celebrate kindness

Archive for the ‘Mom Letter’ Category

This was our first official week of school and our first day on campus was filled with Cardinal love! It was such a joy to stand on the sidewalk, meeting and greeting new and returning students as they piled off the school buses, with bright smiles and eager faces.

The school mascot of Mechanicsville Elementary is a cardinal, and one of our parents, Jason Whitlock, transformed himself as the grand cardinal himself, on the sidewalk to welcome everyone back on the first day. What fun!

After the kids made their way to their classrooms, I had to sneak in and get a photo with our cardinal… because he made an amazing contribution to our Tiny Tech Cafe!

Last week, Jason’s wife, Grace, stopped me at Open House and said she wanted to bless our campaign by purchasing the bookshelf I wanted. What joy! Then, over the holiday weekend, she send me a photo as she was buying it with a note that Jason would¬†put it together and deliver it on the first day of school. Oh my goodness – how amazing is THAT?!

The week before I had discovered a little book consignment store beside Big Lots. It caught my eye with the over-sized crate on the sidewalk¬†and a sign saying “Free Books.” What a lovely random act of kindness! I went inside and perused a bit and found a few books I could add to the Tiny Tech Cafe. Now that we were getting a bookshelf, I could really start creating a lending library of educational books for teachers!

Sure enough, Tuesday rolled around and there was Jason, a grown man in a cardinal suit carrying a bookshelf taller than me. He brought it to the Tiny Tech Cafe and helped move it in place. I couldn’t wait to fill it up!


This REALLY got me excited because it was starting to look more and more like a cozy cafe!

As several of you know, Tuesday would have been my mother-in-law’s 69th birthday (she passed away in March of this year.) I created a little memorial area in her memory, dedicating our Tiny Tech Cafe to her. She was an MES parent almost four decades ago and in my early years as a classroom teacher she lovingly sewed fabric to make curtains, tablecloths and room dividers for my classroom. I know if she were still here with us, she would be jumping in to make our Tiny Tech Cafe a place of warmth and love.

The ceramic cardinal on top of the computer was painted by my husband’s grandmother, Vera Rapp, who at 93 years old still amazes us with her talent! Even though she lives in New York, I love that she can share in the joy of our Tiny Tech Cafe, too!

There’s a saying that when you see a cardinal, it’s a reminder of a loved one who passed away. We have lots of cardinal reminders at Mechanicsville Elementary (and in the state of Virginia, as the cardinal is our state bird.) It’s nice to know we have a cardinal watching over us in the Tiny Tech Cafe as well.

Thanks, Jason and Grace, for making my first day back with students an exceptional day!

More joy to come! Check back soon!


I started this post 8 days ago when the pain was still raw, the scab of grief was not quite hardened enough to remove the protective bandage covering my sorrow. I would start to type and the words remained garbled on the page. I couldn’t finish my sentences. My grammatical errors glared back at me in judgment, and I was so overcome by emotion that tears would blur my vision.

“It’s ok,” they said with sympathy-laden voices. “You don’t have to write.”

No. It’s not ok. I can’t not write. I simply can’t.

So here I sit in the dark, quiet space of sunrise. Reflecting. Remembering. Writing.

About a month ago, we sat by her bedside, the final stretch of her journey looming before us like the darkened clouds of an incoming storm. Her sister, Betty, and I were trying to keep the conversation light and lively; she opened her eyes and gave a weak smile. I can’t recall the exact story we were sharing, can’t quite remember what started my mother-in-law talking as well, but she was awake. Alert. Engaged. There was laughter with a thread of silliness as Betty and I talked about family, kids, and life, catching up on the recent events of the week. Then there was a break in the chatter. A pause. And mom spoke to me.

“Take some of my jewelry.”

She had already shared this invitation with her two daughters, her three granddaughters as well. Her beaded, costume jewelry still sits in a bag on my daughter’s desk, treasures too valuable to touch.

I was different. I was the daughter-in-law.

I did as she asked, reaching into the top drawer of her bureau, removing a wooden box engraved with a quote about Grandparents, my children’s small faces smiling back at me in the photo centered in the wood. I had given her this jewelry box years before and it made me smile to see it again. There were only a few pieces of jewelry remaining, small trinkets of tarnished metal and a couple of clip-on earrings. I politely took a pair of earrings, knowing her desire for me to have something from her, then carefully returned the box back to the top drawer.

“Go look beside it. There’s more.”

My eyes traveled to the left of the dresser to the small jewelry stand almost hidden from view. Opening the door, I saw simple chains of gold, a brooch, and then… the bracelet.

It’s funny what you remember when time stands still.

The bracelet was simple, nothing elaborate. Rectangular links of silver creating a perfect circle held in place by a flexible thread. Along the perimeter, there were four colored birthstones, representing each grandchild she had at the time.

Only three of those four babies were born.

This bracelet was a birthday gift, purchased by me to give to her as a surprise announcement of the fourth grandchild to come. My baby’s due date was March 3, 2003, a delightful triangulation of threes. We kept the secret for weeks, despite the fact that my growing belly now required elastic waistbands and maternity shirts. Living out-of-state away from family made this natural progression easier to hide.

We had already heard the heartbeat, marking days from one trimester to the next. There was no cause for worry, no need for concern, even the daily ritual of morning sickness was starting to abate.

The bracelet arrived in a beautiful box, surrounded by lush velvet. My in-laws would arrive the next weekend and we would celebrate Mom’s birthday a week early.

And then… everything just stopped.

No heartbeat. No movement. No change. My second child’s life was lost before it had barely begun.

My in-laws arrived and the bracelet was given, but the aquamarine gem had lost its luster. It now served as a reminder of things that would never be.

Now, thirteen years later, I stood with Mom once again, holding the bracelet that represented life and death, the parallel so vivid to Mom’s journey now. I turned to face her, my eyes brimming with tears and met her gaze with clarity.

“The bracelet! Mom, you still have the bracelet!”

My voice was filled with awe and wonder. The bracelet had survived more than a decade, with moves across state lines. It was left unselected by the other family members, its value and worth unknown like a hidden treasure at an auction sale.

It was waiting for me all along.

I put the bracelet on my wrist, the silver links still gleaming from immaculate care, as I retold the story to Betty, who was still sitting in the room. I faced Mom and saw her watching us. That’s when the impact of the bracelet hit me.

She would meet my angel baby before me.

I shared my realization with her and the corners of her mouth turned up slightly, the weak smile radiating across her face. “Yes, I will,” she said before her eyes closed again.

This was her act of kindness to me.


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It’s been one week since the funeral visitation.

The days before and after blur like a watercolor painting left in a rainstorm. Habit alone reminds us of daily rituals: get up, take a shower, get ready for work. Take care of the kids. Feed the cat.

I went more than a week without doing any laundry. No grocery shopping. No nightly dinner preparation for my family of five. I’m not really sure what, if anything, got accomplished other than the status quo completion of required tasks, an unmanned plane gliding on autopilot.

Joy, my #oneword of 2016, stands along the outskirts of my week, handing me tissues and sharing in my tears.

The visitation was filled with friends, family, and flowers. The outpouring of kindness and love shown to our family in so many small ways reminds me again and again that there is good in this world.

I remember when my grandmother lost her battle with cancer sixteen years ago. The funeral home received so many flowers for her passing, they offered to open another room so people would have enough space to walk around. That was the way people showed their condolences back then – flowers. Lots and lots of flowers.

Times have changed dramatically in sixteen years, even with this rite of funeral flowers. Practicality and cost now govern decision-making and rightly so. Flowers are expensive, especially petals that are woven into wreaths or displayed on stands. Not everyone has hundreds of dollars to spend on objects that, while beautiful in the moment, have a limited luster and will quickly wither away.

In lieu of flowers, some send plants. While lacking in the vibrant colors and patterns of flowers, they can thrive beyond the period of mourning. They remind the living that there are things to care for and that they, too, are still alive. Plants are a lovely choice as well.


A beautiful plant donated by my school in memory of Mom Letter.

Sometimes there are donations. We’ve seen an increase with weddings and funerals for people to add a tagline: “In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to…” listing a favorite charity or organization. What a beautiful legacy to pay-it-forward in memory of someone else.

Mom Letter asked for donations to be made to hospice. For five months, hospice helped to care for Mom and provided support for our family. Now Mom has a way to say “thank you” to the hospice nurses and caretakers through the kindness of those who loved her.

Today my husband received the list of names of those who had donated in Mom’s name. Family. Friends. Neighbors. But one name stood out among the others.

Dr. Scott Otto, Libertyville, IL.

See, Mom Letter’s journey from diagnosis to hospice spanned more than two years and two states. Dr. Otto was the specialist who first cared for her. Talked with her. Helped her make decisions. It was Dr. Otto who knew her more intimately than any of us ever could – he literally held her existence in his hands in the operating room and surgically saved her life more than once.

It’s because of Dr. Otto’s care that Mom lived years, not months. It’s because of his dedication that we were granted extra time with Mom, sharing holidays and celebrations. It’s because of his signature that Mom was granted permission to move back to Virginia, to be surrounded by family, so that her final days could be filled with love.

And now, because of Dr. Otto’s generosity and the kindness of others, more families will get to do the same through hospice.

It’s been a tough week to write, but I hope as the hours turn into days, I will regain my momentum again. Thank you for taking the time to be a part of our lives and share in our journey. There is kindness everywhere, even in death.





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