My Cheshire Cat.

Maria Sue Chapman, Your Little Miss Laughter

This is to say Goodbye to Daughter and say Hello to Laughter. With a touch of Alice in Wonderland. ‘Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice, ‘but a grin without a cat!It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’ And now, a grin without a girl! Here is the smile without Maria.

Wikipedia says Alice in Wonderland is an ‘abbreviated title’ to British author Lewis Carroll’s ‘work of literary nonsense.’ Nonsense! I say. That is missing the whole point. It is like saying the abbreviated life of Maria Sue Chapman has been nonsense. It is the laughter that makes sense of it all that is Alice. It is the laughter that makes sense of it all that is Maria.

I insist on bidding ‘Goodbye’ and saying ‘Hello.’ ‘All Maria wanted was to laugh,’ she says, amidst laughter. ‘She wanted us to laugh.’ This is the mother speaking, Mary Beth Chapman, at her youngest girl, Maria’s memorial service at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, May 21. Maria was 5 and she was dead. She had been accidentally struck at the driveway of their home in Williamson County in Nashville by the Toyota Land Cruiser driven by her youngest brother Will Franklin, 17. Today, they are trying to go ‘From Grief to Grace.’ How does a family deal with devastating news like that? What do you do when all the sky comes crashing down on all of you? You are overwhelmed. All that can be heard from you is an anguished cry.

‘I’m sorry. All Maria wanted was to laugh. She wanted us to laugh,’ Mary Beth says in all seriousness. (Laughter). ‘And maybe this is the reason I’m gonna really regret this tomorrow when all the sky comes crashing down.’ (More laughter). Today, they see the grin without the Cheshire Cat.

Earlier in the afternoon, the scene in the church is this: ‘The room was so quiet and the mood was heavy.’ ‘Today, Will is a young man struggling to make sense of tragedy.’ ‘He feels the loss, but I’m not sure he feels the love’ (davecruse.blogspot.com). Dave Cruse sees the Cheshire Cat without the grin.

With headphones, I have replayed a dozen times the news coverage of the memorial service for Maria Sue (‘Chapman Tragedy,’ YouTube, 0540 Wednesday Manila time; total views 32,046).Steven Curtis Chapman lightly holds his wife Mary Beth as she speaks from the head; Steven and a girl in black & white tightly hold Caleb Stevenson Chapman as he speaks from the heart. They are all barefoot; this is Holy Ground (see also Scott Hasenbalg’s ‘A weekend remembering Maria,’ kerryhasenbalg.typepad.com).

Caleb says, looking down, ‘We prayed for healing of Maria but, (God) healed her in the way we all didn’t like. But he’s going to heal my brother in the way I think we will all gonna like a lot. (Pause) Huh.’ (Applause)

Steven stands alone as he speaks from out of nowhere into the now. ‘This is the kind of thing we need to spend our time doing, just singing and celebrating the glory of God where it shows up, in the pain (pause) in, ah, the joy (pause) that He gives us in this life.’ He has been cerebrating, not celebrating. He has been crying. They have all been crying.

Ah, but Maria Sue Chapman was nobody if not Little Miss Laughter. Their crying is telling us she is already being missed badly, very badly. ‘There are no rules here,’ Steve says, ‘so you guys just share in the hurting …’

After that? Share in the laughing. ‘I love it when my whole family is together!’ Maria loved to say (Dave Cruse). Share in the loving.

There’s Mary Beth reminding us of the little girl’s advice about laughter: ‘She wanted us to laugh.’ ‘Laughter is the best medicine,’ the Reader’s Digest has been saying for the last 50 years since I can remember reading a copy in high school. Tell that to Steven Curtis Chapman. Tell that to the rest of the family: Emily, Caleb, Will, Shaohannah, Stevey Joy. Tell that toScotty Smith, Steven’s Pastor. Tell that to Jim House, Steven’s Manager.

Tell it to the Christian world in grief: ‘No treasure greater than a healthy body; no happiness, than a joyful heart!’ Sirach 30: 16 ‘A joyful heart is the health of the body, but a depressed spirit dries up the bones.’ Proverbs 17: 22 New American Bible

How to deal with death? I say, ‘Do not die with death. Live with death. Laugh with death.’

My personal prescription for dealing with death and dying, based on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ model of the 5 Stages of Grief, is the ‘5 Stages of Good Grief!’ assembly required, laughter included.

Too complicated? How else do you deal with catastrophic news? Simply may be the best. Borrowing from Bessie Anderson Stanley, 1904 (Joel Myerson, cas.sc.edu): Live well, laugh often, love much. Especially laugh often. Like Mary Beth, like Maria had taught the Chapmans: ‘All Maria wanted was to laugh. She wanted us to laugh.’

So: Live and let laugh. Let’s not let the Chapmans grieve. They have enough sadness such as it is. A little older, a little wiser. They need a little more life, a little more love, a few more laughs. This is Life Afterwards. Afterwards, the living is hard. The laughing even more so. That is precisely why we should let laugh.

I say, ‘Jump from Grief to Glad!’ And you say, ‘Isn’t that wrong?' Grammatically, yes. My metaphor is badly constructed; grief is a noun, glad is an adjective. It should have been: ‘From grief to gladness’ or ‘From grieving to gladness.’ And you would be right. You’re being logical; you’re being critical.

But who cares?! At times like these, critical is the least thing the family of Steven Curtis Chapman need, now that they are fewer by one: Maria Sue is gone, and there’s no denying thatit was Will Franklin, her own brother, who had accidentally struck her (iht.com) while driving the family Toyota Land Cruiser. You have to face that; you have to accept that.

Okay, there are two ways about it. So, let’s talk about critical and creative.

Critical. The grieving is easy, like I already said (see my ‘Good Grief!’ in this same blog):

Grieving is easy – all you have to do is get a handkerchief, face the wall and bawl and wail at will. It doesn’t take much effort. At times like this, it comes naturally.

Grieving is expected of you. What will the people say if they don’t see you with a long face 3 days after, 3 weeks after, 3 months after?

Creative. If you want to jump from Grief to Grace – and I say you have to, for your sake – it cannot be a sequential, linear leap; it must be a qualitative jump. ‘From Grief to Glad’ is literally a qualitative jump, grammatically speaking, a jarring experience. That’s what you need, to shake yourself up. The terrible tragedy has shaken you; now you have to shake yourself up and above it. This is my way of saying, ‘This calls for a leap of faith.’ This is a leap from a helpless state to a blissful stage, from reactive to proactive. This calls for a miracle. The miracle of laughter, yes, laughter in the midst of grief. ‘I love it when my whole family laugh together.’

Enjoy Heaven,’ Steven reads her daughter Shaohannah’s letter to Maria who is now with Jesus (Natalia Mielczarek, May 25, tennessean.com). ‘I will see you soon, but not too soon.’ Let's enjoy Earth!

Steven is speaking to ‘some 2,000 mourners’ (Natalia’s words) – but I hear on YouTube much applauding, much laughing. So I’ll grant that half of those who have come to the memorial service are sadder and half of them are wiser. I’ll even grant half of the Steven Curtis Chapman family are lamenters, and half of the family are laughers – Mary Beth is half the family, God bless her!

Carmen Brown was there and here she is telling us about laughter (carmen-brown.blogspot.com):

Mary Beth was hilarious. And I do mean hilarious. She shared some great family moments, and had the whole sanctuary laughing and crying at the same time.

I say: Laughing is the way to healing. The child knew; the mother knows. The child is gone; the mother is still here. That’s reason enough to celebrate!

Not yet Steven. He says, ‘This is the kind of thing we need to spend our time doing, just singing and celebrating the glory of God where it shows up, in the pain (pause) in, ah, the joy (pause) that he gives us in this life.’ He is crying inside, not yet laughing outside.

It’s May 24. They are in Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville. ‘There are no rules here,’ Steven says, ‘so you guys just share the hurting.’

Then, after we share the hurting, let’s go on and share the healing.

‘We prayed for a healing of Maria but, (God) healed her in the way we all didn’t like. But he’s going to heal my brother in the way I think we will all gonna like a lot.’

Grieve more and you grieve alone.

She is gone, the little girl who was a ‘snuggle bunny’ and ‘loved to run around naked, draw flowers and play princesses’ (Natalia Mielczarek). The Cheshire Cat has disappeared, and now only the grin remains. That is all we need! The grin is enough.

It is time to say Goodbye to this Daughter, and say Hello to her Laughter. Steven, you have more songs to sing out and, Mary Beth, you have more laughter to bring out to the world. The girl with the grin, Maria would have been glad. In fact, she would have laughed.

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