By Barb Arland-Fye
Almost daily, I visited the CaringBridge site of kindergartner Oliver Rentmeester, whose aunt and maternal grandparents I know personally. His mom, Ashley Rentmeester, shared the details of Oliver’s brave battle (and his family’s, too) for 237 days against a fast-growing tumor that begins in the brain and spinal cord.
From these posts, I learned about the family’s commitment, courage, resilience and most importantly, a love that endures all things. Sometimes I left encouraging notes but other times, words escaped me when setbacks sent one parent rushing to Iowa City while the other parent made arrangements for grandparents to take care of Oliver’s little sister, Eliza.
Although I did not know Oliver, his mom’s detailed posts formed my impression. Gradually, Oliver and his family began to feel like family to me. I cared about them, prayed for them and wanted to give each one a hug. Oliver’s kindness towards others — family, schoolmates, healthcare providers and even strangers —inspired me. He was smart, had a good sense of humor and enjoyed pulling pranks on his mom and dad and healthcare providers.
Oliver died Oct. 23, “a true ninja fighter,” his obituary said. His family greeted those of us who came to pay our respects the night before Oliver’s funeral at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Davenport. His parents, Ashley and Jared, sat close to his open casket, where I knelt to pray a Hail Mary after expressing my condolences. I told his parents that their family felt like part of my family.
Father Andrew Rauenbuehler’s homily during Oliver’s funeral Mass at Our Lady of Victory touched a tender place in my heart. One reflection that leaves a lasting impression on me: the family, shortly before Oliver died, took one final wagon ride through their neighborhood, with Ashley, Oliver and Eliza in the wagon and Jared pulling it. Other family members and Father Rauenbuehler walked behind. The epitome of love.
Oliver’s innate sense of kindness came across in the priest’s reflections as well as reflections by an aunt and an uncle of the boy who would have turned 6 in December. His relatives encouraged us to follow his example by performing an act of kindness and to go make a difference in the world. As priests, altar servers and family processed out of church, we sang “Go Make a Difference,” an upbeat hymn by Steve Angrisano and Tom Tomaszek.
By coincidence (God’s reminder to me?), our parish sang, “Go Make a Difference” as the closing hymn that evening at the weekend Mass. The refrain is “Go make a diff’rence. We can make a diff’rence. Go make a diff’rence in the world.”
Before I sat down to write this column, I took out stationary and a pen to write personal, affirming notes to three people in my life who would benefit from an uplifting, encouraging note. After sealing the envelopes, I mulled the idea of creating handwritten notes of encouragement as a habit of kindness. Oliver’s acts of kindness were habitual, based on the posts I read so many of the 237 days of his valiant battle with cancer. Even in sickness, he performed acts of kindness!
Oliver’s uncle Dylan Beyhl said in his reflection after the funeral Mass that he looked up to his nephew. Oliver lived a short life but imparted on his loved ones and even strangers, like me, the inspiration to make a difference in the world.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)