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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

The Prayer Chair

In believe, Bible, choices, Christ, death, God, Heaven, Jesus on May 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Ledersessel

Daddy met Jesus in person in the same place he met him in prayer every morning.  It was a burgundy recliner, worn from the years and matted down by the sweat of many days of hard work. Next to it was his abandoned Bible with a duct-taped spine. He didn’t need it anymore because he left earth with its Author.

If you read my column regularly, you know my dad died in January, 2011. Each month’s article in 2012 was written in honor of the life he lived and the godly inheritance he left me and my brothers. I know I have completely mourned his passing, but the other day on my way to church a song on the radio opened up my eyes to something I hadn’t seen before, something about the place where he died.

The song, by Chris Rice, was Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus), one of my favorites. I was just singing along, relishing the reminder that I am loved by a wonderful Savior when the last verse of the song burst my heart open:

And with your final heartbeat,
Kiss the world goodbye,
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory`s side… and

Fly to Jesus,
Fly to Jesus,
Fly to Jesus and live,

Fly to Jesus,
Fly to Jesus,
Fly to Jesus and live!

Extreme joy flooded my whole being, forcing a cool stream of tears from my eyes. In my mind’s eye, I saw my Daddy in his prayer chair looking up into the eyes of his Savior who personally came to take him home.

How do I know that’s how it happened? Well, according to my mom, Daddy, came downstairs that Wednesday afternoon and sat in his recliner next to hers to have a fruit cup and watch TV. He had just spent about an hour snow-blowing the six-to-eight inches of snow that had fallen the night before and was worn out. Within seconds of sitting down, he was in the midst of a massive heart attack. Mom jumped up when she saw his contorted face and said, “I’m calling 911!” Daddy said, “No don’t.”

The paramedics were there in minutes and later, one of them told us that when they got him into the ambulance, they tried to put a nitro-glycerin tablet under his tongue to help jump-start his heart. Daddy closed his lips tight so they wouldn’t put it in his mouth and shook his head, “No.”

In the ER, a doctor and his team worked on his chest with paddles, shocking his heart over and over when all of a sudden Daddy lifted his hands and waved them all off, shook his head as if to say, “No more,” and died.

Why would someone in the midst of such a life-threatening crisis refuse the help of capable hands? I believe it’s because Daddy finally got to look into the eyes of the One Who created him in his mother’s womb; the One Who saved him from a deadly fall after a night of drinking with his U.S. Air Force buddy in Berlin in 1956. I believe it’s because he got to look full into the perfect face of the One Who gave him a new life that night so long ago when he embraced the cross of Jesus Christ as payment for his sin—an acquittal from the damaging choices he had made up to that point. Daddy wanted to go home! He wanted to fly to Jesus and live!

Do you have a prayer chair? Do you have a place where you meet your Creator in person every morning, a place where you feed your soul for the day? My Daddy did and now I do, too. Every day I long to look into those forever eyes like my Daddy did on that day. I want to know Him, the Father of Lights, as he is called in the Bible. I want to know Him so completely that when it is my time to leave this earth and He comes to take me home, nothing on this earth will keep me here. My prayer chair will be empty and my Bible will be there next to it because I will be with its Author, the World’s Best Father!

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 7

In choices, death, divorce, fear, fiction, help, judging, love, marriage, obedience, relationships on October 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm

A Novelette

 by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Mrs. Stone’s story of the late Russell Stone hit a nerve in Rachel. It is 8:30 AM.

The anger rising in me was shocking. I wanted to run like villagers do when the volcano they live by day-in-and-day out starts rumbling. Mrs. Stone could see the eruption forming on my face. Still, she calmly continued.

“People judge these unlived lives as actors, manipulators or lazy bums, having no idea that they are starving for an ounce of acceptance and love in any form. They remain children in their mind with no definition for what drives them or what was stolen from them; they just know they are different from everyone else.”

I felt punched in the stomach and filled with shame. I held her gaze so she couldn’t see that I am one of those judges; that I am only an hour away from dumping such a soul.

“But why did you marry him, knowing he could never be a real husband to you?” I asked. She took in a deep breath; a strange peace engulfed me as she exhaled, something I still can’t explain, though I’ve rolled it over and over in my mind ever since.

“I didn’t know all this when I married him. He seemed as normal as any man,” said Mrs. Stone through tears. “At first I felt deceived, but to honor my vows, I had to love him unconditionally as I am loved by my Creator; that is only fair, don’t you think?”

I shrugged, non-committed. I wasn’t a religious person, but I had to agree that if the Creator loves me unconditionally, I should give my fellow man the same courtesy. I mean, that made sense, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a moral, good, considerate person. I obey the law and all, but her take on it seemed unrealistic.

“But how could you play along with it all? It doesn’t seem fair to you,” I said, my voice now pleading, my mind oblivious to the clock.

“Over time I learned that his feigned normalcy was more than just an act—it was a desperate cry for help,” she said. “I knew that my love for Russell had to be bigger than me. It had to reach beyond my romantic dreams, beyond my rights as a woman, as a wife. I had to love him more than he could ever love me.”

I choked. Shaking my head I pushed all these super woman ideals as far away from me as I could. She had no idea that Steve and Mr. Stone were one and the same and I wasn’t about to tell her. I needed to extricate myself from the Stone’s upside-down world and focus on my court date. I glanced up at the clock. It’s 8:40 AM.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Stone. With all due respect, I have a 9AM meeting I can’t miss. Please forgive me for rushing off like this. The staff will help you with the paperwork we need you to complete before Mr. Stone’s burial. I will call you later today.”

Mrs. Stone smiled serenely and looked down at the journal in her hands. My hand was on the door handle when she called my name. I turned around.

“Please take this and read it before you go to court.”

I gave her a sideways look as I took the journal from her trembling hand. How did she know my ‘meeting’ was in court?

To be continued….

________________

Read from the beginning…

The Un-lived Life of Russell Stone, Part 6

In Bible, child abuse, death, divorce, fiction, God, plots, trust on October 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Mrs. Stone’s journal shakes in Rachel’s trembling hands; the poem devours her like quicksand. It is 8:15 AM.  

The ink on the page dripped with pain. I read it again…

 

He died at 8

The funeral was at 12.

He emerged a zombie at 18

Married at 21.

It died at 24.

The second wedding

Was ’94.

5 years later it too dissolved.

Now he lies with me –

Un-alive at 53.

Mr. Stone died at eight? Our records show 1:03. She dated this last night, so he was still alive; must be years. I knew Mr. Stone had been married prior to marrying Mrs. Stone, but twice before? And what’s the whole zombie thing?

My thoughts were interrupted.

“Rachel?”

I jumped at her voice, her journal stuck in my hands, my gaping mouth void of words. Mrs. Stone stood staring at me from across the room. I have no recall of hearing the door open or close.

“Do you want to know?” She whispered.

I could only nod.

She crossed the room, took the book from my hands and alighted on her late husband’s bed. Stroking the fresh bedspread, she unfolded the un-lived life of Russell Stone.

My soul is not big enough to contain all that Mrs. Stone relayed to me that day; much of it fell on the floor, never to be heard by another ear. What lodged in me was an education far beyond my Ph.D.

“In ancient times, invading armies would rob the city’s temple, take all its holy objects and burn it to the ground. Such practice was strategic. These barbarians knew that in desecrating the sanctuary, they could subdue the entire nation and cripple their soul.

“It is no different today, though invasions are far more clandestine. Savages infiltrate homes and rob the temples of children—the holy objects of their precious souls: innocence, trust, a pure connection to God, are all pillaged and defiled in the most heinous way. These children survive physically but live unlived lives.

“Mr. Stone was a victim of sexual child abuse?” I whispered. She nodded, her eyes on the floor.

I’m sorry to say I couldn’t find much pity for the deceased. Don’t get me wrong, I am repulsed by such crimes and fiercely advocate the death penalty for sexual child abusers. But Mrs. Stone’s revelation didn’t add up. Mr. Stone’s behavior contradicted the archetypal sexual abuse victim. He exuded confidence, a gentleman’s gentleman; a self-made man.

I looked at the clock. I had a half-hour to get to the courthouse to finalize my divorce and could not afford to partake in her drama another minute.

But I admit I had a more personal reason for keeping pity for Mr. Stone at bay. It just so happens that this same story is what drove me to file for a divorce from Steven.

To be continued….

_______________

Read from the beginning…

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 5

In death, divorce, fear, fiction, love, memorial on October 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

At 8 AM, Rachel ushers Mrs. Stone into the Afterglow Room where her staff laid the body of Russell Stone. Candlelight cast a reverent halo around the deceased; soft, ethereal music welcomed the grieving widow. The scene changed quickly.

I’m still in shock. How can I explain this? We walked into the room. Mrs. Stone stood right beside me and stared at her husband’s body. Now understand that at this point, most widows gasp, choke on their tears and convulse as a fountain of emotion begins to erupt. They walk or run to the body. Some will kneel and gently caress the corpse’s cold hand, pat it and whisper loving words. Most spend a few moments of private good-bye, then express their gratitude for our respectful treatment of their loved one’s remains and leave.

Not Mrs. Stone. She laughed! That woman stood there and laughed! But it wasn’t a funny, ha, ha, type of laugh. It was maniacal. It was borderline evil. It was extremely bizarre; goose bumps scurried over my skin. She lifted her arm and stretched it out like a sword; it was fully extended all the way to the tip of her accusing index finger.

“You lost!” she screamed. “You lost!” Her laugh deepened into a sneering mock. “You stole my life and now I am free and you can never, ever, ever steal from me again!”

I grabbed her arm and tried to push it down, thinking she was out of control. “Mrs. Stone, why don’t we go into another room?” I whispered. I thought I would just usher her out of the room, give her a glass of water and bring her back into her right mind, but her arm was as hard as steel.

“You liar!” She shrieked, still pointing her sword at poor Mr. Stone’s body. “You thought I didn’t know your game, didn’t you! Oh, but I did, the whole time. And now you lose.”

“Mrs. Stone, please,” I insisted, “Let’s go sit down in the other room.” She lowered her arm and I thought she was going to turn and follow me when I heard—no, I felt a swish. I jumped at it; the hairs on my neck stood at attention.

Mrs. Stone was lying on top of Mr. Stone’s body, kissing it, caressing it! It was morbid, disgusting!

I freaked.

I ran from the room and in no particular direction. I was nauseous. I couldn’t accept the sight of that woman getting passionate with her husband’s corpse. When I left the bathroom, I realized I was in Mr. Stone’s former room on Angie’s unit. I don’t know how long I was there or why.

I collapsed on a chair, my heart racing, mind spinning. I don’t really recall much about that moment except the leather journal on his nightstand. It was open, Mrs. Stone’s pen, uncapped, lay across its pages.

What drew me to it is still unclear, but the poem appeared penned just moments before I arrived, as I smeared a stroke with my thumb as I lifted it off the table. Its lines capture and confuse me; its mystery clouds my mind and I soon forgot about my nine o’clock court date.

To be continued…

__________

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 4

In death, divorce, fear, fiction, healing, marriage, office, relationships, stress on May 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

A Novelette

By Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel is on the hunt to find out who called Mrs. Stone. Somehow, Mrs. Stone had learned of her husband’s death before Rachel called, which normally wouldn’t be an issue, but in the case of the Stone’s, it is far more than an issue.

My anger rose to another level by the time I reached the first floor. I determined that whoever made that call will feel its full force.

“Hi Ms. Cox, is everything okay?” Tina, our facility receptionist, popped out of her chair at the sound of my heels grinding across the lobby’s ceramic tile.

“No, Tina, it is not,” I shot back as I marched past her desk toward Mr. Stone’s nursing unit. Angie would be my first victim. I heard Tina pick-up her phone as I rounded the corner, undoubtedly to warn the unit that I was on my way.

I spotted Angie on the phone when I approached the unit desk and knew by her stance that she had in fact been alerted.

“Hi Rachel,” she said coolly as she set the phone back on the hook. “Everything okay?”

“Who called Mrs. Stone?”

“No one here called her. Kevin said you would,” she answered. For some reason, I believed her.

“I did,” I snapped, “but she already knew. Now, how do you suppose she knew if I’m the only one who called her?” I didn’t wait for an answer. I swallowed my rage and decided it could simmer while I focused on my own crisis. I checked my watch, 7:45 AM. Angie knew me well enough to know that this discussion was so not over and quickly caught up with me.

“Rachel, I’m sorry, I know you think I hate the Stones, but I am telling you the truth, I didn’t call her!”

“I believe you, Angie” I told her, but held my pace. The Stone saga had seeped too far into my mind and I no longer cared. “Just get back to your shift.”  Angie stopped and stood in the hall. No telling what was going through her mind, and I didn’t care about that either. I had a death report to fill out and file before I left for the courthouse; the rest could wait.

Tina picked up the phone as I appeared in the lobby and pretended to have a legitimate conversation; do they think I’m stupid? I know it’s Angie reporting back. I crossed the reception desk and there at the front door was Mrs. Stone.

“Rachel,” she said, her voice merely a breath.

“Mrs. Stone!” I embraced her and offered my condolences for her loss.

“Rachel, may I see him?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I had been so wrapped up in finding out who called her that I had no idea whether or not his body had been placed in our Afterglow room for viewing.

“Honestly, I’m not sure, why don’t you sit here in the lobby and I’ll go find out.”

“May I wait in his room?” she asked

“Oh, of course, yes, please,” I took her by the arm and led her back to her husband’s room. Tina was still on the phone and I made out enough of her statements to know that another warning had been sent to the unit of approaching doom.

Mrs. Stone had a peculiar look on her face, a calmness about her that was puzzling for someone who had just lost their beloved spouse. I brushed it off and left her alone in the late Mr. Stone’s room while I searched for answers on his whereabouts.

At 8 AM, I ushered Mrs. Stone to the Afterglow room where our staff had laid the body of the deceased and lit candles all around the room; soft, ethereal music welcomed the grieving widow. What happened next shocked me so profoundly I still can’t shake the image from my mind.

Read Parts 1 – 3

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 3

In death, fear, fiction, office on May 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel must place a call to the widow of Mr. Stone who passed away late last night, but she can’t pick up the phone. The conversations she had just weeks ago with Mrs. Stone are still churning in her gut. It would be great if she could just extricate herself from their strange story…

The tidbit Mrs. Stone shared with me about spending her entire marriage as a celibate servant to her husband lit the fuse in the bomb that’s been sitting dormant in my heart for the last 15 years. I thought I had dismantled that thing and was angry to find it still threatened my plans to be free from Steve.

Anyway, I couldn’t pick up the phone. All I had to do was inform Mrs. Stone that her husband died this morning at 1:03 a.m., offer condolences and politely pass her along to our after-death staff who handles the final paperwork and subsequent ceremonies.

But I couldn’t, not today. Today I had to focus on the final hearing of the divorce of my marriage that is taking way too long to die. Death never bothered me until I met the Stones. I’ve been in this business for 18 years and death-related things don’t even phase me. It’s not that I don’t feel; I just don’t fall to pieces. Neither do I dwell.

“Kevin, get Angie on the phone.” She will call Mrs. Stone or I’ll fire her for insubordination. This is technically her duty.

“I’m not here—I took the day off!” Kevin barked back through my intercom. On no other day would he do this to me. Angie’s toxic tales of Mr. Stone had infiltrated my whole staff—including my assistant and now there was no one left in the entire facility who would call Mrs. Stone.

“I’m not paying you for this day, Kevin,” I threatened. He didn’t retort, which was also unusual, but I knew he heard me, I could hear him outside my door fiddling with the fax machine. I reached for the envelope; inside was Mr. Stone’s watch and his wedding band. I looked twice to make sure there was nothing else, but it was empty.

I tilted the ring to read the engraving: Till death; strange choice for newlywed.

“Call her.” I jumped at the bark from the intercom and dropped the ring.

“Kevin! Either leave or get Angie on the phone!” It was 7:20 a.m. and as angry as I was at Kevin, I knew he was right, I couldn’t keep stalling. I grabbed the phone and dialed the number he had scribbled on the envelope.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Stone? This is Rachel. I’m sorry to wake you so early.”

“No problem Rachel,” her voice was odd, feathery.

“Russell left us early this morning, just after one. I’m so sorry.”

“I know Rachel, he’s at peace now.”

Her response took me off guard. Had someone else called her? She thanked me and said she would be in soon, declining my offer to come get her. I hung up and stared blankly at my wall of sticky notes, wondering what it was about this man that garnered such devotion. He seemed as normal as the rest of us. I pushed aside my thoughts. Mrs. Stone could be a saint if she wants, but not me. I have no patience for that. My almost Ex needs to grow up and take responsibility, and I need more from a man than he can give. I pressed the intercom.

“Who called Mrs. Stone?”

I popped out of my chair at the silence and yanked the door open. “Kevin! Who – ” He was gone. I marched down the hall and punched the elevator button, seething under my breath. I didn’t need this today.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2



The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 2

In career, death, divorce, fiction, marriage on February 12, 2011 at 11:41 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Our story continues from last month’s issue with Rachel just a few hours away from divorce court. Her assistant Kevin just presented her with an envelope containing the remaining effects of a resident who passed away the night before at the hospice-type facility where she is the director.

“He’s dead, Rachel,” Kevin leaned down to make sure his news connected with my brain. It had. I stiffened with shock and set the phone back on its base. “1:03 a.m. You need to call her now,” he added. “She went home last night sometime after midnight and no one wants to call her.”

I slumped back into my chair as Kevin gingerly lowered the envelope back on my pile so as not to trigger an avalanche, twirled on his heel and left. The news was eerily ironic, given that today was the death of my marriage.

I’m ashamed to say that I too dreaded a call to Mrs. Stone, but not for the same reasons as my staff. They assumed I vicariously held their pejorative opinion that she takes advantage of our facility, Afterglow Journey Center, and staff by her ubiquitous presence. Her husband, Russell Stone, is—was—our longest resident, and his “illness” was dubious at best.

We accepted Russell Stone because Mrs. Stone was a past board member of the umbrella organization that founded the center. Otherwise, his condition did not at all fit into our acceptance criteria. In fact, none of us are quite sure what his condition is, I mean, was. We were just notified by the chairman of the board about nine months ago that we were to make a room for him and treat him as any other resident.

This did not sit well with my staff. Angie, Mr. Stone’s nurse, felt there was nothing wrong with him; that he was faking his illness and was a waste of her time. I tried several times to assign another RN to relieve Angie of Mr. Stone, but her incessant moaning about him had by that time prejudiced all qualified candidates; soon the whole staff was singing the same song.

As administrator, I duly noted and addressed each complaint, but you must know that my reason for distancing myself from the Stones was more personal. The Stone’s were very nice people, he was polite with a quick wit and she was quiet with a sweet—almost too sweet—rosy perspective on everything. I say almost because it was like she didn’t quite have a grip on her situation.

Angie was the first to point that out. She had marched into my office after his first month with us, flopped down and just began raging about how Mrs. Stone was being duped by this man who was playing her for attention; she was convinced he was lazy and using his dear wife and our facility. I admit, from that angle it looked like Angie was right, so I decided to delve a bit deeper and get to know the Stone’s better.

After several conversations, Mrs. Stone confided to me that Mr. Stone’s “issue” was clinical depression and some trauma he had suffered as a boy. But when I asked more questions about their marriage, I was shocked to learn that Mrs. Stone served her husband of 23 years with a sacrificial love that enslaved her to a life of celibacy. I found it repulsive, especially because Mr. Stone seemed so much like Steve—my soon-to-be Ex; it was that piece of information that solidified my decision to file for a divorce. I refused to allow our marriage to play out like theirs.

To be continued….

(read part one here.)

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 1

In career, death, divorce, fiction, marriage, relationships on February 12, 2011 at 11:09 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick


My assistant handed me the envelope as I breezed past his desk en route to my office. I had no intention of opening it; I was due in court by nine and could not afford distraction. “Thanks, Kevin,” was my auto-response. I walked in and tossed it onto the pile I had run from late last night without registering the words that came with it: “These are the remaining effects of Mr. Stone.”

I turned to the board mounted on my door and plucked off three phone messages. “Go away Kevin,” I said without turning around. I refused to acknowledge his statue. I hate when he does that. Poor guy. My faithful assistant of eight years had morphed into a pitiful, nagging stalker, forced to haunt me day and night in order to complete the tasks I assign him; sadly, I am his greatest obstacle.

Kevin followed me in and watched me sit. He was immune to my mannequin mode so I knew that any attempt on my part to ignore him would be wasted. I also know that his postured stance by my desk meant that I would end up looking into that envelope. I turned and picked up my phone.

“I’m not here Kevin—today is D-day.”

“I’m not here either Rachel—I took the day off.” He bent at the waist and stretched his arm until his extended index finger and thumb could clasp the corner of the envelope. I watched peripherally, swallowing a laugh at the drama and inwardly admiring his increasing creativity in harnessing my attention.

With an exaggerated grimace, Kevin plucked the envelope off my desk like I had dropped a dirty sock on top of an elegant dessert buffet. “I came in to make sure you got this.” He dangled the clasped contents in front of me until my eyes locked with his.

“Kevin, I’m serious. I’m due in court by nine. I don’t have the time for whatever is in that envelope. It can wait.” He cut me off.

“These are the remaining effects of Russell Stone.”

I blinked.

“He’s dead, Rachel,” Kevin leaned down to make sure his news connected with my brain. It had. I stiffened with shock and set the phone back on its base. “1:03 a.m. You need to call her now,” he added. “She went home last night sometime after midnight and no one wants to call her.”

I slumped back into my chair as Kevin gingerly lowered the envelope back on my pile so as not to trigger an avalanche, twirled on his heel and left. The news was eerily ironic, given that today was the death of my marriage.

to be continued…