From a Wedding to a Funeral: One Mother’s Journey Through Grief

Before Jordan Thiessen (’12) attended Trinity Western University, he gave himself one rule: he wouldn’t date until his final semester. In his words, girls were distracting, expensive, and full of drama. But when he met Elise Malone (’12) in his second year, his rule quickly became a distant memory.

The two were introduced through a mutual friend, Addison Pasiuk (’13). Elise was known as a free spirit and Jordan an old soul. These opposites attracted, as they so often do, and the two fell deeply in love. A few months after graduation, they were married.

But a mere twelve days later the unthinkable happened. A tragic workplace accident took Jordan abruptly from this world, leaving Elise a widow and his family devastated.

It didn’t make sense. He was a young, recently married, and in the prime of his life. On top of this, he was a faithful Christian and servant leader thriving in his new job. For his mother, Shirley Thiessen, this was beyond comprehension.

“Although I had been a Christ-follower for about 40 years when Jordan died, losing my son threw me into a crisis of faith,” says Shirley.

A CRISIS OF FAITH

For quite a while, Shirley could not reconcile the thought that God would allow her son to die like this. She knew He was all powerful and all knowing, but she now began to doubt that He was trustworthy.

“Bitterness started to take root in my heart. I was not only angry, I felt seething rage,” says Shirley.

Grief exhausted her, and all hope for a normal life vanished. But as negative thoughts swirled in her mind, her friends and family stayed close and surrounded her with prayer.

“I know that many of my grief companions were praying for our family and me. I’m so grateful,” says Shirley. “Those prayers were critical to bringing me to a point of recognizing that I was allowing my enemy, Satan, to fill my mind with lies.”

Shirley says she came to learn that her life moves in the direction of her strongest thoughts—for good or bad.

“If I remained in a posture of despair and defeat, the devil would have the upper hand,” says Shirley. “I chose not to let that happen. I would not be rendered useless. Instead, I started asking God to please recycle my pain for His good purposes.”

THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING NEW

Three months after Jordan died, Shirley (an employee of Trinity Western at the time) was asked by her boss to represent the University at a Christian conference called Breakforth, in Edmonton. The idea of engaging with people in a crowd felt impossible, as she was at an all-time low, but she went anyway.

Power to Change was stationed next to Trinity Western’s booth at the conference. They had set up a studio and were interviewing authors, musicians and speakers. The producer—who knew Jordan had died recently—asked Shirley to fill an interview slot that was vacant. With ten minutes notice, she was being interviewed and videotaped in front of a small crowd.

“I felt completely over my head,” says Shirley. “But after that video was released on Mother’s Day, 2013, I started to receive notes from people all over the country saying that my story gave them courage to trust God with their loss. This is when I first got a hint that God may be preparing me to share my story more widely.”

RECYCLING PAIN

After this experience, Shirley has had several opportunities to speak and share her story, though she never seeks them out.

“All my speaking engagements have come from being invited,” says Shirley. She’s doesn’t seek them out because she always experiences what she calls a “vulnerability hangover” the day after sharing her grief journey. Despite this undesirable “hangover”, she continues to say yes to the opportunities God brings to recycle her pain for His good purpose.

“I’m continually amazed at how He opens doors I could never have imagined,” says Shirley.

In 2017, she started Cornerbend Consulting after realizing that most people didn’t know what to do or say to help their grieving friends. Cornerbend offers simple and effective ideas that, when applied, will hopefully make the world feel like a kinder, more compassionate place for the bereaved.

“I’ve learned that my grief needs to be active in healthy ways,” says Shirley. “Sharing hope with others who are grieving—and their grief companions—has given a positive focus and means of recycling my pain.”

In June of 2018, Shirley decided to write a book about her experience, titled The Little Black Funeral Dress. It is available in the TWU bookstore as well as Amazon.

“I wanted the reader to feel like we were having a conversation over coffee as I shared things I’ve been learning about grief,” says Shirley. “I wish someone had sat me down, years ago, and had shared this with me.”

PEACE IN HELPING OTHERS

Though the pain of losing a loved one never really goes away, Shirley has been able to find peace in knowing that God is using that pain to help others. With time, Shirley says it is possible to live a joy-filled life again.

“When you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart will never completely heal . . . until Heaven. But, you will always carry your loved one in your heart,” says Shirley. “As you grieve, you have a choice to make. Will you choose to be angry and bitter or will you chose—with God’s help—to grow into a better, more compassionate version of you?”

Today, Shirley continues to express love for her son by sharing hope with others who have experienced similar loss. If you would like to contact her, view some helpful resources on grief, or learn more of her story, click here to visit her website.

Jordan Thiessen (’12) and his roommates, Addison Pasiuk (’13) and Shane Findlay (’12)

Not all of the interview conducted by the Alumni Association could fit in this story, but we’ve decided to include a few of Shirley’s responses here, for those who would like to read more.

 

 JF: Why did Jordan chose to go to TWU?

ST: He didn’t choose. Jordan was registered to attend Ambrose University in Calgary when, in Nov 2007, Paul Weme invited me to consider the role of Development Officer in AB for TWU. When I accepted in Dec 2007, I informed Jordan that plans had changed. He would now be attending TWU in fall 2008. At first, Jordan wasn’t too happy about the new plan but since his dad is a TWU alumnus, it started to become palpable. With his Grandma and Grandpa Thiessen living in Abbotsford, Jordan knew he would benefit from having them close by. Grandma was a great cook and Jordan loved to eat.

JF: What was his experience like?

ST: Jordan truly had a transformative education. He arrived at TWU uncertain of what his major would be, no friends joining him, an introvert, disciplined, studious, never shared a bedroom with anyone, desired his personal space and liked solitude. The summer before starting at TWU, Jordan was stressed by the thought of living in dorms. How would he ever survive? His goal was to endure the 1st year and then live off campus for the other 3 yrs.

To the shock of his family and those who knew him well, Jordan quickly adapted to dorm life and chose to live in Fraser all four years. His first RA, Jared Elenko (’10), was likely the most influential person in Jordan’s life at TWU. Only a year older than Jordan, Jared not only befriended him but was a significant role model. Jared challenged him to grow in leadership. Two years later, Jordan became a RA, as well, because of Jared’s encouragement. Jared was one of Jordan’s groomsmen in Oct 2012. Two weeks later, he was one of Jordan’s pallbearers at the funeral and gave a tribute.

JF: What did he do for work after he graduated?

ST: Jordan graduated with a BSc in Environmental Studies and secured a career job with AGAT Labs in Calgary (an environmental company). One of his roles was to travel around AB and test the air quality at power plants and the like. He loved it.  In the short 3 months that he worked at AGAT, he was given a promotion with additional responsibility.

JF: What lessons of grief have you learned that might be of help to others?

ST:
1: God promises to recycle our pain for His good purpose as we participate.
2: Deep sorrow can make you feel like you’re going crazy. You’re not. You’re grieving.
3: Hurtful things may be unintentionally said to you. Choose to forgive, but if necessary, keep a safe distance. Your grieving heart needs to be protected.
4: There is no timeline in grief. Take all the time you need.
5: Grief companions are priceless. Find one. Be one.
6: Grief is not an event. It is a lifetime of reconciling to a new way of being and living.

JF: Can you tell me about your book?

ST: It’s a very short book that represents what I wish I had been given when Jordan died. My foggy grief brain couldn’t absorb the larger grief books we had been gifted. It’s written to ease the burden of the griever and equip their friends to be effective grief companions. I hope you will read it.

JF: When did you start writing it?

ST: June 2018. My friend, Shani, convinced me to write just a little book as if I was writing out a talk. But when I look back, friends have been encouraging me to write a book since Jordan’s funeral. In the receiving line one friend said, “You have a book in you. I know it’s going to happen.” At the time, it seemed like a ridiculous idea.

JF: Did you expect to ever publish, or was it a series of writings that became a book? 

ST: I didn’t seriously consider publishing a book until June of last year. I wanted the reader to feel like we were having a conversation over coffee as I shared things I’ve been learning about grief. I wish someone had sat me down, years ago, and had shared this with me.

At the end of July, I “hit a wall” in writing. It felt like a level of vulnerability that I wasn’t prepared for. In speaking, I’d take comfort in knowing that most people only remember 10% or less of what I say. But once your words are written and published, there is no retracting it.  On July 29, I was quite exasperated. I sat down with my old NLT Bible and asked God to answer one question: “Are you sure you want me to publish my story?”  Then I opened up to my favourite book, Psalms. I read Ps 96:3 which I can’t ever remember reading before. It spoke directly to my question. “Publish His glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things HE does.”  I nearly fell off my chair. The answer was crystal clear. Get to work and publish it. And so, I did.

JF: Is there a scholarship in Jordan’s name, now? I thought I saw that in our records.

ST: Yes. It was at Jordan’s funeral that I announced publicly that we were creating a memorial scholarship in Jordan’s name. Since 2013, four students have received $5K each year. They receive the scholarship with the understanding that they are expected to volunteer a few hours each month to help TWU Maintenance staff maintain and weed the Jordan Thiessen Courtyard on campus.

(To learn more about how the Jordan Thiessen Courtyard came to be, it’s in my book)

JF: Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone who was friends with Jordan at TWU?

ST: Carey and I are forever grateful for the friends Jordan made at TWU. They hold a special place in our heart. When Jordan died, we learned that Jordan also had a positive impact on his friends. It was incredibly encouraging. Even though Jordan only lived a brief 23 years, 1 month and 4 days, he had wisely planned for his eternity. Because Jordan had surrendered his life to Jesus Christ years earlier, he is in Heaven and enjoying the adventures there. I have no doubt that Jordan is looking forward to a reunion with his friends and family. The best is yet to come!