Choosing to SEE

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Choosing to SEE made me both laugh and cry more than any book I’ve read in months. Mary Beth Chapman shares her story of life as the wife of famous Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman. She writes about the accident that took her daughter’s life and the grief that followed. Her exploration of life’s ups and downs is both hilarious and heart-wrenching.

Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman
Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman

Mary Beth met and married Steven in college, before his music career took off. Choosing to focus on his music, they moved to Nashville. There, they had their first child. It was after they began having children and Steven’s music career began taking off that Mary Beth saw a psychiatrist for her crippling depression. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and put on Prozac. Despite its stigma in Christian circles, treatment for her depression allowed her to be a better wife and mother. Their family grew to six children: three naturally born and three adopted from China.

On May 21, 2008, Mary Beth’s 17-year-old son Will pulled into the driveway of their home and accidentally hit their five-year-old daughter Maria. Despite efforts to save her life, she passed away. Throughout the pages of the book, Mary Beth paints a picture of grief in its rawest form. She writes about the shock, the pleading with God, and the anger. Her story also shows the amazing work of God in the lives of the Chapman family, despite the tragedy of May 21.

Mary Beth gives voice to mental illness and faith.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, fellow Christians said some very damaging things to me. One friend said, “If you had more faith, you wouldn’t have bipolar disorder. And it’s funny, because your name is Faith and you don’t have any.” The stigma around my illness and my own denial about its severity led me to go years without treatment.

Yet it has been as I’ve grown in my faith that I’ve realized the difference between actual sin in my life and an illness I cannot control. Medication has been the best decision I have made for both my mental and my spiritual health. Now that the medication has put to rest many of my bipolar symptoms, I can clearly see areas of my life that I need to work on. I get angry too easily. I complain more than I should. Without being deafened by the ups and downs of the illness, I can hear God’s voice in my life a lot more clearly.

Mary Beth’s reflections on clinical depression as an illness reminded me a lot of my own experience with bipolar disorder. She wrote about how it’s an illness like any other physical illness. While she would love to be healed of it someday, Prozac helps her to live a healthy and happy life. She also is able to use her position as a prominent Christian figure to bring light to the issue of mental illness. Perhaps someday the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially in the church, will be gone.

Mary Beth grieved honestly and gracefully, all while in the spotlight.

Mary Beth did not have the luxury of grieving in private. While a lot of her grief could be done privately, her family’s spotlight meant that she had the public’s eye on her. Throughout her grief, she worried about the impact the accident had on her other children, especially Will, who had been driving the car that hit Maria. She experienced the full range of emotions during her grief, but did not linger in extreme depression or anger.

“I still trust in the One who gave us Maria to love for such a short time, but I am also a person who trusts while doubting at the same time. I am just being honest. I pray to God that He would build my trust and that my doubting would turn to rejoicing in time.

Mary Beth Chapman

The Chapman family used the spotlight put on them to glorify God. Although their grief was deep, they used every opportunity they could to bring good out of the situation. They went on to build and dedicate an orphanage in China, named after their Maria. The orphanage cared for disabled children and provided hospice care to those who were dying. Mary Beth used her writing to encourage those around her, despite her continued striving to live with the “new normal.” Through it all, the Chapman family did what they thought was right, despite their grief.

Quick Review:

Choosing to SEE was a fantastic book. Mary Beth’s humor was evident throughout, although she tackled many difficult topics. She shared embarrassing stories that had me laughing out loud. Then within minutes, I found myself crying with her as she shared the grief her family experienced. I can honestly say a book has never made me cry so hard. While it may be because I remember hearing about the accident on the radio in 2008, I also think it is because of Mary Beth’s excellent writing. Outside of a few minor formatting issues in the Kindle version (several words did not have spaces between them), I struggle to find anything I did not like about this book. It was an excellent read that will bring you a full range of emotions.

I’ll See You Again

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How would you feel if you lost all of your children in a terrible car accident? Jackie Hance suffered extreme suicidal thoughts and periods of anger following the deaths of her three daughters in a car accident. She writes about her grief, her questioning her faith, and moving forward in I’ll See You Again.

I'll See You Again by Jackie Hance with Janice Kaplan
I'll See You Again by Jackie Hance with Janice Kaplan

Jackie Hance sent her three daughters with their aunt and uncle on a weekend camping trip. They had enjoyed the same outing so much the previous year that she pushed aside any anxiety she had about being separated from them so that they could have the best summer possible. Beside her anxiety, she had no reason not to trust her in-laws. They had always been extremely trustworthy and the two families were extremely close.

When the girls began their trip back from the campsite, Jackie received a concerned call from one of her daughters. Her daughter told her that there was something “wrong” with her Aunt Diane. Diane, however, took her cell phone. With slurred words, she informed Jackie that everything was fine, and got back on the road. Concerned that her sister-in-law was having a stroke or a seizure while driving, Jackie called the police. Unfortunately, the police were unable to understand the gravity of the situation or organize help until after Diane got onto an off-ramp and drove the wrong way through traffic, eventually causing a head-on collision. She killed herself, her daughter, Jackie’s three daughters, and the three passengers in the other vehicle. The only survivor of the accident was Diane’s young son.

Jackie Hance paints a picture of grief in its rawest form.

There is no way to sugar-coat the grief that Jackie Hance endured. In I’ll See You Again, she refuses to cover up even the ugliest parts of grief. Just over a year after the accident, a neighbor decided to have the annual Halloween party that she cancelled the year before out of sensitivity to Jackie’s situation. Furious that others would move on so fast while she was still in the depths of her grief, she fired off a text saying that while she could understand celebrating Christmas and Easter, a Halloween party was excessive. Her friend kindly responded to her rage, understanding that it was a part of her grief, and Jackie knew that she was overreacting. I admired Jackie’s honesty in sharing even unflattering stories such as that one. It was easy to relate those stories to periods of time in my own life when my grief made me less than graceful.

“I was like a triple amputee–mutilated so severely that others wanted to look away. I felt like an oddity, an aberration, an abomination.”

Jackie Hance

By sharing her story in such an honest and raw way, Jackie helps us to see that it is okay to grieve in a way that is true to ourselves. Jackie had periods of amnesia, finding it difficult to grasp the reality of the accident that claimed her daughters’ lives. She felt extreme anger, often lashing out at her husband. She cried every day. While finding healthy ways to channel those feelings during the grieving process is important, it is also important to make sure to grieve in a way that is natural for us.

She writes about the insufficiency of “easy answers” when dealing with grief.

Soon after losing her children in the accident, the toxicology report showed that Diane was drunk at the time of the accident. Now filled with not only grief, but anger, Jackie seeks out answers. She had never known Diane to drink. Had she known Diane would drink and drive, she wouldn’t have allowed her daughters to go anywhere alone with her. Jackie asked friends, pastors, and counselors how something like this could have happened. None of their answers were sufficient.

“But in the face of numbing grief, platitudes are pointless. They slide off your skin like dewdrops from a leaf. I wasn’t seeking solace–I needed answers.”

Jackie Hance

Because of the press surrounding the accident that claimed the lives of her daughters, some counselors even refused to see Jackie. Feeling abandoned to her grief, Jackie began to seek answers on her own. She read and re-read the toxicology reports. Then she read the medical records of her children, wondering if there was something wrong with them that made them susceptible to dying more easily in an accident. When she exhausted everything and still had no answers, she had to come to terms with the reality that there were no answers. She did everything she could to protect her children and they still died.

She writes about moving forward, despite the grief.

During her grief, Jackie went to such depths of depression that she was suicidal. She did not just have passing thoughts of suicide. Her thoughts focused on suicide. She began to see it as the only way to be reunited with her children. However, because of her Catholic faith, she believed that if she committed suicide she would be in Hell instead of Heaven with her daughters. She begged her husband to kill her so she could be with them. When he refused, she said that she would kill him, so at least their children would have one parent.

“Whatever the degree of loss, you have to fight back, find your own happiness despite it all.”

Jackie Hance

Despite that lowest point, though, Jackie and her husband found a way to move forward. She realized that although she would never really “move on,” she could still resume living her life. With the help of a fertility doctor, she conceived and had another daughter. Although she struggled with the fact that her daughter would not be alive had it not be for the deaths of her other daughters, she also began to realize that she could move on and love her daughter without betraying the love she had for her other daughters. Jackie and her husband fought hard to find a new happiness.

Quick Review:

I’ll See You Again is certainly an emotional book! Although her story gets very dark, the fact Jackie Hance does not sugar-coat the grieving process makes the memoir even better. She does not withhold tough questions about why tragedy happens to good people and children. Her story is a well-written and emotional journey worth taking.


What is the worst “easy answer” you’ve heard during a time of grieving?

Into the Deep

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I came upon this absolutely heartbreaking, yet inspirational memoir while browsing through The Ohio Digital Library. I am drawn toward stories that have that “Investigation Discovery” feel. Even though it was a natural disaster that claimed the family of Robert Rogers and not human actions, I think it’s the same interest that drew me to this book.

Into the Deep by Robert Rogers with Stan Finger
Into the Deep by Robert Rogers with Stan Finger

While driving back home from a family member’s wedding, flash flooding caused the road to be covered in water. Robert’s wife, Melissa, was driving and was too deep into the water to turn back by the time they realized they were in it. The cars in front of them were passing through fine and they were boxed in with cars behind them, unable to stop. Meanwhile, it continued to rain and the water continued to flow across the road, getting deeper.

The water began to fill the car, waking up their four children, who became frightened. A man came to the window to try to offer them help, but was swept away by the water. When they seemed to have no other option because they were not moving through the water, Robert kicked out the passenger side window, and he and his oldest daughter were sucked out of the car and into the water. He and his wife had planned to swim to the surface and try to save their children, but he fought just to stay alive and ended up on the embankment bruised and scraped. He made it to the emergency response teams and pleaded for help for his family. They transported him to the hospital after seeing no sign of his family.

At the hospital, he was informed that his four children were dead and his wife could not be found. Three days and a press conference later, when the water had receded, they found her body as well. His family, the hospital staff, and the people of his city poured out an amazing amount of love and support for him during his grief. The rest of the book reflects on the years he had with his family and the process of grieving their loss and giving glory to God despite the pain.

Robert Rogers is a beautiful example of grieving with grace.

I really enjoyed this book. I have not cried so hard reading anything in such a long time. Nearly every few chapters made me burst out in tears, feeling so appreciative of what I have. Repeatedly throughout the pages, Rogers wrote that throughout his grieving and discussions with others, he wanted to make sure that people came to know God better and appreciate their loved ones more. He accomplished that in my reading of the book.

“I heard so many times from so many people, ‘God never gives you more than you can handle.’ I eventually came to believe that ‘God will always give you more than you can bear alone, because He doesn’t want you to bear it without Him.’ Alone, this cross was unbearable. But with God, it was possible.”

Robert Rogers

Timing is always crazy. Mount Vernon had flash flood warnings the week I was reading this book, so I felt especially emotional. Before the flash flood warnings, though, my husband and I were driving to and from Columbus for a date in very heavy rain, and I kept thinking about what I had been reading. I soaked in every moment of that date night and have been intentional in taking every moment I can to tell him that I love him. Though no one wants to think about it, you never know when something as unexpected as a rain storm could take away those you love.

The Girl Behind the Door

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I was browsing the biography section of The Ohio Digital Library when I came upon this book. It looked interesting, so I put it on hold and thought nothing else of it for a couple more months, until it showed up in my email account as available.

The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks
The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks

John Brooks wrote the heart-wrenching story of traveling overseas to bring home a baby girl who was unhealthy from not receiving the care and attention she needed to raising a troubled teenager who would eventually end her life by stepping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. Brooks shared in painful detail the signs he only saw after the fact of her struggle to find her place in the world, and a diagnosis the he would only find after her death to be attachment disorder.

This book broke my heart because of my desire to foster children.

In his writing about attachment disorder and how it impacted his daughter’s ability to love and feel loved, Brooks explained that many children who are adopted are impacted by this disorder. Even children who are adopted very young, like his daughter Casey, have this overwhelming feeling that they are undesirable and that no one could ever love or want them. They struggle to build deep or lasting attachments, and often act out in burst of anger or emotion. It is an absolutely haunting condition to imagine anyone going through, especially one you have chosen to bring into your home to love and care for.

I will not even pretend to know what that feels like because I have never been adopted and I have do not have many friends who were. However, my husband have known for several years that we wanted to at the very least foster children with the possibility of adopting them. Casey was not just one case of the grief caused by attachment disorder. So many children are suffering and need to be loved and cared for by people who are not going to hurt them. While there is a part of me that feels overwhelmed and not good enough for such a task, I know that some day my husband and I may come to love one such child. Maybe even more.

The number of people who jump of of bridges is heartbreaking.

It surprised and saddened me that so many people use bridges like the Golden Gate to commit suicide. At the time the book was written, about thirty people a year jumped off that bridge to die. There is a project underway, due to be completed in 2019, to build a barrier to try to prevent these kind of acts. That may prevent people from jumping from bridges, but it does not deal with the pain that makes them jump.

I am not entirely sure what to make of this book after reading it. I feel more aware. I feel more heartbroken. But I do not know what to do about it except to love those around me better than I did before. One of them could be hurting and I wouldn’t even know it. I do not want to have to come aware of a loved one’s suffering only when it is too late.