The following is now posted on Douglas Brunk's blog:
From the day my dear sister was born in Palermo, Sicily, I have loved her and felt very protective, perhaps on occasion overly so. I would get VERY upset if anyone other than my parents would even touch her or for that matter even look at her. My parents tell stories of my incessant questioning (I know that is hard for many of you to believe) which eventually included, “Can I marry Valerie when we grow up?“
I assume it was early on my Dad coined her family nickname that would stick to this day — Bella Bimba (Beautiful Girl). It comes from an Italian song that I won’t even try to sing for you. Dad with his fatherly eyes captured her essence. Didn’t he? If you see early pictures of her absolute cuteness you can’t help but call her Bella Bimba.
We Mennonites can be a bit suspicious of this word ‘beautiful.’ We are concerned about putting on airs and ostentatious displays. But beautiful is what she was – to her core.
I have looked over the pictures over the last couple of days I have been struck dumb by her physical beauty. She was so cute in childhood. She developed into a beauty as a girl. As a woman, she bore herself with her own unique Valerie-version of our mother’s poise and stature. She had a timeless quality and carried it easily. I can only imagine how much she would detest my talking about her in front of a room full of people — much less discussing her beauty.
We all know that physical beauty, however, has its limits. Our Bella Bimba radiated beauty as a devoted wife and mother. She loved her family with a deep and abiding love and in simple and creative ways helped build a beautiful life for her family. This love reached to her extended family and encompassed MANY unexpected changes in our family life and structure. Some of those changes were not easy but she did not run, even though they could be very scary.
Our Bella Bimba radiated beauty through her passionate desire to be of service to others and her devotion to God. Through the work she chose to devote herself to on a daily basis through social work, through her work with this congregation, and through the work in Haiti that Andre and Val chose to devote their precious time.
Our Bella Bimba radiated beauty through silence. Valerie was a quiet and reserved person. She left the public limelight to those of us who craved it more. She worked and participated from the background. She made things happen. When she choose to speak she would communicate through few and carefully chosen words.
Lest you create an image in your mind of a quiet, unassuming, angelic, push over — I feel like I should correct that right now. Under that exterior, lay a woman of strong conviction with some, but not unlimited, patience with less than wise decisions or behavior in others. I say this as her older brother who, of course, would only occasionally be on the receiving end of that “correction.” On occasion I would hear stories or witness her corrective action towards others. I could not help but wonder, “Who are you and what have you done with my sister?”
Our Bella Bimba radiated beauty … but as my partner, Lloyd, put it recently, that radiance was sometimes dimmed. It was not always easy for my dear sister because she suffered from anxiety, sometimes mild, sometime overwhelming. It frustrated her ability to be everything she wanted to be for her family and friends.
At the end, dear sister, we have been left with a mystery. There are some things we will never know and questions for which there will be no answers in this life. There are times we will be angry. There are times we will be frustrated. There are times we will feel overwhelmed by sadness. In all these times, hopefully, we can turn to Our Source and one another to be loved and reminded of how much you loved us.
So now dear Dolce Bella Bimba we must take the mystery you left us with and enter into an even larger Mystery. We must place you (though so unwillingly) with gentleness, oh so much gentleness, into the loving, strong arms of the Creator. In my mind, I can see standing there at the Eternal Right Hand, regal, loving, and comforting as ever, our dear mother waiting to enfold you in her arms.
Peace be with you Valerie and God’s peace be with us all.
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To my precious Valerie, by Wanda Harder
We’ve been friends ever since you moved in across the road in 1975, and I’ve always called you my sister. It’s so hard to put into words who you were to me and how much I will miss you. I’ve spent the past few days going through old photos and replaying thousands of memories. Memories of:
- climbing trees on the hill
- endless craft projects
- wandering all over Park View
- crazy costumes
- baking experiments
- setting up hilarious obstacle courses with Doug in your basement, like putting on your dad’s waders and timing each other as we ran around completing a series of tasks
- hiking with my family
- just talking
- listening to my Larry Norman albums
- letters across the miles when we weren’t in the same country
- laughing—a LOT
- being in each other’s weddings
- being pregnant at the same time
- playdates when Casey & Joseph were little
- walking with each other through the loss of a parent
- lunches at Dave’s Taverna and Blue Nile
- shopping – You helped me pick out this dress last winter fora wedding. It certainly was NOT intended for this occasion.
For all the time we spent together, I can’t believe that there are so few photos of the two of us. (Don’t worry—that photo of us in our Wonder Woman costumes will never become public.) We just weren’t into photos. We were into being friends and spending time together.
You were always content to stay in the background, but you possessed such grace and wisdom. You cared deeply about people, and you were such a wonderful listener. As we’ve shared the ups and downs of life and wrestled with issues of faith and parenting together, I’ve so appreciated your thoughtful insights, your integrity, and your prayers. You forgave me for the many times I was a too-bossy big sister. You always laughed at my jokes. Thank you for blessing my life with your sweetness. I will miss you. You will always be my sister.