David Meigs is an emerging novelist whose fresh voice challenges the limits of Christian fiction. His background in youth outreach spans across thirty years and three continents. Having overcome severe dysfunction in his own life, he specializes in ministry to at-risk youth and their families. Though loved by all ages, his novels provide a unique, life-changing quality, critical for the youth of today. David and his family live in Seabeck, Washington, where he serves his church as youth pastor.
It is my privilege to interview the award-winning author Jewel Sample. Her groundbreaking children’s book, Flying Hugs and Kisses is a valuable asset for parents to help their children work through the process of losing a baby brother or sister. In addition, the author has created the Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book to be used in tandem with the book, and a Spanish version is available, Besos y Abrazos Al Aire.
David: What inspired you to write Flying Hugs and Kisses?
Jewel: When our infant grandson, Brennen died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), I became aware that his big brother and sisters were deeply grieving over his death. We found various grief books with fantasy characters. My grandchildren struggled with finding something in common with fantasy-type characters. So I encouraged my grandchildren to tell their own story while they were on Gramma play dates. One day my granddaughter asked me to write her a story that she could read by herself while she was at her own house. This is how Flying Hugs and Kisses began. I never thought about publishing a book, just about giving my grandchildren their own story.
David: In what ways do you hope your book will change the lives of children and families? Any testimonies?
Jewel: When a SIDS tragedy strikes a family, they are not always aware of what SIDS is or how to explain it to their children. Flying Hugs and Kisses gives a message of eternal hope and of family love. The story line includes accurate information about sudden infant death syndrome and the family process of grief due to the loss of a loved one.
My intent is to give parents a child-friendly tool to use that expresses shared universal feelings and thoughts about grief and loss. Most importantly, I want the reader to know that everyone is important and valuable, every family member contributes something that helps other family members get through grief and loss.
The change in families with children I hope for is that the Flying Hugs and Kisses books brings healing support and gives young readers encouragement to express their own feelings and to be at ease because they see the children in the story having similar feelings and thoughts while going through the grief process.
Finally, while the children are getting used to the family changes taking place around them, I hope the readers see how the book shows a way to stay connected to their loved one all the way to heaven.
There are several testimonies from families who indicate that the Flying Hugs and Kisses story and activity book have helped their family heal from the loss of their loved one and snippets can be found on my homepage called Around the Sand Box at http://hometown.aol.com/jmsample/index.htm.
One particular testimony that comes to mind is when a mom wrote to tell me how much my children’s story had helped her son and that he come to the conclusion if he could send his hugs and kisses to heaven, then he could also send his words. He somehow got the concept of prayer from reading the book. To me that is so amazing how God used Flying Hugs and Kisses to connect a new concept about talking to God with a child.
David: Have you won any awards?
Jewel: The answer to this question is yes! Flying Hugs and Kisses won The National Parenting Center 2007 Seal of Approval.
The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval report indicates, and I quote, “Jewel Sample does a wonderful job of breaking down some of the confusing terms that children hear during times like these and celebrates the love and strength that family provides.” The National Parenting Center’s 2007 Seal of Approval full report is available at http://www.tnpc.com.
David: Before you even wrote your book, you had a dream about it, and it involved Oprah Winfrey. What happened?
Jewel: Ha, Ha! It’s funny that you would mention this incident. Growing up in Colorado, I have always dreamed of living part of my summer in a mountainous town. Back in the late 1980’s I dreamed about meeting Oprah. My dream took place in a Colorado town called Telluride. In my dream, while I was hiking up a mountainous trail I met Oprah as she was on her way down. She stopped and touched my shoulder with her hand. I turned, and she said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I liked your book.” At the time of my dream I had not written a book, nor had I been to Telluride, so this dream was most perplexing and funny to me. I still haven’t visited Telluride. Yet, I can’t help but think “the book” Oprah referred to was Flying Hugs and Kisses, but maybe it is a book in the future.
David: Tell us about the Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book.
Jewel: My latest publication, Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book offers a message of hope for grieving families. It is designed to accompany the storybook, Flying Hugs and Kisses. It contains fun, educational coloring and writing activities, games, and puzzles to help elementary age children answer questions about grief and loss with compassion.
David: What message would you most like to say to families impacted by sudden infant death syndrome?
Jewel: The first thing I would say is it is not their fault that their precious baby succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome. Doctors are not sure about the prevailing cause of SIDS, so how can it be their fault?
Yes, there is research evidence that suggests some SIDS babies are born with brain abnormalities that when combined with other environmental factors place a baby at risk to sudden death during the first year of life. However, there is not yet a way to predict or prevent SIDS.
Current studies indicate that despite the proactive steps parents and caregivers take to reduce their baby’s risk of infant death, sudden infant death syndrome continues to be a leading cause of deaths for over 2,400 infants during the first year of life in the United States. SIDS crosses all socio-economic and racial boundaries. African American and Native American babies are two to three times more likely to die from SIDS than Caucasian babies are. Male infants are more likely to succumb to SIDS than female infant (First Candle SIDS Alliance). None of these factors are intended to place blame on the parent or caregiver. It is just credible information to help caregivers understand the research issues surrounding SIDS. One can only hope for measures to be designed in the form of medical testing to prevent or predict an infant from succumbing to this unthinkable syndrome.
The second thing I would say, although the complete SIDS investigation, which includes an autopsy, examination of the death scene (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines), and review of the symptoms or illnesses their infants had prior to dying and any other pertinent medical and family history, leaves American families in a state of ambiguity and searching for meaning, they can find meaning in their short-term gift by honoring and celebrating their baby’s life, in spite of their personal SIDS tragedy.
I was able to be thankful and honor our short-term gift by finding comfort in knowing that Brennen was lifted up to a higher place called heaven—safe from unpredictable earthly medical conditions. My assurance to my comfort is found in Psalm 139:16, which indicates God was and is with our grandbaby through all his ordained days. It is also consoling to know that our infant grandson is with someone familiar, someone who knew him before his own mommy and daddy or extended family formed a bond with him (Isaiah 49:16).
Lastly, I would say to SIDS families that with God’s help, they can keep walking one small step at a time through their journey of healing from grief and loss. The raw emotions they are feeling will subside with time and to remember God is with those who have a broken heart (Psalm 34:18).
Keep affecting a positive outcome for their individual families by searching out the SIDS specific information and support they need in order to make sense out of their tragedy. Do not try to walk through your grief journey alone. Although God is with us, we need someone with skin on to hug and support us through this stone-hard part of our life’s journey.
If a SIDS survivor has a need to do something to bring awareness about sudden infant death syndrome, then seek out information about providing or participating in SIDS-specific grief support groups locally or on the Internet. Keep going to church and raising funds for SIDS research to find a cure or to purchase needed resources and services for SIDS families. Continue making your community a better place by nurturing surviving children through their grief. Help the children make a flower garden or plant a special tree in memory of their baby brother or sister. Or even read a copy of Flying Hugs and Kisses together. Keep doing those things that help you and your family heal from your loss.
David: Is there another book or project in the near future?
Jewel: I am working on a children’s adventure, early reader, short-chapter book. I hope to have the manuscript publisher ready soon. I would tell you the title, but I haven’t given it a final title yet.
David: Where can we get your books?
Jewel: Flying Hugs and Kisses and my other books can be purchased at most major booksellers or directly through Lifevest Publishing’s Lifevest Bookstore, also known as http://AuthorsToBelieveIn.com e-bookstore or by calling toll free 1-877-843-1007.
More about Jewel Sample - Jewel Sample holds a Master of Science degree in Family Relations and Child Development from Oklahoma State University. She is a Child and Parenting Specialist and a volunteer mediator for the State of Oklahoma court system. Working with families in crisis is her focus in helping others.
Jewel has professional organization memberships with the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Stillwater Writers’ Group, and Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. (OWFI).
Her published writings include a children’s book titled Flying Hugs and Kisses (Lifevest Publishing, Inc., 2006), which is available in the Spanish language titled Besos y abrasoz al aire (Lifevest Publishing, Inc., 2006), and Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book (Lifevest Publishing, Inc., 2007). Hallmark Magazine (November 2007) printed her “Heavenly Sugar Cookies” story along with her favorite sugar cookie recipe.
Jewel and her husband, Chuck, are parents of three sons and grandparents of fourteen children. In her spare time, she loves to go antiquing for old dolls and toys. Most of all she enjoys the play dates with her grandchildren, who encourage her to tell them a new story before their play date ends. Jewel’s life goal is to inspire children through her storytelling to have hope and to be their very best selves.
For information on Jewel and her publications, visit http://jewelsamples.blogspot.com/.