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Grief and Faith: A Mother’s Hopes After the JCC Shooting

On April 13, 2014, Mindy Corporon’s life was changed forever.

That afternoon, outside Village Shalom and the Jewish Community Center of greater Kansas City, white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller opened fire on an unsuspecting group of people. Miller killed three people: Terri LaManno, Corporon’s father William Lewis Corporon, and her 14-year-old son, Reat Underwood Griffin.

While the intended targets of Miller’s rage were Jewish people, all three victims belonged to Christian denominations.

Since the shooting, Corporon has found herself called to action. She wants to have interfaith dialogues that foster understanding and prevent hate from destroying people’s lives.

“A key aspect of where I feel like God is pulling me and telling me to go is to pull people of different faiths together and have different conversation,” Corporon said. “I’m not trying to recruit people from one faith to another. I don’t think that’s my objective. I think my objective and God’s mission for me is to give people a safe environment where they can learn about one another’s faiths and respect one another. It’s a step further than tolerance, because all tolerance is, is tolerating people, not understanding.”

One way Corporon hopes to promote understanding is through her foundation’s campaign, Seven Days.
“My foundation, Faith Always Wins, is a 501c3, and Faith Always Wins started the event Seven Days to originally with the premise to commemorate the shooting that happened and to help people remember that good can overcome hate,” Corporon said.

Seven Days is a celebration in April that invites all people, but especially young people, to do good works.

“Seven Days has seven themes: Seven Days of Kindness,” Corporon said. “God made the world in seven days, so we have determined that people can have really good actions for seven days in a row. They can choose our seven days and participate in activities. They can choose their own seven days. Our event is always going to be held in the month of April, but it is placed where so it does not interfere with Passover, Ramadan or Easter. We also take a look at the Greek Orthodox Calendar, so we’re cognizant of faiths, and we want to be inclusive of different faiths.”

In addition to promoting religious understanding, Faith Always Wins will also raise money for medical initiatives, grief support, organ donation and performing arts. Corporon’s son, Reat, was killed while on his way to KC Superstar, a singing competition.

The foundation isn’t the only way Corporon remembers her father and son. She has some deeply personal ways of remembering, in the form of jewelry.

“Three days after Reat and my dad were killed, Reat’s friends created this bracelet. Romans 28: ‘Good things come to those who believe in God.’ We did a ‘Remember Reat’ bracelet, and a ‘Remember Popeye’ bracelet. These, as you can tell, are quite worn. I’ve worn 20 or so. I let them get to be about this worn, then I save them.”

Corporon opened up the grief process of both herself and her son LuKas.

“When we were on vacation in Belize last summer, we were taking Reat’s ashes to the reef,” Corporon said. “We were kayaking his ashes out to the reef, and LuKas didn’t want to go. And I was a little upset with him that he didn’t want to go, but he wasn’t ready to do that. When I got back on the island, he gave me a bracelet, and said that he loved me, that he loved Reat. Although he wasn’t ready to do the ashes, he wanted me to know that he loved Reat.”

Corporon also has another bracelet that says, “Live Life to the Fullest and Never Give Up.” On the inside of that bracelet is an inscription of Reat’s birthday in Roman numerals: May 21, 1999. She also wears a ring that says, “Reat + LuKas.”

“When Reat died, we took a look at his social media,” Corporon said. “And on his Instagram page, where you can say something about yourself, he had ‘Live life to the fullest and never give up’ on his page. So that’s our mantra.”

Corporon explained the butterfly bracelet circling her wrist.

“Reat comes to me in the form of butterflies, and so I found a butterfly bracelet at an auction and I bought it,” Corporon said. “I wear this all the time. I never take it off.”

 

Corporon2
Mindy Corporon’s jewelry is one way she remembers her father and son.

 

Corporon then elaborated on how she has felt the spirits of her father and son through nature.

“We had people over one time, and this yellow butterfly kept on weaving in and out of us,” Corporon said. “This butterfly was always there. I thought it was interesting, that maybe this butterfly was Reat’s spirit. Everywhere we went, I kept seeing yellow butterflies. The biggest one was when I went to Mexico and said, ‘Okay Reat, can you show me a yellow butterfly, even in Mexico?’ It was a lush resort, and I’d seen really bright blue butterflies. I got to our room, and there was a yellow and blue butterfly. It was kind of like Reat going, ‘Okay, this is what I can do.’”

Corporon also sees her father’s spirit, in the form of cardinals.

“Very early on, like the first week after their deaths, a lot of things started happening with animals,” Corporon said. “One of the first things that happened, I think it was literally the day after they died, two cardinals landed on our back porch.”

“I see cardinals at random times, when I’m thinking about my dad, contemplating a question, wondering if I’m doing the right thing,” Corporon said.

Corporon said it isn’t hard for her to talk about Reat.

“I love talking about him,” Corporon said. “I mean, I wish he were here, but when I talk about him, it’s like he’s here. So when I talk about my dad, when I talk about Reat, it’s like they’re with us, they’re part of us, they’re part of my everyday life.”

The particularly difficult times, Corporon said, are when she sees children that remind her of Reat.

“The times when it’s hard are when I see students that are his age doing things that he would have wanted to do, that I and my family are missing seeing him do,” Corporon said. “We’re the ones that are hurt, we’re the ones that are left behind. I know that he is fine. I know that he’s heaven with my dad. I know that he is heaven with other friends, but it’s hard on us to realize the enormity of the loss. He was 14, almost 15 when he was killed. 30 days away from being fifteen. That’s a long life to live without your child. That’s the enormity of it, that’s where the grief comes from. But talking about it, for me, is like any parent talking about their child. I could only talk about him in certain timeframes, but now I talk about him in a spirit form. And now I’ll say that my dad and Reat’s ripples are doing this, or that they’re doing that. So I talk about them in a different way.”

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