I’m sure that for individuals with names like “John Smith” or “Mary Miller” the idea of another person sharing your name is akin to the reality that another person shares the same zip code. However, when you grow up in America with the name “Tom Vander Well” you feel a certain sense of individuality. It is not a common name. It was easy for me, as a kid, to believe that I was the only one.
Then came the internet.
I first became aware of “the other Tom Vander Well” because we were both posting to the internet on professional blogs. He was a mortgage banker in Michigan. I was a QA and CSAT specialist in Iowa. People started to get us confused. I received emails meant for him, and he for me. The same happened with phone calls and snail mail. We eventually reached out to each other and struck up a dialogue, which led to us meeting for a cup of coffee back in 2011 while Wendy and I were visiting friends in Michigan. While we were sharing that cup o’ Joe a friend of his came into the coffee shop and stopped to chat. It was hilarious when he introduced us. His friend became very confused as Tom and I enjoyed the moment. I’ll enjoy that forever.
My great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands in the late 1800s and “Americanized” our surname “van der Wel” as “Vander Well.” Tom’s Dutch ancestors settled in Michigan a few decades later and Americanized the same surname as “Vanderwell” without a space between the “Vander” and the “Well.” A genealogist in the Netherlands wrote to me out of the blue years ago and identified our common ancestor back in the 1700s. Tom and I really were distant cousins.
As we casually corresponded with one another, we discovered that we shared a lot in common. We were the same age. We were both followers of Jesus. We both graduated from small, Christian liberal arts colleges. We both shared a passion for our faith and our family in the midst of our vocations.
Several years ago, I learned that Tom was experiencing significant health problems. We had a couple of long phone conversations, and Tom continued to share his heart with me in online messages.
This past week I learned that my cousin and “name doppleganger” ended his earthly journey and crossed over to eternity. I’m ecstatic for him, knowing that he’s been freed from the illness, suffering, and constraints of his earthly body. At the same time, I’m saddened for his family whom he loved so deeply and who will acutely feel the loss of his presence moving forward.
Rest-in-peace Tom Vanderwell. I know, by faith, that you are better right now than you have ever been. I beg Tom’s family to accept my sincere condolences as I can only imagine the grief that they are experiencing. I look forward to connecting with him again in eternity.
For any of my family and friends who hear news of the death of Tom Vanderwell, this may be my only opportunity in this life to share Mark Twain’s sentinment that the “news of my death has been greatly exaggerated.”
I can hear Tom Vanderwell chuckling in heaven.