Turning tragedy into hope

Turning tragedy into hope
Melissa Wootan (right) and her beloved daughter, Kyley, enjoy a mother-daughter moment before Kyley’s untimely death in 2008, just before her 17th birthday.

It takes a special kind of courage to face tragedy, overcome sorrow and despair, and find new meaning in life after loss. Melissa Wootan of La Vernia and her family possess that rare courage, and have turned their sorrow into a way to help others facing difficulty.

On Dec. 18, 2008, Melissa’s daughter, Kyley Brooke Wootan, died in a car accident near their home. She was buried Dec. 23, on what would have been her 17th birthday.

Melissa wrote to The La Vernia News recently, stating, “The weeks and years that followed seemed at times unbearable. Without fail, and always at just the right moment, there would be a phone call from a friend, kind words from a stranger, or what seemed to be ’signs’ from heaven that she was fine and that I, too, would be once again.”

Melissa shared on her Facebook page about events that “é seemed like very special gifts from above in relation to my loss.”

This mother’s grief and her search for signs that all would be well have turned into a story of hope. This story is now available to anyone seeking reassurance of God’s presence and love, since Melissa turned her special moments into a short story for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books.

The new book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Tough Times, was released Oct. 4. Melissa’s tale of overcoming loss and looking for inspiration is among more than 100 “daily devotions for men, women, and children who have been dealt huge blows in their lives,” according to a press release from the publishers. “Yet, this book isn’t only about tough times; it is also about hope and support.”

Melissa’s contribution outlines how she was having a difficult time as the second anniversary of Kyley’s death neared. Shopping in Hobby Lobby before Thanksgiving, she wasn’t in the holiday mood, missing her “Kyley-Bug,” the nickname she and her husband, Joey, had given their daughter.

A chance encounter with someone Melissa knew only slightly from the La Vernia community was about to change things, though. Patti King, who attends church with Melissa’s mother-in-law, saw Melissa and asked her how she was doing.

“Uh-oh, the poor lady had asked me the wrong question on the wrong day,” Melissa recounts in her story. “I was going to tell her exactly how I was doing, and I was going to tell her the truth right there in the middle of Hobby Lobby.”

She poured out her despair and how she felt. Instead of receiving a rebuff, Melissa received a loving response.

“When so many other people would have looked the other way, not knowing what to do with a grieving mother or simply not wanting to take the time in the rush of everyday life, Patti put her arm around me and offered me a prayer of hope and comfort,” Melissa said recently. “If it weren’t for Patti’s act of kindness that day, I would not be talking to you about this. Look at what God can do with just one small gesture of kindness and love from one human to another.”

Patti encouraged Melissa to think about what most reminded her of Kyley. In a fluster, Melissa told Patti that ladybugs were a special reminder, because of her daughter’s nickname, Kyley-Bug. Patti offered to pray for an infestation of ladybugs for Melissa, to give her the reassurance she needed to go on.

The prayer wasn’t answered overnight, and Melissa kept searching for ladybugs, seeking the reassurance she desperately needed.

Her prayer was answered on Thanksgiving with an abundance of ladybugs, one alighting first on Kyley’s brother, Josh, then hundreds covering Melissa’s husband, Joey, and their house.

Melissa hadn’t shared her encounter with her special prayer warrior with her family, or that she had been searching for ladybugs ever since.

When she told Joey, “he fought back tears,” she recalled.

The ladybug encounter helped Melissa realize what she is thankful for.

First, she said, “é is a God, a loving Father, who continues to bless me with signs from Heaven, reassurances. I have questioned Him, I have dared Him, I have turned my back on Him, and yet He remains faithful in His loving kindness. Perhaps it is because He knows my pain better than anyone else. He is a father who watched His own son suffer a horrible death and He is a father who holds his daughter close as she cries over the loss of her child, her precious Kyley.”

Melissa took her heart in her hands last December, putting her story on paper and submitting it to the Chicken Soup publishers, in the hope the story might help others facing their own tough times.

To her surprise and against huge odds only about 3 percent of the submissions make it into books it was accepted.

Melissa recently has appeared on local TV programs, sharing her story and promoting the new Chicken Soup book. One TV station has a special place in the family’s lives, since meteorologist Steve Browne with San Antonio station KSAT-12 named the ladybug statue in the station’s garden Kyley after hearing the family’s story.

Melissa will appear on KENS-5 TV’s morning show on Saturday, Oct. 8. The show begins at 7:30 a.m.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Tough Times is available in bookstores. Copies also will be available from The La Vernia News and the Wilson County News.

“As I sit in my office writing this, I look up every once in awhile at the ladybug making itself at home on my ceiling,” Melissa wrote to The La Vernia News. “I like to think she’s a little reminder from God to continue looking up and into the future, a future where Kyley is waiting for us at the feet of our Heavenly Father. Once again, I am humbled.”