Carolyn and Adrian Aarnoutse and their children are members of West End Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alta. In their household, birthday parties are usually “over the top,” filled with family fun and birthday cake. This year, one birthday celebration was different. Six months ago, their fifth child, Willem, died from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). On January 10, what would have been his first birthday, Carolyn, Adrian and their other four children decided to honor Willem’s memory in a unique way. Out of thankfulness for all the support and prayers they received around the time of his death, they spent the day lovingly reaching out to others, including the staff at two city hospitals and other families walking in the shoes they had previously walked in.
“[They] surely celebrated Willem’s birthday, not as usual, but as one of sharing, loving, and of giving of themselves on that day,” said Matt Schoonderwoerd, Willem’s grandfather and also a member of West End CRC.
The Aarnoutses began the day by going to the maternity ward of Royal Alexandra Hospital where Willem had been born, bringing Dutch pastries for the staff and delivering 20 bags filled with items for new mothers. One of the items was a swaddling blanket with words from Psalm 139: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” An unexpected but special moment came when they were able to share a bag with a couple whose baby had been born less than an hour earlier.
In the afternoon they went to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Stollery Children’s Hospital where Willem spent the last 3 days of his life. They delivered toys that Carolyn had spent months obtaining as donations, treats, and care packages for parents suddenly stuck at the hospital with little time to prepare. The staff at both hospitals were overwhelmed, amazed, and very emotional that a bereaved family would take the time to do this. At Willem’s funeral, the couple had said, “We are so thankful to the staff at the Stollery Hospital. Their strength and care astounded us constantly. Knowing that they have to deal with sick and dying kids and their hurting families every day, when we only had to cope with our situation for three days. We admire the fact that they can still be so caring and loving in a such a sad place.”
Also, during the day, customers at Edmonton’s Dutch Delicious bakery received free raisin buns purchased by the Aarnoutses. In each bag was a note: “Life is a gift. Enjoy it, share it, and spread love to the people in it. Please do so today by sharing this gift in honor of Willem Kees Huig Aarnoutse.”
The Aarnoutses are also thankful to hear that the two infants in Ontario who received Willem’s heart and liver as organ donations are both doing well.