An unhappy anniversary


What's on my mind this week?

Kelsey Ray Vandenberg.

This Monday, February 20, will be the third year to not have cake, not go to Cheddars or Steak 'N Shake, or eat her undertenderized beef stroganoff. I would give anything to chew on that meal again.

I used to hint, very gently, that she needed to stew the meat a little longer. But it didn't matter at all. I got such a kick out of watching her, and usually a house full of kids, yucking it up (I mean that in more ways than one), in the kitchen. Izzy Miller, Caleb Gehle, sometimes a Kai Newkirk,  would pop in and it would be a full-on show.

With sauce splatters dried on my wife's new stove, and dishes heaped in the kitchen sink, Kelsey would call out "dinner's ready."

Lee and I would exchange looks. I could see that she was apprehensive, but we wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Yes, it was tough.

And so is February 20 every year.

In the name of that "anniversary", which is a phrase that gets in the way a bit because usually that's meant for celebration in most remarks, I have a story I want to share.

I’ve told a few people this story, but I think on this anniversary, I will share it with you all. Because over the last three years, you’ve all shared through these writings, the desolation and darkness that is losing a child. Many times I’ve prayed that no one I know ever has to go through this, but if these writings help anyone now and in the future, then sharing is absolutely the right thing to do.

So this story is dedicated to Tom Gendron and Tom Walljasper for sharing their grief with me; for my wife for her pain and unbearable suffering; to Taylor for the loss of her only sister - only sibling; for anyone else that carries this type of pain; and for Brad and Maria Walker, whose daughter Emily was blessed with a new heart this week... and a community exhaled.

This story is a recollection of a dream that I had about six weeks ago. . .

In my dream I was in a home that I didn’t recognize, in an upstairs room that I didn’t recognize. I was watching television and I heard a noise. I got up to see what the noise was. I remember vividly that I walked out of the room and looked around the corner at another door that was wide open.

I walked into the room and saw Kelsey sitting in a chair in her black strapped sunflower dress, staring out a window. Through the window was nothing but light - no trees, no backyard, no neighbor's home - nothing.


She said nothing, but turned and looked at me for just a moment. She then got up from her chair and walked over to me. I started to cry softly. I don’t know if I was crying in my sleep or not, I would imagine I was.

She put her arms around me.

I think it was because of her heart condition that her skin was always cool to the touch, and in my dream, I could feel the coolness of her skin. I could literally feel the temperature of her skin - and I cried harder. She just held me without saying a word until I woke up.

When I woke, my instinct was to start crying, but something came over me and I realized this was a gift. I had been struggling with some additional personal stuff and that was starting to gain traction with me, so maybe my mind needed some closure or some sense of peace.

Maybe our dreams are some type of mental wormhole to those we've lost. We need what we need, so our minds provide it. Maybe it’s something on a grander scale and part of an afterlife that can only be possible through our imagination - while we’re on the earth. I don’t know and I don’t care.

My daughter came to me in as real a fashion as she possibly could have. She “momma bear-ed” me, and without saying a word, conveyed that everything was going to be okay.

I believe she didn’t say anything because she knew it would be a difficult road with ups and downs, but she wanted me to know everything would be okay.

Some people will crinkle their noses at this dream, or have doubts, or be skeptical. But let me add just this as the certainty with which I know my daughter keeps an eye on me.

About a year and a half ago I was headed out for some golf with Gordy Fedler, Jay Baldwin, and Steve Knight. I was on my way to Green Acres in Donnellson, but before leaving the house I sat down at Kelsey’s picture by her box and asked her to come with me.

Kelsey loved to drive the golf cart and would laugh when things got a little out of control. She really didn’t like golf, but she enjoyed being outdoors and liked to putt (-putt).

“Come with me today. You haven’t been golfing in a long time. You can drive the cart,” I said outloud to the ceramic picture that sits on a coffee table carefully disorganized by her mother.

On Hole No. 1, I made a 25-foot putt from off the green and kinda looked up at the sky and smiled.

I aced hole No. 2!

Oh yeah - she loves her daddy - but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Beside the Point, Sunday, editorial, Kelsey Vandenberg, Chuck Vandenberg, child, dream, anniversary, death,


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