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Mourning the deaths of the Looby children

March 29, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
"Don’t tell us that they are in a better place. We know heaven is nicer than here, but we like them here just fine and really … it feels like you are saying we are not good enough for our child to stay." — Corinne Mitch Kligmann,

"We think today of the pleasures that will not be experienced; let us also think of the pain that will not have to be endured." - Chuck and Karen Probst on the Looby children's online condolence page,

"Jesus really, really loves children." — Colton Burpo, "Heaven Is for Real"


Tomorrow, the Looby family will bury the bodies of their three little ones — Joshua, 5; Ruthann, 4; and Aubrey, 2 — who died in a March 17 fire that destroyed their apartment and sent their mother and father with life-threatening injuries to the hospital, where they remain.

I don't know much of the details and frankly, I am not willing to do what it takes to get them. Call me a bad journalist. I was going to try to determine if the parents are out of their comas; if they know their children will be buried tomorrow; and, if not, how does a family proceed with burying children whose parents don't even know they're gone? Is that even legal?

I started to punch in the numbers of the funeral home to ask about the protocol in such situations but replaced the receiver before entering the last few digits. I couldn't imagine asking what I wanted to know. The director probably has never had a situation like this and is just doing the best he can to help this devastated family say "goodbye" the best way they can. And I'm sure everything he is doing is legal and ethical ... and one of the hardest things he's ever done and ever will do.

I did email the minister who will preside, asking him if he would be so kind as to share some words of comfort to local parents. I didn't hear back from him yet. It's a busy week, after all, with Easter coming on Sunday. And it's quite possible, at this stage of the game (Friday morning), he might not know yet what to say.

What do you say? The Ohio Valley is in mourning, and we fumble for what to say and how to fathom such a horrific event happening in our lives. I know I have tried to put myself in this family's shoes, but I can't stay there long. I jump out of them as quickly as if there were stinging scorpions hiding inside them. It's not a path anyone would wish for their worst enemy to have to walk.

All I can think to say is I'm sorry and I'm praying for you.

My mind keeps returning to the story of Colton Burpo, the little boy who died on the operating table several years ago and experienced heaven before coming back. His story is told in the book "Heaven Is for Real," written by his dad, Todd, a pastor. Todd says the one message Colton continued to repeat, for months and years following his experience, almost to the point of being irritating, is that "Jesus really, really loves children." It's a comfort, and it's also good to remember that we are all of us, grown-ups included, His children.

In her quote above, Ms. Kligmann, whose daughter died three years before she wrote this, says sympathizers should not talk about heaven as if it were a better place than here on earth, surrounded by a loving family. It makes it sound as if this earthly family wasn't "good enough." I understand that, and so I will try to remember not to say that in the future.

But I also like what Chuck and Karen Probst said in their condolences, that along with thinking about the pleasures that will never be experienced by these children, we can also think of the pain they will not have to endure here on earth. As adults, we know how painful life can be. And we don't need a news reporter to give us the details.


Article Comments



Mar-31-13 2:32 AM

thank you for taking a stand on what is right.


Mar-30-13 5:47 PM

The Burpo book is very comforting and encouraging to all who mourn.


Mar-29-13 4:00 PM

Betsy, extremely well done.


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Blog Photos

Crosses bearing each child's name stand outside the burned home where Joshua, Ruthann and Aubrey Looby died in a fire on March 17. File photo