Home
Episodes
About Us
Store
Other Programs 
Donate 
Contact Us 

 

Guests
Transcript
Testimonies
Feedback




Pat Arrabito


Pieter Houghton


Rob George


Connie Jeffery


Dr. Raymond Shelton

  
Dwight Nelson:

Where is God when the human spirit is overwhelmed with grief? Or thousands die in a national tragedy like the World Trade Center? Or you lose the very dearest person in life to you? The fact is that the experience of death and dying is a universal reality that continues to confront us with the questions about God. In today's program, you're going to meet some individuals who are going to share - out of their experience - some very deeply moving insights into God simply because some of them are facing their own imminent deaths. Some of them are grappling with a horrific loss. We need to consider grief as a nation and so later on in our program I'm going to be talking with a stress and trauma expert who at this very moment is counseling on the sight of the World Trade Center. How do we as Americans cope with grief and death in the picture of our national experience? But first of all, a woman whose world fell apart and whose life caved in with a single phone call.

Pat Arrabito:

My husband was working on a documentary film at the time. And wanted to take some footage up in Alaska. He had enough miles on his travel bank to take both of our boys with three tickets. So they were pretty excited to get to go to Alaska.

Dwight Nelson:

In August of 1990, Pat's husband, Jim, and two of their four children, 13 year-old Tony and 11 year-old Joey, flew from Los Angeles to Anchorage, Alaska. While there they called home with stories of Caribou sightings and new friends

Pat Arrabito:

It was Monday afternoon and my husband and my two sons were due to land in LAX from Anchorage. One of our workers had gone there to meet them and they didn't get off the plane. And of course they don't disclose who is on the plane or who is not, usually. But he called me and I hadn't heard anything. I had no reason to think that they wouldn't be there. So I had to call our friends in Alaska and that's when I found out that their small plane had never landed in Anchorage the night before.

Dwight Nelson:

The night before on Sunday night, a storm blasted Anchorage. Caught in the storm, the pilot of the 6 passenger Cessna carrying Pat's husband and children radioed Anchorage airport for help. The storm had actually blown the plane 20 miles off course. Minutes later, it slammed into the rocky peaks of the Tauketnum mountains. Back at their home in Northern California, Pat and her two other children waited and prayed 'til Monday night.

Pat Arrabito:

During the day Tuesday, I was calling "search and rescue" every couple of hours. And in the afternoon, they told me they had sighted the plane and they were sending helicopters in. So I called my brother and told him and he called them to get more details. He found out that they were trying to find a Sheriff to come up to my house. And that way, he got the news out of them and told them that he wanted to come and tell me himself.

Dwight Nelson:

Later that afternoon Pat's father and brother arrived at the Arrabito home where several other family members and friends had already gathered. Taking Pat outside, her brother Tom relayed the message he heard from "search and rescue" in Alaska.

Pat Arrabito:

My brother just said there were no survivors. And I just heard those words just whirling around in my head over and over. You know? "No survivors, no survivors, no survivors." And then I'm thinking: "Yes, there are survivors because there is me and my other two children." And I don't know how long we were out there. It was kind of a timeless time. I went back in the house and my kids had been sitting on people's laps. They came over. My daughter was almost nine, my son seven. And they just both came over and climbed on my lap and I hugged them and my son said: "My daddy's dead, isn't he?" And I just nodded and my daughter said: "And Tony and Joey?" I said: "Yeah." You know there was just such a huge sense of: "How can this be true? And how can somebody who was just there…not be anymore?" And you know, it's almost like you're in another world. I can't even describe how the sense of floating in space and time and…it was just overwhelming. It was really hard to go to bed that night. It was really hard to go to bed and know that I was going to go to bed alone from then on. It was hard for my kids to sleep. They both climbed into bed with me. In fact, they climbed in bed with me for the next year. They didn't want to sleep alone. I can't describe the feelings that I had trying to go to sleep. I think it took me quite awhile. But in the midst of it all, there was still a sense that God was right there. I had such a sense of God's presence. And it was an odd thing to me. I mean, it was noteworthy that in the midst of the most agonizing experience I think I could ever have, I still felt this center of peace within me and a sense that God was right there. And that whatever agony I was enduring, God was too. And he was right there with me, enduring it. And I wasn't alone. There's lots of things I can't answer about God, but I know that he's good and I know that he has been there. You know, he carried me. And I told him: "You have to just keep carrying me because I can not walk alone." And he's carried me ever since.

Dwight Nelson:

One final note, in August of 2001, Pat Arrabito and her two children flew to the site of the plane crash in Alaska. Her friends had built a monument in remembrance of her husband Jim and her two sons. She called it one of the most powerful experiences of her life. We'll have much more when we come right back.

Music

 

Pieter Houghton:

Of course it's against all our instincts as human beings, of course it's against our feelings of compassion. But it's the way of the universe.

Music

 

Pieter Houghton:

This powers the pump inside my heart and if the pump in the heart failed - or if I didn't have these batteries - well I'd go into a heart cardiac failure. So I live with the presence of death or the possibility of death. Indeed, in fact, just looking at it, I can see this is about to run out so I'll have to change it.

Dwight Nelson:

From now on when you and I see the New York city skyline, it will be a reminder of how utterly fragile and transient human life really is. In fact, to hear the word death, to speak it, for most of us there, there is aroused an inner foreboding, a sense of fear. Dr. Rob George is a clinical director of a London Palliative Center, what we in this country would call a hospice. Day and night he lives with death and dying. Listen to what he has to say about death.

Rob George:

I think that…well, I know that there is such a thing as a healthy death. Now what exactly do I mean by that? I don't mean a death that's been surrounded by roses and soft music and everybody's sitting around. I mean a death that's made sense in the context of a life that has moved someone to the place where they are going forward through death into something else and where they are engaged with and addressed the tensions and conflicts that their life has brought to them and how they've got a hold of those and how they've wrung meaning and sense out of that life and also out of that dying process.

Dwight Nelson:

Pieter Houghton has first-hand knowledge of what it's like to prepare for a healthy death. He nearly died of heart failure before receiving the experimental artificial heart that continues to extend his life.

Pieter Houghton:

So I had said all my good byes and thank yous and tried to put everything right that was wrong. And I was ready to die. I'd done all I could. And at that point you have to reach into yourself, into your own personal strength. Into your own sense of…in my case…of God and the Holy Spirit…and rely on that to take you through the last and unpleasant hours. And in a way that's a very inspiring experience, the sense that you are connected with the universe and there is a presence that comes to you in a moment of extremity. And I found that personally wonderful.

Dwight Nelson:

Connie Jeffery has felt that presence in a moment of extremity. She lost both of her parents within eight months of each other. Even so, she describes watching her mother die as one of two times she experienced an especially powerful sense of the presence of God.

Connie Jeffery:

One was sixteen years ago at the birth of my only son. And the other was last week at my mother's bedside as she died. And those two experiences have taught me more about the presence of God and his power in my life than any other thing. And he was there at the birth. He is there at our death. He is there all the way through if let him be. And it's just a powerful, powerful concept to know he is the giver of life and he's there at the end. And we have a great hope.

Dwight Nelson:

According to Pieter Houghton there's one aspect of dying which at first glance may seem a little odd. He says humor can play an important role.

Pieter Houghton:

I think there's two reasons a sense of humor is important. The first is the people around you need you to have it. They need to feel that when you…that when they are dealing with you that you can take it light heartedly and that you can crack the old joke right up to the end. It's very noticeable: the better response people who are in the last stage of dying get when they have a sense of humor from their people around them. And when they just lapse into depression. The second thing I found myself is, that you absolutely have to laugh at the world, you know? And all the things that were being done around you. You have to see the ridiculousness of it and the transience of it. Because that kept your own morale going. And it was possible to see the humor in terminal stage care. And that helped me a lot personally. And I've seen it help others. I know a lady who's been worried in the last week that she's enjoying herself too much because she's actively dying now. She's been concerned that she's not dwelling on the serious and worrying things about the future of her soul and that kind of stuff. I think it's fantastic because it means that we can bring lightness to very painful areas. The ability to laugh at the painful things actually robs them of their power. You've got to have laughter. And you've got to have as much love as you possibly can. I mean, look around you: it's summer. I never expected to see another summer. I mean life is a miracle, isn't it? And we have to find out what this wonderful miracle is for.

Connie Jeffery:

We need to live everyday as if it's our last or our loved one's last because we want to be able to say those things. We want them to know they are loved. And because my dad went to sleep one night and didn't wake up the next morning, I didn't have a chance to really say my goodbyes and tell him how much I loved him. When I went into dad's room the morning after he died, I was numb and I was sad and I had a hundred different emotions, conflicting emotions. And I was scared. It was the first death I had experienced. And when I went in there, I found his Bible open to where he had been reading the night before: Revelation 22, the very last chapter, the last words of the Bible: "And surely I come quickly. Even so, come Lord Jesus." And I was comforted by that. I believe that was a message and God was saying to me: "It's ok." You know? It's going to be ok.

Pieter Houghton:

There are five things we should try and do. We should remember as the Buddhists say, everything is sorrow. Everything comes to an end. And we should remember as the Christians say, everything is renewed but not the same. And we should remember as the Diarists in China say, right actions lead to right results and wrong actions lead to wrong results. And we should learn that every friendship, every relationship, has to be mutual. We can't impose ourselves on others and they can't impose themselves on us without consent. But finally, and this is the thing that matters to me, there's glory at the heart of anything. There is the act of creation that began the universe that echoes, I think, personally, within the soul. And that's the great journey that I found extra life is helping me make. The discovery, I call it, the echo of the creation.

Dwight Nelson:

Pieter Houghton also told us that we must stop being afraid of death. God made a universe in which we're born. And in that same universe we die. It's part of the global reality of life on this planet. When we come back, I'll be joined by Dr. Raymond Shelton, an expert in traumatic incident stress management for the Nassau County New York Police and Fire Departments. We'll talk to him about grief on a national level.

Music

 

Dwight Nelson:

I'm here with Dr. Raymond Shelton who has worked as a firefighter and paramedic. He's been with the Nassau County New York Police Department 27 years?

Raymond Shelton:

27 years.

Dwight Nelson:

27 years. He's been working in their police academy as emergency medical trainer for the students. But in that capacity, Dr. Shelton has developed the traumatic incident stress management peer support program. That is a mouthful Dr. Shelton. What in the world is that about?

Raymond Shelton:

Well, Dwight when you talk about traumatic incidents such as what we've seen here at the Trade Center, we know that the police and fire and EMS personnel who go in and face that level of destruction and death are affected by that. And what the peer support traumatic incident program does is provide them a means of being able to deal with that tremendous level of stress, the reactions that they have and how to get them through so that in the opposite side they come out as healthy individuals.

Dwight Nelson:

So Ray, you are down on the site of this horrific tragedy hours later. You've been there for days. You've been there for weeks. How are the rescue personnel surviving? The police, the firemen, what are they doing to cope?

Raymond Shelton:

How are they doing? It's a little bit difficult to determine that because they are affected by this. We speak in terms of the imprints of horror. That you can't go through something like this and come back to being exactly the same as you were. Those images are on your mind. The sites, the sounds, the smells are present and they stay indelibly marked on our brains. And so I think each one of the folks that's in there has to recognize that this is a powerful time in their lives and while they are functional and doing their job, they need to address the fact that this is something that they are going to have to reckon with in the days, weeks, months and even years after this even has ended.

Dwight Nelson:

So Ray, what can you possibly say to the families that have been left behind, the survivors?

Raymond Shelton:

Now, that's a question that comes up over and over and over. What do I say? And most often what happens, people don't say anything, and they resist being near those people because they are uncomfortable with that. I think the best advice that I can offer is you don't have to say anything. What you need to do is be present. Be connected to that person, provide a continual support and let them know that they are not alone. It's the actions that speak much louder than any words that we can ever come up with. You just need to be there.

Dwight Nelson:

How can we as a nation, we as Americans, get beyond the initial grief of this tragedy and survive ourselves?

Raymond Shelton:

I think that at the present time what we need to be doing on a national basis and in every little living room across America is…there has to be a sense of connection. Our basic safety, our basic security has been shaken. I think getting through a crisis like this requires us to be connected to each other to provide a continued support, to be able to prepare each other for the days and weeks and months that will come by knowing that we are together in this crisis and that we're not going to become an isolated group of people just going about our business. Connection is what's going to make us get through this time.

Dwight Nelson:

Ray, I want to move into this whole issue that's really at the heart of a whole lot of American global questioning. Where is God in the middle of human crisis? You not only deal with the police and the fire fighters, you're actually part of a diocese with spirituality at the core of what you offer. What do you say in the area of human spirituality? How does that factor into grief management?

Raymond Shelton:

I think the question that I hear most often and I'm sure that folks that work in the clergy around the world could address is, the anger at God. How could God let this happen? I'm not so sure that we got clear cut answers that people will buy into, but the suggestion that I offer is that it's not that God lets these things happen, it's that God is there for us in the aftermath. The concept that God gave us life and God promises something at the end. The in-between is not that God directs and controls every action. I guess what I try to give people to understand is that we have been given free will. We've been given a wonderful brain. And I believe that God has simply said to us: "Now use this." Some of us will use it very well and some of us will use it not so well. And this is the example of where the brain has been used in the inappropriate ways.

Dwight Nelson:

So what if God hasn't been a factor in my life at all? I've simply written him off and yet I come to a moment of personal crisis and tragedy and I'm sensing a God response within me. What do I do next? How do I…how do I respond to that response?

Raymond Shelton:

I think that when that point in your life comes, I think that is that time when we need to revisit that place that we've walked away from or maybe visited initially. I think it's an awakening for many people. I think we've seen that where folks have talked of:: "I haven't been in a church in 20 or 30 years…" or felt compelled to go and sit and be pleasant. It's also God providing connection. Because when I think that when people who have felt on the outside have gone back to church or back to their synagogue, they have rejoined community and that's what was necessary at this point in time. I believe that's God's hand.

Music

 

Dwight Nelson:

The skyline you are seeing has become a symbol of incomprehensible tragedy. It's a reminder to the entire world that life on this earth is transient. When someone close to us dies or when we face our own death, the question that always comes up sooner or later is the question: "Why?' How did you feel when you saw the images of the World Trade Center collapsing? I've got to tell you that when I saw those towers explode in flames on my television screen, my stomach knotted, my heart twisted in pain for the horrific human loss. How can we possibly explain such an immense human tragedy? Every religion has it's own answer to that question. The ancient Scriptures tell the story of a God who in grief stands beside his son as he dies upon a cross. A God who anguishes with the suffering. A God who weeps with the dying. The stories of human rescue and survival that have risen out of the ashes of New York City's ground zero are to me a symbol of God's promise of ultimate rescue. Death doesn't have to be the final word. God has the final word. And that final word is a promise of life. That's why I trust him and why I believe you can trust him to. I'm Dwight Nelson. Join us next time for more of The Evidence.

 







SiteMap. Privacy Terms Privacy Notice Powered by SimpleUpdates.com © 2002-2017. User Login / Customize.