Losing a Child: A Mother’s Journey of Healing

  One of the greatest heartbreaks a parent can experience is the death of a child. However old that child is, it is not life’s natural progression to bury your offspring. Bruce and Catherine Toal of know firsthand how painful losing a child can be. Bruce is a Sidney businessman who is the owner of Everyday Technologies, Inc. among other interests. Catherine has been a stay-at-home mother to their children including: Jonathan, 27, Antonio, 27, who was raised in an orphanage but has been part of the family since he was 15, Zachary, soon-to-be 23, B.J., 19, and 15-year-old Lilly whom the couple adopted four years ago. But missing from the list is their daughter, Rachel Lindsey Toal, who died on Oct. 6, 1994, at the tender age of six.

 Rachel was born on June 24, 1988. Everything appeared fine until she “was seven weeks old, when they diagnosed her with the biliary atresia,” said Catherine. She was “born pink and healthy and gradually became very jaundiced.”

“In babies with biliary atresia, bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder is blocked…An operation called the Kasai procedure is done to connect the liver to the small intestine…However, a liver transplant may still be needed,” according to the Website for the National Library of Medicine.

In baby Rachel’s case, the Kasai was not effective. “[She] actually had a liver transplant at 17 months ….She was a very, very sick little girl,” said Toal. “The match was not a good one. What actually took her life at six and half, she went septic,” explained her mother describing the infection that proved fatal.

“She was beautiful, with big blue eyes, long black lashes, and long, light brown hair. A typical ‘girly-girl,’ our Rachel loved anything pink and we lovingly called her Ray-Ray.” Rachel’s mom wrote these words in her 2007 book titled, Loving the Journey with my King. The large leather hardback also contains 3 CDs of 28 original songs that represent her pathway to healing.

It is apparent, that faith is what drives 52-year-old Toal, but her faith was shattered by her child’s loss. “Our family struggled to survive the pain of losing her, and I was at my wit’s end, with nothing more to give anybody. Depressed, discouraged, and incredibly angry, I waded through the trauma of such loss the best I knew how,” wrote Catherine. “Kind loving friends and family carried us through this trying period.”

Friends and family also pitched in during the years of Rachel’s chronic illness when she was often hospitalized. For those wanting to assist a family with a sick child, Toal suggests doing practical things like: “Cleaning up the house, cooking a meal, picking up kids from school, picking up the day to day routine so the focus of the caregiver is free to take care of that child.” As the situation grew even more serious, she says it meant a great deal when others simply told her, “I’m praying.”

For the parent dealing with the death of a child, the Sidney, Ohio, woman advises, “Trust the Lord with your heart, don’t turn on Him and forgive everyone up front.” She readily admits that some folks make insensitive statements. “Unless they walked it, they don’t understand.”

For Toal, a turning point for her grieving occurred when she was finally able to let go of the anger that she carried for a long time. Later, “An amazing thing happened—something that had never happened before. A song began to form in my heart,” she wrote. “God gave me a song from heaven…” Many more songs would come to her, “I would begin getting a tune and lyrics…and sing them into a recorder.” Not a trained musician, this musical journey began healing her.   

With the assistance of talented musician Drew Cline and Dove nominated recording artist, Kelly Connor Spallinger, Toal was able to professionally produce her collaborated renditions of these songs in her book. They are melodies filled with praise, rather than despair. “The Word [Bible] tells us the spirit of heaviness is depression,” writes Toal. She cites Isaiah 61:3 as her remedy, “To appoint unto them that mourn…the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

Today, you can often find Catherine Toal at Sidney’s Lion’s Rest Prayer Center. She has spoken at seminars and conferences, and tries to encourage others just as she once desperately needed encouragement during the dark days of losing her precious daughter.

In closing, my personal advice for comforting those grieving comes from Charles Swindoll’s book, Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, “A little girl lost a playmate in death and one day reported to her family that she had gone to comfort the sorrowing mother. ‘What did you say?’ asked her father. ‘Nothing,’ she replied. ‘I just climbed up on her lap and cried with her.’”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on Sept. 21, 2012.

Clemmie’s Colorblind Love

 

Philadelphia’s Valley Swim Club made national headlines again last month. The now bankrupt organization gained notoriety over a June 29, 2009, incident when Black and Hispanic children from a nearby day camp were subjected to racial remarks from club members. This happened, even though the Creative Steps camp had legally contracted for their children to swim there.

“73 members of the camp will share a settlement of $700,000 to $1.1 million, pending approval from a federal bankruptcy court judge,” according to an August 19, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer article titled, “Campers hope swim-club settlement will help fight racism.” During the racially turbulent sixties, as a Caucasian child growing up in west central Ohio, I didn’t know anything about racism. Therefore, it seemed natural when Clemmie came to take care of me and my siblings, while my mom was seriously ill.

 Clemmie was an extremely overweight Black woman who had a heart as huge as the girth that surrounded it. My financially struggling family couldn’t have paid her much of a salary, yet she lovingly looked after us. With Clemmie there, I instinctively knew that everything would be alright.

What I didn’t know then was that a Civil Rights movement was being birthed out of the frustration regarding injustices that African Americans like Clemmie could no longer bear. Not yet a first grader, I couldn’t imagine anyone hating such a wonderful woman, simply for the color of her skin. Eventually, my mother regained her health, so Clemmie no longer came to care for us. Yet her colorblind love, which was based on her faith in the Gospel’s message, “…Love one another, as I have loved you…” had made a lasting impression.

A few years later, on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave his memorable Civil Rights address calling for an end to the acceptance of segregation in educational institutions, retail establishments, restaurants, and hotels. He also demanded that African Americans be able to vote without the fear of harmful consequences.

Just hours after Kennedy’s eloquent speech, Medgar Evers, a Black Mississippi Civil Rights leader was brutally gunned down by a white Ku Klux Klan member. Evers, a World War II Army veteran had survived the Battle of Normandy, but that June night he lay bleeding to death in his own driveway. Fifty minutes later, he died at a local hospital.

Although I’ve never been grievously wounded like Evers, I do know what it feels like to lie on cold asphalt too hurt to move. As an eight-years-old girl walking to school, I tripped and fell so hard that it momentarily knocked the wind out of me and scattered my science project everywhere. I was blocks from my family’s house, but an older middle-aged woman heard my cries, and rushed down her porch steps to care for me.

I didn’t know my Good Samaritan who shared Clemmie’s mahogany complexion. My grandmotherly rescuer tended my cuts, and then she carefully helped me to put my science project back together. She smiled with maternal satisfaction when she finally sent me off to school. That beautiful smile is a treasured memory, as is the remembrance of Clemmie’s massive arms hugging me to her bountiful chest.

It’s important to remember the selfless acts of compassion of others. Because whatever our race, everyday society gives us the choice to tolerate racism based on the justification that someone of another ethnicity probably once mistreated us.

The late Jewish Holocaust survivor, Liesl Sondheimer, often shared a profound truth regarding racial forgiveness. Like Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the painful account of the extermination of more than six million European Jews during World War II. Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness outlined so poignantly in his book The Sunflower, my friend, Liesl, always maintained that, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.”

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “…if we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.” But Mrs. Sondheimer didn’t have that choice.

Neither did 12-year-old Mikkel McKinnie who made a decision not to let the prejudice of others destroy his dreams. One of the claimants named in the Valley Swim Club lawsuit, Mikkel has earmarked his possible settlement for higher education. He hopes to someday be a physician.

We all have a daily choice about permitting racism, which continues to be just as deadly to our society, as Hitler’s gas chambers once were. But sadly, not everyone has a Clemmie or a Liesl to teach them what compassion for their fellow man is all about. Still, if we follow Jesus’ command to, “Love one another,” it would be a much better world.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker.  Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in Ohio’s Sidney Daily News..

 

Remembering 9/11 Heroes and the Everyday Spiritual Battle

 

There was a TV show made, newspaper headlines and Internet postings about heroes among us. I’m not too intrigued by the superhero variety that generations of Americans like me have grown up with. You know, the notable list including: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four, among others.

What I find most inspirational are those everyday heroes who simply live their lives, trying to do the right thing at the right time. For example, most of us, can probably remember the infamous United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked by terrorists during the 9/11 attack. The passengers on the aircraft fought back against their captors, sacrificing their lives to avert a possible national crisis. This story was immortalized in the last words of passenger, Todd Beamer, who said, “Are you guys, ready? Let’s roll.”

For awhile, “Let’s roll,” became a sort of battle cry against evil in the emotional aftermath of this tragedy. In a spiritual sense, it’s important to live our Christian faith embracing this motto, too. In explanation, “Let’s roll,” can be interpreted, “Let’s fight back when circumstances deal us a crushing blow.” Folks refer to this concept as spiritual warfare and site the passage from Ephesians 6:10-18 as a basis for the ardent battle against wicked forces that try to overcome us.

“Finally my brethren, be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood. But against principalities, against powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

That’s what real spiritual heroes do. They remain “strong in the Lord,” despite negative circumstances. They clothe themselves with the spiritual armor that the rest of these verses refer to: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. Then they pray that God’s armor will protect them from all evil.

Yet the Bible also tells us in the Book of Philippians 4:4 that we should, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” regardless of our situation. In explanation, let’s look at another tale of heroism concerning the also famous airplane, U.S. Airways Flight 1549. The craft was manned by seasoned pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who is sometimes referred to as the, “Hero of the Hudson.” 

Sullenberger was able to crash land the craft in the Hudson Bay on Jan. 15, 2009, in such a skilled way that the lives of the more than 150 passengers aboard were spared. But I doubt the folks on the craft were “rejoicing” very much on their frightening descent into the water. After all, the miraculous landing was the first time in 45 years, when everyone aboard a plane that crash-landed in a body of water survived. How could the passengers thank God for their circumstances, when they couldn’t imagine that everything would turn out alright?

For most of us, uncertain circumstances hinder us from praising God, and thanking Him for being in control. Fear of what could happen often overtakes us. We grow desperate, and sometimes even take matters into our own hands. We forget to “wait upon” and to “be strong in the Lord,” while we are seeking His will and direction.

Everyday spiritual heroes are all around us. They are simply folks who obey and trust God no matter what. It’s up to us, if we want to be in God’s Heroes Hall of Fame. No matter what you are going through Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage and He will strengthen your heart…” While we wait, we can expectantly hope for the good God is about to do. Because in the end, whether on this Earth or in Heaven, God’s children always win.  

Christina Ryan Claypool is an evangelistic speaker and freelance journalist. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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New Book: Women in High Def…by Diane Markins

 
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Make sure you read Diane’s story, “Falling Down Gorgeous.” That one is just too funny and insightful for those of us girls dealing with aging.