Summer of the Horsts

Guest post by Lois Reesor:

How do you go about making new friends? Sometimes in very unexpected ways and unusual circumstances.

Rumors about the Horst Family

We first heard of the Horst family through a friend whose son was participating in a counselling course which Amanda’s Aunt Bethany was also a part of. Whether their needs were presented as a prayer concern or a need for housing accommodations I don’t know but I was fascinated by the fact that a rural conservative Mennonite family of nine was willing to relocate to Toronto. Their 14-year-old daughter, Amanda, needed a heart transplant and needed to live close to Sick Kids Hospital while she waited. Soon after the initial news, a prayer concern was brought forward at church (Wideman Mennonite) and an article from an Eastern Ontario farm newspaper was posted at the back of the church.

The newspaper story that was posted on our church bulletin board.
Meeting the Horsts

May arrived, and with it, news that the Horst family was moving into Brian and Bonnie Drudge’s house. How ironic! Brian and my husband Dale grew up together. This was no longer rumour but reality, this family was moving into this community and we were looking forward to meeting them. Brian put out a request for assistance on moving day. Our daughter Justine (15) and her friend Lydia Miller (13) and I went to lend helping hands. I thought it would be nice if Amanda (14) and Vanessa (12) could at least have a few connections in their new neighbourhood. Amidst the hustle and bustle of moving, we met the Horsts, a lively, engaging, and beautiful family. Of course, we were especially interested in meeting Amanda, who was the reason for this move. She seemed very composed, happy, and at peace, not like someone with a life-threatening heart condition, but someone with a zest for living and enough faith to not let the uncertainties of life mar the present. How could I know what was beneath her calm, youthful demeanor? She inspired me and made me very reflective. “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right” (Proverbs 20:11).

Justine and Lydia helping on moving day
Barbeque and Singing

What else could I do to help the Horsts settle into their new environment, I wondered? Perhaps I could host a barbecue and introduce them to some of our friends. Invitations were given and the evening of June 21 was agreed upon. Part of the evening included some of Dale’s family and a few neighbours gathering in the barn after supper to sing some German hymns. We needed to practice them for a German documentary that was being filmed about the original settlers in this area. Having Galen and Patricia and their family join our small chorus was a bonus, as they are familiar speaking Pennsylvania German. We sang “Gott ist die Liebe,” “For God so Loved us,” and “Heilig, Heilig Heileg ist derr Herr,” (“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord”). We had no clue that Amanda would so soon join the heavenly chorus.

The delicious chicken Dale barbequed for our guests.
An enjoyable time getting to know our new friends. Photo credit: Amanda Horst
Singing in the barn after the BBQ.
Sudden Turn of Events

As it grew dark, folks began to leave. An evening chill set in. we put more wood on the campfire and pulled our chairs closer to savour the warmth. Galen commented that they should perhaps leave, too. We insisted that there was no hurry, relishing an opportunity to fellowship longer. Almost at that very moment, Vanessa popped out the back door, her sense of urgency evident. “Come quick! Amanda is in the upstairs bathroom and the door is locked and she won’t respond.” Galen leapt to his feet and we sat numbly wondering what we should do. Action and mayhem followed. Galen broke down the flimsy bathroom door. Everyone that had a phone called 911. Patricia, like a Madonna with her child, valiantly administered CPR. Dale and my son Thomas dashed across the road to a nearby church for a defibrillator. We waited and prayed for what seemed like an eternity for paramedics to arrive. At last, paramedics, police, and firetrucks all arrived. They thronged upstairs until I wondered how they could all fit.

More tense waiting and wondering ensued until a paramedic descended carrying Amanda in his arms. She looked so fragile and childlike as they took her out the front door into the waiting ambulance, and yet we hoped for a happy outcome. Patricia rode in the ambulance to the hospital and our neighbour Tara, who conveniently works at the hospital, drove Galen there, actually beating the ambulance. Meanwhile, here at our farm, we waited and prayed. The shrill ringing of the phone shattered our anxious reverie. Jumping up to get it, I saw that it was Tara. Grabbing the phone, I took it to another room out of earshot before answering. Tara informed me that Amanda’s earthly life was over. As I re-entered the living room, the children looked at me expectantly. Vanessa bravely queried, “how is Amanda?” how could I dodge such a direct question? How I would have liked if someone else could have broken this sad news to an eager and hopeful child.

Memories and Reflections

So many poignant and deep emotions are etched into my memory from that evening… when Galen and Patricia returned from the hospital, they gathered their children together in our living room to comfort one another while our family went outside to the firepit to give them some privacy. We sat there in the still evening, staring at the fire in shocked silence, wondering how all this could have happened and how we can support this family who we had only met a few times. How the moon hung serenely over our farm buildings as the whole family got into their big Suburban, around midnight, to trek back to the hospital to be with the earthly shell of their dear sister and beloved daughter. How briefly we had known them to share in such anguish but how blessed we were to meet Amanda and share that last evening with her.

A picture of Amanda on display in our upstairs. We’ll always remember her.
Continuing Friendship

After the funeral the Horst family came back to their rented house. They wanted to come back to our house and spend some quiet moments upstairs where Amanda spent the last minutes of her life, so we invited them over for another cookout in the back yard, just over a week after that fateful night. We spent a lot of time together the next few months before they moved back home.

Thomas showing some of the Horst children how the air seeder works.
Vanessa Horst helping Justine and I clean strawberries.

On August the 16th we helped the Horst family load their things into the trailer again to move back home. Although the miles separate us, we have a special bond that can not be separated! We’ve been blessed to spend a weekend in October with Galen and Patricia at their farm, Providence Homestead, near Palmer Rapids, ON. Dale and I slept in Amanda’s old room (I wonder what her new room looks like?) 1 Cor 2:9.

Going for a hike on the Horst’s farm. Patricia is following us driving what used to be our “Rusty Sailor”.
The Horsts returned to Toronto in November for a special candle lighting service at Sick Kids Hospital. They stayed at our house and we spent a lovely weekend together. It felt like a family reunion. We kept their two youngest children while they went downtown. Dale and I felt like grandparents taking the little ones to church with us.
Dale giving some of the Horst children a ride in the combine when they were at our place in November.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” We do not have the ability to see the greater picture. We grieve over losses, treasure memories, rejoice in our newfound friendships, and look forward in hope and expectation, trusting that God’s plan will be beautiful in its time.

Tomorrow (December 21) is 6 months since Amanda passed away.


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3 thoughts on “Summer of the Horsts”

  1. Thank you so much, Lois,for sharing your thoughts and memories for those of us who weren’t present. In a small way, we pick up little pieces of what transpired there 6 months ago. We appreciated the very brief visit to your home last summer, to see the surroundings and hear a little of what took place. These are memories that will never be lost. We couldn’t be there but it all comes a little more real as we hear from people who experienced it all.
    Osiah Horst (Galen’s dad – Amanda’s grandfather.)

  2. Amanda is still very much present in my heart and soul, daily prayers for all family and friends, as well.
    blessings to all.

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