Auli Niemi | The Voice of Zion February 2024 - Home & Family Article --
It is with a heavy, yet thankful heart that I reminisce of our sweet niece’s passing, and of how our congregation helped get us through.
One’s home congregation has a special spot in everyone’s heart. For many it is a place of comfort and solace when life’s trials come. It is a place where we share each other’s joys when blessings are given. We, too, in Toronto have experienced the love and support of God’s kingdom.
Evelyn Mae Koski was born August 12, 2014, a much loved and awaited child. She was the eighth child born to Matt and Liisa Koski. She loved nature and the outdoors and loved making crafts or drawings for her parents and dear ones. She was a little mother to her older sister Lidia, who has Down syndrome, always caring for her and making sure Lidia’s needs were met. She also played often with her younger brother Orrin. In her short life, she was sunshine in their home, a beam that shone love.
I remember getting a text message from my sister-in-law Liisa, asking for prayers. She said she had an awful suspicion and fear that something is not right with Evelyn. She had started having issues with her balance, eyesight and had been falling behind in school.
They had taken her to the eye doctor, who confirmed that something wasn’t right. The family doctor had ordered an expedited MRI; however in our impatience and concern, we encouraged them to just go to emergency, which would fast-track medical care.
On Good Friday of 2022, they took Evelyn to Barrie Hospital to get her an MRI. I’m sure it took accepting for Matt and Liisa to hear the news. They shared with us only that they had to take her to a children’s hospital in Toronto to confirm the diagnosis. But we suspected something was very wrong. We got texts like, “We’re not ready to give up our little Evelyn.” We were all so fearful. That Saturday seemed so long. Evelyn spent the day in the hospital, undergoing test after test.
On Easter Sunday we got confirmation of our fears. Evelyn was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, DIPG, or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. There was no cure, the doctors said, but treatments could perhaps prolong her life by months.
It all seemed unbelievable. We had, it seemed, a constant prayer to our heavenly Father, to spare their family – our extended family – of this grief, and to find some sort of miracle cure.
At our Easter services, Dean Simonson from Saskatchewan encouraged us in his sermon to not ask why, but to pray for acceptance of God’s will.
The next days and weeks were a blur of treatment arranged for Evelyn, to try to shrink the tumor. Matt and Liisa went downtown weekly, for her treatments, and to arrange doctors’ and nurses’ visits and other necessary items so Evelyn could come home.
We arranged a Go Fund Me, in hopes that Matt could stay home and help care for Evelyn during her last few months. God blessed this effort, and we were so thankful that it materialized. We were shown much kindness.
The following months were heavy emotionally. The whole family got together to care for Evelyn, read her books and keep her happy. She didn’t know of her condition; her parents chose not to tell her just yet. Their son Orrin sensed something wasn’t right. He knew she was sick. He asked, “Mom, is Evelyn going to die?” Evelyn heard and, in her innocence, piped up, “No, I’m not gonna die, I’m only 7 years old!” In her thoughts, only old people died.
Treatments and trips to the hospital downtown continued, and they were exhausting. God gave strength and hope, and when the trips ended, we waited for a respite period, where Evelyn may have a few months symptom-free before the cancer came back in a more aggressive form. Her older brother bought her a brand-new bike for her birthday, which hung in the garage for her to ride when she felt better. She was so excited to try it out. She also wished to play soccer.
However, this was not to be. During treatment, the tumor shrank, but unfortunately the radiation went too deep and affected her right side. She was weak, almost as if paralyzed on that side. She had beautiful days too, spent in the yard in her wheelchair.
Our home congregation was so very supportive and kind! Meals were arranged to be delivered to the family’s house and many prayers were said on their behalf and kind messages were sent! Members of the community showed much kindness as well.
Matt has worked for over 30 years in the same facility as a diesel mechanic and knows many clients. The diesel truck community wanted to help in some way, so they organized a drive-by with their trucks. I remember that day: Evelyn eagerly waited for them in her wheelchair. She waved to them as they went by in their polished and decorated trucks. There must have been 100 trucks. It was so touching! They had gifts for her, as well as get-well wishes and balloons on the side of their trailers and dump boxes.
The local fire department also arranged a drive-by, with their sirens and lights flashing. The fire fighters stopped to talk to Evelyn and then continued.
Many people helped in innumerable ways – this touched the hearts of all of us. Neighbors dressed up in different costumes every morning as they went outside to put their other children on the bus, to cheer them up. Paramedics collected fishing gear and a tackle box for Evelyn, as she loved to spend time at the cottage and fish. Her school bus driver attached a big orange ribbon onto her bus, and the teachers tied orange ribbons on trees from their house to the school, showing their support. Orange and blue were Evelyn’s favorite colors. The school arranged a special assembly for Evelyn which was video recorded and played for Evelyn.
In the local area, people unknown to the family tied orange ribbons to trees in their front yards. Little Evelyn touched the hearts of so many!
Children’s Make-a-Wish foundation also was involved, and she wished for a puppy. She got an Irish setter and she named it Shadow. Shadow brought a lot of smiles. He was a calm puppy that got to spend some time on her bed with her, and she loved to pet his head.
In the fall when school started, Evelyn was weak. She had whispered to her mom, “I don’t think I’ll go to school yet, I don’t even have my white board markers!”
Evelyn lived in hope that she would get better. She was looking forward to Christmas and wanted to choose Christmas gifts to give her family. As she was too weak to go shopping, her older sister Martha helped her choose gifts online. When they were delivered to their home, Evelyn clutched them to her chest and excitedly waited for Martha to come home so they could hide them away.
Cold and flus hit, and Evelyn’s siblings got sick. She constantly asked about them, concerned for them. She had such a kind and caring heart!
Evelyn weakened, lost eyesight in one eye and developed other complications as well, but her pain was controlled. She continued to become more tired.
In November, it became clear that Evelyn’s earthly journey wouldn’t be very long anymore, and we began preparing for the inevitable. I’m sure, as a parent, it’s the hardest thing we have to do. It’s difficult to accept that this is how this child’s life will go, despite fervent prayers. But as in everything, we can only humbly pray, “Thy will be done.”
Throughout Evelyn’s illness, many family and congregation members visited her, each hoping their visits would give strength to Matt and Liisa and their family, as well as to Evelyn herself. Many prayers were said on their behalf.
We are truly blessed to have escorts on our journey, to have so many dear travel friends! When we go through these trials in life, God helps us to get though them by sending escorts. It is a gift of value we can’t fathom. Often in trying times, we feel that we are at the end of our rope, feeling hopeless, and then God sends someone – earthly angels show that He hasn’t forgotten us. They lift us and carry us when we feel weak.
On November 24, we read on our family chat, “Evelyn’s earthly journey is almost over. She is at peace, surrounded by her family.”
Our hearts lurched: now the time is here. Instantly our chat was filled with heartfelt support and prayers. Some families sang songs for her. How comforting they all are, these sweet songs of Zion, with such precious words: “There are treasures for children in heaven above,” and “Cast all your care and sorrow,” “Safe in the arms of Jesus,” and also “Heav’nly Father, God of all”. Also, “Lord, as I close my eyes to rest,” such a familiar evening song and prayer that so many of us sing to our kids in the evening. Singing in this way was very emotional, it helped us feel like we were at Evelyn’s bedside with her immediate family.
We strongly felt the need to be with Matt and Liisa and their family in their time of deep sorrow. We wished to comfort them as best as we could, each from wherever we happened to be. Through our family chat we were able to share messages, songs and read Bible verses. It was truly so precious!
So it was that on November 26, early in the morning, angels came for dear sweet Evelyn and she didn’t resist their call. Heaven gained a sweet new angel!
Our hearts were so heavy, and yet also grateful that Evelyn no longer suffered here with illness. We prayed, “Dear Father, please take good care of our precious Evelyn! Keep her in your tenderest care until we can get there. Grant her parents and family peace and acceptance, and strength to get though their darkest times.”
We held Evelyn’s funeral on December 1, 2022. The church was filled with our dear congregation members and believers from other congregations. Also, many community members came, from Matt’s workplace, Evelyn’s older brothers’ work friends, and neighbors. Many marveled at the beautiful singing and at the large group of children. We tried to make little Evelyn’s last celebration as beautiful as we could.
At Christmas, we all hung little angels on our trees, in memory of Evelyn. We will use these ornaments every year.
We hope you are kicking your soccer ball so high and running and biking with the gentle heavenly breezes in your hair. And fishing! May you be catching the biggest ones on heaven’s beautiful shores!
May you be picking heaven’s beautiful flowers along golden paths, with so many cousins and dear ones that have gone before you!
We miss you terribly Evelyn, and as November 26 comes closer, we can’t help but think of those precious songs and prayers that gave us comfort, and of you with your kind, sweet, caring heart. We have an anchor in heaven that gives us even more reason to endeavor here on earth! Some day we too, will reach heaven’s shores, if we keep putting our sins away, washing them in Jesus’ name and blood!
We trust God has you in His perfect care, and long to see you again! Till we meet again, Sweetheart! Auli-täti
Questions for Discussion
A child’s death is difficult for our human minds to comprehend; why is this?
For parents, a child’s death can be especially trying, even with the assurance of heaven. What factors might contribute to their grief?
Think of a child’s death in the Bible; what parallels can we make to a child’s death today?
How can a congregation help parents who lose a child suddenly and often privately through stillbirth or miscarriage?
A child’s death that becomes known community-wide may serve to awaken and call those seeking to God’s kingdom. Discuss.
What shapes and colors can grief take? How does grief shift over time?