Hope & Healing: Marv and Betty’s Story

Van Voorst Family 2

Brian VanVoorst was born into this world to Marv and Lori VanVoorst in 1969 in California. Eventually the oldest of three boys, Brian was an athlete and well-liked. He volunteered as a cadet at the Holland Police Department and felt a call on his life to one day be a pastor. In 1977, Marv and Lori relocated back to Michigan to be close to family while they raised their boys. When Brian was 15, Marv and Lori divorced. It was one life-altering event in the string of several over the next few years that would take its toll on Brian. When Brian was in the upper years of high school, his dear cousin and friend was tragically killed in a car accident. Then just a few short years later, Brian’s girlfriend was also killed in a car accident while he was a student at Grand Valley State University.

Van Voorst Brian 1

Taking after his dad, Brian who wanted to be just like him and follow in his dad’s footsteps as a cop, internalized much of the trauma he had endured. It was Brian and his girlfriend, who had led Marv to start attending Faith Christian Center in Holland. Marv, in the midst of his divorce, would frequently go to the chapel there to pray. One day he walked out of the chapel and ran into Betty, a former friend from high school. She was crying, and Marv said, “What happened to you, sweetheart?” Betty had been fired, but sparks flew at that chance encounter. Betty and Marv soon married. With all the emotional baggage each of them took into their new marriage, their kids were the ones who got along better than Betty and Marv. But Betty loved Marv’s boys, just as much as he loved hers.

Through it all Marv and Betty had a good relationship with Brian. They knew he had gotten into partying, but they just figured he was sowing his wild oats, and he would come around. They had no clue of the inner turmoil going on in Brian.

Van Voorst Brian 2

One night Brian asked Marv to come over to talk, and Brian’s younger brother Barry came too. Brian confessed that night to Marv that he had been smoking weed and doing shrooms. Later they found out that he had taken LSD for the first time just four days prior. Marv responded to Brian with love, and told Brian that he would get him some help first thing in the morning, and that it would all be okay. Their last words that night were: I love you. I love you too.

Marv arrived home and got a call. Someone at a GVSU party had died, and they thought it was Brian. Turns out – Brian had gone to that party, and was found dead by suicide in a bedroom. A friend of Brian’s called her dad upset with the news, and this dad called Marv. Marv headed right over to the party (coincidentally, Marv’s pastor only lived two doors down from there.) Marv’s pastor met Marv at the party, and when Marv’s worst fears were confirmed that night, his pastor just stood and hugged him. Barry showed up in shock and disbelief and left right away.

Eventually Marv and his family ended up in Marv and Betty’s living room and they all grieved together. They made a promise to God that they would do whatever they could to give God glory from this devastating situation.

That Sunday, Faith Christian Center was packed because Brian was so well-known.

An old friend of Marv’s from umpiring together and Brian’s youth group leader at Central Wesleyan Church, Dan Seaborn, called Marv after the service. He said, “Marv, the Holy Spirit’s been after me all day to call you. Would you be willing to come to my youth group and talk about what happened?”

Instantly, Marv remembered his promise.


“Tomorrow night.”

Marv called his pastor to get some advice on what to do. Pastor Fred asked for some time to pray about it. When Pastor Fred returned Marv’s call, he said to Marv, “Who better to talk about a war than a wounded soldier? You make good on that promise to God and He will give you the strength you need.” Pastor Fred also recommended taking a couple from their church for support.

That Wednesday night, Marv had no idea what he was going to say. He saw Dan off to the side praying fervently for him. Betty and their supportive friends were there praying too. The one stipulation on the evening Marv had told Dan was that he did not want to stick around after his talk and answer questions. When Marv was handed the microphone, he had no clue what to say, but then as he opened his mouth, the words just poured out. Marv left that group of 300 kids and 30 adults not knowing what God would do through that night.


The next morning, Marv got a phone call – 30 kids received Jesus that previous night.


Van Voorst Family 1


For the next few years, two weekends out of the month, Marv and Betty traveled to tell Brian’s story. Out of their pain, God was able to do something only He could do. Had Marv not made the promise, and had God not asked them to make good on that promise – their healing would have been delayed. By talking through what happened and helping others, slowly Marv and their family began to heal.

Five years after Brian’s death, Marv received a phone call from a friend who had been meaning to call for a while. This friend’s son and new wife had been in one of Marv’s meetings. At that time they had both been using drugs and off track in life. As a result of that meeting, both of them were immensely helped and his friend was happy to report that they were serving together as youth pastors.

At a meeting at Ebeneezer Reformed Church, Marv actually apologized afterward to the pastor for blowing it that night. He felt he had done such a horrible job of communicating and thought the opportunity was wasted. The pastor assured Marv that that was not the case. The following morning, the pastor called Marv to tell him that a set of twins came that evening prior and had made a pact that they would commit suicide if they did not receive any hope from what they heard. The twins are alive and well today.

Marv had a friend who had trouble collecting from a guy that would not pay his bills, but one day out of the blue he did. What happened was that the man had been doing drugs, ended up in a church parking lot, and the guest speaker that night laid out his whole life’s story as he talked about his son. The only difference was that man’s son had died, but this troubled man was still alive. His life was completely changed. So Marv finds out through this friend about this story, and come to find out – it was Marv telling Brian’s story.

Marv Van Voorst

It’s been 29 years since Brian’s death, and telling Brian’s story today is still part of that promise Marv and his family made to God all that time ago. It’s not about any glory for them, because Marv realized that very first night he was going to need God to come through for them and help them tell this story. Marv says that never once was Jesus unfaithful. Betty remarks that it literally felt like they were walking on a protective cloud because of all of the prayers they received. They felt such support from so many.

Brian’s death made an impact on Marv and Betty too. It was the wake-up call they needed. Marv remembers thinking in light of what led Brian to end his life, the path that Marv and Betty on wasn’t so hot either. It was time to grow up.

Brian’s decision was one that could never be made right and never undone, but as Marv and Betty trusted God to walk them through the darkest days of their lives out of their heartbreaking tragedy, they saw many blessings follow. Their marriage strengthened and many lives saved.

September is National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month


If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.


Remembering Ben & The Helping Families Heal Award

Ben Klooster

Super smart, sweet, creative, artistic, inventive.


These are just a few words of many that encompass Ben Klooster. He just marched to the beat of his own drum… right into the hearts of many who knew and loved him.


About a month before Ben’s third birthday in November of 2014, Ben’s parents, Peter and Amy, noticed that his left eye seemed to be swelling out a little bit. Ben had never been a sick kid, and Amy was not one to quickly run to the doctor – Ben hadn’t even been on a prescription up to that point in his life! Amy waited about a week before taking him to his pediatrician. She thought it was an infection or something related to the cold he had recently gotten over.

Ben 2

Amy took him in on a Sunday morning and the doctor immediately sent them to the ER for a CT. The CT showed a tumor and Ben was admitted to the ninth floor – the hematology/oncology floor of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. That Monday they did a biopsy. Those results came back on Wednesday evening as Rhabdomyosarcoma (a pretty rare cancerous tumor of the soft or connective tissues.) While they were obviously devastated from this news, they were encouraged that this cancer had a clear treatment plan with a 95% cure rate. After another day of testing, Ben was discharged on Thursday evening with a plan to regroup over the weekend and come back on Monday to get his port placed and do his first inpatient chemo. Incidentally, that week Amy suspected that she might be pregnant. She took a test when she got home and, sure enough, baby Sam was on the way. Ben had 9 months of treatment ahead, and Amy had 8 months of pregnancy.


All through the holidays and into that January, Ben went through chemo and radiation. By March of 2015, his scans were completely clear and he was in remission. Treatments continued weekly though, with inpatient stays every three weeks and lab work, as well as nightly injections at home and oral meds in between. There was a clearly defined endpoint with the near promise of a healthy life ahead.


Sam was born in July. Ben wrapped up treatment in August. Scans were still clear, so Ben had his port removed in September. In October, the Kloosters threw a huge “done with cancer” party for everyone who had supported them.


In January of 2016, he had his first post-treatment scan, and they were shocked to learn that the tumor was already back. Half the size of its original presentation and in the same location. They couldn’t do the same treatment. His type of tumor had shown itself to be “chemo resistant”, so Ben started a heavier course of treatment with longer inpatient stays and harsher side effects with a less than 50% cure rate. His tumor responded well for a while.


After a successful tumor resection surgery in June of 2016, Ben continued less intense “maintenance” chemo – all outpatient with regular scans. Scans were considered “stable”, not clear. There was something there but it wasn’t changing, so it was believed to be scar tissue from radiation/surgery/etc.

Ben 1

Ben started pre-school at Legacy Christian School in the fall and continued maintenance treatments. The Kloosters had the goal of stopping those at the end of the school year. His March 2017 scan showed new growth again. The spot had not been scar tissue. This time the Kloosters were told that Ben could continue treatment but chances of cure were about 0%. Their hope was to keep it at bay long enough for some new developments in cancer treatment to advance to the levels Ben needed them to.


A week before Ben started kindergarten, he had another progressive scan and hospice was mentioned for the first time. The tumor’s growth was starting to reach back and was getting dangerously close to important blood vessels that supply the brain. Around Thanksgiving of 2017, Ben began a clinical trial through HDVCH. Near Christmas, Ben lost his vision altogether and was chronically exhausted. He couldn’t hardly make it through half days at school, much less full days. The day after his sixth birthday he suffered stroke-like symptoms and he was taken to the ER. The scan confirmed what they had suspected – the tumor had infiltrated the coratid artery and had not responded successfully at all to the trial drug. The Kloosters had very few options at that point, and they decided to stop putting him through more treatments. His quality of life had been quite low for several weeks and there was no hope for improvement. Ben went home later that night on hospice care.


At 9:30 the morning of January 5th, Ben ran into the arms of Jesus, healthy and whole. The Kloosters were brokenhearted, but relieved that his suffering is over. (Ben had lived with cancer longer than he had lived without it and it was really the only life he knew.) The Kloosters know that Ben is in a place where there are no more medicines, no more pokes, no more cancer and no more tears. “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” Revelation 21:4-5


Ben 3


Around Christmas, the only thing this tenacious and smart boy would tolerate eating was Chick-fil-A chicken and waffle fries. With such frequent trips to the Chick-fil-A Grand Rapids South location, Ben’s Aunt Kelli reached out to Chick-fil-A owners, Brad and Rena Spurlin to see if they did a frequency discount. Once the Spurlins heard of Ben and his needs, the Spurlins provided Ben with a meal every day and even an extra meal on Saturdays. This extra meal would be refrigerated till Sunday when Chick-fil-A was closed.


The Spurlin’s kindness and generosity did not end there, however. For the luncheon after Ben’s memorial service, they donated chicken and waffle fries. They agreed – it’s what Ben would have wanted. Recently, owner Brad Spurlin, went through the lengthy process to have Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital be considered for a grant through the corporate Chick-fil-A’s Foundation. Also, plans are in the works now to name Chick-fil-A Grand Rapids South’s children’s play area “Ben’s Place”, which will include a plaque with photos and a short story about Ben’s love for Chick-fil-A.




On Thursday, March 1st, with a small gathering of Ben’s family and Brad and Rena on hand, Ron Cook II presented Brad and Rena with the Helping Families Heal Award, along with a bouquet of flowers and donuts for their whole Chick Fil-A team. It was a special time to reflect on Ben’s life, and recognize a company that really went out of their way to help this family heal. Rena mentioned that the most rewarding aspect of their new venture as Chick Fil-A owners has not been the chicken, but the people that they meet and connect with day to day. It is so refreshing to see a couple put such heart into their work and make a difference simply by serving great food and meeting needs that come up along the way.


DSC_0018 smaller


The Helping Families Heal Award is an initiative by Cook to recognize those in the community who help families heal. We have many well-deserving caregivers who are often deserving of such an award, but we were pleased to be able to recognize and organization that could do the same with what they do best – food! Helping families heal does not need to be relegated to a certain industry, nominees could be hospice workers, pastors, grief counselors, or even a friend or family member who went above and beyond. If you know of an individual or organization that should be considered for this award, please contact us by clicking this link: http://www.cookcares.com/contact-us/contact-us.

Celebrating 60 Years of Helping Families Heal: A Review in Pictures



Ron Cook Sr. (High School photo) knew back in the 8th grade that he wanted to be a mortician. He told his teacher, and she was surprised and didn’t quite believe him. As a teen, Ron used to help haul bricks, and even worked on the building of his future business – the Grandville Chapel on Prairie Street.


Ron Sr. went to mortuary school at Wayne State University, graduating in 1954, and married Johanne June 12th of that same year.  Afterwards, he volunteered for the Army which took them to Kansas for two years, where Fred was born in the spring of 1957.  Johanne, Fred and Ron moved into the Grandville Funeral Home, purchased from Marv Langeland in September of 1957.



The original “Board of Directors” – from left:  Fred, Brad & Lee Cook


Byron Center Chapel built in 1966


The Cook family from left:  Jon and Jean Van Den Beldt, Brad and Jeanne Cook, Ron and Johanne Cook, Fred and Kathy Cook, Mary and Lee Cook.  Cook has always been a family business, with all three sons working at Cook; Kathy, Jeanne, and granddaughter, Emily who serve for luncheons; grandson, Ron II as the current owner; granddaughter, Leanne, working with our Media Department; and grandsons Sam, Alex and Brian, all helping in various ways at Cook.


Ad Copy for the newly-built Cook Memorial Chapel (Chapel pictured below)


The Cook Memorial Chapel construction was overseen by Fred Cook.  His wide range of interests and talents allowed him to not only be a funeral director, but general contractor and entrepreneur among other roles.


In 1997, Koops Funeral Chapel was purchased from Gary and Nettie Koops, a couple who was committed to the Lake Odessa community.  Nettie is still a part of the Lake Odessa community and works Koops’ visitation refreshments.  Ken Tidd, a second generation funeral director, is the general manager of Koops.


Jeanne Cook, Brad’s wife and a luncheon server for over 25 years, has made people feel welcome as they gather together after a service in our Cook Fellowship Room. (Fellowship Room pictured below)


11-6-07 Kuhn

Cook celebrates 5o years in 2007!

Georgetown Senior Breakfast

Brad Cook serves pancakes at the Georgetown Senior Center.  Brad’s strong connections in the community make him a great advocate for Cook.  Whether it be assisting on a funeral service or on the golf course with a local pastor, Brad brings a familiar face to our services.


In 2012, Cook purchased Archer-Hampel-Kubiak Funeral Chapels in Wayland (above) and Dorr (below) from owner, Larry Kubiak.  Larry has stayed involved as a funeral director for Kubiak-Cook, which made for a great transition and allows us to help families heal with his strong community connections.


KC Business of year


Some of our dedicated staff behind our #idrivetextfree campaign at the Jenison High School football game opener. This initiative took the cause of eliminating distracted driving in teens through a video produced in conjunction with Jenison High’s media and acting students, gave out wristbands, and went on social media and other media outlets. It was large in scope, earned national awards, and is a cause in which we still are passionate. During this campaign, Cook staff visited area high schools, passed out 16,000 wristbands, saw record Cook exposure via Facebook, and was picked up by the Associated Press and went international.


November 30, 2015 marked the beginning of Fred Cook’s retirement. We are now in our third generation of ownership with Ron Cook II.  Ron graduated from Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science in September of 2004.  Working in all areas of the family business from a young age has given him a unique skillset to lead Cook in the future.


Remembering Roger

Story told by Jennifer Byker

Written by Leanne Gurley

Late this past summer, this blog was laid on our hearts for two reasons: 1) to educate people about the choices they have to help their families heal when they go through a loss, and 2) to tell stories of people’s lives that we have served. We want to share these life stories, what made these loved ones special, and help continue their memory and legacy in the future.

In discussing possible interviews that we could make, Cook employee, Melissa Mitchell, immediately thought of her friend, Jennifer Byker. The two of them met at Georgetown Senior Center, where Jennifer works. The connection was made, and on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in October, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Jennifer at the beautiful senior center.

Here’s the story of Roger, a man with big, beautiful, brown eyes with an even bigger, more beautiful heart:


Byker Wedding Roger's Photo

Jennifer’s daughter carried a framed photo of Roger fastened to her wedding bouquet



The fairytale began on a blind date in August of 1988. Jennifer’s co-worker wanted to set her up with her brother-in-law – she knew they’d be perfect for each other. Turns out her co-worker was right, and now they are sister-in-laws!

With Roger’s caring demeanor and the way he had his act together, this man was someone special. The pair were actually quite opposite in many ways, though. He was a city boy, she a country girl. He went to Christian school, she public. He was the youngest of a large family, and she the oldest.

Byker Couple 07

In April of 1991, Roger and Jennifer Byker were married. They raised three wonderful children together (Kelsey, Casey and Marley.) They were active in their church. Roger was in tool and die, and had a knack for taking care of his family and making sound financial decisions. Roger made life better, not just for Jennifer and the kids, but for so many.

In June of 2007, Roger noticed a few symptoms, but they did not think much of it. He was very healthy. He had only had knee surgeries in his medical history. That August, just before they were heading up to Silver Lake on a family vacation, he saw a doctor. The doctor could not find anything wrong, but thankfully he still ordered an MRI anyway for after their vacation. To them, the MRI almost seemed drastic, but now Jennifer sees it as God’s hand in helping them get the care Roger needed. While on his trip, the symptoms worsened and the MRI was moved up to the week of their vacation.

The test results showed three tumors, and was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme stage 4. So, they entered the world of appointments with neurosurgeons. Roger stopped working immediately – his job required precision, and with his symptoms, precision was not possible. The man of the house struggled with this new role of being at home. He graciously helped around the house when he could. Jennifer thankfully was able to continue working for Post Family Farm.

Roger felt great for awhile. Fortunately, he never had a seizure, which is common with his diagnosis. Jennifer and Roger worked hard to keep things normal for their kids. The two of them believed Roger would get better, so they kept their home as positive as possible for the Byker kids.

Doctors were very vague with Roger’s prognosis. Jennifer found comfort in searching through Carepages for others suffering from this illness – looking for treatments, what other spouse’s were experiencing, and anything that would help Roger’s cause as she supported him. Roger fought his fight for 16 to 17 months.


The last 1 to 2 months, Roger declined rapidly. Looking back, Jennifer realizes that Roger was dying but did not know it at the time. They celebrated Christmas early that December in 2008. For the kids, Roger wanted to buy a Wii – a popular gift that year. That second week of December, an MRI showed that the tumor had grown aggressively, and with Roger’s condition, he would not tolerate any more treatment. Roger went home with hospice coming into help. Less than one week later, the morning of December 17, Roger went home to be with Jesus. He “crossed the finish line of a race well run” as his Carepages announced.

Jennifer was 39 when her beloved Roger died. As Jennifer shared Roger’s story with me, these things were so evident: her love for this man, the depth of Roger’s character, the wisdom in all his choices, and the love in how he cared for and treated his family.

However, another story emerged. One of a woman who faithfully fulfilled her vows – in sickness and in health – to that man she loved so dearly. A woman who has kept her children’s wellbeing at the forefront of everything she has done before Roger’s death and since. A woman who has a lot to share from the lessons she has learned and the love she still has to give.

Roger’s smart financial decisions allowed life to continue in their home, and with help from a community fundraiser, their children remained in Christian school. Jennifer continued to work part-time at Post Family Farm, which allowed her to be home when the kids were done with school. That first year she described as being in a fog, in survival mode. She did what needed to be done.

Their anniversary has always been the hardest. On December 17th the next year after his death, family and friends lit floating Chinese lanterns with little messages written on them to Roger and followed that with hot chocolate and cookies. In some ways, they continue to remember him on those “special days” with his favorite meal or going out for dinner to make it special.

Jennifer recalled crying out to God: Why does grief have to be so much work?

She had already lost her dear husband, but now recovering from that loss required so much effort. However, Jennifer had a defining moment in her grief journey. In attending a particular support group, she saw people who were stuck in their grief, who had made no progress many years after loss. Seeing that reality struck a chord in Jennifer. She would not be one of those people. She would do the hard work to make life good again – as best as it could be without Roger.

Reflecting on how Jennifer has made it through and how her heart has begun to heal, she found the following to be true:

  • Grieving is unique to every individual. What might help one person might be different for another. For Jennifer, she says she got “acquainted” with grief. She knew the quality of her life, as well as her children’s, depended on this. Even with great support, no one could replace her role as mom to her kids during their grief. Handling this as a lone parent and being a grieving widow at the same time was something she knew she needed to do in a healthy way for everyone’s sake.
  • Regrets and questions would often plague her mind. Finding ways to let these go was not easy, but worth it.
  • Grief does come in waves. No two days are the same, and different experiences will trigger those waves of emotions.
  • It’s important to be good to yourself. Take small steps. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Grief and the immense amount of change and work that come when a death occurs take time. Find joy in accomplishing a few small tasks, even if it’s just one each day.
  • Jennifer did the best she could at the time. Previous measures of accomplishments are not a good comparison for what you are capable of during grief.
  • Find books related to your grief to educate yourself and help you understand this new season you are in.
  • Attend the grief support groups, even if you do not feel like it. GriefShare and Starlight Ministries were huge helps to Jennifer and her kids.
  • Connect with others who share a similar journey. Jennifer had another widow that she met with, and that was helpful to her.
  • Do your best to keep things “normal” for your children, even though so much is different and does not feel “normal.”
  • Keeping traditions has been a good way to remember Roger; however, sometimes their traditions needed a different twist and always an acknowledgment that tradition would not be the same. New traditions were also a way to help make it not hurt as much.
  • The pain does lessen. Years ago, Jennifer never thought she would be able to say that. The loss and pain never leave, and Roger is always on her mind, but she says honestly that it is possible to get through the waves of grief. None of the helpful things even listed above were things she wanted to do, but she still did them anyway and they did make a difference for her.
  • Do the “grief work.” To Jennifer, doing the work of grief looked like this:
    • Acknowledging that Roger’s death had happened, even though at many times it did not feel real and she could not believe this had happened to her. Death is so permanent and there are no re-dos. Even nine years later, sometimes Jennifer still wonders, “Okay, God, I’ve done the work of grief for “x” number of years, can he come back now?”
    • With Roger being sick for those months, she felt she had possibilities to help get him well. With death, all of those possibilities ended, as well as her role as caregiver. This new role as widow was so foreign compared to the wife and caregiver roles. She compares it to being pregnant the first time. You have never experienced it before and you do not know what to expect. You cannot see what’s going on, but you know it’s there, and you need to take care of it. It is precious to you even though your body hurts during the changes.
    • When you look back on the year or the time since your loved one died, focus on all the many ways you grew, what you gave, how you learned and what you accomplished. Look at the ways you healed, and the ways you loved. Be proud that you are still here, and you are still working on becoming a better you. Always be good to yourself and proud of yourself. You are so much more beautiful, stronger and amazing than you realize. This last reminder was especially important and helpful to Jennifer.

Being a widow is not a label that anyone wants to wear; however, Jennifer says it is an honor to be Roger’s widow.

And in remembering Roger, it’s easy to know that he would be so proud of the wife that she was to him, the mother she is to her kids, the bearer of his legacy, and the strong person she is now. Life looks different than she ever imagined when the fairy tale began, but there is still good in this life, remembering Roger and in moving forward.

Byker Daughters Wedding


So Grateful – Worksheet

From Leanne Cook Gurley

For those of you who would like to have a conversation similar to the one in the previous blogpost, we’ve attached a simple worksheet that we used.

Click here: Family Pre-Planning Worksheet

Ron and I gave this worksheet to our parents a few days in advance after Ron had made the initial call to talk pre-planning. Allowing them to gather their thoughts and discuss these topics with just the two of them helped our conversation go more smoothly.

Surprisingly, as we developed this worksheet, I felt somewhat apprehensive about not knowing some of these answers. We live our lives so closely, but sometimes we don’t have these kinds of conversations or talk about these topics. There really wasn’t a need to be worried, these conversation starters led to a great talk that will always be remembered.

Please let Cook know if we can help you further with having this important talk with your family. Our advance planning consultants will gladly meet with you. Click here to view our Team. Scroll down to Melissa Mitchell and Rachel Norton, our advance planning consultants, for their contact information.

Thank you.

So Grateful

By Leanne Cook Gurley

Cook produces a company newsletter for its employees. In our September / October edition, my brother, Ron Cook, and I had started talking about how to “Have the Talk of a Lifetime.” Despite our family being advocates for advance funeral planning, we had not done so for our parents, Fred & Kathy Cook. This edition was published early September, and the following events unfolded within the next week.

My husband, Scott, was the first to see he had a missed call from my mom at 2:36 a.m. A quick look at mine, I had missed one too. I immediately called my mom back, “What’s wrong?”

She was in the hospital after having symptoms that had seemed like a heart attack, but they were running some more tests. They were ruling out a pulmonary embolism.

She wasn’t a great patient in all honesty. She jokingly texted Scott to help her leave the hospital before the doctors were ready to release her. Her tests were only coming back slight, and so it led them to believe this was more of an emotional attack on her body. The Friday before this day, Monday, September 18, my parents’ dear friend, Joel Boomsma, passed away from a heart attack at his office. Joel and his wife, Dawn, and some friends were supposed to come over that very evening. Joel also had been having symptoms for the previous few days, we later found out, but didn’t get checked out.

Joel Boomsma smaller

Funny, lovable Joel


As my mom had been weighing whether to go in for her symptoms, she thought, “I can’t be upset with Joel for not going in, if I’m feeling this way and don’t get checked out.” Just within days of Joel’s death, he inspired my mom to take action and be evaluated. Mom says that Joel is her superhero. She is here in some way because of him.

Despite looking like she would be sent home, her echocardiogram stress test showed the lower portion of her heart was slow and her last triponin level (which indicates heart damage if an attack has occurred) was significantly elevated from her previous three levels. She had had a heart attack. A heart cath was ordered the next day, and her heart looked beautifully clear. It ended up being a virus that had caused inflammation and led to the to the heart attack. The doctor’s orders: Rest.

Our entire family was so grateful for that report, and all of the support and well wishes she received throughout this process. Fast forward to October 9, her birthday. It was a meaningful family dinner as we appreciated the wife, mom and grandma she is to our family. We know all too well that so many stories don’t end with this happy ending.


Previously scheduled Detroit Lions –
Atlanta Falcons NFL game in Detroit.
This was just days after Mom’s heart attack.


My parents were headed out of town soon to go help Mom rest at the U.P. cabin in Rock, Michigan. However, Ron and I were both very aware that in our last edition of the Cook Connection, we said we would meet with our parents to set up pre-arrangements. The time could not have felt more awkward.

As we stood in the restaurant parking lot trying to find a time before they left to help us meet our publishing deadline, it seemed like an emotional task to undertake after all we had just been through. The very next morning was the only timeframe that worked for us all.

Honestly, that morning came, and Mom had overdone things over the weekend, and she wasn’t feeling her best. The weight of the situation was not lost on any of us. We were planning our parents’ funerals.

Mom 3

Mom & Ron – 2016 (Photo By Jillian VanZytveld)


But you know what? With the four of us – Dad, Mom, Ron and me – we had such a wonderful time together. To discuss our parents’ accomplishments, favorites and wishes was so meaningful. We learned things we never knew about each other. We could say things that meant a lot to each of us. There were some surprises in the way everything came together, and there is a reason Ron Cook II is in the work he is in – he’s so good at it.

Our pre-arrangement conference wasn’t your typical conference. The four of us were pretty well-versed on the options, but all of this had been unspoken until that morning. Together the four of us put a plan in place that honored their wishes, while keeping those surviving in mind.

Mom has the gift of hospitality and her pride and joy has always been her kids and grandsons. Hearing the message that she wanted conveyed as we would celebrate her life meant a lot to me. It’s always been about God’s faithfulness for her. At her visitation, full-size Hershey’s with almonds will be given out. She loves reading, blue hydrangeas, and the colors turquoise and blue. Now, typically, some of these details aren’t addressed in an advance planning meeting, but since they knew what services they would like and what would best help their family and friends, we found this unusual part of the conference to be fun and memorable. These are things that you should take the time to talk about prior to or following pre-planning.

Our dad is a man of many talents and passions. What a sense of pride we could draw from looking at the list of his accomplishments. He’s been an entrepreneurial businessman, but it’s his hobbies that really helped us select his services. He wants his Harley in the visitation room, and we thought hot and cold appetizers seemed more like him instead of the usual church luncheon that’s served. Even though he has spent many hours in a suit, we agreed that he should be buried in his favorite Filson shooting vest. We also learned that he loves when a service ends with the traditional hymn “By the Sea of Crystal.” What a burden lifted off our shoulders knowing that when the day comes, we will be confident in the plan that is in place.

After such a big season behind us, we all said that we were so glad to have done this. Not just for the peace of mind, which is so important, but for the bonding that happened that morning. Death is a hard subject – one we don’t like to internalize too frequently, because our family has to go about our work. However, we encourage you to have these important talks with your loved ones, either for yourself or your parents. They will see that you care enough to ask about these things.

For this funeral directing family, the temptation would have been easy to say that since we know what’s available, we can wait. However, we would have done things differently in some cases, and now we have a special family memory from a Tuesday morning in October.

If you would like to start having “The Talk of a Lifetime,” you can find more information here.


Today we are so grateful to hear from Heather Chatfield. She shares insight into how she has navigated her grief journey after her husband Matt passed away.


My husband and I had what we considered the “perfect” life. A teacher and police officer, with three kids, involved in many activities keeping us busy loving each other fiercely along the way.


All of the sudden, 22 months ago my life was forever changed. My husband, Matt, passed away after a 13 month battle with colon cancer on Thanksgiving Day. He was so brave and so strong every step of the battle. Even as we were told he was dying, I just couldn’t believe it was true. There I was left with a 14 year old, 10 year old and 7 year old, trying to figure out how to rebuild and create a new “normal” for us. Everything we knew life to be was suddenly different.


One of the biggest struggles was learning how to allow myself to grieve the loss of my best friend while supporting my children through their grief. I knew they were depending on me. Slowly, we began figuring out the day-to-day aspects of life. I had to accept the help of many friends and family, even though that was really hard for me. There was just no way I could do everything on my own and do it well. We attended support groups through Starlight Ministries that were invaluable. Our first family dinner without Matt took my breath away. Staring at the empty seat across from me, deciding who was going to say the prayer, not hearing his high and low of the day, and not having him to sit a few extra minutes at the table after the kids finished eating, left me sitting alone with an ache in my heart.


You see, it is the little daily things that were harder than the big events. I had prepared my kids and myself for those moments, as best as I could. Having a plan for the days I knew would be tough was crucial. Eventually, new traditions were formed, marrying gently with the old ones. Finding the balance of knowing life will, and has to, move on but not wanting to let go of the past that was sliding further and further behind us, was challenging.




This journey called grief is so unpredictable. All four of us have difficult days, weeks, or months, but we know the support we need is never far away. One day at a time has become our motto. We have made it 22 months without him. I can honestly say, I wasn’t sure I would get to where I am today. Thankfully, God has been so present in our lives and provided so much direction. My husband had a servant’s heart and warrior spirit. Honoring that legacy by sharing a piece of our journey to help others continues to help our hearts heal as well.


If you would like to follow Heather’s journey further, click here for her Chatty’s Cheerleaders Facebook page.


Helping Families Heal Through the Benefits of Technology

By Ron Cook II

Without the benefits of technology, my family’s journey would have been somewhat different. Two times in the last four years, my wife, Erin, and I have received pictures via email from Korea that changed our lives forever. Along with our son, Greyson, we were eagerly looking forward to expanding our family through adoption. The visual of our soon-to-be sons’ faces allowed us to have something tangible to sustain us until their homecoming.


sawyer homecoming blog 2Photo Courtesy of Jillian VanZytveld Photography


As much as technology and those two emailed photos of our sons impacted our family, the moment we laid eyes on them, we were in love. As quickly as they melted our hearts in the pictures, it didn’t even come close to the first time we got to meet them in their foster homes in Korea. Those in-person moments and introducing our new sons to family and friends at the airport are cherished parts of our life as a family. We often hear stories from older adoptive parents who share that they were matched and then showed up at an airport and received their new baby right there in the terminal! The emailed photos were a wonderful benefit of technology.


So while we embrace the benefits of technology, remember there is something incredibly important about being physically present with family and friends when you or they experience the death of someone important to them or any life-changing event. Those vulnerable moments shared face-to-face or side-by-side strengthen the bonds of family and friendship. Engage through technology when appropriate, and whenever possible support someone in person. Make the effort – it is the difference between an emailed photo and holding your baby for the first time.


At Cook, we serve families whose loved ones are spread around the globe. They are used to communicating via Facetime and Skype, so we utilize those types of services for their visitation and/or service when the serviceman or missionary cannot make the trip home for their loved one’s funeral. People sign guest books, watch memorial videos, and send flowers, all on our website. Facebook has become an important way for people to connect related to funerals, whether it is sharing an obituary, connecting in a grief group, or following an inspirational feed.


Technology has opened wonderful opportunities for support, communication and sharing. The heart of our business is “Helping Families Heal.” With the help of technology we are no longer limited to only helping those within a certain proximity to our chapels. This new blog by Cook will help make our families, their stories and their need for healing front and center.


We’ll help families heal with educational pieces covering:

  • Grief journey topics
  • Guest entries by bereaved people we’ve served
  • Stories highlighting lives that we’ve honored and celebrated that were particularly meaningful to us.


With great anticipation, we are pleased to announce next Friday, September 15, we will have our first guest blogpost by Heather Chatfield, wife of Officer Matt Chatfield, who Cook served almost two years ago. Heather has used her Facebook page “Chatty’s Cheerleaders” to talk about her journey during Matt’s cancer battle and how she and her children live life and honor Matt’s legacy. She writes with honesty, transparency and hope. She will talk about this new season in her life, and how she has worked hard to create a healthy, new normal for her family as they remember Matt.



See you next week!