When Thanksgiving isn’t Happy

photo (9)A not-so-happy, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to you. I don’t want to bring you down, but not everyone is happy this Thanksgiving. Some folks are in tremendous pain having lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or the very worst, a child this past year. There will be an empty place and a voice missing as they sit down to their Thanksgiving celebration. Inside of them, there won’t be any celebration at all. I have to ask you to be gentle with these grieving ones, if their tears fall, or if they don’t show up at all, overwhelmed by all that will never be again.

Others are experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, maybe a broken relationship with a prodigal child, or the betrayal of their own body brought on by illness or aging. This always seems worse as the holidays approach. There are also those who have no family to fit into. Single moms and dads who pack up their little ones and send them off to a family they are no longer part of, while spending the day alone. They act brave in front of their children, waving good-bye from the front door, but when they close it, they often feel the sting of rejection.

Some people have grown so used to spending Thanksgiving by themselves, that it becomes easier to decline the offer from a well-meaning co-worker or church friend, than to be a part of someone else’s gathering reminding them that they have no real relatives of their own. Long ago, their family might have been broken by circumstances too painful to remember.

All of these folks, even the grieving ones, are brave and forge ahead most days, trusting that God has a plan and that He does all things well. But on holidays, they feel small, weak, and orphaned, wondering what on Earth they have done to end up so isolated when everyone else seems to be a part of so much more. The Gospel tells them to go help someone in need, but they can’t even help themselves, so that becomes one more burden of guilt. Yet, their heartbreak does not go unnoticed by a God who has big shoulders, and can take it, when His children get angry that life seems so unfair. The Creator steadfastly loves them, when they are at the top of their game, but He holds them closest when they are at the bottom. Psalm 147:3Psalm 147-3

For whatever reason, if this Thanksgiving is not a “happy” one, we must be careful not to get swallowed up in self-pity, because that can open a door to long-term depression. Instead, it’s important to realize that probably half the world feels lonelier at holiday celebrations than any other time of the year. Besides, it is so easy to concentrate on all that is gone, but what remains? What is there to be thankful for? Even if the word, “thankful” might be a difficult pill to swallow right now, what is it that you can hang onto? Hang onto that, with all you are worth. You are not alone. You are loved more than you can imagine by a God who sees every tear, and even when you don’t believe He hears your prayers, He is still listening. Ask Him to help you get through this day. If you are like me, remember, “It’s [always] one day at a time!”

Nurse Ratched’s Caregiving Advice

 

Nurse Ratched and Patient LarryEverybody is talking about the results of the 2016 Oscars. But four decades ago, the classic 1975 movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” won all five major Academy Awards. The poignant drama chronicled the plight of young Jack Nicholson’s character Randle McMurphy who was confined to a state mental institution. This was not a Utopian facility where the nurses and doctors were lovers of people, or even keepers of the Hippocratic Oath. Instead, this description of life in a psychiatric facility vividly depicted the horrors of the treatment of some patients before mental health reforms.

Especially noteworthy in the film was actress Louise Fletcher’s 1976 Oscar winning portrayal of the brutally hardhearted and dictatorial Nurse Ratched. This fictional character is everything a good nurse would never want to be. The American Film Institute designated Ratched as the fifth greatest film villain of all time in their series 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains. Today, her criminal treatment of patients would be grounds for a medical malpractice suit of dynamic proportions.

Although I don’t think I’m as bad as Mildred Ratched, I must confess that I possess no aptitude for medical practices. I have a queasy stomach, and am rather lacking on the virtue of patience. Therefore, caregiving was definitely not at the top of my list for life tasks. Yet a decade ago, while caregiving for my husband following his third major surgery in eight months, I received an email addressed to “Nurse Ratchet.” The sender, a longtime friend had misspelled the sadistic caregiver’s name, but I knew instantly who she was referring to.

Despite my lack of nursing skills, like many other spouses and adult children, the lot of temporary caregiving had fallen on my shoulders. In light of this, I promised a registered nurse who really is a modern day Florence Nightingale, that when I made it through my season of caregiving, I would compile a list of practical tips for others facing the daunting task.

First, a caregiver must determine to maintain his or her sense of humor, be organized, and carefully prepare for this awesome responsibility. If possible, find a way to make the room where your loved one will be recuperating as dark as possible during daylight hours. This does not mean that you cannot shower your “sickie” with sunshine if they desire. But when pain or discomfort has kept them up during the midnight hours, window coverings will help simulate nighttime so they can rest. To avoid unnecessary expense, you can purchase used drapes to cover windows at a thrift store or garage sale.

Second, check with your physician’s office about the medical equipment that will bePill bottle required. If a hospital bed is necessary, have it in place before your charge arrives home. Stock up on other supplies such as a walker, cane, crutches, shower seat, etc. and even prescriptions. Fill your cupboards and refrigerator with non-perishable groceries since it might be quite awhile before you will be able to leave your patient unattended. Prepare a journal to record administered medications, treatments, and even meals to avoid confusion.

Then there is entertainment to think about since the most difficult patient is a bored patient. Make sure a television with a remote can be readily viewed from the hospital bed. Plan a pre-op trip to your local library, to check out interesting books and make a must see list for videos. When consulting with medical professionals write down the questions that you want to ask and request any resources that might be available for your situation. Don’t try to be superman or superwoman, but whenever possible ask for assistance from relatives, friends, or your church by communicating your specific needs.

List of MedicinesThe caregiver has to get out and you can’t allow self-imposed guilt to keep you from taking care of yourself. Exercise, eat right, sleep whenever possible, and remember that “this too shall pass.” Most of all, forgive the world for moving full speed ahead and forgetting your difficult situation. The flowers, cards, calls, and visits will probably trickle off rather quickly, since life goes on. If you are a long-term caregiver like millions of Americans, finding a support group could provide a vital network to alleviate the stress and isolation this responsibility can create. But if you become severely depressed seek professional counseling. After the caregiving season ends, some caregivers also experience a temporary depression unsure of their next purpose. Hopefully, this won’t last long, because life has a way of continually presenting us with new tasks and adventures.

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

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.

Surviving Suicide: From a Mental Hospital to the Emmys

Suicide Prevention LogoSeptember is National Suicide Prevention Month. For me, suicide awareness is personal, because I have lost family members and friends, and almost died myself by suicide as a troubled teenager.

That’s why in August, while folks were freely expressing their opinions about the tragic death of actor Robin Williams, the inappropriate comments made it painfully obvious that our nation still understands little about the complex reasons behind suicide. As in Mr. Williams’ case, suicide is most frequently accompanied by a mental health issue like depression. This lack of education has been my catalyst for spending almost twenty years championing for suicide prevention.

Sharing my story publicly began while I was working as a reporter and producer at Lima’s WTLW TV 44 in the 1990s. My former supervisor, Ginger Stache, a talented journalist, who is now with Joyce Meyer Ministries, decided to create awareness about suicide by producing a documentary, and I agreed to be interviewed for the project.

To explain, as a depressed teen living in a dysfunctional environment in the early seventies, a near fatal suicide attempt landed me in an Intensive Care Unit hovering between life and death. Following that, much of my senior year of high school was spent in Toledo State Mental Hospital. After a couple other serious suicide attempts, and intermittent hospitalizations, a psychiatrist in charge of my case said I would probably die by suicide or in a mental institution.

Instead of fulfilling this dire prophecy, almost three decades ago, I found emotional and spiritual healing through faith, counseling, and living life one day at a time. Depression and shame about the stigma of mental illness gave way to the gradual understanding that my testimony offered hope to others still hurting. Like taking part in Ginger Stache’s documentary, “Before You Say Good-bye,” which aired nationwide and in Europe. She was nominated for two regional Emmys for the half-hour film.

When Ginger invited me to attend the 1999 black-tie Emmy Awards banquet to be held in an opulent ballroom of an historic Cleveland hotel, I felt like Cinderella. There was only one problem, being a single mom on my meager journalist’s budget didn’t allow for ball gowns.

When I found a dark green crepe formal at 85 percent off, I could hardly believe my good fortune. It was my size and fit perfectly. I handed over my hard-earned $20.00 bill and triumphantly left the mall with the dress. In the days that followed, I tried to be grateful, despite the fact that I didn’t care much for the nondescript gown.

A couple of my female colleagues were also attending the celebration. While they were excitedly describing their formals and accessories, I couldn’t help but envy them. They weren’t wicked stepsisters, simply women who had more disposable income.

Cinderella in VelvetOne day, another producer, Sheri Ketner noticed that I wasn’t thrilled with my dress. While I was expounding the virtues of finding such a bargain, Sheri candidly asked, “But, you don’t like it, do you?”

My countenance must have visibly fallen, as I dejectedly answered, “No.” Then I saw a determined look on my compassionate co-worker’s face. A couple days later, Sheri brought a large cardboard box into the TV station and handed it to me. Inside was a breathtaking burgundy velvet gown with a beaded neckline, and a skirt made of countless yards of translucent tulle over the velvet.

At the bottom of the box were matching velvet heels. Instantly I was saddened, since shoes rarely fit my narrow size 9 feet. However, I was amazed to see that the shoes were marked, “9N.” Sheri, smiled with satisfaction, and told me, the outfit was “borrowed,” and would have to be returned after the Emmys.

Larry & Christina Ginger Stache didn’t win a regional Emmy that night, nor did I get my prince. But a few years later on the evening of June 8, 2002, Ginger’s documentary about smuggling Bibles into China garnered the coveted prize. At the same time, I was marrying my handsome husband, who is a public school administrator in a candlelight ceremony.

Battling depression is still an occasional struggle, but if I would have died as a teenager, I wouldn’t be here to share this Cinderella tale. Tragically, every forty seconds someone dies by suicide and 800,000 people die annually according to a September 2014 Newsweek article. Before you say, “Good-bye,” please call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-TALK, or seek professional counseling. After all, the life you save may be your own.

YMCA Fitness Trainer Triumphs over Tragedy

         DSCF1746 Some folks will probably make a New Year’s resolution about fitness, and many will end up breaking it. That’s why Calvin Cooley doesn’t believe in them. The YMCA certified personal trainer who is also a paraplegic, feels that, “New Year’s resolutions are very ineffective, because people will make a resolution to get into shape, but if it doesn’t happen three months ago, they give up.” Due to his own disability, Cooley, 44, knows firsthand how challenging maintaining a fitness program can be. He has been lifting weights for more than twenty years believing that fitness is a lifelong commitment.

Calvin first moved to rural Shelby County from Columbus when he was only eight. His inspirational story begins on August 10, 1988, when the then 19-year-old was riding his motorcycle. “I went into a corner too fast and got into the gravel and overcorrected.”

Cooley ended up in a field, but first he, “Clipped a fence post, and hit my back….that’s what caused my spinal cord injury,” he said. He was careflighted to Miami Valley Hospital and spent the next three months recuperating there. He soon realized that he would never walk again.

Today, the dark-haired Cooley is one of those consistent people you can count on to see the bright side in every situation. He works with individuals of all ages and fitness levels in his job as a personal trainer at the Sidney Shelby County YMCA.

“But, back then I was up and down emotionally. I had a very brief [suicidal] thought,” he recalled, “It was so brief it almost didn’t count, I just felt if I would do something so selfish as suicide…I would have cheated my family and friends out of an opportunity to spend time together.”

While he was at Miami Valley Hospital he received a visit from another paraplegic named Timothy Witten. Cooley had never met the West Milton man before. Witten had been injured in an automobile accident the year prior, and his visit was a great encouragement.

Calvin had been diagnosed with a T4 spinal cord injury being paralyzed from the nipple line down, and needed to learn how to live as a paraplegic. “It requires a tremendous amount of discipline to take care of yourself,” he said. There was also the emotional component to deal with.

“In May of 1989 I woke up one day very depressed, it was a beautiful day out…” Cooley asked himself, “Why should I continue to feel this way? I changed everything. I made a choice not to be depressed.”

Part of his path of overcoming occurred in 1991 when he began lifting weights with his friend, the late Karl Jonas. Normally, the two enjoyed playing Frisbee in Sidney’s Tawawa Park together, but that day Jonas invited Calvin to his gym.

Then another buddy, Dwight Meyer gave him his first membership to the now defunct Pump-You-Up Gym. Lee Sprague served as his original trainer and mentor. “My goal was to be able to get from the floor into the wheelchair in case I should fall,” explained Cooley. It remains an important goal, and “the most difficult thing for me to do.”

Calvin not only lifted weights but he also gained experience as an employee at a couple local gyms including Sidney’s Power Station Fitness. Then in 2002, He started going to the Sidney Shelby County YMCA. The YMCA blessed him with a membership, and Calvin felt one way of paying them back was to assist members using his weight lifting expertise. He was also volunteering in the fitness center training youth.

Before long, he was hired by the Y, but obtaining his personal trainer certification wasn’t as easy. The tenacious Cooley even visited the YMCA USA national headquarters in Chicago to convince the organization of his ability, since they had never certified a paraplegic to be a trainer before.

On October 4, 2004, history was made when Calvin Franklin Cooley became the first personal trainer to receive the YMCA USA certification. Besides, helping YMCA members with their fitness programs, once a month you will find Calvin attending a support group of Spinal Cord Injury survivors at Dodd Hall/ OSU Medical Center in Columbus.

Just like his friend, Tim Witten who once came to offer support and answer his questions about life as a paraplegic, Cooley attends meetings primarily to assist others.  He tries to, “Pay it forward.”

One would have to look pretty far to find anybody more inspirational than this bigger than life fitness trainer who has definitely triumphed over tragedy along his own road less traveled. Until next time, for all of you who made fitness resolutions, keep pumping that iron.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. The article first appeared in the Sidney Daily News.

 

 

 

 

Battling the Day after Christmas Blues

Christmas tree with presents and fireplace with stockings --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisTwas the day after Christmas and in every store, shoppers were returning presents galore:  an ill-fitting sweater, a calendar of cats, unwanted perfume, and NFL hats. They stood in long lines, their foreheads glistening with sweat, disgruntled that they hadn’t been waited on yet. You see, the clerks were all tired and too burned-out to care, while the recipients of gift cards were finding sales everywhere.

The above lines are my brief parody of the well-known Christmas poem, Twas the Night before Christmas written by Clement Clark Moore in 1822. This poem is also commonly referred to as A Visit from St. Nicholas because according to www.carols.org it “redefined our image of Christmas and Santa Claus.” The poem is a classic read for many American youngsters on Christmas Eve, as today’s “visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads.”

The problem is that in our society, children are not fixated on receiving small pieces of sugary candy, but rather on big ticket items that most parents cannot afford. Likewise, the jewelry store commercials have led countless bewildered mates down the path of purchasing a budget-breaking bauble on credit.

No disrespect intended, but maybe you’re one of the sentimental suckers who fell for these ads. Now the day after Christmas you’re experiencing a massive case of post-purchase dissonance. That’s a technical term for the sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re concerned that you’ve spent more on an item than you probably should have. Take heart, I’m sure you did make someone very happy, despite the fact that the gift probably won’t be paid off until Christmastime next year.

Even more depressing are the commercials portraying perfect families gathering to sing carols and toast eggnog. The truth is that many of us spent Christmas alone, or with a tiny remnant of our geographically dispersed families, possibly mourning either deceased loved ones or broken relationships.

Just days ago, the gaily wrapped presents under the tree promised some kind of hopeful Christmas spirit. Now, trash bags filled with ripped wrapping paper and torn cardboard boxes might be a mocking reminder of these unfulfilled expectations. However, the true gifts of Christmas are rarely presents in a box that can be returned the day after Christmas. Rather, they are simply unexpected gifts of love that create memories that can be cherished forever. The greatest example is the origin of Christmas itself, when a baby was born in a Bethlehem stable bringing love to the entire world.

Besides remembering the true reason for the season, it can also be helpful to recant the blessings of holidays past, to battle the day after Christmas blues. One of my miracles happened when I owned a thrift store near the Lima mall and my now adult son was a preteen. Our car had a flat tire the day before Christmas Eve, and Zach and I walked blocks in the sub-zero temperatures back to my store.

Besides the car, I had an old van to haul merchandise, but it had also refused to start the day before. As a single mom, there had been some rough moments, but when I woke up that Christmas Eve, I had no idea how things could work out. I opened my store, praying that I might make extra cash for the vehicle repairs. But where would I find a mechanic on a holiday?

Then early in the afternoon, a slight built young man with dark hair came in and asked if there was any work that he could do to earn $50.00 for a bus ticket, so that he could get home for Christmas. When I asked him what kind of work he did, he told me he was studying in the automotive program at University of Northwestern Ohio. Less than an hour later, he had changed my car’s tire and got the van running again. I gave him the money he needed for his bus ticket, thanking him profusely for his help.

After he left, I stood frozen and speechless, awed by the power of divine intervention. I never saw my Christmas Eve angel again. But this year, when I needed to be reminded of Christmas miracles, I remembered his visit. I’m hoping this column reminds you of your own memories of past holiday blessings, and of all the miracles still to come. These blessings will never be found in a material present. Rather they abound when we come to know the tiny baby born in a manger who is our heavenly Father’s greatest gift of love.

Tis` the day after Christmas, but there’s no need to feel down. Just remember that miracles of love still abound. Happy New Year to all and to all a good day!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an author, inspirational speaker, and wanna-be poet. Contact her at christina@christinaryanclapool.com. This column was originally published in The Lima News.