Thoughts and Prayers Ring Hollow in the Presence of a Corpse

John Scalzi wrote a blog post in response to Orlando, and his basic thesis was that it’s not enough to offer thoughts and prayers after the fact. He cited Matthew 6:5-6 and Matthew 7:21-23, and even though I’m fairly certain he labels himself as something other than a Christian, I thought his point was right on.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to post on Facebook that your thoughts and prayers go out to the survivors and families affected by tragedy, but I do feel a grating on my nerves every time I see one of those posts.

I had my first Victim Services call where I was in the presence of a corpse. It was a man who had gone out in his backyard to garden and whatnot, and instead, he ended up collapsing face-first and dying there in his yard. By the time his wife found him, ants were crawling on him and the blood had settled into his front half and toward the ground.

I stood with the deceased’s brother-in-law while law enforcement checked the body for personal items.

It was a humbling experience.

As I stood there, I prayed. I always pray when I go out on calls, because I believe in the power of prayer. I believe God hears me even though the people around me don’t hear me. So don’t take this the wrong way, but my prayers would have been hollow if I hadn’t also been there. If I hadn’t stopped what I was doing and gone there.

Right? What if I had received the call, decided there wasn’t anything I could do to be of help, and just posted on Facebook, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the surviving family of the man who died in his backyard…”?

If I posted that, you’d think I’m a lunatic. You’d probably be like, “Wtf?”

And yet, that’s what we do with tragedy. We (by we, I mean Christians… not all Christians, but a lot of us) are conspicuously uninvolved when it comes to the broken world around us. We offer our thoughts and prayers, and then we go about the business of living.

I’m feeling particularly stirred up about this right at the moment, because it has been non-stop questions and weird comments since I started volunteering with Victim Services.

Why did you decide to do that? I’m so sorry you had to see that.

At first, I was a little overwhelmed with the number of people who wanted to know why… I think they thought they were asking me why I chose Victim Services rather than something else, but it took me a long time to think of it that way. I honestly thought they were asking me a question with a self-evident answer: I decided to do it because it’s good to help people.

That’s honestly the only answer I have. I didn’t exactly choose it over something else. There wasn’t a profound epiphany or a message from God. There was an opportunity to help others. Roommate Kendra had been talking about it, and I thought I was probably capable of doing it, so I decided to do it.

I don’t believe helping people is a choice. I believe it’s an ethical mandate. I believe it’s about saying yes when an opportunity is in front of you, rather than sidestepping it and hoping for something that’s a little less daunting. I don’t think the Good Samaritan just happened to find exactly the opportunity he was looking for; I think he was walking along and came across someone who needed help. Well… I was walking along and my roommate told me about people who need help.

It’s not about Victim Services; it’s about being what we pretend to be. I can write a status update that says, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims in Orlando,” or I can take an extra shift on the crisis unit and I can donate blood.

As far as saying things like, “I’m sorry you had to see that,” or “I’m sorry you experienced that…” I’m sort of at a loss. You’re sorry I had to see… the brokenness of the world, up-close? You’re sorry I had to experience being there for someone who’d experienced great loss? I just…

Volunteering for Victim Services isn’t an unveiling of the world for me. There are calls that haunt me, for sure, but the world is as it always was. People are sinful and they wound each other. People die. Limiting my interaction with tragedy to New York Times articles and status updates doesn’t change the world… it doesn’t help anyone. It honestly doesn’t even help me sleep better or feel safe.

I stood next to a stranger this weekend and talked to him while his brother in law laid in the sun under a tarp. We talked about all of the losses he’d seen in his life. We talked about God, family, history… we talked. And a police officer went through pockets and struggled to get jewelry off of hot, swollen fingers and a swollen wrist. The stranger I was talking to was there because that’s what he could offer his sister, the spouse of the deceased; he could stand outside in the 115 degree heat while she cried inside. I was there because that’s what I could offer them both; I could stand in the heat and talk so that this stranger didn’t have to be alone when law enforcement put the rings, wrist watch, and pocket contents of a beloved corpse into his hands.

I hope and pray that when tragedy strikes me you will offer more than a Facebook post.


My Phantom Limb

Dear Readers,

I didn’t blog much last week, now did I? My absence from the blogosphere wasn’t at all planned, and I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit guilty for it. However, I’m sure you’ll understand when I tell you about the week I had. Let’s start at the beginning.

Almost sixteen years ago, my dad and I drove out into the middle of nowhere because I wanted a puppy. One of my best friends at the time had a Border Collie named Jip, and I wanted one. Jip (and all Border Collies) was super-smart, athletic and loving.

When my dad and I arrived at the house in the middle of nowhere, there were something like six puppies that all looked pretty similar except for one. Border Collies tend to be mostly black with white splotches. They often look like the kinds of dogs you’d name Bandit, because their splotches can look like a bandit-type mask that covers their eyes. The puppy that didn’t look like the others was a female, and she kept nibbling my toes. All of the other puppies paid little attention to me, but I didn’t much like the idea of taking home the outcast dog that looked different and was already chewing on my feet. Still, my dad sort of encouraged me to like the different dog, and I was (and am) the kind of girl who doesn’t feel very strongly about choices like that… so I agreed to take home my little Beastie.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any digital versions of her puppy pictures, but that’s the Beastie about three years ago. My dad helped me come up with a properly poetic name: Annabelle Leigh after the Poe poem. We changed the spelling a bit, but you have to admire a twelve-year-old who knows that kind of a reference, eh?

We took the Beast home, and she was the smartest dog ever. I loved her bunches, especially when she’d blow bubbles in her water dish, dig caves in the backyard, and go to my softball games. When my parents were at work, I often walked her to the park and forced her to go down the slides with me, climb up really treacherous rock mounds, and do other ridiculous dangerous things that she didn’t want to do. She kept me sane when I lived all alone for two years, and she comforted me at night when I was scared after watching scary movies.

You know where this is going…

On Wednesday, I took Annabelle out for her last trip to the park, which she seemed to enjoy in spite of the having to make frequent stops to rest and falling down a few times. I put her doggles on one last time, and, no – they were not merely an accessory. The Beast struggled with Cancer that was made worse when sunlight reached her unpigmented spots of skin (around her eye)… the doggles were prescribed by her vet, believe it or not.

Here’s the last pic we ever took 😦

We went home and cried a little, then Lauren showed up with hot chocolate for me, and we went and put Annabelle to sleep 😦

It’s one of those things that’s difficult because it feels like a moral decision. It feels like you have to pick exactly the right day to do it, otherwise you’re a mean person who is cruel to animals. I picked Wednesday, and I’m not regretting it at all, but I am feeling pretty sad still.

The Beast has taken on this new role in my life, sort of like how amputees have a phantom limb. Whenever I wake up at night and have to pee, I don’t turn the light on, so for the past fifteen years or so, I’ve had to be really careful not to step on the Beastie.

I keep on worrying about that even though she’s not there to step on.

Every time I’ve opened or closed a door for more than half of my life, I’ve made sure to invite Annabelle into whichever room I’m in.

I keep trying to do that, similar to how amputees sometime get itches in the limbs they’ve lost.

Annabelle was just a dog, but she’s also my phantom limb and I miss her.

Lauren was wonderful to go with me on Wednesday, and without even telling me, she made a Humane Society page for Annabelle with a picture and everything. She even donated some money in her name.

Click here to check out her page.

And forgive me for taking a blogging break last week.

Much love,

Kathryn Leigh

More Sad Poetry

Okay.  So I didn’t finish all of the lovely visual aids I told you I’d have for today.  Life is just too busy right now for me to fiddle around in Paint.  That being said, I offer up another little bit of Katie writing history.  This is one of the few poems I really worked on and took seriously.  I wrote it in 8th grade, and it got published in a district-wide contest thingy.  It’s a bit sad.  I promise that I did write happy poetry at least once.  I will eventually find you some of it and post it here.

The Toys Are Crying

The soldiers remain, each in its regular spot.

Each in the same position as when the most recent battle was fought.

As a rain of dust slowly covers them all,

It also covers the beautiful brown-haired doll.


As she sits with her friends,

As she has all along,

She helps them to sing

Their sad, sorrowful song.


As many wonder what they are waiting for,

The answer remains behind the constantly locked door.


We return to the day when the last visitors for the toys were spied,

That awful day when both brother and sister died.


As the children sat and played,

Both with their favorite toys,

Their laughter began to fade,

As did their playful noise.


The disease consumed them one and one.

They fell under the never-ending sleep.

The toys knew their games were done,

And so they began to weep.


As the tears roll down old Teddy Bear’s cheeks,

The rocking horse too begins crying.

Their eyes have many leaks

From the memory of their playmates dying.


Each toy remains faithful to their unforgotten friends.

The love for the children remains.

Their memory never ends.


In the dust of that forgotten room,

The toys always cry.


Sentenced to remain in this dreadful tomb,

The place where their friends both died.


As mother enters the dust-covered room,

She recalls where she found her children both lying.

She studies this ancient tomb,

Where the toys are still crying.



So… I can’t help but evaluate my 8th grade self a bit.  The poem has a really advanced idea that I remember borrowing from something else I read in 6th grade.  The imagery is decent.  My only complaint is that I was trying so hard to end with something similar to the title that I went way too repetitive on some of it.

Did any of you write poetry when you were young?