The loss of a child is an unimaginable and unbearable thought, but for Claudia Chappel it’s her reality.

Now, 14 years after the sudden death of her son, Benjamin Nathan Chappel, she wants to be a support to those living the same nightmare. An artist who lives in Pikesville, Chappel is the illustrator and author of “The Art of Living with Grief.”

“This is a grief support book,” she says. “It makes you feel like you are being held or that someone is holding your hand. It can help anyone who wants support. It’s not going to help someone who wants to sink in a hole and die. But for anyone who wants the support or wants to talk, I’m available.

“It’s become a mission of mine to help others, even though I start crying every time I talk to another parent,” Chappel says. “It doesn’t get easier, but you do get stronger.”

Flipping through the pages of the book, the reader is immediately drawn to a series of beautiful images such as a vivid pink, orange and yellow sunset, a baby giraffe touching foreheads with its mother, and a landscape of purple flowers.

The book, which is sold on Amazon and at chains such as Target and Barnes & Noble, offers precious few words and no real beginning or conclusion.

The Art of Living with Grief book cover
Claudia Chappel: “This book came from me trying to help others after all these years. I found helping them made me feel stronger.”

“The book is meant to touch you where you are,” Chappel says. “It doesn’t tell you how to feel or talk about the stages. Every page of the book touches on a separate issue. You can open the book to any page, and it will be relevant.”

While the bright colors and concise blurbs may not be what a person expects from a book about dealing with grief, Chappel says it’s the kind of book she wishes she had after losing Ben, who was 26 when he passed away from a bacterial infection.

“I got so many books that I never looked at because all I saw were black-and-white words,” she says. “I couldn’t concentrate on reading about grief. This book, though, is me and my personality. I’m not real wordy. Benjamin used to say I’m like a hallmark card — very happy and joyful.

“I’m not looking to tell anyone what to do or how to do it. Instead, I want others to know that I understand you feel this way and I know how it feels. I want to inspire others to know that they will get stronger.”

Chappel didn’t originally set out to produce what is now “The Art of Living with Grief.” The seeds of the concept first came to her after speaking with a pair of mothers struggling with the losses of their own children.

“I wrote the book for these two women,” Chappel says. “I wasn’t close friends with either of them, but I could see they were struggling. I needed to give them something to help them when they were feeling deep and dark, to realize they weren’t alone.”

The first version of the book came out in 2018. Chappel created it on the web-based Snapfish photo sharing and printing service. She had the book edited by Cari Stein, president and executive producer at PBS’s “To the Contrary.” She paid for a handful of copies and gave the book to the two women to help get them through the December holiday season.

“I was nervous the book was going to make these women feel worse,” Chappel says. “But after I gave them the book, I saw one of the women at the gym and she told me she slept with it. She said it was so comforting to her that I went home that day and added 12 more pages to the original version.”

“The Art of Living with Grief” was published by Chappel’s own South Son Publishing outfit.

Only a year-and-a-half after Ben’s passing, Chappel and her family suffered another devastating loss when her stepson, Jacob Aaron Winelander, died in a car accident at age 21.

“You have to live your life, whether you’ve lost a child or not,” says Chappel. “When it’s your time, you will be with your child again. But until then, you have choices. You can choose to marinate in self-pity or find things to live for.

“My son was my first great love, and when he died, of course I thought I was going to die,” she says. “But I don’t want to die. I want to stay around for as long as I can, to be with my husband and daughter and to watch my two grandchildren grow up.”

Now, during a time when so many people are grieving and anxious due to the pandemic, Chappel says she hopes her book can be a source of great comfort and healing.

“Even though we are going through coronavirus, people are still grieving. They are just grieving alone,” she says. “This book came from me trying to help others after all these years. I found helping them made me feel stronger. If you are strong, you can help others, and if you help others you become stronger. I put myself out there to help others and had no idea that by doing that, I could also help myself.”

For information about “The Art of Living with Grief,” visit claudiachappel.com.

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