Last Thursday, Lea’s mother called to tell us that Lea’s father Kunnar has passed away. Kunnar has been suffering the incapacitating effects of multiple strokes for more than four years gradually losing one ability after another. We are sad to see him go but are also relieved that he is finally at peace with our Lord and has traded his emaciated frame for a new and glorified body.
Kunnar grew up in the small fishing villiage of Leppneeme, on the Viimsi Peninsula where Lea’s family now lives. He was the eldest of seven children. Kunnar studied naval mechanics and worked as a sailor and commercial fisherman throughout his adult life. At 28 he was introduced to Vaike Leemet, a bonny lass from the island of Saaremaa and the two were soon married. Kunnar and Vaike settled in Leppneeme and there raised a lively brood of 6 children, two sons and four daughters.
In an autobiographical paper Lea wrote for her Christian Life course at Regent, she described a series of important memories from her childhood including this about her father:
My father was a strong and silent fisherman. Not very often did he show us the “other side of the coin” which was tender and romantic, but we all knew it was there. I remember days when my father would come home from work and I would help him take off his boots and eat all the leftover sandwiches which he had not finished at work. I still remember the taste and the smell of them. It was so different from the bread that had been sitting around home all day. It tasted like seawater sweat and the smell of the boat’s engine but it was the sweetedst bread I have ever had!
Most of what I’ve learned of Kunnar I’ve learned from a distance through stories and observation. Regretably, his first major stroke happened during our engagement and so I never knew him in his prime. I did have the honor of asking Kunnar and Vaike’s permission to marry their daughter while he was still healthy and remember the moment well: he was sitting quietly in a rocking chair he’d been given by his children for his 70th birthday and Vaike was sitting squarely on the couch. In good “old Estonian” fashion, Vaike told me if we thought it was God’s will, they wouldn’t get in the way and Kunnar nodded and rocked. We were moved when, in spite of paralysis from his first stroke, Kunnar escorted Lea down the aisle in a wheelchair at our wedding to give her away.
When we last saw him, Kunnar was bone-thin and stiff from laying in bed for four years. He could speak only a few basic words and heard and saw little. This is not the man we’ll remember. The Kunnar we’ll remember was a sailor, had a wry and quiet sense of humor, spoke with his hands more than his mouth (almost Italian!) and lived a full life. We’ll miss him but look forward to seeing him again on the other side, the man he was created to be.
Lea and I will leave for Estonia on Wednesday to attend Kunnar’s funeral on Saturday the 20th of January.