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Why I Do This Work

It is a calling upon my heart and my life. I understand the importance and privilege it is to guide you and your loved ones as you “travel” to new places and live to the fullest until your journey on this earth ends.

I remember the hushed tones.

At eight years of age, my great-grandmother’s death from a stroke was the first in a long list of losses. I was ten when my Grandma Louise died. Dad was at the hospital with her and brought home treats for my brother, sister, and me. I don’t remember much else other than sitting in the front row at her funeral in a dress that matched my sister’s.


When I was in high school, a friend’s baby died. He was born and then he was gone, never left the hospital. I had no idea what to say or do. In college, another friend’s sister had her leg amputated from cancer. People said it was wonderful the way the illness brought their family closer. Her dad wondered if she would lose her other leg if the family later broke apart.

Laura Hoekstra's Credentials and Badges |  | Grace-in-the-Leaving with Laura Hoekstra | End-of-Life Doula Services | Grand Rapids, MI
Laura Hoekstra with daughter at husband's grave |  | Grace-in-the-Leaving with Laura Hoekstra | End-of-Life Doula Services | Grand Rapids, MI

None of this would prepare me for the disease and death of my husband at the age of 42.

 

Bob died on a sunny August morning in 2000. I rocked Betsy, our two-year-old, as I told her Daddy would not be coming home from the hospital. He was dead. And it was very very very very sad. She looked up at me and said, “But I need him.”


More death came.

 

Between 2004 and 2020, we said goodbye to friends and family. There was Faz and Mr. Clarke (fathers of Betsy’s friends), Grandpa Al, Great-Grandma Amburgey, Kerry (our friend with CF), Grandma Jean, Grandma Alley, Grandpa Phil, Grandpa Alley, and our beloved dog of 16 years, Sport. During high school health class, Betsy’s hand remained raised longer than any of her classmates, when asked who had been to a funeral, or two, or three…

That’s a lot of loss.

 

And loss is hard. Loss and grief are painful. They shape you in ways that nothing else does. As a mother, I spent hours looking for resources to help me explain death to a toddler, then a four-, six-, and eight-year-old. Through the years of different developmental stages, we learned to celebrate and remember Bob in ways that honored his life and kept him alive in our hearts. To this day we have holiday rituals that bring meaning and comfort.


While navigating full-time work and caregiving for Bob during his chronic illness, bilateral lung transplant, and short recovery, I grew weary. But the support of family and our church made a huge difference. When my mom, and later my father were ill with cancer (mom) and congestive heart failure (dad), I experienced the stress and strain of the “sandwich years.” It nearly broke me. It also birthed a dream.


A dream of helping.

 

A dream of serving others during times of caregiving, grief, and loss. I had already served for eight years as a facilitator/coordinator for GriefShare, a faith-based program through my local church. In 2021, I trained as an End-of-Life Doula and earned my proficiency certification with the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NEDA). In 2022, I studied how to help others in grief and successfully completed the Grief Educator Certificate program led by Grief Expert, David Kessler, a student of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.