Tag Archives: death

Losing a friend who was a friend to all

Raymond Buckland

A few of Buck’s books.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The news of my friend’s death fell heavy upon me as if all of Autumn’s trees had simultaneously shed their rainbow of colors in one smothering, leafy avalanche. Raymond Buckland meant that much to me.

I wasn’t alone. As word spread of Buck’s death, other friends who knew him began sharing words of praise on social media. All lauded his kindness, generosity, and love for life. He was truly a caring and gentle soul who touched many people around the globe.

Buck’s spiritual heart was full of love and light. His human heart had finally failed him.

Raymond Buckland

Raymond Buckland.

I met Buck through our weekly writing group, the Killbuck Valley Writers Guild. We met every Sunday afternoon for three hours at Jitters Coffee House in Millersburg, Ohio. I think Buck picked that venue as much for the yummy pastries as the central location. At the writers’ group, we called him Buck. To others, he was Raymond or Ray.

Born in London, England, his alluring British accent enhanced his magic words that he loved to read aloud. Buck was facetious about details, extracting them from his broad life experiences and incorporating them into his informative, vivid, and descriptive writing. He often used the settings of his formative years as the scenes for his many books. When asked, Buck didn’t really know how many books he had written in his lifetime. It must have been at least one for each of his 83 years of dynamic living.

Buck never bragged about his accomplishments or his awards. He would share the good news of course, but always in ways that encouraged and motivated his beloved writing troupe. Through living, reading, and research, Buck became an expert in a wide variety of subjects ranging from mystery writing to witchcraft. His preferred mode of transport, however, was a Corvette, not a broom.

Buck never foisted his beliefs onto others. Nor did he judge others for theirs even though they may have differed. Writing came first and foremost for Buck. It’s how he made his living. It’s how he connected with the world. It’s why he formed and nurtured the writing group.

Raymond Buckland

My last shot of Buck.

The genre of writing didn’t matter to Buck, just so long as you wrote. We had song lyrics, poems, allegories, newspaper columns, essays, narratives, short stories, science fiction, non-fiction, and novels both written and read in our little collection of scribes.

We had lots of laughs in our writing group thanks to Buck’s good sense of humor. He put that jovial approach into supportive action for the good of the community. Buck helped organize and sponsor comedy night benefits as fundraisers for the Holmes County District Public Library.

Buck showed his generosity in various forms. If he knew you were serious about writing, Buck would gladly spend his valuable time advising and encouraging writers, novice and experienced alike. He also freely gave away computers, books, and various writing resources.

He was a realist and idealist, a visionary and a professor all rolled into one loveable and likable human being. Buck’s generosity was a byproduct of his gracious living.

Buck believed in using descriptive, sensory words efficiently. As he would remind us, one word is better than two. “Show, don’t tell” was another essential writing reminder. Showing is precisely how Buck lived his storied, charitable life.

Buck loved music, both playing instruments and singing. He was as engaging as he was creative. In part, that’s what attracted so many readers and writers to him. It’s also why he will be missed so very much by so very many.


Buck enjoyed participating in the benefit comedy nights.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Reflections on life and death

braided stream

Capon Run.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have a lot of time to think as I drive between our Ohio home and Harrisonburg, Virginia where our daughter and her family live. This trip was no different.

Thanks to superhighways, the folded, old age mountain ridges and their accompanying deep gorges and valleys flipped by like shuffled decks of cards. The leaves of their mixed hardwoods already blushed tinges of autumn’s arrival.

I thought about the lone, purple cottonwood leaf our six-year-old granddaughter plucked from a quiet mountain brook just a couple of days previous. She and I had spent an hour or more exploring, talking, questioning, and enjoying each other’s company in the shallow of a peaceful braided stream.

girl in stream

Pointing the way.

I found Maren’s inquisitiveness as inspiring as our rural, mystical surroundings. Our interactive discussion included but was not limited to geology, theology, erosion, evolution, earthquakes, gravity, rock formations, and bird migration.

I don’t know who was more perplexed, me with Maren’s significant, thoughtful questions or Maren with my confounding answers. Trooper that she is, Maren didn’t seem deterred. In fact, one response only led to another question, and another and another.

I had the time of my life, sitting on these ancient limestone outcroppings, their striations complementing their angular positioning. Maren graciously accepted my academic explanation of how they came to be standing on edge after having once been the bottom of oceans eons ago.

She’d continue her inquiry while simultaneously balancing along the exposed rock layers like a ballerina on a precipice. Patches of the early evening sky filtered through the broken canopy of the maples, oaks, sycamores, and cottonwoods that lined the rocky banks of Capon Run. Despite the string of scorching days, the stream’s clear, quiet waters were cold.

We watched water striders break the stillness of the mirrored surface as the spider-like insects foraged. Then came the leaf, a rich, royal burgundy that caught the quick girl’s eye.

Maren snatched it from its slow journey downstream, held it up, and asked what kind of leaf it was. I found its parent tree upstream and pointed it out to her. She nodded and released the leaf back to the placid water.

braided stream, West Virigina

Where we sat.

I remember remarking to Maren how different that lone leaf was in color compared to the thousands of green ones that still quaked on the massive branches in the afternoon’s warm breeze.

Maren liked that leaf, and so did I. I thought she’d keep it for its rarity. Instead, she let it go, enchanted with its slow twirling atop the crystal water, its impressive ability to avoid the creek bed’s rocks and sticks.

I thought about that leaf, those moments with Maren again as I joined a congregate of others to celebrate and mourn the death of my wife’s cousin. As loving words poured out for Pam, it hit me that she had a lot in common with that glorious leaf.

She, too, had lived a royal, purposeful life for her family, friends, and those whom she served as teacher, principal, and play director. For all who knew and loved her, Pam had fallen much too soon from the tree of life.

My wife and I are grateful for the creativity and joy our grandchildren bring to life. We are equally appreciative, like so many others, of Pam’s leadership and devotion to family, faith, and community.

Just like Maren’s mauve leaf, we had to let Pam go, too. Joyfully her journey ended more blissfully than that serene mountain stream setting.

potted flowers

For Pam.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Sadness fills a beautiful, peaceful valley

Rock Doves, pigeons, barn roof

Pigeons roost atop Ivan’s barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Sadness has come to my favorite valley.

Now, there are plenty of beautiful valleys in our area. For me to say I have a favorite sounds a bit selfish. It’s not. It’s personal.

To be sure, I don’t own the undulating acreage. I just enjoy it.

You can’t find a name for my favored hollow on any map. I’ve never heard anyone refer to it by name in the three decades my wife and I have lived here.

Amish school, one-room school, Drushel Knoll School

Drushel Knoll School. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

An Amish one-room school, Drushel Knoll, might come the closest to naming this wide-open expanse of land surrounded by wooded hills. Drushel was a pioneer landowner where the school sits. The knoll is nothing more than a rise in a sweeping pasture.

To call it a valley might even be a stretch. A quiet brook lazily meanders northwest through this productive, fertile ground. For the longest time, the land was all farmland. Farmsteads dotted hill and dale. More recently, a few residences have also popped up along the skinny township road that rises, falls and rises again east and west.

This is the sacred place where I take my physical and mental exercises. When the weather is decent, I love to walk this humble road over to Ivan’s farm.

Amish school children, scholars walking

Students walk to the Amish school in the valley. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I will continue to do so, but Ivan will no longer be there. As he fixed his lunch bucket for work one recent morning, he collapsed and was gone. He was only 65.

Ivan would bicycle by our home on the way to and from his job at a local business we can see from our home. Not long ago, he had turned the hard but satisfying task of farming over to his energetic son, whose wife was one of my former students.

As my wife and I entered the farm building where Ivan’s body lay at rest, friends and warm handshakes greeted us. We paid our last respects to this quiet, hard-working man, husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend.

Tears flowed as we bent to share our condolences with Ivan’s widow and family. In the Amish tradition, family members sit in rows of facing chairs as mourners quietly pass through, shaking hands left and right, nodding heads, sharing moments, memories, and sorrowful tears.

summer sunset, Ohio's Amish country

The pond behind Ivan’s barn reflected a beautiful summer sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Wife, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, all expressed grace in the Amish manner, through their quiet, reverent presence. It was a communion of sorts, tears for wine, a gathering of steadfast people its bread.

I marveled at the strength of the family, their genuine kindness and positive comments even in the face of their grievous loss. As I scanned the forlorn faces, I saw folks I had not seen for years. Our spirits mutually embraced without actually hugging one another.

When you live in a rural community for decades, you take for granted the integral connections of one family to another. Being among those assembled mourners, the closeness and goodness of our common kinship washed over me.

Ivan was a good man, a quiet man, a respected man, a man of peace. To a member, his family mirrors his pleasant disposition.

It seemed impossible that such sadness could hover over this lovely setting, home, family. And yet, it did. It does.

A different kind of beauty flooded my favorite valley. The loving grace of community responding to a stricken, grieving family surpassed that of the basin’s enchanting pastoral physical features.

Even in death’s darkness, the light radiated in my beloved valley.

Amish farm, walking

My grandsons check out birds on the fence and phone line on a summer’s morning walk. Ivan’s farm is in the background. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Being grateful extends far beyond a Thanksgiving meal

prostate cancer support group, Bluemen

The Bluemen’s Group and spouses. © Martha Stutzman

By Bruce Stambaugh

The five of us men sat around the breakfast table enjoying the tasty food and each other’s company. As much as I cherished knowing these friends, and the nutritious breakfast, it was the conversation that captured my attention.

Half way through the hour-long gathering, I realized I was smiling, grateful to be included in this forthright discussion about what really matters in life. The hard, direct questions about life and death enthralled me. The frank, honest, heartfelt answers fueled the no-frills banter.

fall sunset, landscape photography, Bruce Stambaugh

November sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

This was a Thursday morning, the usual bi-weekly get-together of our cancer support group, affectionately known as the Bluemen. Blue is the color for prostate cancer, and that was a common denominator of the group, save for one member.

Our host, normally a reserved, contemplative man, was passionately engaged in the meaningful discussion. By early Monday morning, he had died.

When I learned of his death, I wasn’t shocked. Deeply saddened yes, but not surprised given that intense interaction I had witnessed regarding life and preparing to die.

That precious morning, I sat and listened mostly, participating only when absolutely necessary. I was too absorbed to interrupt the flow of the dialogue’s stream.

Our friend, Bill, had joined our cancer support group for just that kind of interaction. This diminutive but gentile giant of a man wanted our companionship in his journey with prostate cancer. We gladly welcomed him.

fall colors, red tree, Bruce Stambaugh

Red tree. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Bill immediately felt at home with us. One of the most humble individuals I had ever met, Bill easily joined in the group’s chitchat. He, like the rest of us, shared intimate details that only those with prostate cancer unashamedly reveal, even over breakfast.

At times, this quiet, simple man talked our ears off. Once he even tried to introduce politics, a violation of our unwritten protocol. We all laughed.

Though not a prostate cancer victim, Kurt joined our group because there are no living members to offer comfort for his kind of cancer. Just like Bill, Kurt held nothing back either.

Our table talk revolved around what it’s like to die, are we afraid to die, what will we miss, what will we look forward to in the afterlife? And so it went, at first monthly, then every other week when Bill had a set back a few months ago.

Bill wanted to continue to meet, so this affable man and his amazing wife invited us into their home. We ate, talked, and laughed some more. Sometimes we even shed a few tears.

barn in snow, Holmes County Ohio, Bruce Stambaugh, landscape photography

Barn in snow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Besides cancer, the group members were bound as one by two other mutual traits. Our common faith, and our gratitude for the life opportunities we had had, and would have made us brothers.

We had no idea of what was about to play out with Bill following that marvelous Thursday morning gathering. I was glad for the multitude of thanks expressed then for all that had come our way in life. The good far outweighed the bad, even including cancer.

Each in our close-knit group was appreciative of life, to live, to love, to be loved. That was enough, more than any of us could ever have desired.

The turkey and all the trimmings of Thanksgiving are nice. Our group’s regular sharing affirmed that being grateful means so much more than a holiday spread. The Bluemen were most thankful for the immeasurable joy, love and fellowship of devoted families and friends.

Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is really all about?

snow, black and white photo, snowy woods

Snowy woods. © Bruce Stambaaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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A drought of a different kind

Miller farm by Bruce Stambaugh

The farm of my late in-laws, Wayne and Esther Miller, as painted by my recently deceased mother, Marian Stambaugh.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our family has experienced a drought far beyond the on-going dryness that our area and much of the country is currently enduring. My mother died in April, and now my mother-in-law, Esther Miller, recently passed away. Both were 90.

The word drought is usually defined as a long period of dry weather. Wherever they live, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Virginia, all of Esther’s grandchildren have had to endure this drought. In some areas, the drought is considered moderate while in others it is much more serious.

Funeral flowers by Bruce StambaughThe second definition of drought encompasses a much wider, deeper meaning. Drought is a lengthy serious lack of something. When you lose your mother and your mother-in-law within three months of each other, one cannot help but sense a serious lack of something.

I know I do. My brothers and sisters do. Now my wife and her sister do as well. All of our parents are gone. We are now the elder generation. I’m not sure I’m ready for that distinction yet.

I also know the grandchildren, though they are scattered across the country pursuing their various careers, feel that certain dryness, too. They don’t have to say anything. I can see it in their eyes, their non-verbal sorrowful expressions.

Like my mother, Esther was a good, God-fearing person, dedicated to rearing her family the best way she knew how. She learned those loving skills from her mother, and perhaps her own grandparents.

Reality has set in for all of us. The torch has been passed. It is up to us to carry on what was modeled for us for all those years.

Esther Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

Emotion overcame Esther Miller at her 90th birthday celebration.

I remember the very first time I met my future in-laws at their 80-acre farm east of Louisville, Ohio. I hadn’t been there long when Neva’s father asked me if I wanted to see the pigs. How could I turn down that offer?

I not only got to see the pigs, but also the milk cows and the heifers, too, and the grain bins and hayloft and the tiny milkhouse. At the time I thought Wayne was just being nice. On the way home, Neva told me that she knew her father liked me because I got to see the pigs on the first visit. It took other suitors at least three visits.

Esther welcomed me with equal warmth. Excellent host that she was, she offered me a beverage and a delicious homemade snack. She could have written a book on being a homemaker. When Neva and I announced our engagement to her parents, Esther responded in a most amicable way.

“We are glad to have you in the family,” she said. “If we had had a son, we were going to name him ‘Bruce’.” I was at home away from home.

I remember hustling our young daughter and son into the Miller farmhouse one Christmas Eve in the teeth of a blizzard. Once inside, the warmth of the gracious hospitality far exceeded that of the comfortably heated home.

Farm sunset by Bruce Stambaugh

During our times of loss this year, we have experienced the kindness and thoughtfulness of many, many others. They each found their own ways to share in our mourning via food, flowers, cards, emails or calls. We felt blessed by those expressions of sympathy.

In addition, the family has found a wellspring of refreshing comfort despite our maternal losses. We rejoice that our parents enjoy an eternity that will never know any kind of drought whatsoever.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Confronting life’s unpredictable perils

wading in surf by Anna Bishop

Wading in the North Carolina surf. (Photo by Anna Bishop)

By Bruce Stambaugh

Within hours of one another, I received three divergent yet emotional messages about grandchildren.

The first came after I had changed my profile picture on Facebook to a shot of my middle grandchild celebrating his fourth birthday. The picture showed Davis heartily laughing in front of his makeshift birthday cake.

The four candles signifying his age burned as bright as his smile. The candles were securely stuck in a row in the thick, chocolate frosting of a cream stick that Nana and I had bought at a local Amish bakery before leaving Ohio.

Davis' fourth birthday by Bruce Stambaugh

A cream stick for a birthday cake.

It was a fun time, with the family finally gathered for his birthday. It was the first one we had celebrated with Davis. Texas was just too hot and we always seemed to be extra-busy in the middle of July.

But now that Davis and his family had moved to Virginia, we made sure we were there with and for him. The message about all this was from his mother, my daughter, asking for the pictures from the party. I had yet to share them with her. She loved the shot and wanted to see the rest.

When I checked my Facebook page in the morning, I found a disturbing and extremely sad posting by the son of a friend of mine. His sister’s newborn daughter had died right after birth.

I shared the sad news with my wife. We are close friends with the expectant grandparents. This baby would have been their first grandchild, one they had so longed for and had happily anticipated.

Now all expectation of playful days ahead had been dashed. I couldn’t imagine how devastated they must feel. I felt guilty for having three healthy grandchildren.

Their daughter lived in Indiana and I knew they would be with her. What could I do to offer my deepest sympathies, to reach out to them in their time of need?

While I struggled with this dilemma, I received an email containing the weekly column of a friend and writing peer in Virginia. He had written about his vacation with his grandchildren and included a picture of him wading in the ocean, a towheaded granddaughter tugging on one arm, a brown-haired grandson on the other as the foamy surf broke upon them.

It was clear that both grandchildren hung on to their grandfather in trust and love as the soft, warm waves crashed against them. I was happy for him, sad for my other friends, and conflicted about being able to reconcile these seemingly disconnected incidents.

Grandparents are supposed to be wise and loving and adored. My friend’s picture clearly revealed those dynamics. But we also know that there are times when life simply isn’t fair and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

I hope and pray that my three grandchildren will grow and prosper and live lives of service to humanity. I am deeply distraught that my friends Bruce and Helen cannot now say the same thing for their granddaughter.

I am sure many of their friends will reach out to this fine couple in their grief. When I get the chance, though, I will pretend we are at the shore, standing knee-deep in the churning surf, readying for life’s perilous waves to come crashing against us, Helen clasping one arm, Bruce the other, trusting and loving.

At this mournful moment, that is all I can offer.
Seaside sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

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