My book has been alive in the world for THREE WHOLE MONTHS!
Like a first time parent of a newborn child, I’ve been fraught with worry since it’s birth. I check on it all too often to make sure it’s still breathing. I’m constantly calling more experienced parents to ask all the questions:
Like the parents of a newborn, you might be tired of me posting photos of it ALL OVER THE INTERNET. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter … everywhere you turn there I am, the proud parent, holding my book child up like it’s the first book to ever be written.
It’s not. I know it’s not. But, for me? It’s my first. And I am proud of it.
I know it won’t live forever, but I’ve got to help it as long as it is. Most books don’t live but a couple years and then they die off into the nothingness of collecting dust on shelves around the world. I know that the dying process usually starts soon after the book’s release, and I’m doing my best to keep this one living as long as I can.
In that light, I’m asking a favor from you:
If you read my book, and you liked it, I’m kindly asking you to help me as I try to raise it to be a contributing citizen of the world.
HERE ARE SOME PRACTICAL WAYS YOU CAN HELP:
ONE: Word of mouth … that mystical, organic, grassroots foundation for the growth of any good product. If you liked it, share it on Facebook, or Instagram, or with your check-out line neighbor at your local Wal-Mart.
TWO: Introduce it to your group. Small groups at church, book clubs, Facebook groups, your local brony chapter. Groups are where books can take off. A friend of mine had his book rocket to a best-seller list just because a youth organization decided to endorse it. It’s the simple things that can go a long way. And you, my friend, no matter how small, or how large your group, can help good things grow because you are powerful.
THREE: Buy one for a family member or friend who you think might benefit from it.
FOUR: Leave a review! On Amazon, Goodreads, on the bathroom stall at McDonald’s. Positive, thoughtful reviews always help other potential buyers. For me, every time I buy a new scalpel for the prep room, I always check the Amazon reviews. Does it cut like promised? Is it ergonomic? Reviews help.
Thank you all!
Amazon is discounting my book by two dollars, from $17.99 to the current price of $15.53. The discounted started on Black Friday and it’s still going as of Tuesday evening. I’m just a very small pawn on Jeff Bezo’s chess board, so I have no control over when these discounts come and go. If you were looking to buy a couple copies for a support group or for friends, or you were waiting for a cheap price (I’m frugal too), this is easily the cheapest option to date.
You can bounce over the book’s Amazon page by clicking HERE.
I’m on Rob Bell’s podcast this week. For those of you who don’t know Rob Bell, he used to have a show on Oprah’s network, and before he was working with Oprah, he was a rather progressive Pastor. He’s easily one of my favorite speakers. I actually flew out to his home studio in West Hollywood to do this interview.
If the Podcast plugin below doesn’t work for you, you can listen to our conversation HERE.
This book started as a dream some five years ago, right around the birth of my son, Jeremiah. His birth marked a distinct time in my life when I realized that I could find enough beauty in death care and enough beauty in death to sustain me as a father. When I first joined the funeral home — approximately seven years prior to Jeremiah — I was depressed, anxious and held onto a narrative about death that painted it as entirely negative. Through a number of experiences, experiences that I share in this book, that death negative narrative slowly began to change as I discovered a positive view of death that inspired me to a renewed appreciation for death care and the renewed sense that I could raise a child in this world.
Although the dream started five years ago, this book’s journey has been two years in the making. It was around July of 2015 that my agent started pitching my proposal to different publishing companies. Back in July 2015, I had a somewhat clear idea of what the book would look like, but it had yet to be written. From the beginning, it was to be a memoir that followed my journey from death to rebirth, from infertility to Jeremiah’s birth, from a death negative narrative to death positivity. But, like most memoirists, I was somewhat afraid to tell the honest truth about my life with death. I was afraid that my journey was too dark and too complicated by matters of God, death, religion, hell, and heaven for people to want to read.
I knew there’d be an interplay between my growing up around death, how my views of God affected my death negative narrative, and how my experiences in death care led to a death positive spirituality. I knew that I’d need help telling these stories in a way that was both inspiring and yet still honest about the difficulty of death. So, I was really excited when HarperOne (the spirituality imprint of HarperCollins responsible for books like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Love Wins by Rob Bell and a number of other books that found a way to deal with heavier topics while still maintaining a tone of inspiration) signed me on in September of 2015.
In the Fall of 2015, this space here on my blog became all but quiet as I started tracing my journey with the help of my wonderful editor Katy Hamilton. I kept working full-time at the funeral home, which made the writing process slower but it also kept the stories grounded and in touch with death, death care and my own personal struggles with both. It may have written a better book had I focused entirely on this book, but staying at worked helped me write compassionately from my heart about the family who lovingly dressed their deceased father for his burial. The embalming of a little girl that offered a gift back to her grieving family. The nursing home that honored a woman’s life by standing in procession as her body was taken away. The community of people with different beliefs who came together at last at a funeral. Save the introductory chapters, each chapter follows a different death story, and how that story moved me toward death positivity.
I write, as something of a thesis for the book,
“I tremble to say there’s good in death, because I’ve looked in the eyes of the grieving mother and I’ve seen the heartbreak of the stricken widow, but I’ve also seen something more in death, something good. Death’s hands aren’t all bony and cold.”
I’m both excited and nervous for this book’s release. Excited because I feel like I captured a story that will inspire, deepen and move its readers closer to embracing death and mortality. Nervous because many of these stories are written from a position of personal transparency and vulnerability.
If you’ve read my blog for a while, you may see traces of stories you’ve read here, but most of the stories are new. If you haven’t been reading my blog, the whole thing should be fresh.
Here it is. Please consider preording it by clicking the image below:
It’s been three years since my 4-year-old died from brain cancer, but sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. The memories can come roaring back in the blink of an eye, leaving me motionless, breathless, and aching. Sometimes I long to hold little Henry like I long for air. Even as I push forward, I encounter reminders of loss everywhere.
Two years ago we moved half-way across the country. In part, we moved to escape the reminders. We left behind the empty bedroom decorated in oranges and blues. We traveled 1,150 miles away from the library with the fountain in the front and story time on Tuesday mornings. We put days of driving between us and the pediatrician’s office with the green vinyl-covered chairs and matching industrial carpet. I left Henry’s shadows, but I can’t seem to outrun the reminders.
When I hear about a toddler being snatched and killed by an alligator, my blood runs cold. A weight sinks into my chest and doesn’t lift for hours. I know what it feels like to hear your child scream out in pain. I’ve walked through helplessness, terror, and disbelief. I know about the birthday parties his parents will never throw, the presents they won’t buy, the holidays that will feel somewhat empty and off. I understand the pain they’ll feel as they watch other children his age grow, enter kindergarten, and learn to ride their bikes without training wheels. I realize the strain that this type of loss will put on their relationships, perhaps even their identities. I know how, even years into the future, they’ll feel like something is missing when everyone is present.
When mass shootings occur and sacred lives are senselessly slaughtered, I am completely undone. I can’t seem to find words or formulate thoughts through a fog of horror and grief. My heart turns towards the loved ones facing funerals filled with polite and sympathetic conversation. Afterwards, they’ll watch as the shock fades for everyone else. The masses will disperse back into the groove of life while they instead limp forward, tired, cautious, acutely aware of the cruelty this world can dish out. There will be no going back to “normal.” Normal is forever changed. They are forever changed.
And when I come across yet another Facebook status about yet another child diagnosed with terminal cancer, I freeze. I spend a few moments locked in the painful silence of remembering, reliving, dreading for them what lies ahead. We live in a world where pain is everywhere.
Why is the world this way? How do we make sense of all this? As a Christian, I’ve turned to faith for answers. But sometimes faith can bring more questions. For example, the Bible says that God is all-powerful. Can’t God stop an alligator? Or vaporize a tumor? Scripture also says that God is love. Doesn’t God want to paralyze a gunman with murder on his mind?
Does God lack the power or the desire to prevent unspeakable pain?
I know I’m not the only one who has wrestled with this question. Some of you may have wondered: Did God lack the power or the desire to prevent my rape? My miscarriage? My cancer?
Some Christians attempt to answer these questions with phrases like “Everything happens for a reason” and “Sometimes we just can’t see what God’s doing when our eyes are blurry with tears.” Other times we’re told that suffering is “sent to refine us,” is a “blessing in disguise,” or is simply a necessary part of “God’s plan to glorify himself.”
These ideas stem from the assumption that everything is happening according to God’s perfect plan – his meticulous, divine blueprint. But I think it’s time to question that assumption.
After all, how can we call God love if God is the one orchestrating our devastation?
How can we sincerely worship a God whose glory-seeking plan requires alligator teeth in toddler flesh, bullets spraying through a crowd, or terminal brain cancer in a 4-year-old?
How could this God be considered praiseworthy? If God plans all our pain in minuscule detail, then his character doesn’t strike me as loving or praiseworthy. At best, it seems mysterious; at worst, it seems sadistic.
Finally, how do we reconcile this picture of God with God’s self-revelation in Jesus? The Bible says Jesus was the exact representation of God’s essence (Heb. 1:3). Yet when we look to Jesus’ ministry, we see a God who healed the broken… he didn’t break the healthy to glorify himself. Does God in Spirit hold a different standard of morality than his flesh-and-bones representation?
Several years ago, I began to compare God’s self-revelation in Jesus to my picture of a God who designs humanity’s suffering. That’s when I discovered a huge chasm. And during the process of engaging my questions, I found new, more satisfying answers.
Now I stand with a growing number of Christians who think it’s time for us to take another look at one of the most important questions in the world: If God is loving and all-powerful, why do we suffer? In my experience, the answer points us to a God who is more stunningly beautiful, more pure, and more loving than most of us have ever dared to imagine.
Find Jessica Kelley’s book on Amazon: Lord Willing?: Wrestling with God’s Role in My Child’s Death.
Kelley is a writer, speaker, and author of Lord Willing?: Wrestling with God’s Role in My Child’s Death, (Herald Press, April 2016). She has a B.S. in Psychology, a M.S. in Counseling & Human Development, and experience as a School Counselor. Born and raised in the South, Jessica now lives with her husband and five-year-old daughter in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She survives the absurdly long winters by going to the gym, dreaming about the beach, and eating copious amounts of chocolate. You can find her processing her faith journey at JessicaKelley.com.
Today’s guest post is written by NYC Funeral Director Amy Cunningham:
It seems fitting to reveal on Saint Patrick’s Day that the most common Google query that reliably draws readers to “The Inspired Funeral” day after day, week after week, is “Irish Funeral Music.” The last Irish funeral music post I wrote, garnered me tens-of-thousands of page views. Either the Irish are needing to know what is traditional or new to their own funerals, or those who aren’t Irish want to convey an Irish vibe to the festivities.
So lately, in my effort to be of sound funeral planning assistance, I’ve been fixated on how to make “Danny Boy,” the most famous of all Irish funeral ballads, new again. Can the beloved, seasoned, ever-so-classic-you-can’t-believe-they’re-trotting-it-out-again ballad be even more heart warming than it already is? Yes, it’s terrific–a total knock-out, in fact– sung in the classic mode by a male tenor, but here are some ideas you might consider when confronted with a funeral where “Danny Boy” is requested.
1. READ THE LYRICS AS STRAIGHT TEXT. DON’T HAVE IT SUNG AT ALL . Just read all four stanzas aloud from a podium, and grope for your handkerchief. Read it as a poem, aloud right now, and realize that by the time most singers get to the best, most moving lines, we listeners have been lulled into a sad, sweet snooze. (Take note, in stanza three: an “Ave” means “a prayer.”)
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.
And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
2. HAVE IT PLAYED WITHOUT THE LYRICS AS AN INSTRUMENTAL ON A SLIGHTLY UNUSUAL INSTRUMENT. Here’s a super great “Danny Boy,” totally right for a funeral, on church pipe organ and solo trumpet. Here’s Eric Clapton playing it on guitar with characteristic emotion, and not singing a word. And if you’re bleary-eyed from too much funeral planning and need a little chuckle, here’s “Danny Boy” played as an instrumental, down in the NYC subway system, on a saw.
3. JETTISON THE MALE IRISH TENOR. Women have been singing “Danny Boy” beautifully since soprano Elsie Griffin belted it out at the turn of the century. My personal favorite female-rendered “Danny Boy” is Sinead O’Connor’s, recorded in such a way that you could quickly improve any “Danny Boy” funeral by cuing it from an iPhone into Bose speakers. Nice save. And don’t neglect the grandchildren! They can sing “Danny Boy” at a grandfather’s funeral, and rock the house (though funeral music should generally not be a performance).
4. FINALLY, CONSIDER EMPLOYING A MORE UPBEAT “DANNY BOY” AFTER THE FUNERAL’S CLOSING. This idea might not be everyone’s pint of tea (or Guinness), but imagine “Danny Boy” played on sprightly banjo, after all concluding remarks and benedictions, as people are warmly greeting each other, hugging, finding their coats, blowing their noses, and remarking what a good funeral it was (Irish or not). Moral: it’s okay for a funeral to leave people uplifted in the vast majority of instances, grateful that the deceased were with us for as long as they were, and happier themselves–goddamnit– to still be alive, resolved to make good use of whatever time is left.
About the author: Amy Cunningham is a New York City funeral director and funeral celebrant especially passionate about getting families back involved in more personalized planning. She lectures on back-to-basics funeral planning and the greening of the industry. In her prior life she was a magazine journalist who wrote for Parenting, More, Glamour, and the Washington Post magazine. She is an active member of the National Home Funeral Association and ICCFA.
She writes a blog called TheInspiredFuneral.com