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.

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.

Losing a Child: A Mother’s Journey of Healing

One of the greatest heartbreaks a parent can experience is the death of a child. However old that child is, it is not life’s natural progression to bury your offspring. Bruce and Catherine Toal of know firsthand how painful losing a child can be. Bruce is a Sidney businessman who is the owner of Everyday Technologies, Inc. among other interests. Catherine has been a stay-at-home mother to their children including: Jonathan, 27, Antonio, 27, who was raised in an orphanage but has been part of the family since he was 15, Zachary, soon-to-be 23, B.J., 19, and 15-year-old Lilly whom the couple adopted four years ago. But missing from the list is their daughter, Rachel Lindsey Toal, who died on Oct. 6, 1994, at the tender age of six.

Rachel was born on June 24, 1988. Everything appeared fine until she “was seven weeks old, when they diagnosed her with the biliary atresia,” said Catherine. She was “born pink and healthy and gradually became very jaundiced.”

“In babies with biliary atresia, bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder is blocked…An operation called the Kasai procedure is done to connect the liver to the small intestine…However, a liver transplant may still be needed,” according to the Website for the National Library of Medicine.

In baby Rachel’s case, the Kasai was not effective. “[She] actually had a liver transplant at 17 months ….She was a very, very sick little girl,” said Toal. “The match was not a good one. What actually took her life at six and half, she went septic,” explained her mother describing the infection that proved fatal.

“She was beautiful, with big blue eyes, long black lashes, and long, light brown hair. A typical ‘girly-girl,’ our Rachel loved anything pink and we lovingly called her Ray-Ray.” Rachel’s mom wrote these words in her 2007 book titled, Loving the Journey with my King. The large leather hardback also contains 3 CDs of 28 original songs that represent her pathway to healing.

It is apparent, that faith is what drives 52-year-old Toal, but her faith was shattered by her child’s loss. “Our family struggled to survive the pain of losing her, and I was at my wit’s end, with nothing more to give anybody. Depressed, discouraged, and incredibly angry, I waded through the trauma of such loss the best I knew how,” wrote Catherine. “Kind loving friends and family carried us through this trying period.”

Friends and family also pitched in during the years of Rachel’s chronic illness when she was often hospitalized. For those wanting to assist a family with a sick child, Toal suggests doing practical things like: “Cleaning up the house, cooking a meal, picking up kids from school, picking up the day to day routine so the focus of the caregiver is free to take care of that child.” As the situation grew even more serious, she says it meant a great deal when others simply told her, “I’m praying.”

For the parent dealing with the death of a child, the Sidney, Ohio, woman advises, “Trust the Lord with your heart, don’t turn on Him and forgive everyone up front.” She readily admits that some folks make insensitive statements. “Unless they walked it, they don’t understand.”

For Toal, a turning point for her grieving occurred when she was finally able to let go of the anger that she carried for a long time. Later, “An amazing thing happened—something that had never happened before. A song began to form in my heart,” she wrote. “God gave me a song from heaven…” Many more songs would come to her, “I would begin getting a tune and lyrics…and sing them into a recorder.” Not a trained musician, this musical journey began healing her.

With the assistance of talented musician Drew Cline and Dove nominated recording artist, Kelly Connor Spallinger, Toal was able to professionally produce her collaborated renditions of these songs in her book. They are melodies filled with praise, rather than despair. “The Word [Bible] tells us the spirit of heaviness is depression,” writes Toal. She cites Isaiah 61:3 as her remedy, “To appoint unto them that mourn…the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

Today, you can often find Catherine Toal at Sidney’s Lion’s Rest Prayer Center. She has spoken at seminars and conferences, and tries to encourage others just as she once desperately needed encouragement during the dark days of losing her precious daughter.

In closing, my personal advice for comforting those grieving comes from Charles Swindoll’s book, Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, “A little girl lost a playmate in death and one day reported to her family that she had gone to comfort the sorrowing mother. ‘What did you say?’ asked her father. ‘Nothing,’ she replied. ‘I just climbed up on her lap and cried with her.’”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and speaker. Her website is This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on Sept. 21, 2012.