FALMOUTH — Tuesday afternoon, the Facebook page of Ebels Hardware had a message many were hoping not to see.
For weeks, things have been quiet regarding the health of Paul Ebels. The word was no news is good news and the hope was eventually they would say Paul was coming home. That didn’t happen.
News started to come out on March 24 about a family emergency for the Ebels family. It sent shock waves throughout the Falmouth community. Both Dave and Paul were sick. So sick that they needed to be airlifted to a Grand Rapids hospital. Dave never made the trip. Before he could leave, Dave passed away due to complications related to COVID-19.
With the Falmouth community still mourning the loss of Dave Ebels, it now has another death to grieve at the hands of COVID-19. Paul Ebels died Tuesday.
Abby Ebels DeZeeuw, Paul's 29-year-old daughter, said losing her 53-year-old father so soon after losing her Uncle Dave feels unimaginable.
The extended Ebels family is extremely tight-knit.
"We've just always all been here, living life together and working together. We're way closer than a lot of families," DeZeeuw said, her voice trembling. "And so it just ... it's kind of earth-shattering."
DeZeeuw's grandfather, Ebels patriarch Harold Ebels, also died young.
"That brings up a lot of things for my dad's generation, for the whole community," DeZeeuw said. It feels like "that's happening again."
Paul and his siblings have lived their lives according to a prayer shared by Harold, DeZeeuw said.
"Lord make us a blessing in the place you've put us," she quoted. "All of his kids took that to heart."
For Paul, that prayer was expressed through shirt-off-the-back generosity.
"I can't tell you the amount of times that we've come home and, you know, Dad would have sold our lawnmower out from our yard," DeZeeuw said, laughing. "Like, our dishwasher would just be gone because somebody needed a dishwasher and they couldn't afford a new one."
DeZeeuw said her father never lost his childlike wonder.
"He always found God in the tiniest of details," she said through tears. "When both of my kids were born he would just point out their pinky nail and say, like, 'If God can take care of a detail this small, this tiny little pinky fingernail, then you know that he can take care of the biggest things, too.'"
Prosper Christian Reformed Church Pastor Dirk Koetje said Wednesday he was at a loss of words after the passing of Paul.
"I don't even know what it has been like. I braced myself for it. It wasn't quite as sudden as when Dave passed," Koetje said. "We had a little bit of a runway. He (Paul) was doing pretty good, but it turned south Monday and he passed away Tuesday."
In his various conversations with the Ebels family since Paul's passing, Koetje said his death was similar to an open wound that gets attacked again. Everyone is still numb, he said.
Although the premise of no news is good news was accurate, Koetje said at some point there needed to be news in terms of Paul's recovery. He said everyone was trying to be optimistic as a coping mechanism and Paul did have some positive gains but there needed to be more good news.
"He was never awake. He never learned his brother died," Koetje said. "They sedated him and he never woke up."
Paul's niece, Keagan Strickland, wrote an essay in a college psychology class about someone in his her who was the "epitimone of serenity." She wrote the essay about her uncle and shared it on his Facebook page following his passing. She agreed to allow the Cadillac News to include a portion of the essay in this story.
"He is a gentle soul. A kind man full of compassion. The kind of compassion that makes anybody feel special," Strickland wrote. "His voice is comparable to the deep rolling of the thunder before a storm. His warm smile full of gratitude and grace comparable to the calm after a storm. Serenity in every sense, and this is why I have always been partial to my Uncle Paul. Why his hugs are my favorite because, as you taught us, psychologically we are drawn to those who exalt calmness and peacefulness. I cannot tell you when or why I started looking for my Uncle Paul in the Sunday crowds after sermons when I was young for a great big hug. But, I can say with full faithfulness that I always wanted to embrace him every chance I got when I was young because he is serene."
"So Uncle Paul Ebels," Strickland added. "I now look forward to another hug someday. In a place much better than here."
Things were quiet in the Falmouth community on Wednesday, a day after Paul's passing — as they usually are — but it was clear from the whisper of hushed conservations that people were still processing the loss.
"It was just heart-breaking to me that they lost two family members in such a short period of time," said Falmouth resident Eunice Ferguson. "I didn't really know their family life. He went to my church ... Prosper Christian Reformed Church. He was co-owner of the hardware store along with his brother, Dave, who passed away last month. Whenever you saw Paul, he always was smiling and you could tell he loved Jesus. He always went out of his way to help people at the store. He was a good man."
Now that the community and family know the ending of Paul and Dave's story, Koetje said he believes healing can finally start. While he said that from a pastoral point of view, he also acknowledged the Ebels' family might disagree.
Koetje said he asked one of Dave's children Wednesday what they needed. The reply was not unexpected but still hit hard. He said they told him they wanted their dad and uncle back. While Paul's death does give "closure" and "resolution," Koetje said it will be a long, hard road ahead.
"I haven't found a word that describes the grief of this family and Falmouth," he said. "Devastated is the word I used before, but I'm not sure it encapsulates the feelings of the community. To have two people who were well-loved, active in the community, active in the local schools and active in the church and to lose them suddenly. Six to eight weeks ago, this wasn't on the radar."