Advice for those Grieving this Christmas

Christmas Dining TableThe holidays are upon us and some folks don’t feel so merry. This is especially true for those who have lost a loved one recently. Grieving can make the glitter of the Christmas season grow particularly dim.

Admittedly, grief comes in stages. One milestone for me occurred late in the fall of 2011, when the remaining leaves on the trees were ablaze with breathtaking color. However, that Sunday afternoon the skies were dark and heavy with rain. The weather matched my downcast mood. When a rented moving truck pulled into my driveway, my heart sank. I inhaled deeply then waved to my stepsister, Cindy, and her husband, Mark. To me, it felt as if the Indianapolis couple were transporting the body of a loved one, instead of our parents’ old furniture.

Losing my mother, Glenna Sprang, suddenly in 2010 was devastating. There had been no warning or preparation. She was a Philadelphia organist who played two church services on the morning of October 10th. That same afternoon, pain from a kidney stone gone terribly wrong sent her to a Pennsylvania hospital where she died three days later.Mom and me

Mom was 78. Even though she had been in excellent health, I should have realized she wouldn’t live forever. Five months later on March 5, 2011, Neal Sprang, my 80-year-old stepfather of 35 years died. Theirs had been an age-old love story. Two hearts so intrinsically intertwined, that one couldn’t keep beating for long without the other.

My stepsister and her husband had made the difficult trip to our parents’ home in Philadelphia to retrieve the furniture that we had inherited. For me, there was my grandfather’s writing desk, a birds-eye maple vanity, and a mahogany table with six chairs. Long ago, Mom and “Dad” had purchased the dining room set from a church rummage sale.

That old table has seen many wonderful memories of Christmases past. Every holiday, formal china and the good silverware would be set on the linen tablecloth, which would be laden with my mother’s steaming homemade dishes. The iridescent flames of the candles decorating the centerpiece would reflect in the crystal chandelier. For hours, my siblings and I would gather around the table sharing stories and laughing solicitously at my stepfather’s corny jokes.  

For awhile, there was an eerie silence that greeted me each time I gazed at that Duncan Phyfe table that ended up in my dining room in central Ohio. Its presence reminded me of the permanence of my parents’ passing.

Then last December, I met Rev. Philip Chilcote who gave me some great advice on how to deal with my parents’ loss. “In a particular family, you might have five children….who lose a parent and that’s five totally different griefs,” explained Rev. Chilcote who is the chaplain at Wilson Hospice in Sidney, Ohio. He is also the bereavement coordinator for the organization who assists the families of hospice patients with their own grief issues.

In addition, sixty-year-old Chilcote is the pastor of Sidney’s First Christian Church. In his role as a minister he has walked alongside countless families devastated by the loss of a loved one. “Grief is a re-adaptation process meaning we have to learn to live our lives without somebody who has always been there,” said the hospice professional. “We have to learn to adapt to a different world. Not only is the world different, but we are different,” he said.

For grieving individuals creating new traditions and rituals is important. Some folks try to ignore the loss, but Chilcote believes that you should, “include the one who is gone in what you do.” For example, if you normally hang Christmas stockings, the expert who has led grief support groups for two decades, suggests that you should hang a stocking for the individual who died.

If the deceased family member “always had the chair at the end of the table,” Rev. Chilcote says that you could leave the chair empty, or choose someone to sit in their place. As for giving, if it was your tradition to purchase a $50.00 gift certificate for the late family member,  you could make a donation to a charity or ministry in their honor, or give to a neighbor in need.  

“People can buy a special candle and at the place at the table where they sat you can light the candle…and go around the table and have each person say what they meant to you,” suggests the seasoned grief counselor. “Tell funny stories about them. Most people who die, wouldn’t want you to be sad,” he added.

My parents would definitely not want the joyous season to be filled with mourning. They were both church choir directors who believed that Christmas wasn’t about presents and mistletoe, but rather about a baby born in a Bethlehem manger whose love lives forever.

That’s why I took Rev. Chilcote’s advice last Christmas and kept my stepfather’s place at the table empty. I placed a candle where my stepdad always sat, and lit it to honor him and my mother. My mother was always too busy serving to sit much, but I made sure there was an empty china coffee cup, since she always enjoyed her pie with a cup of hot coffee.

This past year, I tried to create new family memories around my parents’ beautiful dining room table, realizing that was why it had been entrusted to me. Memories that would make my mother clap her hands in delight, and my stepfather comment, “Very good,” a saying he used when something pleased him. I no longer feel sad when I look at the table, but rather grateful that I was given such a gift.

Yet if you are reading this and you are too depressed to partake in holiday festivities, know that it really will get better. You never stop missing your loved ones, but when we know Jesus, we know that there will be a great reunion someday soon. For now, in the words that my mother always signed her Christmas cards, I wish you, “Peace, Love, and Joy,” this holiday season. 

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award winning freelance journalist and  speaker who is the author of the book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors. Visit her Website at  www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News.

 

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Celebrating Pastor Appreciation Month

Clergy Holding Bible “Clergy Appreciation Day “ is always the second Sunday in October” according to www.hallmark.com. This year, October 14, 2012, is the official date to honor pastors, priests, and ministers for their selfless commitment. Yet the entire month is dedicated to celebrating our clergy with this remembrance first being established in 1992. There’s even a Biblical reminder to honor those who care for our spiritual needs, “Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness….”

Of course, pastors and their spouses aren’t perfect. But neither are any of us. However, they do have a special job, since the word pastor can be interchanged with the Old Testament title, “shepherd,” and congregants are analogous to sheep. An experienced farmer and Bible teacher once told me that sheep can be incredibly stupid animals, which need a shepherd to lead them. Apparently, if a sheep gets turned upside down in a ditch filled with shallow water, they’ll drown simply because they don’t know enough to turn over. Sheep can also be prey for an attacking predator. Due to their inability to protect themselves, they could be easily killed without a shepherd’s protection.

Therefore, “why” congregations celebrate Clergy Appreciation Month can be explained by the countless stories of pastors who have acted as a protector and a rescuer. Maybe, it was a midnight vigil at the bedside of an ill parishioner, walking alongside a family experiencing the loss of a loved one, or listening as a hurting couple tries to rekindle the smoldering embers of a broken marriage. However, needy congregants can forget that their busy minister often has a marriage of his or her own with flames that also need stoking.

It’s commendable that many pastors are willing to selflessly visit the sick in the hospital, offer endless hours of support to grieving people, or to respond to a church emergency when the phone rings unexpectedly at 3.a.m. However, these sacrificial tasks can result in their absence at the family dinner table or their children’s school or sports events. In addition, minister’s hectic schedules can necessitate their mates to shoulder the majority of the household responsibilities alone.

Rev. Jane Madden, president of Ohio’s Shelby County Ministerial Association agrees that those married to clergy sacrifice a great deal. “So often our spouses give up time with us, so we can do what God has called to do,” she said. Rev. Madden is the associate pastor of nurture and care at the SidneyFirstUnitedMethodistChurch.  She is also an organist there. The 69-year-old retired elementary music teacher went into the ministry as a second calling joining the Sidney First UMC staff in 2007.

As for concrete ways of showing clergy appreciation, Rev. Madden suggests, “Taking them out to lunch, [or if a congregant has] a cabin on the lake or something like that, they could offer that to the pastor and their spouse [for a getaway.] Gift certificates [for a meal out] would be good.”

She believes a simple card would be appreciated, too. “I know in this day and age everything is texting or email, but a handwritten note means so much more,” said Madden. She also suggests showing your caring by insisting that your clergy take time off, “If the congregation would make sure their pastor is taking a day off and having a Sabbath rest at some point during the week.”

According to Jane Madden not only in October, but all year long, “For myself and the other pastors that I have spoken to, the best thing the church people can do is to attend church and to get involved in the mission program in church, and be committed to their spiritual journey.”

Pastor David Clem of Ohio’s Spring Creek Christian Church shares her opinion, “The greatest gift any pastor can receive is to see members of their flock maturing in faith and actively engaged in doing the Lord’s work.”

Like Pastors Madden and Clem, most clergy and their mates are compassionate educated men and women who care deeply about those they oversee. During October, let’s especially remember to show gratitude to these individuals who give so much of their lives to minister to others.

Another way to do this is simply by praying, because the president of the Ministerial Association says that pastors would greatly appreciate this gift all year long. She explained, “Prayers lift us up and encourage us …just encouraging to know that people are praying for you as you are doing God’s work. 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on Oct. 6, 2012.

 

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The Reality “Ask the Pastor” Show

 Living in this chaotic world, if we’re honest, we have to admit that we all have problems. “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job.” (I Peter 4:12 The Message Bible) God’s always at work. However, it’s important to remember the famous public service announcement from the Emergency Broadcast System, “This is a test. This is only a test….” but we also need wisdom concerning what we should do in the midst of our tests.

Personally, I learned a lot about asking for advice during the years that I worked as a producer and reporter at WTLW TV 44 in west central Ohio. At the time, I occasionally assisted producing or hosting the Ask the Pastor TV program. Folks would call in to pose questions about theological issues, but more frequently they were trying to find solutions to their daily dilemmas including: financial problems, addiction, grief, loneliness, etc. by seeking the expert spiritual opinions from the panel of local pastors.

Asking for counsel takes humility, because we have to admit that we don’t have all the answers. There has to be an answer though, because Jesus himself said, “…In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33

Besides, clergy are very busy people, they can’t be expected to be on 24 hour call concerning our need for counsel. Although the Bible says, “Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.” (Proverbs 11:14) Of course, the ultimate book of wisdom is the Bible, and it’s where we should look first. Often though, we require someone with some skin on to enable us to understand God’s Word about our situation.   

That’s why I would like to introduce the concept of the reality Ask the Pastor Show. We can all be part of it, by seeking advice from the “wise” folks God places in our lives. It’s important to emphasize the word, “wise,” because we should seek counsel from confidential individuals who have been successful in the area that we are struggling with.

The bottom line is; if your marriage is in trouble, seek guidance from somebody of the same sex who has a healthy marital relationship. If your teen is on drugs, find a former addict who has become a productive member of society, and ask them how they broke free from addiction. Or if your business is in the red, talk with a successful entrepreneur.

The professional arena has long instituted the policy of mentoring relationships. For example, in the academic world it is standard practice for a new public schools superintendent to be assigned a mentor. My husband, Larry Claypool feels he hit the administrative jackpot in his early days as a superintendent when he was assigned an adviser who had years of educational experience.

Whenever an urgent situation occurred, placing my spouse on uncharted territory back then, he asked his mentor for advice. “Even when you have a decision already made, you call. Just to make sure it was the right decision,” Larry said. “It’s just like being a disciple, because a seasoned teacher imparts his knowledge for the good of someone else,” added my spouse who is now an experienced public schools superintendent himself who takes time to counsel young administrators.

Jesus knew all about mentoring people. He had his hands full with his own motley crew of followers. He had to teach Peter to control his temper, Thomas not to doubt, and James and John to quit seeking positions of honor, among other issues. 

I once heard Kenton, Ohio’s New Hope Fellowship pastor, Jason Manns, say that he believes, “God usually places individuals in our lives that He uses to disciple us in our Christian walk.” I agree, but we have to be cautious, that we don’t miss God’s voice through those close to us.

Familiarity can stop us from receiving what we need to hear. We discount the message, knowing firsthand folks in our inner circle are flawed human beings like ourselves. That’s why James 1:19 tells us, that “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” Of course, we do have to guard ourselves from ungodly counsel, because. “…Bad company ruins good manners.”  (I Corinthians 15:33)

But if someone is a faithful believer, who wants God’s best for us, we should be willing to listen. If their counsel doesn’t line up with what you think your Heavenly Father is saying, put it on the shelf for awhile. Allow God to bring His perfect will to pass. Most importantly in the Book of Proverbs we are told to, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart;…listen for God’s voice in everything you do…He’s the one who will keep you on track.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning journalist and evangelistic speaker. Her husband, Larry Claypool is the superintendent of Ohio’s Hardin-Houston Schools. Information about her book, “Seeds of Hope for Survivors” is available through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com or through www.amazon.com .   

 

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