An Unexpected Passing

The obituary in Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press was informed by a narrative I would not have predicted:

KUIPER – Thomas Albert Kuiper, age 55, passed away unexpectedly from his life on Sunday March 14, 2010 and entered into eternity to wait for the Lord’s return. Tom, the 4th child of George and Kathryn (Haan) Kuiper, was born on December 24, 1954 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was an ordained Deacon and active member of the New Apostolic Church. Tom enjoyed preparing pig roasts for his brothers and sisters in faith, fishing in Canada, and golfing through out the States. He was a licensed auto mechanic, licensed builder, and past Business Agent for the I.A.T.S.E. Local 26. He was preceded into eternity by his mother, Kay. Tom will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 22 years, Karen (Scheerhoorn) Kuiper; father, George Kuiper Jr.; brothers, Steve and Sue Kuiper; Ray and Judy Kuiper, Ken and Debbie Kuiper, and Paul and Nancy Kuiper; sisters, Kathy Blake, Patty Kuiper, and Ann Kuiper; brother-in-law, Ray Scheerhorn; sister-in-law, Pat Scheerhoorn; several nephews, nieces and many beloved friends. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. at the New Apostolic Church, 4501 56th St SW, Wyoming, MI with District Elder Scott Heidema officiating. Those who wish may make memorial contributions to the charity of ones choice. We are only on this earth for a short time. Make an impression on someone else’s life, help someone in need, do a good deed without rewards, smile and laugh as much as you can. That’s how Tom lived!

Tom Kuiper was my biological father. The last time I saw him, I was perhaps six years old. I actually still remember the scene: My mother and her new husband, who was trying to adopt us, welcomed Tom into the house. It was shortly before Christmas, and Tom asked me what I wanted Santa to bring. I recall not wanting to tell him, but he persisted — so I whispered to him: “Just sign the papers.” 

The last time I saw my biological father, I asked him to give me up for adoption.

Over the years I have occasionally thought about him. Although Ed eventually did adopt us, and did good by us, part of me had a detached sort of curiosity about the paternal bloodline.  Irrespective of where one falls on the nature/nurture question, some things are unavoidable — disease, for one. Was I more open to heart conditions or Alzheimer’s or any other condition that has a genetic risk factor? Did I eventually have any half-brothers or half-sisters out there?

Family is a funny thing. The Kuipers, it seems, had absolutely no interest in their genetic kin. The Gillikins, by contrast, welcomed Brian and me into their huge family with open arms, with no red-headed-adopted-stepchild nonsense on display. Once we were Ed’s, then we were Gillikins. Enough said. And even though I have drifted apart from his larger family, I respect and appreciate the way they embraced us.

I often wonder whether bloodline is the least important part of being family. The people who we keep close, no matter the source of their DNA, are family. Others, no matter how close the blood, simply never make the leap. Family is that group of people that you could call with a 3 a.m. emergency and know that they’d answer and do something to help you.

To some small degree, I regret that I never had any contact with the Kuipers over the years. I wonder what I might have learned about myself, had I the opportunity to go fly fishing with Tom.

I will probably attend the memorial service; I may sneak in the back and observe. See the dynamic in action. See the faces, hear the voices, then close the door permanently on a question that was resolved not by my inquiry but by impersonal circumstance.


This evening I turned in the keys to my apartment, having cleared it out and boxed up most of the small amount of stuff I have remaining. I am grateful to Charlie, who helped me schlep boxes.

The act of moving prompts thoughts of homes past and future.

The first real home of which I was conscious was the house on Little Brower Lake. We moved in with Ed after my mom divorced; I was in kindergarten at the time. We lived there about two years, until we bought a house on Lincoln Avenue in rural northwest Grand Rapids. We lived _there_ perhaps four years, until we built the Marne house, about a mile down the road on Lincoln. That house was “home” — I lived there from the fourth grade until well into my college years. Despite a stint in the dorms in Kalamazoo, I lived most of my life in the Marne house, just 500 feet away from my grandparents, with whom I was close.

When mom sold the house in the spring of 2003, I moved to my first apartment at Kellogg Cove in Kentwood. For the first couple of years, it was fabulous — quiet, clean, conveniently located near the Gaines Township shopping area and US-131. I lived there more than four years. Although the last year or so sucked — I had loud upstairs neighbors who were up all night — I do miss that place. It felt comfortable. I lost weight there, started karate there, and experienced other life milestones there.

After that, I spent a year and a half at my moms condo, until it sold last spring, and we moved into Apple Ridge.

I have no complaints about Apple Ridge. It was a decent place, clean and quiet. But it wasn’t my first choice. It never felt like home.

As I prepare for my next housing transition (four to six weeks here, then off to better things), it occurred to me that the “where” of a home is less important than how the place feels. Who is there with you? Who is in your life? Is “home” a place of comfort and joy and familiarity?

Domiciles come and go but homes are rarer things, a mix of person and place and time and space. Treasure them while you have them.