Last week, the Cedar Valley communities were saddened to learn of the death of Rev. Don Feuerhak. When we first came to this area, I saw the retirement notice of a pastor from Fredsville, IA whose name was Rev. Don Feuerhak. I gasped as I saw the resemblance to my dad. Don was my cousin-once-removed. A legend in the Cedar Valley. Don Feuerhak was known in so many congregations and places like Clarkesville,
Fredsville, Bremwood, UNI, St. John Lutheran in Cedar Falls. Don and Barb’s children, Lisa and Jennifer went to St. Paul’s Lutheran School. My dad and Don’s mother were first cousins, so we shared the same great-grandmother. This old great-grandmother was always known as “Bestemor,” meaning “Grandmother” in Norwegian. What stories my grandma, her daughter-in-law, shared with me about this woman! Visits to Don’s grandparents, Perry and Hulda Iverson in Amery, Wisconsin, were great memories for me in my childhood. What makes the relationship with Don so special is that we met only one time. But it was at that meeting that I realized the power of DNA, of the connection found in heritage, of the power of story to unite people known to each other only by a family tree.
It was an honor to know that Rev. Don Feuerhak was my cousin. But what grew inside me as I sat in his funeral was the repeated phrase Don said to those he ministered to, be it parishioners or colleagues. It was said that he would so often leave a conversation with this question, “what do you hope for?” What a powerful question. A question that can lead one to a better understanding of self. A question that can provide the impetus to engage more in life…life that so quickly can pass from us and be gone.
What do you hope for? As I reflected on our relationship and the amazing bond I felt with this “piece of my family” who I met only once, I knew what I knew and what I hoped for. I knew that we were bound together by the stories that constructed a scaffolding built on the foundation of family. Stories of communal connections. Stories provided by those who lived before us, embraced and exaggerated to become threads of connections as strong as the DNA we shared.
It was during these moments of instant reflection that I was impounded by the need, the necessity, the imperative sense of urgency that we share stories of our lives and our memories with those who are bound to us by the knowledge of relationship founded in the connection called family.
Stories were handed down to me through my grandma as I listened for countless hours to her share about her mother, father, brother, friends, uncles, aunts, cousins…she told me everything about who they were, and now I have such a deep sense of who I am because of those stories. So, I ponder…do my children know these stories as well as I do? Have I given them time to absorb them so they share the same understanding of their heritage and ultimately themselves? I have more work to do. I want them to know so that when they find a long, lost cousin, like I found in Don Feuerhak, the DNA between them can sing loud enough to unite their spirits, spirits formed in the harmony of a common story.
My urgency to share the stories of our family came home to me recently. I will soon take the role of grandma. Grandma!! What a joy, what an honor, what an opportunity to send a bit of me and all those who came before me into the next swirl of time. An opportunity to step into the shoes of my grandma and let this little wee one, wrap up in my memories that will then spin new fabric of belonging into the heart of this one I have already invested my love.
So, thank you, Don Feuerhak, for reminding us that what we most hope for is that we were sent to spend time on this earth for a purpose. And when we leave this earth, we leave a bit of us behind in the hearts of those who know our story. Thank you, Don, for your story, intertwined in mine.