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The grave of Steven Clipperton, the author’s brother. Photo courtesy of Sheri Clipperton

How God sent me a stranger to help me grieve

A quiet companion was all I needed the day I visited my brother's grave

By Sheri Clipperton

My first thought waking up was, “I need a Coca-Cola.” This day should have been my older brother Steven’s 58th birthday; instead, it was his first birthday in heaven.

Months earlier, moments after awakening from a coma, Steve asked me for a Coca-Cola. I guaranteed him that as soon as he was well enough, I would get one for him. That day never came. To honour him on his birthday, I needed to get that promised Coca-Cola.

Buying the pop was easy; opening it was hard because of what it symbolized. By bedtime, I still hadn’t cracked it open and offered a toast in Steve’s memory. I consoled myself by vowing that in the morning I would go and share it with him. I hadn’t returned to the cemetery since we’d laid him to rest three months earlier.

The next morning, I felt compelled to bring a memorial bouquet to the gravesite. This purchase was way harder than buying the pop. Just parking at the florist’s made me burst into tears. I wished I had a companion with me, someone to provide the quiet reassurance I needed to accomplish my task. Almost an hour passed before I could hold my emotions in check long enough to make my purchase: yellow roses and orange daisy mums. Once I was back in the car, the flowers and pop beside me were by no means comforting. Tears flowed unrelentingly as I prayed for a companion to help me through this.

At the cemetery, I placed the flowers at Steve’s grave and finally opened the can of Coke. Between sobs and sips, I read aloud the Facebook birthday wishes sent to him from family and friends. I watched as the Trans-Canada Highway traffic passed by, oblivious to my grief. My parents’ car stopped briefly at the cemetery gates and drove away, not wanting to intrude on my visit. This birthday was no doubt hardest on them, yet selfishly I wished they had stayed.

A short time passed, and a truck pulled up to the cemetery. A young man emerged, jumped over the fence and walked toward me. He asked if I knew why he was there. Before I could answer, he explained that he had noticed me when he drove past, and God told him to stop. He ignored the command and continued on his travels. But God kept prodding him to turn back, telling him that I needed a companion, someone to sit quietly with me.

I smiled when he introduced himself as “a faithful follower of Jesus.” The young man listened as I described my once-vibrant brother, his sudden illness and untimely passing. He offered prayers for our family and gave me a much-needed hug. Then we sat together in silence. Eventually he repeated his condolences, jumped back over the fence and drove away.

I still marvel at the circumstances that were required for this encounter to occur. If it hadn’t taken me an hour to get the flowers, if he hadn’t driven by while I was there or hadn’t heeded God’s call — there were too many variables to attribute it all to chance.

I consider this kind stranger an angel, God’s answer to my prayers. I pray he knows how thankful I am for his selfless act of companionship.

Sheri Clipperton-Flynn is a registered nurse and a member of St. Andrew’s United in Massey, Ont.

This story originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of The Observer as part of the regular column "Spirit story." 

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