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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An Attitude of Gratitude

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote these words in his famous book, “Letters and Papers from Prison.” It’s inspiring that that the German theologian, who was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for his resistance to the Hitler regime, was writing about feeling grateful shortly before his untimely death at the tender age of 39. Maybe your circumstances have also been difficult lately, which unlike Bonhoeffer, can make it very challenging for most of us to have an attitude of gratitude. Whether it’s a chronic health crisis, a broken relationship, the death of a loved one, a prodigal child, a financial or employment dilemma, life’s big and little problems can really get you down.

Down was where John Kralik was when he began to write his 2010 memoir, “365 Thank Yous.” The then 53-year-old attorney was financially struggling, going through a second divorce, forty pounds overweight, and rapidly losing hope that he would ever achieve his career goal of being a judge. I first heard about Kralik’s insightful work through a woman I interviewed who had once lost an adult child to cancer. It just felt like something I needed to read. On the back cover it says, “An inspiring, true story about how a simple old-fashioned act – writing thank you notes – led a hopeless, angry, middle-aged man out of despair and into a wonderful life.” Kralik’s book is more practical than spiritual, yet gratitude has been said to be one of the greatest of virtues. The lawyer certainly convinces his reader that gratitude is indeed a powerful tool, since eventually his life is restored and he even fulfills his dream of becoming a Los Angeles court judge. In 2013, the New York Times best-seller was rereleased under the title, “A Simple Act of Gratitude.” The message of “365 Thank Yous” stays with me, because it is not so much about writing thank you notes, as it is about becoming grateful. Truthfully, I know a lot about thank you notes being raised in a generation where the correct response to a gift was a mandatory card of appreciation. But, I haven’t always known a lot about gratitude.

Rather, I lived much of my life with the cup half-empty mentality, like many Americans concentrating on what I didn’t have.  Not so much desiring material things, rather missing the everyday blessings that are easy to take for granted. Then there are folks who seem to be naturally thankful for everything. “Gratitude is inclusive,” writes the late author Brennan Manning. For example, in his book, “Ruthless Trust” Manning shares about an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where a man named Tony once said, “If I had to choose among all the diseases that afflict human beings, I would choose mine [alcoholism], because I can do something about it.”

Being grateful for being an alcoholic is one thing, but what about finding gratitude in the midst of heartbreaking loss? Loss like writer Ann Voskamp experienced when as a little girl, she witnessed her 18-month-old baby sister being run over by a delivery truck. As author of the book, “One Thousand Gifts,” Voskamp admits that she spent many years battling depression and anxiety. The wife of a farmer and mother of six finally finds gratitude by conscientiously observing 1,000 simple gifts in her daily life and poetically writing each one down. “Child sobs ebbing, boys humming hymns, laundry flapping, book pages turning, toothless smiles, forgiveness of a sister, and her list goes on and on.

That an alcoholic man and a grieving woman – both find thankfulness – is sobering. I know it’s a terrible pun, but I think Tony would like it. After all, according to Manning at the A.A. meetings that he attended, Tony “introduced himself as a ‘grateful recovering alcoholic.’”

No matter what is going on in our own lives there is still much to be thankful for. Gratitude is a daily decision. Not only an attitude, but a way of life. May we find beauty in the ordinary. Whether it’s a colorful blossom, the green leaves on once barren trees, or the laughter of children playing outside again, may our hearts be filled with thankfulness for the blessings that each new day brings.

For those whose lives are truly in a time of agonizing mourning and unbearable grief, let’s pray that we can somehow bring hope to them. All the while, being grateful that God can use one broken human being like ourselves to comfort another in a season of brokenness that is even greater than our own.

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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A final good-bye and last words

Most often when people die suddenly, it comes as a terrible shock to those left behind. There is no warning or opportunity to say “good-bye.” Yet occasionally, there seems to be a supernatural sense that one will soon be departing this world. For instance, on July 7, 2016, Sergeant Mike Smith was one of the five Dallas police officers who died in a brutal massacre. Fifty-five-year-old Smith had been part of the Dallas Police department for 28 years. Following the policeman’s death, his daughter Caroline made news nationwide when the nine-year-old courageously shared his special good-bye to her before leaving for work that day. “What if this is the last time you ever kiss me or hug me?” Sgt. Smith had asked Caroline.

“That was probably the first time he ever said that,” the grief-stricken child told TV reporter, Omar Villafranca. Fighting back tears, she added that her father’s good-bye kiss was unusual, too. “It just felt different to me. I felt something bad was going to happen.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. possibly had an awareness that his time on Earth might also be short. In the civil rights leader’s famous sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” that he delivered two months before his April 4, 1968, assassination, there was a prophetic foretelling.

“And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral,” said Dr. King Jr., and near the end of the message. “… And every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I would want said?’” Often, we only write about this dynamic leader during January when we celebrate the national holiday that honors his birthday or during February’s Black History month. For me, Dr. King Jr. is a role model all year long. This started, because of a long-ago conversation with a man incarcerated in an Ohio prison. “I don’t relate to those people you are using for examples of inspiring individuals who have bettered their lives,” said the young Black prisoner candidly.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Spending more than four years as a female prerelease speaker in the male prison system, I rarely had one-on-one conversations with inmates and never without staff present. That morning, this inmate could have corrected my oversight publicly during the question and answer session that followed my presentation to a large group at a medium security Ohio prison. But not wanting to embarrass me, he waited patiently until he could address me alone with only the social worker present. “Who would you relate to?” I asked, earnestly wanting to understand.

“People like me, who are Black, and maybe poor, or who have overcome problems more like mine,” he suggested. Instantly, I realized my illustrations of those who had overcome adversity to lead successful lives weren’t relatable. Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison might have had real obstacles, but they were white men in another era who had nothing to do with the challenges this inmate had experienced in society.

Living in a state institution as a teen myself, I could see how out of touch my examples were. I began studying the lives of a few African American men who had made incredible contributions to society in spite of daunting challenges. For instance, Ray Charles battled not only childhood poverty and blindness, but also decades of a heroin addiction. Still, the talented musician rose to fame, and finally beat heroin.

Then there was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., www.history.net reports that the Black leader suffered, “Personal abuse, arrest, and the bombing of his home…” Yet he never resorted to violence always offering a pathway of non-violent resistance with love as his primary weapon. I began incorporating testimonies of these courageous overcomers, and found that the wise inmate’s advice resulted in a greater response. Sometimes, I included a few lines from Dr. King Jr.’s prophetic “Drum Major” message of what he wanted at his funeral. He asked that his Nobel Peace Prize, his hundreds of awards, and schooling not be mentioned.

Instead, “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others…. did try to feed the hungry…to clothe those who were naked…to visit those who were in prison…[and] …that I tried to love and serve humanity….”
Tragically, only two months later, a recording of these very words was played at his funeral. Another tragedy is that as time passes, we are forgetting this slain leader’s poignant example. He never stopped trying, and neither should we.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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The Danger of Glamorizing Suicide

me-before-you-2Did you ever think of suicide as being romantic or glamorous? In September, as we observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month it’s important to remember that young adults with impressionable minds might be persuaded to. That’s why it’s crucial to talk about suicide, because “one conversation can change a life.” This statement is from www.nami.org, the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, which also reports that “suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.”

Yet Hollywood has sometimes glamorized suicide. A prime example is the recent movie, “Me Before You.” Billed as a drama/romance starring Emilia Clarke “Lou” and Sam Claflin,”Will” the film was released on DVD on August 30, 2016. It’s frightening to think of all the teenagers who will be viewing this movie and ingesting the deadly message that if you are disabled, it’s all right to put an end to your existence. (No apology for not offering a spoiler alert.) www.imbd.com describes the movie as, “A girl in a small town [who] forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.” www.amazon.com says, “Will’s cynical outlook starts to change when Louisa shows him that life is worth living…their lives and hearts change in ways neither one could have imagined.”

I sure couldn’t have imagined that “Will” would decide to end his life in a physician assisted suicide clinic with his adoring love interest “Lou” at his side. This scene’s gushing cinematic drama is better suited to a royal event than the intentional death of a vibrant young man. moneySupposedly, the happy ending is that “Will” leaves “Lou” all kinds of money, so she can have a wonderful life after he’s gone. This too is a fallacy, because those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide will tell you that no amount of money in the world is worth their loss.

Another example of suicide being idealized is that of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard who was suffering with terminal brain cancer. She took her life on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. This young woman’s tragic story went viral through a YouTube video when Brittany described her plan to end her life with lethal drugs administered through Oregon’s Death by Dignity Law. She even moved from California to Oregon to fulfill her final wish.

Some applauded Maynard as a courageous heroine for stepping into the national spotlight while working with the group Compassion and Choices to herald the cause of what proponents call the, “Right to die with dignity.” My heart breaks for Maynard’s family and for the pain and suffering she endured. Her gesture of ending her physical suffering from this incurable illness might appear rational and even altruistic. It seems she spared her family the horrible progression that losing someone to a terminal disease can entail.

Pill bottleLike many folks, I have held the hand of a loved one dying of cancer and witnessed this end of life suffering firsthand. I am thankful for any medication that will alleviate their pain, but not death, because those last days can be precious gifts where miracles of reconciliation and preparation abound for them.  An essential point of this debate concerns the legacy suicide leaves behind. Especially, for the young and impressionable who will face life crises which can seem hopeless. Suicide appears to be an option, a way out of these difficulties that this earthy existence is guaranteed to present. Besides, statistics indicate that if an individual within a family takes their life, the probability that someone else within that family unit will die by suicide increases. According to www.nami.org, “Family history of suicide” is an important risk factor regarding suicide or suicidal behavior among youth.

As someone who almost died from an overdose resulting from debilitating depression as a young woman, I do not view Brittany or “Will’s” tragic choice as either brave or romantic, but as deeply misguided. After all, millions of folks live with daunting challenges each day. One in five American adults annually battle a mental health issue, returning military personnel fight post-traumatic stress disorder, countless individuals suffer with incapacitating physical illnesses, aging limitations, disabilities, and the list goes on. It was once considered noble and courageous to allow the end of life to come in its natural timing, because each day of our existence is vitally meaningful. Many people of faith still believe that it is only in the Creator’s way and His time that we should breathe our final breath – that truly is dying with dignity.

Suicide Prevention LogoIf you are someone you love is suicidal, please rethink this tragic decision by getting professional help. Call the National Suicide Prevention hotline or a local mental health center in your community. The life you save may be your own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Healing Power of an Apology for a Wronged World War II Vet

Whenever Veteran’s Day draws near, I am reminded of the story of Samuel Snow who believed an apology was important enough to wait more than six decades to receive one. In July of 2008, a then 84-year-old Snow traveled across the nation to accept a formal apology and an honorable discharge from the United States Army. According to media reports just hours later, the World War II veteran from Leesburg, Florida, died in a Seattle hospital.

“My dad has been standing in formation all these years, waiting to have his name cleared. With the Army’s honorable discharge, he was at ease…and he went home,” said Ray Snow, son of the late soldier in a released statement after his father’s death.

On American Soil In 1944, Samuel Snow was one of twenty-eight black soldiers wrongly convicted of rioting charges resulting in the death of an Italian prisoner of war. In his book, On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II, author Jack Hamann pointed to “serious flaws” in the prosecution of the case. According to Seattle Times staff reporter, Sandi Doughton, “Hamann championed the cause of the black GIs. His investigation cast suspicion on a white military policeman, now dead, as the prime suspect in the murder of the Italian soldier.”

After Snow’s conviction, he spent 15 months in a military prison and received a dishonorable discharge, which greatly altered his life opportunities. Upon his release, the African American soldier returned to a then segregated Leesburg, and his “dishonorable discharge” became a sort of “death sentence” according to Ray Snow. The senior Snow could only find work as a janitor or handyman following the scandal, but he was a man of deep faith who refused to grow bitter. Although his son who became an elementary teacher in Leesburg said that it became his father’s “mission” to obtain official documentation regarding his innocence.

This tragic tale points to the significance of an apology. Sadly, the ability to admit wrong in life’s lesser matters than the grievous offense Snow suffered has been radically altered by our progressively lawsuit happy world. To explain, blame seems to be readily pronounced in our society, despite motivation or intent in many situations. That’s why fear can keep an individual or organization from assuming responsibility for a mistake or error, because it could result in life-altering financial or professional consequences. Still, a sincere request for forgiveness can be an influential tool in mending any rift. Besides validating the offended party, it can also set the perpetrator free of the guilt that wrongdoing intended or unintended can create. Yet when the words, “I’m sorry,” are said, it appears to matter a great deal how they are delivered.

That’s why the method we use to apologize can contribute to whether the apology will5 Languages of Apology be accepted according to the classic book, The Five Languages of Apology. Co-authored by Dr. Gary Chapman who also wrote the New York Times bestseller, The Five Love Languages, the book’s cover explains that, “Sometimes, saying, ‘I’m sorry’ just isn’t enough.” Chapman and co-author Dr. Jennifer Thomas believe that there are people who have been wronged who need to hear the offender not only confess regret, but also accept responsibility for their actions. Along with accountability, there is the act of “making restitution” by asking, “What can I do to make it right?” This might also be necessary, if it is the injured individual’s language of apology according Chapman and Thomas.

For Snow, a 2002 verbal apology by an Army major general just wasn’t enough. That’s why the elderly man traveled from his Florida home to Seattle with his son in July 2008 to attend the ceremony honoring him and the 27 other falsely accused GIs posthumously, because all but one other soldier had died. Snow refused to let questionable health prevent him from making the historic trip. Unfortunately, the aged veteran was hospitalized in Seattle and unable to attend. His son went instead. Returning to his dad’s hospital room, Ray presented his father with the framed honorable discharge from the ceremony. Reports say the falsely convicted man held the official plaque in his arms, clutched it to his heart, and smiled. With his dignity finally restored, he died just hours later. Like every dedicated soldier with his mission accomplished, I’m hopeful that Samuel angel grave marker'Snow is now resting in peace enjoying a hero’s reward. But I wish I could extend the same gratitude to him that every military man or woman deserves to hear, “Thank you for your service!”

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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Let’s Keep Talking about Heroin

heroin spoonWhen an individual becomes an addict, they aren’t who they once were. A formerly honest person will lie, cheat, or steal to get their next fix. As a society we must be aware of how desperate this chain of deception can be, and how we can become ensnared in its web, despite our good intentions. For example, recently I was in a local drugstore when a seemingly frantic male approached me holding his cell phone in his hand. He told me that he had just spoken with his grandmother and was terribly embarrassed to ask, but he needed an additional $10.00 to buy a prescription for a loved one. His request tugged at my heartstrings. The young man dressed in a plaid cowboy shirt could sense my ardent desire to help, but what he couldn’t sense is that my compassion was checked by a painful past experience.

Years ago, this same story had caused me to give another stranger $20 to buy medicine for a non-existent sick child. I was a single mom back then, and that $20 was a large portion of our meager grocery budget. I found out later through a reputable source that my hard-earned money was used to buy drugs. My intentions were right, because the Bible says, “…if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Still, I vowed to use greater wisdom. prescription pillsThat’s why I went to the pharmacy counter inquiring if there was a young man unable to pay for a prescription. I wanted to help anonymously, if the need was authentic. The drugstore clerk informed me that no one matching his description or situation had been there.

We have to use great caution continually, since headlines report fatal overdoses in area motel rooms, murders in nearby sleepy villages, and rampant crime everywhere. Most of it is heroin-related. Yet it’s easy to believe that heroin addiction will never affect someone you care about, until it does.

The trouble is that very few of us remain unscathed by this deadly epidemic. According to the most recent statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 5,927 deaths in 2012 compared to 8,260 in 2013. That’s an alarming 39% increase. Over a decade ago, I experienced the loss of a close acquaintance to heroin. Back then, little was known about this cunning culprit. I was confused that its victim, a middle-aged mom who had spent much of her life as a professional woman, had been trapped in heroin’s clutches. Her funeral left many folks searching for answers. It seemed shocking that she had pulled off a double life, but it was not a shock to those close to her. They had lived with the chaos, fear, and unpredictability that loving an addict creates. No one could have forecast this treacherous path strewn with tears and hopelessness. After all, no little girl or boy says, “When I grow up, I want to be a heroin addict.” It must be a parent’s worst nightmare, and it’s definitely an extended family member and friend’s frustrating role. Often, we don’t speak of heroin addiction in our inner circle, lest we shame those already heaped with guilt. We are further silenced by our inability to provide answers.

angel grave marker'That’s why I started reading everything I could about the subject. I even found myself studying the local obituaries of those whose deaths seem to be heroin-related. Of course, it can be difficult to tell. A few months ago, I didn’t have to wonder if the young man with an engaging smile died of an overdose. His obituary read, “… [He] was taken away from us far too soon after fighting a battle for his life against heroin addiction.” My heart broke for his family, but it also swelled with pride that they had the courage to confront heroin head on. Not to bury the tragic truth with their loved one, instead to say that he fought valiantly, but lost the battle.

What that family did was of groundbreaking importance. They called the enemy out, and we need to have that same courage. To keep talking about the existence of heroin in our communities, and to be honest that as a relative, neighbor, churchgoer, or friend, our lives have probably already been personally impacted in some way. The first step in finding a solution is to accept that the problem is closer to home than we care to admit.

Christina at The CarolineChristina Ryan Claypool is an Ohio AP and national Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her though her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV programs.

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Thankful for the Gift of More Time

Martha Farmer 034 Martha Farmer 037 “It wasn’t your time,” the body shop technician said matter-of-factly surveying my husband’s wrecked car. As Nate, whose name was embroidered on his work shirt, began wrapping the totaled vehicle with clear plastic; I dutifully gathered my personal possessions.

Just days before, the black sedan’s pristine finish glistened in the sunshine. Now, what was left of the car was a reminder of how blessed I had been to survive.

“It wasn’t your time,” was the twenty-something auto-technician’s advice on how to conquer the anxiety about driving that my 2008 accident created. I often think of Nate’s simple theology.

His statement reminded me of something German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote in his Letters and Papers from Prison, “We all have our appointed hour of death, and it will always find us wherever we go. And we must be ready for it.”

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who refused to sit idly by as Adolph Hitler killed millions of Jewish citizens during World War II. Instead the German leader joined a movement to have Hitler assassinated, resulting in his 1943 imprisonment. Bonhoeffer’s own appointed hour of death occurred in 1945, when at only 39 years of age he was hanged at the Flossenburg concentration camp.Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’m not comparing my situation to the slain scholar’s, because I felt blessed to be alive that afternoon. After all, a few days earlier while driving in heavy four-lane traffic I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a car rapidly approaching. My frantic mind quickly realized that there was nothing I could do. Suddenly, I heard the sickening sound of crunching metal, and felt the forceful impact that propelled me forward quite a distance.

Miraculously, there was no vehicle directly ahead, nor had I been pushed into an adjoining lane. Momentarily dazed, I gratefully assessed that my injuries were non-life-threatening, although they would require a trip to the hospital. The young man whose vehicle’s front end had connected with my demolished back end assured me that he was ok, too. “We can always get a new car, but we can’t replace precious people,” was a philosophy that I had been taught by my late mother.

Thankfully, I knew my husband agreed with my practical view of totaled automobiles, since I just “happened” to borrow his car that day. Providentially, Larry’s vehicle “was” proven to prevent injuries in crash tests. It lived up to its promise, even though it resembled a folded accordion after the wreck.

photo (2)There were several other remarkable occurrences surrounding the event. When dressing the morning of the accident, my treasured angel pin, a gift from late Jewish Holocaust survivor, Elisabeth Sondheimer, seemed to sparkle warningly as it fell to my bedroom floor. Then before leaving, my normally rushed school administrator spouse stopped uncharacteristically to put his arms around me and say a quick prayer.

I had also placed an antique picture of Jesus standing behind a sailor who is navigating a ship’s wooden wheel behind the driver’s seat that day. The portrait depicts the Jewish carpenter with one hand lovingly resting on the young seamen’s shoulder and the other arm extended, pointing him in the direction he needs to go amidst the turbulent seas.

I had taken the inspirational artwork to give to a colleague who was encountering some rough seas of his own. When cleaning the car out at the body shop, I found the glass and wooden framed picture undamaged just as Nate was sharing his wise advice about it not being my time.Jesus is my Pilot

The borrowed car, the angel pin, my husband’s spontaneous prayer, and the antique picture are all reminders of my own belief that God is always in control, even when life seems randomly chaotic. However, my greatest blessing was the fact that apparently it wasn’t my “appointed hour of death” as Bonhoeffer once wrote. Because someday, death “will find me,” just as it finds us all, since nobody gets out of here alive.

If you disagree with Nate, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and me, perhaps you will like the wisdom in the song lyrics of the former hit, It’s Not My Time by rockers, 3 Doors Down. “My friend, this life we live is not what we have, it’s what we believe. And it’s not my time. I’m not going ….” Hopefully, you and I are not going today. For now, we’ve all been granted the precious opportunity to spend more time with those we love, and to finish our work on this Earth.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an inspirational speaker and Amy Award winning freelance journalist. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  

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A Miraculous Second Chance at Friendship

  1. Christina Ryan Claypool Reading Chicken Soup for SDNThe post below is dedicated to my courageous friend, Kimberly Winegardner who remains my hero after successfully reaching Heaven’s shores on October 2012. This essay about our friendship appears in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel” released in October 2014. When we are grieving the loss of a dear friend, we have to embrace the comfort that comes from our Heavenly Father. “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147: 3 **************************************************************************************************** Kimberly came into my life when I was the single mother of a middle-school son and the owner of a thrift store. New to west central Ohio, blonde and in her early 20s, Kim would occasionally stop by my secondhand shop to chat. We instantly connected and spent lots of time together over the next decade. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding and watched her start her family. Then, when she moved out West, we lost touch. That is, until the phone call came almost a decade later.

“Kimberly’s in the hospital. It’s cancer. The doctors aren’t giving her much hope,” a mutual friend called to tell me. Kim had moved back to Ohio by then. The following day, I drove over 100 miles to be at her side during her first chemotherapy treatment. It was as if we had never been apart.

By then, I had remarried, and almost miraculously, we soon moved only 10 miles away from Kimberly. This allowed us time to reconnect and to share our families with each other. Over the next couple of years, I watched helplessly as Kimberly bravely endured countless treatments trying to fight the deadly disease. Occasionally, my husband and I took her wonderful children out for an evening when she was in the hospital.

At the beginning, Kim made a promise that her life would not be about the cancer, but about the living. That’s why whenever we got together we talked tirelessly, like two best friends on borrowed time. I would pick her up and we would go to lunch and giggle like schoolgirls, despite her oxygen tank and growing tumors.

Then about a month before her passing, I happened to watch the classic movie, “Beaches,” on TV. It’s about best friends going through the same thing as Kimberly and I. In the movie, Hillary, played by Barbara Hershey, is terminally ill, and C.C., a famous singer played by Bette Midler, rushes to be at her side.

When C.C. sings the song, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” it portrays her admiration and undying love for her courageous friend. The lyrics say, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Silently, I prayed that seeing that movie wasn’t heavenly preparation for losing my own best friend, who grew weaker each day.

Click here for clip: Bette Middler singing Wind Beneath my Wings video courtesy Youtube

Kimberly was hanging on, wanting to be with her husband and children. I had never seen such great faith. Even when doctors said there was no more that could be done, we continued to pray for the miracle she desperately wanted.

Then it seemed as if she let go and began reaching for Heaven. One evening, I sat at her bedside holding her hand, as tears of gratitude for our second chance at friendship ran down my cheeks.

At 8 the next morning, the phone call came. My beautiful blonde friend had breathed her last earthly breath. The morning after Kimberly’s funeral, I woke up feeling so empty. I listlessly dragged myself to my Pilates class. Leaving the gym, I noticed a garage sale sign on the corner. It was a perfect autumn day. The sun was shining, the sky was vivid blue and the trees were covered with colorful fall leaves. Still, my heart was unbearably heavy. I didn’t feel like going to the sale, but it was as if some unseen presence led me there.

KimberlyWhile absentmindedly looking over the merchandise, I spied a musical water globe. Inside was an angel dressed in an aqua and lilac robe with long golden hair. The angel was lovingly embracing a small child, and her white-feathered wings were covered with iridescent sparkles.

The globe was only $2. Impulsively, I paid for it. Later, when I wound the musical key, it began to play the tune, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Instantly, I realized it was no coincidence that I had gone to that garage sale or purchased that globe.

That same afternoon, one of the movie channels showed “Beaches” again. This time, I sobbed as I watched it, allowing myself to begin grieving my dearest friend’s loss. Yet, I was also joyful as I realized that God had sent me a garage sale angel to remind me that Heaven is real, and that Kimberly would be waiting there.

The globe now sits in a prominent place in the glass cabinet in my living room. After a decade apart, I am so thankful that my heroic friend and I remained inseparable until the very end, and that I now have the angel to remind me of her every day.

Chicken Soup for the Soul - Touched by an AngelFrom the book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul:Touched by an Angel,” by Amy Newmark, Copyright 2014 by Chicken Soup for the Soul  Publishing, LLC. Published by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Chicken Soup for the Soul is a registered trademark of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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An Obituary’s Message to Call your Mother

Mom, This one's for you!

Mom, This one’s for you!

Earlier this year, my local daily newspaper changed the placement of the obituaries moving them to page two. I’ve often wondered how many other newspaper readers are like me, keenly interested in the obituaries. I also question how my gradual transition from reading the comics as a teenager to devouring the death notices as a boomer occurred. Once, an elderly relative humorously confided that he read the obituaries right away to make sure he wasn’t among those listed. Of course, in case you miss one, you can simply go online and Google the person’s name and date of death. Often you can even post condolences to the family or send flowers if you like. Facebook can be another great way to be alerted to the passing of a friend or former co-worker when someone posts their obituary online. Living in a society that is in a constant state of flux geographically necessitates that we stay in touch electronically.

But what’s so important about an obituary anyway? In explanation, caring about people makes you realize what a vital part that death plays in the game of life. Commemorating those who have gone before us is an integral rite of passage, and being there for those left behind is of paramount importance. Yet, to be there, you have to be informed, thus the relevance of the obituary.

An obituary can tell you a lot about a deceased individual, even when you think you already know them. Then there are times, when you aren’t acquainted, but you are startled by the details of their death and human curiosity and compassion kick in. For instance, when someone young dies, even when they are a total stranger, most people probably lament this untimely passing in a deeper way. We sympathize, because the death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and your heart aches for those suffering this loss.CassieCasket

There is death by suicide, too. An obituary doesn’t usually reveal this heartbreaking detail. However, sometimes you can read between the lines to decipher that for some reason an individual could no longer bear to be part of this world. Other tragic deaths include accidents caused by alcohol consumption or those drug-related, of which there are far too many lately. As with a violent murder, the facts are frequently disclosed in a related news story. Another heart grabber is when several members of a family die together.

No one is spared the pain of burying loved ones, that’s why it’s necessary to be there for those left behind. I learned this valuable lesson in my youth, when a teenage friend committed suicide, and I failed her dear mother who was like a second mother to me. In the midst of this crisis, I disappeared. I didn’t visit the funeral home or call, because I was terrified of dealing with death. It wasn’t death itself that frightened me, rather the fear of saying or doing something wrong, or of not being strong. My misconception was that I wouldn’t be missed, but I was.

Growing up through my own funeral home tour of duty I have come to realize that you remember the faces there, and you are acutely aware of the absence of those who don’t come. It’s a defining moment like serious illness, when you realize who your true friends are. After all, the Bible says we should, “…mourn with those who mourn.” When I do pay my last respects now, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the need to have eloquent words of comfort. I simply say how very sorry I am, and offer a hug, remembering how grateful I have been for those consoling embraces in days past.

I wish I could give Robert Downey Jr., my condolences and a big hug. Sadly, the famous actor lost his 80-year-old mother on Sept. 22, 2014. A few days later, he courageously posted a beautiful obituary that he had written about her on his official Facebook page. He candidly included that his mom’s broken career dreams were caused by alcoholism, something she successfully overcame. He even credits a 2004 phone call from her as the catalyst for his own sobriety today.

Obituaries like Downey Jr.s’ are a startling reminder to the living to appreciate our tragically flawed loved ones. He closes it with the poignant words, “If anyone out there has a mother, and she is not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…”

Oh, how I wish I could, but the only obituary I’ve ever written was my mother’s. Still, maybe it’s not too late for you to take the actor’s wise advice and call yours.

Robert Downey Jr.s Mom

 

Click on the photo of Robert Downey Jr.s’ mother, Elsie, to read his touching obituary.

 

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Golden Wings for a Grieving Traveler

mothers-day

Mother’s Day is upon us. Like me, you might be missing your mom. There are also mothers experiencing the painfully unnatural grief of missing children. After all, we assume that someday we will bury our parents, but never anticipate having to grieve the death of a child.

Mother’s Day spent mourning a lost loved one can be an especially, treacherous emotional sea to navigate. Maybe though, your mother or child didn’t die, instead circumstances have somehow estranged you. Life can be complicated, but personally I believe in happy endings.

That’s why I’m a sap for sentimental movie plots like the traditional boy gets the girl or a stranded puppy finds their way home. The holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” always thrills me when a rather bumbling angel named Clarence finally gets his wings.

Although, I must admit I wasn’t thinking about the possibility of a happy ending on that awful afternoon almost four years ago. I sat rigidly in my cramped seat on an airplane trying not to cry. As I gazed at the oblivious passengers, the business flyers looked weary, but other folks seemed animated traveling for pleasure and family excursions.

Family. That was my problem. My 78-year-old mother, Glenna Sprang, had died suddenly the day before. An accomplished organist, Mom played two church services on Sunday morning. Later that afternoon, pain from a kidney stone gone terribly wrong caused her to be rushed by ambulance to a Philadelphia hospital. By Wednesday afternoon, I stood helplessly at her bedside watching my mother breathe her last breath, just as she had been with me when I breathed my first.

Glenna Giesken Sprang

Glenna Giesken Sprang

I felt isolated by grief, as I traveled back to Ohio to be with family until her funeral. Being a Christian speaker by profession, my mother had left a written request that I “preach” her funeral, if I was able. I was honored by her last wish, but my heart was broken, and I had no idea how I was going to do it.

That’s when a forty-something flight attendant who I’ll call Dan, pulled his beverage cart next to my aisle seat. The seasoned steward shared the same reddish hair color that my four brothers and sister have. The color that caused them to be teased ruthlessly when we were kids.

At that very moment, an obnoxious traveler was mercilessly making fun of Dan’s hairstyle. I gave the flight attendant a sympathetic look, but the undaunted steward defiantly threw his head back while laughing profusely. For the first time in several days, I laughed, too. Suddenly, Dan looked deeply into my exhausted eyes and sounding concerned asked, “Are you going home?”

“My mom just died,” I blurted out. Instantly, I was embarrassed that I had burdened a stranger with my grief.

“It will get better,” Dan said encouragingly. He then shared the story of losing his own mother some years earlier promising me that time would ease my heartache.

It was a short flight, with the airline attendant being busy for the rest of the trip. Minutes before landing safely on the runway, Dan made his way back to my seat at the rear of the plane. Then he ceremoniously handed me a pin shaped like a pair of golden wings. “Now, you can say, you got your wings at the same time as your mother got hers,” he said with a boyish grin.

When I arrived home, I placed my “wings” on the vanity’s top in my bedroom. The following week, I fulfilled my mother’s last wish of preaching her funeral describing her courageous life with the Scripture, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” [2 Timothy 4:7]

Then I allowed myself to grieve. During those difficult months, every time I looked at the golden wings, I clung to Dan’s promise that time would lessen the pain and that someday my broken heart would begin to heal.

There’s another promise that also gave me great hope. It’s the one found in the thought-provoking movie released recently, “Heaven is for Real.” Of course, I still miss Mom, but I’m no longer overwhelmed by earthly sadness, instead I’m excited about seeing her again someday. Mom and meIf you are the one grieving inconsolably, hang on, time can be a great gift in healing grief. For me, it has gotten better, just as the flight attendant promised. In reality, I know that Dan was probably just a compassionate cabin steward, but to a brokenhearted traveler, he seemed like an angel in disguise.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and Christian speaker. Her book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors, is available through her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com 

 

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