A tree to remember


Courtesy Renee De Vries

Renee and Tom’s children, Duncan and Amber, pose next to Tom’s tree by the seminary pond.

TW: this story contains references to suicide.

If you take a stroll along the path to the seminary pond this fall, you’ll see a tree turning bright orange. At the base of the tree, you’ll find a remembrance plaque for Tom Van Keulen. Tom was an IT employee at Calvin’s Seminary, and the father of two current Calvin students — senior Duncan and first-year student Amber Van Keulen.

Tom took his own life four years ago. His suicide was a surprise to all who knew him. He had not suffered from mental illnesses in the past. He did not seem depressed. He had a lot going for him in life, including a wife and three precious kids.

In my years attending and then working at Calvin, I’ve been tangentially affected by suicide — students, alumni, children of staff and faculty and most recently, spouses of close colleagues.

My current colleague, Renee De Vries, Duncan and Amber’s mom, has been open and honest about the role suicide has played in her life. Tom was her ex-husband and still an important person in her life when he died.

“When the death of someone you love comes out of the blue, and is self-inflicted, it’s a different kind of grief,” Renee shared. “It was so sudden, and the fact that it was not accidental causes the family to ask so many questions.”

Every time there is a milestone, it brings fresh pain. As Renee explained, “Seeing all the things he’s missing out on, missing each phase of our kids’ lives, I grieve that he’s not present. He would have been proud to see both of them attending Calvin, and I’m so sorry that he’s missing that.”

With the stress of a seemingly never-ending pandemic, increased social isolation, worry and fear, many people in our community have been struggling with mental health. September was National Suicide Prevention month, a valuable time to look at the resources Calvin has in place to support those who might be considering suicide.

From general mental health support through the Center for Counseling and Wellness and the Campus Ministries team to emergency crisis support, Calvin has people in place to bring healing to those who are struggling.

If you are finding life hard to live, please seek out help. There are so many resources available to help in a challenging time. And though it may not seem at all possible right now, brighter days are ahead.

This fall, take a walk to the seminary pond and pause for a moment by Tom’s tree. Duncan and Amber will be doing so, remembering their dad and the good times they had together.

If you or a loved one are struggling with trauma or are considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, text HOME to Crisis Text Line at 741741, Campus Safety at 616-526-3333 or contact Safer Spaces.