by this time.

The rain had let down and there were now some young men moving towards the airstrip. I noticed one of my co-workers standing on the outside of a group of men so I thought I would ask him what he knew about the plane and the airstrip. Sometimes being a white woman has its advantages because I can approach a group of men more easily without being offensive. My co-worker explained that some of the young guys would cut a bit of the airstrip now but that the plane was delayed and might not come until tomorrow morning. While I was talking with the men I was handed a plate of greens, sweet potato and 2 minute noodles. One of the other perks of being white is if there is any food being served, you will probably at least be the recipient of something. I ate my plate of food and then spent a little time talking with more people about the airstrip before deciding to go home.

While I was walking back through the village, I said good-bye to a few people and bribed a few small girls with the gift of peanut butter back in Walagu if they would walk with me. I had heard them complaining that they were hungry so they happily agreed. The walk back was much more slippery and the bridges a bit more slick since the rain storm but we made it into the village without incident. Everyone came into my house, drank water and then happily ate cracker and peanut butter sandwiches.

The rest of the afternoon I did computer work while different groups of kids rotated through playing with the puzzles and games. I was exhausted by the time I closed the door at 6 wanting nothing more than I quick shower and a hot cup of tea. I had just finished my shower and was getting ready to put up my wet hair when there was a knock at my door. I answered the door clad in my pajamas, covered in a laplap (piece of cloth used like a skirt) with wet hair hanging down my back. Another co-worker and his wife were at the door wanting to discuss the possibility of him leaving the following day for Port Moresby and not returning before I left. We spent the next hour talking about what he needed to do and why he was also needed here. We prayed together and they left.

Needless to say I didn’t really sleep well last night but prayer is powerful and this morning I woke up and the day started and my co-worker had straightened things out with those in Port Moresby and will be staying in the village. It may seem like just a little thing but after such a long day it was almost too much to have to think about saying good-bye so soon. Each day brings new challenges but the memories and good time with the people especially the children, make all the struggles worth while.

Dinners with People and a Death in the Community

There is no village restaurant, there is no little café down the street, there is no place to go and just grab something quick. It doesn’t exist out here. The closest thing we get to going out to dinner, is eating with some of our neighbors and co-workers. For the past few nights I have been making the rounds eating with someone different every night. The food is basically the same, rice, two-minute noodles, tinned meat and kumu, but each meal so far has had a little extra surprise.

My first meal included chewy sago, cooked in bamboo. The conversation was mostly about future plans and trusting God to direct me. The next meal was specially made just for me with a whole colony of sago grubs mixed in with the greens and noodles. No one else received any but I had at least 15 on my plate. I did however not eat all 15, leaving enough for the kids to have a special treat once I was gone. There was a guest that night, the brother of the wife, but the conversation was mostly business, can’t get away from literary work here. The next meal was super yummy because everything was topped with some perfectly cooked pumpkin. I cried through the family devotion time along with the wife. It’s hard not to be sad when they choose to say their good-byes this way. I still have a couple weeks but the reality of me leaving is very much here.

The next meal took me up the hill, walking up the waterfall and we had sweet juicy pineapple slices after the main meal. At this house I found myself thinking about the differences between good hospitality in PNG and good US hospitality. In the US when you invite someone over for a meal, you set the table, maybe scrub the kids clean, prepare the meal and all sit together and eat. In PNG the guest of honor is given a place to sit, usually apart from the others and given their meal first to be eaten from their lap or just next to where they sit. In the US, as a guest you typically clean your plate. In PNG, no one minds if you can’t finish your meal. You are welcome to eat it all but if you can’t there are plenty of other mouths that will happily eat whatever is left over. A conversation over dinner is normal in the US. In PNG conversation can happen but it’s ok to just eat in silence and concentrate on the food. In the US people have drinks, a least a glass of water, if not something else during the meal. I don’t think i’ve ever been offered water or something to drink during a PNG meal. I usually bring my own water but the kids always look at me like i’m crazy when I want to eat and drink at the same time. I’m sure there are more differences as well but those are the ones that came to mind that night as I sat eating in comfortable silence in my own corner of the house.

During the next meal we talked quite a bit about bones, I was presented with a whole set of bones form various animals. Some were decorations that had been hanging in the house, others were simply set aside until they found a use for them. I had asked for bones for an artist friend who uses them as part of her installation art. It’s quite amazing what a variety of bones are around and the uses they have for them. I was told to choose and so I picked a few interesting shapes. Then at dinner I was told stories of how they got the bones, who gave them to them or how the son caught the animal in a trap, etc. And I happily listened while I munched on yummy corn on the cob, not super sweet but definitely delicious.

Last night I was suppose to go over to another co-workers house but a little after 4 I was told that a big man, John Malimi, down in the other village had died that afternoon. John is one of my co-workers uncles so needless to say dinner didn’t happen. He had been sick for a long time and was told that the medicine wasn’t working anymore so he should just go back to his village. Yesterday evening everyone was making phone calls (the network seems to be working again, go figure) and little groups were gathered talking about what happened. It seems that John had gone down to the river to bathe and then a little while later called for his wife, she found him standing in the river with his arms upraised and he told everyone to come down around him. And then he died. John was one of the first Onobasulu to get a job outside the community and he worked for many years as a prison guard. Many of his family and children are still working and living outside of the Onobasulu area so it will be a challenge to get them all back here for the hauskrai and funeral. Deaths are never easy but this man lived a long life and has been sick now for a long time. He will be honored and buried in Salosaka.