Story by CHANEL BINGHAM
Photos by CHANEL BINGHAM and CONTRIBUTED
When one steps into the home of Janice and Jerry Wright, there is an intoxicating feeling of warmth and belonging. They immediately feel like old family friends. It might seem a strange thing to be filled with such joy and peace considering the circumstances, yet the reason for their joy in the midst of deep sorrow quickly unfolds as they share their story.
Their grandson Clint Cleckler was adventurous, outgoing and always allowed his love for the Lord to be the driving force in his life. He was wise beyond his years and had a love for people that seemed immeasurable. One could find him sitting with the student who dined alone, befriending the friendless and boldly declaring the love of Christ to others. He had a special place in his heart for missions and once gave up playing high school football in order to attend a mission trip to serve others.
After graduating from The University of Alabama, he began his career as an oncology nurse. “After his transfer from Auburn to UAB, he completed a rotation in the oncology clinic and knew that’s where he wanted to work,” shared Clint’s mother Beverly Cleckler. “Most people don’t want to work in that field right out of college, but he knew that was his calling. He began working with leukemia patients.”
Clint enjoyed his work but still made time to feed his adventurous side. During a hike on Blood Mountain in Georgia, Clint found himself falling behind his friends.
“He had a very rapid heart rate and was struggling to catch his breath during the hike,” said Beverly. “When he returned home, he developed a cough. He went to the doctor, and although his blood counts were off, they suggested he might have a mycoplasma infection or might possibly be dealing with too much stress.”
As the symptoms progressed, Clint made a visit one Friday to the hematology doctor on the floor he worked on at UAB for further blood work. Within 45 minutes, the doctor called and delivered the news that Clint had leukemia.
“He started chemotherapy immediately, but he didn’t go into remission,” Beverly said. “His was in need of a bone marrow transplant, so they tested his sister, but she wasn’t a match. He was placed on the bone marrow registry in March of 2012 and a donor was found that July.”
On July 19, 2012, Clint Clecker received a bone marrow transplant but would go on to face overwhelming complications which he would battle for the next three years.
“Clint developed graft versus host disease as a result of his transplant. Although his match was good, it wasn’t perfect, and the donor cells started attacking his body,” said Beverly. “The disease attacked his skin causing it to harden. He lost all of his mobility and flexibility. His skin was like concrete and started peeling off.”
As he faced this battle, Clint became an advocate for the bone marrow registry. He spoke at colleges, Relay for Life and to the doctors and medical students at UAB encouraging people to get on the donor list.
He also continued to encourage others in their faith. He once shared with his father that he felt like a modern day Job because of all the complications and pain he faced, but he accepted it without question. Although it was not something he would have chosen, he knew it was God’s plan.
“Clint knew he was going to pass away, and he made me promise that we would be okay and asked us not to go to a dark place,” shared Beverly. “He had a peace about dying and did not fear death. Until his last breath, he was more concerned about his family and the people around him than himself.”
After a three-and-a-half-year battle, Clint Cleckler passed away on July 17, 2015.
“It was not the end result we wanted. We wanted him here on earth, but it was a selfish desire,” said Beverly. “How many people would not have been touched if he hadn’t gone through this battle? Although our prayer for complete healing was not answered, so many of our prayers were answered and those blessings branched out. Days, weeks, months and even years after Clint’s passing, people will tell us of the impact he had on their lives. We just can’t question any of it.”
In memory of Clint, the Wrights created a special memorial garden on the land next to their home in Clanton off Highway 22.
“We had just bought the lot beside our home before he passed, and we wanted a place to show that he was here on this earth,” Jerry said.
Today, family and friends gather regularly in the garden to celebrate Clint’s life. “Every two weeks we’ve had a get together. We go out there and have a good time,” Jerry said. “This is not a time to feel sad. He would want us to have a good time and that’s what we do.”
During his long battle, Clint Clecker once shared a letter he had written on his Facebook Page. His illness had rekindled his appreciation for life, especially the small things that people so often take for granted. In closing his letter, he left readers with this piece of advice.
“I hope you all realize the beauty and life each day has for you. Most importantly, I pray you have a true source of peace or will search for it. Time of trouble will come, and you cannot make it on your own.”
Throughout his journey, Clint held on to Jeremiah 20:9, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”