Sandra Eldemire was 19 when she agreed to marry a man she had met just five days earlier.
It could have been a disaster.
It was not.
Sandra and Peter van der Bol spent 54 years together as husband and wife. When he died in 2014, she mourned his loss deeply and for the next year and a half basically withdrew from the world, except for her family and a few very close friends.
“I was more connected to the past, with Piet, than to the present or the future,” she said in a recent interview. Writing a book about him was “the most powerful way to keep me connected.”
Mrs. van der Bol had actually started writing about Peter before his death, she explained. One evening, as they were sitting in comfortable silence on the dock behind their home, he told her, “You know, there’s only one thing more I ask of life … that I don’t die alone.”
She started writing that night, wanting to honor her Dutchman, wanting to show the world who this man was. She wrote a chapter and put it in a drawer.
Reliving their life together
After her husband died, she retrieved that chapter and resumed the enterprise. “It was a joy to relive, in a very real sense, our life together,” she recalled. It had been an amazing journey – pretty unorthodox, very adventurous, totally authentic.
His story became their story, from the time they met aboard a freighter on which he was chief engineer, to the time they were caught in a hurricane at sea, through the occasional, perhaps inevitable, squalls in their relationship and then the storms they faced together.
She wanted the book to read like a novel, not a journal of events, so not many chapters are hinged on specific dates.
But one date was pivotal in her life and in her marriage. March 20, 1977 was the opening night of the Cayman for Christ Crusade with evangelist Leighton Ford. Mrs. van der Bol’s aunt, Olga Adam, had invited her to join the choir being organized for the event. As a guitar-playing, ganja-smoking, non-churchgoer, Mrs. van der Bol was surprised but ended up agreeing. The preacher’s messages the next few nights stirred unexpected thoughts and feelings.
By this time, she and Peter had been married almost 17 years. They had children and she loved her family, but something was missing. “I came to Christ and that answered the deepest longing in my soul,” she reported. “Later, Peter came to Christ and that softened his rough edges. That’s when our marriage truly began.”
Mr. van der Bol loved the easy way Jesus related to fishermen, tax collectors, outcasts; the gentle, non-condemning way he responded to women whatever their situations or failures; His simple yet profound way of imparting truth, Mrs. van der Bol wrote. “In Jesus, he had finally found One to whom he was willing to offer all his allegiance.”
Together they worked with drug addicts, single mothers and prison inmates. Their darkest hour may have been when Mr. van der Bol was suddenly removed from his post as chaplain at Her Majesty’s Prison in Northward. Mrs. van der Bol’s heart surgery was another difficult time.
Mr. van der Bol’s death came relatively soon after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Writing a love story
Her desire to honor him made writing “Dockside … a Love Story” an easy and a positive experience.
It will not matter if the book sells two copies or a million – it has achieved its purpose for her. It may serve a further purpose by encouraging other people to put their own grief into words. That idea is the genesis of another book.
“I see so many women trapped in mourning,” she said. “I hope I can share something to help them out of that.”