Remembering a Brave Prom King

Corsage and CrownMost people attend a prom or two, but I’ve attended lots of proms. Like most teenage girls, as a high school junior, I was excited about the prospect of my first prom. Truthfully, it wasn’t much fun, since the boy I had a crush on didn’t ask me.

My senior prom was monumentally worse. By then, I was a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital following an almost fatal suicide attempt. After spending a couple months in a private psychiatric ward, my insurance ran out. I was committed to the decaying institution that then housed thousands of mentally ill individuals. Before Mental Health reform, that horrible place was reminiscent of the one depicted in the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Battling depression and an eating disorder, I looked more like a 17-year-old Holocaust victim than a carefree teenager. The psychiatrist granted me a weekend pass hoping that attending prom would lift my spirits. My date was a classmate who suffered from epilepsy. He must have empathized with my situation, and proudly escorted me to the prom ignoring the stares from a few overly-curious students.

Fast forward three decades to May 2002, when my life looked nothing like that struggling teen. Faith, education, and the support of a few encouraging mentors had positively changed my circumstances. I was also engaged to a wonderful man who was a school administrator, whose job necessitated that we chaperone prom. Never having had an opportunity to go to prom together, Larry and I decided to don a tuxedo and gown and make it our night, too. Larry and me

Since then, my husband and I have attended quite a few proms. The impressive decorations, twinkling lights, and colorful dresses, still take my breath away. But the prom I remember most vividly is the one when a precious senior who was dying of bone cancer was elected prom king. It was the last year that my spouse served as a middle/high school principal at a rural school in northwestern Ohio.

We had all come to love this quiet dark-haired youth whose given name was Anthony-Dillon James. Better known as A.J., he had waged a long and valiant battle against Osteosarcoma. For nine months, he was spot-free, but then the disease turned deadly. Despite his illness, A.J. was compassionate and wise beyond his years.

Somehow in a tight-knit community where folks have known each other forever, tragedy is worse, because everyone is affected. Prom wouldn’t have been prom without A.J. being there, and he knew it. Even though, it had been months since the senior had been able to attend school, he mustered all his strength and accompanied by his dedicated fiancée`, he showed up looking handsome in a white tuxedo.

As the disc jockey played pulsating music, the students danced energetically, while silently grieving the inevitable loss of the fun-loving youth who had always been part of them. When his classmates voted for their prom king, I shouldn’t have been surprised  when A.J.’s name was announced.

There was a moment when the reality of the high school student’s dismal prognosis hit me full force. It happened when a pretty senior asked if she could take a picture with him, and they  posed humorously cheek to cheek with toothy grins. What A.J. didn’t see, was that when the blonde turned away, her expression crumbled into a painful grimace. She had taken the photo as a memory of the boy she had probably known since kindergarten, realizing he would soon be gone. Like a trained actress, before she turned to face A.J. again, the golden-haired girl mustered her courage and smiled brightly. Her affection for her terminally-ill classmate wasn’t romantic love driven by adolescent hormones. Rather it was the kind of caring that country kids take for granted growing up in a close circle of friendship.

When my husband and I visited him for the last time, A.J. sensed that my heart was breaking. He smiled his dazzling smile, and said, “I’ll be okay.” Then the 18-year-old lifted his T-shirt sleeve and displayed a large tattoo of a compassionate Jesus. A visual reminder of the Bible’s promise, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

That July, the bravest prom king I’ve ever known took his last Earthly breath. Still, he lives on in the hearts of those he inspired, forever wearing a white tuxedo and a jeweled crown.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an AP & Amy award-winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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Defending the local newspaper

Newspapers have changed significantly in my lifetime. If you’re a millennial or younger, you might not realize what an integral part of daily existence the newspaper once was, and why it continues to be important, especially in the local community. To clarify, I’m not on staff at any newspaper, nor do my meager wages as a freelance columnist cause me to write about this topic. Instead because of my training as a journalist, I feel compelled to stand up for the medium that has been such a vital part of American life, and is categorized by so many as obsolete. Or maybe it’s due to the fact that I recently watched the movie, “The Post” which is a profound reminder of the crucial role newspapers played in shaping history.

“The Post [is] a thrilling drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents,” reports www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_post/. Based on a 1971 true story, most movie viewers will be impressed by the courage of these long-ago journalists and of their pioneering female publisher who risked both their reputations and monetary success to inform the public.

My own career in journalism began at the Wapakoneta Daily News as a reporter/associate editor before I had even finished college. Then as a senior at Bluffton University (then college) I was thrilled to land an internship at The Lima News during the 1981-82 academic year. Yet an intern’s position is pretty low down on the food chain in a news organization.

Mike Lackey

That’s why I was surprised to be invited to a summer 2017 reunion for Lima News staff from the early 1980s. Even though I had spent the academic year writing stories under the direction of then city editor Mike Lackey, I was a little overwhelmed by the invitation. Back then, I had little contact with the newsroom staffers, and some had gone on to achieve rather impressive things. In the end, I decided to attend more out of curiosity and respect than any sense of belonging.

That July afternoon in Lima’s Faurot Park, I have to admit I felt that same awe that I did over 35 years ago as a cub reporter. There were journalists who were or had been on staff at The (Toledo) Blade, Dayton Daily News, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, while others had migrated to a career providing more security becoming educators, a business owner, and even a lawyer. There was also a wheelchair, a leg brace, a walker, and lots of gray hair in attendance that summer day, because these men and women of the press had grown older.

Troy Daily News

Those who stayed in the rapidly changing industry, whether on staff at a metro or small-town newspaper, the reporters, photographers, sportswriters, and editors, etc., all had one thing in common. They had spent their entire professional careers disseminating breaking news and telling the stories of everyday people who are at the heart of every community, while striving to be accurate, unbiased tellers of truth.

But back to the folks who question the newspaper’s relevance in a world where national media outlets stream live reports on our electronic devices in real time. They are overlooking the key point that whether you follow liberal or conservative media outlets, the “local” newspaper remains a watchdog for “local” government and educational agencies. It is also the primary source of a community’s noteworthy information.

The newspaper’s in flux. With increased workloads and decreased staff, still each day the newspaper arrives in electronic and printed form, telling the stories of a “local” teen who gets a new heart, of a “local” business expansion or a school board meeting, and even the sad news of the passing of “local” citizens. The word “local” is the operative adjective here.

In the end, the newspaper has had to change, and will continue to, probably more rapidly than any other media form. Adjustments like: having a digital focus, social media presence, fewer printed pages, being video savvy, while endeavoring to remain profitable. Despite the challenges, starry-eyed young journalists continue to join the ranks with veteran staffers. So, to all my noble comrades in ink, I salute you for keeping your communities informed.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. She is a contributing columnist for Troy Daily News, Piqua Daily Call, and Sidney Daily News. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remembering a forever young barista

A couple of decades ago, if anyone would have said that people would routinely cough up three or four dollars for a specialty cup of coffee, most folks wouldn’t have believed it. Yet today, it’s commonplace for countless individuals to hand over about that much for their favorite latte, steaming cappuccino, or creamy smoothie.

According to www.foxnews.com, a report from Acorns Money Matters records that “the average American spends approximately $1,100 a year– or $3 each day– on coffee.” But it’s not solely about the beverage, it’s about everything that goes along with it.

Best-selling author, Dr. Leonard Sweet, believes that atmosphere has a lot to do with profitability. In his book, The Gospel According to Starbucks, Sweet writes, “Starbucks built an assumption-shattering business by selling an irresistible experience along with every cup of coffee.” “In 2017, there were 13,930 Starbucks stores in the U.S.,” reports www.statista.com. “The total number of Starbucks stores worldwide has almost doubled in the decade between 2007 and 2017.”

According to www.amazon.com, “Leonard Sweet shows you how the passion that Starbucks® has for creating an irresistible experience can connect you with God’s stirring introduction to the experience of faith in The Gospel According to Starbucks.” As for the coffee shop itself, Sweet attributes the décor, “appealing music,” and a “melody of complex coffee smells” as contributing to the Starbucks “sensory feast.” If we think deeply, that’s part of the pleasure that we find in most coffee shops whether an independent or chain. We aren’t merely buying a $2.00 cup of java or a more expensive specialty drink, but there’s something else we’re also purchasing. Dr. Sweet explains, “…coffee is a hospitality drink, a sign of welcome and openness to sharing.” It can be invigorating to sit in a coffee shop with a friend and connect in meaningful conversation. Of course, often we’re in a real rush and want our coffee in a hurry.

On other occasions, we visit a coffeehouse, because we not only want something to drink, but the sensation that we are of some significance in this normally impersonal world. A great barista can make a customer feel noticed and appreciated, even though technically their job is simply to politely prepare a tasty beverage.

And that’s how I met Kaitlin. Some years back, I decided to grab a coffee after my husband and I transplanted to a new area. I had been grocery shopping, and was feeling a little lonely and displaced in the way moving has of doing. I was pleasantly taken off-guard by the brunette barista’s thoughtfulness when I initially visited the grocery’s Starbucks kiosk.

While still efficiently getting her work done, the young employee acted like she had all the time in the world for me. That I was the most important customer of her day, even though I was an older lady who had trouble deciding what I wanted. This trait can be annoying to most milennials, but Kaitlin didn’t seem to mind. Maybe because I never had a daughter, I felt privileged that she smiled and seemed genuinely happy to see me whenever I showed up at her counter.

Somehow, the dedicated barista made me feel connected to my then new community. Kaitlin and I would chat a few minutes, while she prepared my drink, if she wasn’t busy. I never knew her last name, or much about her personal life except about her schooling, but I was thankful for our friendly connection during my time of transition. It was a gift, and I’m sure she made countless other customers feel that they were special, too. Then I moved again, and lost track of her.

But two years ago in December, I saw Kaitlin’s winning smile again. Tragically, this time it was in an obituary photo. I learned her last name, and that this vibrant young lady with so much potential, didn’t have all the time in the world. At only 24, she had lost a battle to cancer. I was deeply saddened by the monumental loss of such a gentle soul for all her loved ones. For me, there had been no chance to say, “Good-bye,” or to express my appreciation.

So, Kaitlin Osborne, this long overdue column is for you. It’s also for every barista who tries each day to do more than their job by genuinely caring about their customers, just like you did. Forever young barista, your life truly made a difference, and your kindness will always be remembered. Thanks for taking time to brighten the world, if only for a short while!

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her first novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife, will be released this spring. 

 

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The Japanese Ladies’ Lesson

When I look out of my kitchen window I can see the back of Miho’s house. For a long time after she was gone, when evening’s darkness would settle over the neighborhood and the timed lights would turn on in the empty home, I would imagine she was still inside clearing the supper dishes. I did the same thing for weeks when the school bus would come in the morning to pick up the children who live nearby. As was my daily habit, I would gaze out the same window absentmindedly searching for Tetsu and Haru’s faces among the little ones. Then with sadness, I would remember that they had returned to their native country.

The then 10-year-old twins had grown rapidly through the years as our neighbors. But their father’s U.S. work assignment was finished, and it was time for the family to go back to the country where the boys had been born, where their extended family would surely be anxiously awaiting their arrival, and where their years in America would become a memory of a season past.

Their home in Japan, a nation over 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, greatly contrasted the lifestyle they had experienced in Ohio. I would learn much from Miho during the time we were able to spend together, despite our busy schedules. Language was a barrier in the beginning, but that barrier was bridged by the kindred spirit that we shared. Miho was not my first Japanese friend though. It was Kyoko, whom I originally met in an exercise class at the YMCA, who paved the way for me to understand how courageous the Japanese families who live among us, up and down I-75 are. The women are especially brave, because while their men find identity and professional camaraderie in their workplace, the ladies must find their own purpose in a country that is so foreign to their own.

Their children also have to learn to assimilate into a school setting with a language and customs dissimilar to what they’ve known. Yet it is often said that children are more adaptable than adults when it comes to change. Still, that’s not always the case, as I’ve heard stories about little ones crying themselves to sleep at night, overwhelmed by change.

As for the sense of loss and displacement that children and adults can both experience when they are thrust into a different environment, we commonly refer to this condition as homesickness. Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, who is a University of Alabama associate professor sees this phenomenon in college freshmen. According to a post on www.hercampus.com, “Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s important to recognize that homesickness is a very normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment…people misinterpret what exactly it means to be homesick. It’s not about missing home – [your] house, [your] bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable, what we’re used to, and not quite being comfortable with our new way of life.”

Yet, Kyoko and Miho shared a common trait that enabled them to find friends, and rewarding outlets and activities, while in the United States. They both sought diligently to master the English language, even though this can be a daunting challenge. By personality, they were also extremely friendly, willing to try new challenges and social situations, and accepting of others. I miss both of these dear ladies, but they left me with an important lesson about being aware of the transplanted individuals in our communities, not only the Japanese, but others who might be struggling with feelings of isolation.

Unfortunately, in recent history, due to terrorism, senseless mass shootings in general, and the Opioid crisis, we have become suspicious of anyone we don’t know. Sadly, now this distrust is even within our churches. There is legitimate cause for this fear, and we need to use wisdom and keep ourselves and our children as safe as possible.

But at the end of the day, we can’t let fear dictate our daily interactions with those who live, work, or worship among us. We need to reach out with hospitality and acceptance, and fight fear with faith. After all, this is America, “the home of the free and the land of the brave.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Ohio APME and Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released in 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

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The Grandness of Grandparenting

The other day I saw a newer SUV with the bumper sticker, “Dog Grandma.” I was surprised that someone would announce their identity as the proud grandparent of a canine to the world. Yet most people are passionate about something and when it comes to grandchildren, even four-legged ones, this is a frequently discussed topic among boomers [born between 1946-1964] and beyond. Generations X [born 1965-1976] also comprise a significant segment of those who have raised children and are now becoming proud grandparents. For proof of bragging rights, take a few minutes and randomly scroll through your social media accounts to see the countless posts and photos about grandkids.

For instance, as soon as I opened Facebook the other day, the first post I saw was one of those too-cute-not-to-read stories and it was written by my Facebook friend, Terry Pontius. Terry is a retired Ohio United Methodist pastor, who titled his post, “The joy of being a Grandpa.” Here’s the story: “Today our 5th Grader Grandsons, Jack and Luke, invited Grandpa and Grandma to their school lunch. I crammed my knees under the kid-high table and wedged onto the small, round seat. Halfway through lunch I commented to Luke, “What if I get stuck here? I’ll have to eat cafeteria food the rest of my life!”

Luke smiled and replied, “They have really good pizza on Fridays!”

Terry’s experience gave me a good chuckle, because as the late TV host, Art Linkletter, used to say, “Kids do say the darndest things.” The truth is even though I am definitely in the grandparent age demographic, I don’t have any stories of my own to tell or photos to post, because I’m not a grandmother. When I was a young mother, I assumed that someday I would be a grandma, but life doesn’t always turn out like we assume.  Although most relatives and friends my age, former school classmates, and older work acquaintances have entered this second stage of enjoying children that are the offspring of their own children. Their faces almost beam in an otherworldly sort of way when they affectionately share tales of their grandkids.

Also, if  you ask someone you meet if they have any grandchildren, be prepared for them to just happen to have a few, which will turn into a couple of dozen photos on their cellphone. The love a grandparent displays for the young ones who are of their bloodline can be almost comical. Have you ever seen a big burly-looking older man gently holding the tiny hand of his grandchild? After all, a grandkid can reduce the gruffest male to a doting puddle of emotions.

Since I’m not a grandparent, there were a few years when I was envious of others who were. I had to emotionally work my way through that, because as human beings we have to adjust to whatever life brings. Of course, I still could be some day, but truthfully I’ve come to realize there are a variety of distressing situations that grandparents can encounter.

First, some individuals, through no fault of their own, don’t have the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren. Whether due to a broken family tie, geographical distance, or another unfortunate scenario, a grandparent either has no relationship or a very limited one. I have listened to the lament and grief not seeing grandchildren can cause. There are even court proceedings revolving around grandparents’ rights.

Secondly, there are self-sacrificing folks who have custody of their grandchildren, and their ranks are growing due to our country’s opioid crisis. “Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures,” reports the PBS News hour in a Feb. 16, 2016 article by Alejandra Cancino. (AP) I admire these noble people who have given up their expectations for a peaceful empty nest or quiet retirement, and have opened their hearts and homes to their displaced grandchildren. They are everywhere, and they are a reminder of what the word “family” truly means.

When it comes to grandparenting, it’s been enough for me to live vicariously through other folks’ grandchildren, especially on social media. I enjoy seeing your grandkids eat their first piece of birthday cake, play with their dolls or trucks, or to read the funny stories they come up. So grandparents, please keep posting!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. She is a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor who has been featured on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released in the near future. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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Purses, junk drawers, and too much stuff

Most Americans own a lot more material possessions than they need. According to professional organizer, Regina Lark, “The average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards.” (Los Angeles Times)  Although, sometimes I feel like all this stuff is in my purse.

My personal obsession with minimalizing began when my husband and I downsized about four years ago. When you have a designated amount of space, you have to learn how to use that space wisely. Besides, watching the TV show, “Hoarders,” is a pretty frightening reality check about what can happen if one accumulates massive amounts of unnecessary items.

Taking walks in my neighborhood is also beneficial, because there are countless homes I pass with open garages overflowing with who-knows-what. Apparently, “25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle.” (U.S. Department of Energy) I thought I was keeping my own admiration for knick-knacks in check, until a first-time visit from a family member recently. I had scrubbed and dusted for days, and was proud of my sparkling clean home when the first thing out of my relative’s mouth was, “There are a lot of tchotchkes in here.” Believe me, the statement wasn’t meant to be rude, it was merely an observation. I didn’t know what a “tchotchke” was, but I could tell it wasn’t good.

“What’s a tchotchke,” I asked nervously.

The answer, “knick-knacks,” confirmed my worst fear. I am still a collector of too much stuff. There was no truer validation of this than the junk drawer in my kitchen. When it was opened, often it had to be forced shut. In my defense, I’m pleased to report that many individuals have an unorganized junk drawer in their home. I ascertained this interesting fact through another one of my unscientific Facebook surveys. Dozens of respondents shared about their junk drawers, while some did qualify that they organized their junk drawers. Others commenting protested that a junk drawer would not be a junk drawer, if it was organized. Still, I had to do something about mine, because whenever I searched for a bread tie, magic marker, roll of tape, etc., it was an indictment of my disorganized housekeeping. Like some other folks in the informal survey, I bought various-sized plastic trays to place inside the drawer and filled each tray with specific-like items. I learned this tip from professional organizer, Olive Wagar. Now, the drawer is perfectly arranged, but I’m wondering how long this will last.

That said, I also wonder if there is any hope for my purse, because I don’t think dollar store trays will help. Unfortunately, I’m one of those women who keeps you waiting in the checkout line, while I dig at the bottom of my purse for loose change. After all, everything is in there somewhere.  The purse situation called for another survey, so I asked my Facebook friends if their purses are neatly arranged or chaotic like mine, even though I diligently try to keep it tidy. One honest lady used the words, “hot mess” to describe the inside of her purse, while another used the term, “black whole.” Yet, the majority of the 71 comments either expressed their opinion that they had very organized handbags, or “overall” their purses had everything in its perfect place.

This survey might have been tragically flawed. Most women who have untidy purses are probably not too willing to share that when they stick their hand inside of it, they are unsure what will come out. A junk drawer is one thing, but a purse negatively reflects its owner, and in our brand-conscious society maybe the outside label, even more than the disorganized inside. For instance, the other day I was in a retail store buying a pair of “Grandma” slippers. An attractive young woman with an impressive designer shoulder bag stood in line behind me. I clutched my worn pleather (fake leather) bag close to my body, trying not to envy or feel diminished by this youthful style setter.

Therein lies the problem with the purse. Sometimes, women judge other women or even themselves by their handbag. This war of the purses has to stop. And it will in my little world, as soon as I get my hands on a designer handbag exactly like trendy fashionista. Just kidding, it’s me and my messy, faithful, pleather purse to the end.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio AP award-winning  freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She is also a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, who has been featured on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. 

 

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Not a Wannabe Advice Columnist

How many of you are frustrated advice columnists? When reading the newspaper would your eyes zoom in on the headline, “On the Hook for Someone Else’s Wedding” by Annie Lane? In case you aren’t up-to-date, Annie Lane is today’s version of Ann Landers. For decades, folks relied on the advice of Ann Landers, whose real name was Esther (Eppie) Lederer. Her pen name became a household staple after Lederer began authoring the already established Ann Landers’ column for The Chicago Sun-Times in 1955. In 1987, she joined the Chicago Tribune staff.

When 83-year-old Landers passed away in 2002, she was still writing her monumentally successful column. When she died, Margalit Fox of The New York Times wrote, “She advised millions of readers on problems ranging from acne to alcoholism to AIDS, often in spirited competition with her identical twin sister, who also wrote the advice column Dear Abby.”

Frequently relying on the advice of experts, Landers answered the never-ending questions with a sense of confidence. From the time I was teenager, I mentally chimed in on finding solutions to the stickiest of human dilemmas. Usually, I agreed with the famous columnist. When I disagreed, I would consider writing a rebuttal, but then forget when her next column presented a new challenge.

Ann Landers courtesy of Wikipedia

“At the time of Mrs. Lederer’s death, her column was carried in more than 1,200 newspapers around the world, with a readership of 90 million, according to Creators Syndicate, her distributor,” Fox’s article reported. The copyright to the Ann Landers name belonged to Lederer who said, “When I go, the column goes with me.” Since her death, there have been other advice columnists of lesser notoriety, and amateurs like me who continue to critique whoever is writing the advice column. For instance, Annie’s Mailbox written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar filled the gap until June 2016.

Then Annie Lane followed, and she seems like a good fit. Maybe it’s because the young wife and mom’s name is Annie. Or maybe, it’s because her photo looks like the girl-next-door. More likely, it’s due to her compassionate beyond-her-years advice. There are occasional days when I disagree. For example, in an August 2017 Dear Annie column, “Feeling sad about growing older,” I think Annie Lane tried her best to offer a couple helpful suggestions. Yet it seems rather impossible to empathize with someone whose sand in the hourglass is running out, when your sand is in good supply. Even the most insightful individuals probably can’t truly understand what it’s like to be experiencing so many lasts in life, when their world is all about firsts. Besides, when you are 31 or 41, you don’t really believe you will ever be 81, the age of the letter writer.

“How do I make myself accept the fact that I am old?” she asked. The poor woman didn’t want to be old and to have her body betray her, as only an aging body can do. She felt trapped by all the things she and her husband could no longer do, abandoned by others, and desperately wanted to be part of life, even though her physical being and stamina were diminished.

Annie advised Louise* to, “Let your children or younger family members know that you’re struggling and what you need from them – support, acknowledgment, more quality time together or anything else.” I hope this works, but what if Louise’s children interpret this plea as complaining or whining? This could annoy these young relatives and cause them to stay away even more? My heart broke for this lonely lady who seemed genuinely distraught. Being a lot older than Annie Lane, and with my cup definitely being less than half-full, I readily identified with a few of the writer’s aging issues. On the other hand, not being 81, I didn’t have any profound wisdom. Sadly, no one has discovered the fountain of youth, and growing older is a huge challenge for most people.

Annie also suggested to, “Commiserate with friends your age…” Maybe that will be of comfort. All I know is on that particular day, I was grateful not to be the newspaper’s advice columnist. Dishing out advice comes with the weighty responsibility that if your guidance is wrong, you could negatively impact someone’s life. So for now, I will leave it to the experts like Annie Lane. She seems to be doing an overall great job of filling the really big shoes left behind by iconic predecessor, Ann Landers.

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and Inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries, Enjoying Everyday Life and is also a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. 

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My How Times Have Changed

Anyone out there remember wrapping garbage in newspapers and stuffing it in a brown paper grocery sack?  Then you would fill an old 55 gallon drum with the refuse and try to burn this disgusting stuff. Usually liquid seeping from watermelon rinds or some other problematic fluid would cause the paper sack to bust while you were carrying it to the metal drum. There were no trash bags back then, and by the way, this was before disposable diapers, too. I thought about these minor inventions, but they don’t seem very minor when you are a young mother carrying around a bag filled with dirty cloth diapers. That was a long, long time ago, and probably only the most eco-friendly of folks would really want those nasty cloth diapers back.

Not long ago, a local businessman remembered that growing up his family had a phone that they shared with others. It was called a party line, and we had one, too. There was nothing festive or celebratory about wanting to make a call and having to wait until the other individuals who shared it were done speaking. Young cellphone users have no idea what it was like trying to place a long-distance call or having to be worried about how many minutes you were racking up, either.

About a decade ago, I first realized how dramatically the world had changed. No, it wasn’t because of the computer, microwave, GPS system, or even Facebook. It was even before the iPhone or Uber drivers were commonplace.

It happened when a friend told me about an incident with her young daughter who panicked when she accidentally forgot to bring her Bath & Body body wash along for a vacation. The tween frantically asked her mom what she should do, because they were already at the hotel when she noticed her oversight.

“Use the hotel soap,” her mother suggested. This bewildered pre-teen couldn’t fathom using bar soap, because all she had ever known was scented body wash.

About that same time, I asked a bright teenage girl what the ultimate goal of her career would be. Without hesitation, she answered, “I would like to be the president of the United States someday.” In my youth, only boys had this dream. Then in our country’s last election, there was a female candidate running for office. It’s not unrealistic to believe that one day in the not too distant future our country could have a lady president.

Maybe because I was having another birthday, I couldn’t stop contemplating all of the vast changes that had occurred in my lifetime. I wondered how other people felt about this subject. So, I conducted some scientific research by asking my Facebook friends, “What has changed drastically in your lifetime?”

Of course, there were quite a few comments about “communication.” About how the Internet, social media, and today’s phones have created this. There were also several remarks about TV. A Longtime friend, Perry Luhn wrote, “I never saw my first color television until I was 10. We watched The Wonderful World of Disney at a friend’s house, I was in awe. We never got a color set until I was a junior or senior…Now I think the shows in B&W are cool.”

This specific insight sparked my own memory about having only couple of channels to choose from in the old days. TV was something you didn’t take for granted though. What I remember most vividly is how we used to fix our television. When it would get snowy one of us kids would reposition the rabbit ears or give the set a good whack on the side. Our parents had taught us this art of TV repair, which amazingly often worked.

When it comes to communication, not everyone thought the changes were for the better. There were words like “respect, manners, and civility” that some of my Facebook friends find lacking in our society today. Of course, there are times I have to agree.

But just when you are ready to proclaim the world unsalvageable; you encounter folks like Claire and her family. She’s a neighboring teen who I met last night while walking. When I commented to her mother on the lovely flowers in their yard, Claire made me a beautiful bouquet to take home. The colorful blossoms are a little reminder that kindness does remain in the midst of our impersonal, rushed, and ever-changing existence.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. 

 

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Losing a loved one to suicide or sudden death

This is a guest post by Emily Boller who lost her 21-year-old son to suicide. She shares this advice for those who want to help when a family experiences the devastation of suicide. Although one reader suggests that it applies to helping loved ones going through any kind of “tragic death.”  

When Someone Dies by Suicide,  What Does One Immediately Do or Say?

First of all, the family is in intense shock. They may not totally understand or grasp the news of what just happened. Initially, in those first few hours, they are in this perpetual state of shock–just surviving–and scrambling to get the news delivered to other family members.Their brains are on overload.

At this point they can’t process a lot of phone calls or texts, except a few from very close friends and family members. If you know details about the death, don’t post anything on Facebook or send emails out to contact lists until the family is talking openly and publicly about it. Give the family time and space to process what just happened.Sit tight for a day or two. Do nothing but pray at this point. Close friends and clergy should come by the house during this time, of course, because their comforting presence is invaluable. (A nearby neighbor brought over warm soup and fresh fruit that first day. Another close friend brought a large salad–and another gave us a wad of cash.)

After a day or two, food in disposable containers, and practical items such as paper plates, toilet paper, tissues, and bottles of water are welcome and appreciated. The family is consumed with funeral and burial decisions, and the last thing on their mind is life’s basic necessities. If you are bringing food, consider foods that promote healing instead of foods that induce additional stress to their already fragile state of being. Examples would be vegetable or fruit platters, bean dips, and hearty vegetable and bean soups.

Monetary gifts, gift cards, and cards of sympathy are also greatly appreciated. (They are also suddenly inundated with an avalanche of unplanned expenses; everything from funeral and burial expenses to crisis-intervention counseling. And especially, if a child was involved, I can’t think of any parents who financially budget for the death of a child!)

Practical helps such as mowing the lawn or taking out the trash are also appreciated. The family is mentally and emotionally overwhelmed and distraught. They may not have the mental capacity to even know what needs to be done. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and just do practical tasks for them–whether they are a close friend or not.

Try not to say, “Call me if you need anything.” Although the kind intention is much appreciated, they don’t have the mental fortitude yet to take the initiative to reach out.

In that first week/month, the family’s routine is completely out-of-sync. Sleep habits are severely disrupted. Everything is upside down in their world. They may not even be able to comprehend or remember anything that is spoken to them. Wounds are profound. Emotions are raw.

Eventually, after the funeral is over and life is a bit quieter for them, visit in-person–but call first. If they don’t answer the phone, take no offense. They may just need space at that moment . . . or they may be embarrassed how messy their house has become in the aftermath of the tragedy. They may want company on-down-the-road. Try again a week or two later. Extend a listening ear without asking a lot of questions. Silence is okay. Just sit with them in their grief. Your presence is invaluable.

And whatever you do, please don’t tell them your grief story. They may act interested, but on the inside they may be falling apart and can’t handle it.

Younger children appreciate getting breaks away from the chaos and sorrow at home. Offer to involve them in your family’s happenings for a welcome distraction–but not for long periods of time–home is still a place of comfort for them. Teens oftentimes are uncomfortable with receiving hugs from adults they don’t know; be sensitive.

Most of all, know that they may suffer for weeks, months, and for many, possibly years to come. Suicide is very complicated to process. It’s not normal grief. Don’t expect a normal grieving pattern.

Most of all, never stop reaching out to the family, even if it feels awkward — and never stop praying for them — even months after the funeral. (The funeral was just the beginning of the long, healing journey ahead.)

Dayspring Greeting Cards

And if you don’t know what to do or say, send a thoughtful card or brief note that expresses you are thinking of and praying for them.

Always remember, love never fails.

Love is what heals a broken heart.

If you have experienced a sudden death, please feel free to share in the comments what helped you the most through those first days and weeks. It is beneficial information for those who don’t know what to do or say–but want to be supportive. (You can do this by going to Emily Boller’s blog here http://emilyboller.com/?p=1840

If a child has died, “The Compassionate Friends” is a wonderful support group for grieving parents. Almost every city in the US has a local chapter.

Emily Boller is a well-known Indiana artist and public speaker whose life was transformed when she lost more than 100 pounds. Please visit her blog at http://emilyboller.com/ to learn more about this inspiring woman. Emily requests that readers feel free to share this post on Facebook or with anyone who might benefit from the message. 

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On another note, if you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, please remember the devastation for those who love you is incomprehensible, instead please speak your a clergy or counselor or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at at 1-800-273-TALK or visit their website at www.suicidepreventiolifeline.org

 

Thank you, Emily, for your bravery and compassion in being willing to share the wisdom you learned from your own heartbreak to comfort others. It is powerful advice! Emily and I recently reconnected at the 2017 Taylor University’s Professional Writing Conference.  

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