Remembering a Brave Prom King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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