Dear friends and readers,
The day I wrote this was the day the 50 + members of my family and community in Canada, morn as well as celebrate the death of my grandfather, OPA, and the amazing life he had after living over 94 years.
I struggle with the subject of death a lot, not because I am afraid, but because I often have FOMO ( Fear Of Missing Out. ) The fear of not seeing enough, doing enough, visiting enough, or being enough. And when we lose someone we think, ” Why didn’t I call them last week ? ” Did I visit them enough ” or ” Was I someone they loved and trusted ? ”
As I mourn the loss of my Opa from afar, I live in in Munich, Germany, and the rest of my family in Ontario, Canada, I can not help but thinking of people that built me and my family. And I do not only mean my parents. But rather those people who are my roots, my heritage, and how hard they worked and struggled to give me the opportunities that I have today.
All 5 of my Grandparents ( one of my grandmothers remarried after she lost her first husband ) were Canadian immigrants from Europe. That means they picked up their whole lives in the 1940’s and 1950’s, bringing with them only one small suitcase, in order to start somewhere new. They were all born just after the First World War, lived through the Second World War in Europe, before moving on to Canada. They came to Canada to build a life in a country they did not know, in a place where they they could not speak the language, most of them in their 20’s, unmarried and alone. The boat ride across the Atlantic Ocean alone took about 5 days! My grandparents were 5 of the millions of immigrants that came into Canada in the mid 20th century. When I think of this now I am blown away. These people build us! They were some of the first ones to experience the land of the strong and free.
This not only makes me feel small, very unbrave, and somewhat insignificant. It also makes me realize how lucky I am to have all that I do. I grew up with free education and health care until the age of 18. I had access to fresh clean drinking water, a beautiful home and garden where fresh fruit and vegetables grew and nourished me. I had clean clothes, and many of them. I did few chores, I received many gifts, I went on vacations, and was put into sport activities and clubs. I have a college education and was financially supported by my family. This was only possible because of my grandparents, and parents. They did not have all of these privileges, and all of their hard work and earnings, gave me the life that I have today.
So as an hommage to them and all that they did for me, below you will see their portraits and their life stories.
OPA – Walter Van Mol
- Born in The Netherlands on October 28, 1923, he was one of 7 children.
- He was pulled out of school at the age of 12 to work and support his family through the great depression and WW II.
- In 1949, he immigrated to Canada and worked on the railroads, in construction, as a plumber and a farmer.
- He purchased the Van Mol/Beenackers Family Farm in 1972, and tended to it for many years.
- He was the husband of Mary Van Mol, father of 2 children, and 4 step-children that he raised as his own.
- He is the cherished OPA of 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
- He died in Canada on March 17, 2018 at the age of 94.
- He was a small, hard working, quiet, simple, humble and caring man, one I will miss dearly.
OMA – Mary Van Mol / Beenackers ( Wouters )
- Born May 29, 1930, in the Netherlands, she was one of 5 children.
- She worked as a cleaning maid, seamstress, and on many farms as a helping hand.
- She was the wife of Henry Beenackers with whom she immigrated to Canada with and had 4 children.
- After Henry’s tragic death, she married Walter Van Mol, with whom she had 2 children, and one deceased infant.
- She is the cherished OMA of 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. As well as many nieces, nephews, and cousins that I do not have the resources to count.
- She died in Canada on Sunday March 15, 2015, in her 85th year.
- She was a friendly, open, and jolly women, with a full heart, and was always smiling. We miss you Oma.
BABA – Nadia/Edith Senyk ( Stadnyk )
- Born April 10, 1922 in the Ukraine, she was one of 6 children.
- She grew up in the countryside in the Ukraine living a very humble hardworking life.
- She worked on farms and working camps throughout Europe during the Great Recession and Second World War.
- She immigrated to Canada in 1949 on a large ship alone and afraid.
- Later in 1949, she was married to Stephen Senyk, in an arranged marriage made between the local Ukrainian community.
- She is the mother of 5 Children, 10 Grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.
- She died May 28, 2013 at the age of 91.
- She was the best cook I have ever known, a generous women with hands as soft as butter, and blue eyes that lit up the room. Thank you Baba for all you taught me.
DIDI – Stephen/Steve Senyk
- Born on March 3, 1922.
- Married to Nadia Senyk in 1949. Father of 5 Children, 10 Grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.
- Worked as an Auto Mechanic in our small town, repairing old and manangled classic cars back into the beautiful machines they were.
- Died in December 1986, of a heart attack.
- Although I never met this man, I here many stories of his work, his financial and mental struggles, and his kind heart. Rest in peace Didi.
OPA – Henri Beenackers
- Born May 7, 1930 in the Netherlands, he was one of 12 children.
- He married my grandmother on April 21, 1950, before immigrating to Canada to start a family.
- The father of 4 children, my mother included.
- He died on July 29, 1963, in a tragic car accident leaving behind his family of four and my grandmother.
- Sadly he is another man I didn’t have the privilege of knowing. He is well known in my family for being the tall clown and a hard worker with a huge smile. Thank you Opa Beenackers.
The clouds part and the sun shines into my living room and wakes me from my office chair coma. I look at the time, 5:30pm, exactly the moment my Opas funeral is ending half way around the world. What a sign….
I know that these people are longer with us, but I can not help to feel that they are a part of me. Not only in my looks and traits, but in the ways that they send me guidance from time to time. They help me through the days when life isn’t easy and their past gives me strength.
As a third generation Canadian, I am so grateful to these 5 people, for their hard work, their generosity, and their love. Without them, I would not be living in Germany, and having the freedom to travel ad work as I do.
A reminder to all of you who still have grandparents; Cherish and Visit Them. They have lived a long and hard life, and their wisdom and love is precious.