celebrate kindness

Posts Tagged ‘death

April 29, 2016.

The date on the calendar was blank except for the small printed words to the side: “T & D – Taking care of business”

I picked up my mom and took her out for breakfast, a long-awaited trip to Cracker Barrel. The morning was gloomy and my heart was sad, knowing my brother-in-law’s nephew was being laid to rest just a few hours later. There was a tragic accident the weekend before, an accident that shocked our small community, and the aftermath was, and is, too raw to put into words. While I wanted to be there to support my brother-in-law and his family, I knew it was right to keep my promise with my mom.

Today was an important day.

I arrived at my mom’s house, her breathing heavy and labored, but she was ready to get the day started. The dreary weather matched my mood as the drizzling rain made our hair frizz around our faces.


My hair. My face. My mom lost her hair weeks ago.


We sat at the table and opened our menus, the elephant in the room peering over our shoulders as we placed our orders. Eggs over easy with a side of bacon. Sourdough bread, toasted.

The banter between us was light, the usual chit-chat you might find between a mother and daughter, talk of work and weather and kids. We both knew why we were having breakfast today, and how the day would unfold, but it wasn’t until the coffee arrived that we finally invited that elephant in the room to sit down and join our conversation.

Today was the day we planned my mother’s funeral.

We jokingly called it our “Girl’s Day Out,” knowing of course that it broke all the rules of conventionality. I asked her questions – lots of questions – and made notes on my iPad as we talked about details, decisions, and death.

We talked about services. We talked about songs. We spent a long time discussing hospice. We lamented about the exorbitant cost of funerals, then pondered the necessity for so many rituals. We discovered a need for an updated will.

We were making plans, much like a mother and daughter planning a wedding, but roles were now reversed. I was the mother. She was my child. I wanted to make sure her wishes were granted.

In the midst of our breakfast with the dishes cleared and coffee refilled we talked about flowers and photos. “I don’t need much,” she said, “Let’s keep it simple.”

We shifted gears and shopped for a bit and she found a blouse she liked. “If you like it, it’s yours!” I exclaimed, her Mother’s Day gifts bought without hesitation.  

We found a photo frame to memorialize her husky, Ivan, who suddenly passed away the week before after 10 years in her care. The circle of life never stops, whether pet or parent or child. It’s important to remember those things that bring us joy.

As we window shopped for this and that, we found humor in silly things. The baby boy frog shoes we would have bought in an instant, if my baby boy wasn’t almost seven.  The sparkled shoes, the overpriced scarves, even the pajamas with sailboats gave us a giggle. She glanced at the chocolate bars by the register and I had her choose her favorite to add to the pile. “Never say no to chocolate,” I reminded, “You only live once.”


We took selfies at storefronts and shared stories from our past. We chose objects that would have special meaning once she is gone.

Were tears shed today as we planned for the future that would not include her vibrance? Of course. But today was a day filled with making memories and the laughter overcame the sorrow.
Whether you are healthy or sick, feeble or strong, I encourage you to take time for your loved ones. Open the door to those difficult conversations. Make plans for today and tomorrow, even if you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Allow yourself to be happy. Find joy in the mundane. Remind someone that they are loved and show them with actions and words. Take pictures and be silly, even if you know people are staring at you like you’re a fool.

Be you. Be free. Make memories. These are the days you will always remember, and the laughter will rise like the sun, warming your heart for years to come.


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This has been a really hard week for several of my friends. One lost a sister; another a best friend. Parents. Grandparents. Uncles. Even a spouse. Two friends were diagnosed with cancer. The grief that has flooded my social media newsfeed is a constant reminder that bad things happen to good people and my heart breaks for each and every one of them.

I also feel very helpless. How can I possibly help them in their time of need?

Yes, I can offer to make them a meal. I can pray. I can stop them in the store and ask how they are (but is this really a help or a reminder of their grief?) I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I feel paralyzed, like nothing will make a difference.

Have you ever felt like this before?

This morning as I sat in church, our pastor gave us a sermon on Doubt. Uncertainty. Not knowing what to do, or when to do it. How worrying about what others will think often times keeps you from doing the one thing you have been called to do. Talk about hitting me over the head with a message.

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I want to tell you a story, one I have struggled for months to write. It may be a long one, so if you are reading this post in the midst of your busy day, you may want to bookmark it and save for later when you have more time. It’s an important story, maybe even one of the most important RAKs I’ve been a part of thus far.

This is the story of Secret Sisters.

A year and a half ago, a dear friend of mine from high school lost her young son unexpectedly. His life ended just weeks after he blew out six candles on his birthday cake. Diane posted a plea on Facebook for prayer as Nate’s tiny body went into cardiac arrest. Her next post was to tell us he was gone.

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I sat there, staring at the screen of my phone, stunned and paralyzed by grief for my friend and her entire family. There was absolutely nothing I could do to change this situation. I couldn’t bring her boy back. Making a meal seemed pointless (I lost my appetite just reading her post, surely they wouldn’t feel like eating either.) I felt completely helpless; even kind sentiments shared on Facebook seemed trite and incomplete.

I spent the next few days crushed in spirit, consumed by an extraneous loss I couldn’t explain, a complete uncertainty of what to do next. Grief is an odd thing. It reminds me of a tidal wave, building in strength only to slam into everything in its path. Then it pulls back a bit, only to be followed by a taller, stronger wave that catapults your body over and under, slamming it this way and that, leaving your heart bruised and torn. All of which no one can see from the outside.

I struggled to understand why. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why I was feeling so much sadness when this wasn’t even my child? Why couldn’t I let go of my unexplained sorrow?

That’s when I heard the whisper on my heart. It was a single word, spoken in such a matter-of-fact way I might have easily missed it had I not been so desperate for an answer.


Do? Do… what? It was almost laughable, that command. I could barely lift my head above the mire and I was told to do. While I sat there that day, completely perplexed, I now imagine that God was looking down at me smiling, because he knew exactly what it meant. And He was about to show me, and others as well, the unimaginable love that could be poured out from one simple word.

The funeral home was like a mini class reunion for all the wrong reasons. My classmates and I tried our best to comfort our friends in their time of loss while joining together in shared sadness. There were hugs given, tears shed, tissues passed around. I saw my friend, Michele, and after a short conversation catching up on our families, I shared my thoughts about the message I had received.

“I feel like we need to do something. Something big. Something different. But I don’t know what,” I began.

“Me too! I was just thinking that on the way over here! We need to wrap them with love,” she responded, her eyes already twinkling with a bit of mischievousness that took me back more than twenty years to the days of our youth.

“Yes! Wrapping them with love! That’s perfect! But wait. It shouldn’t be just us. We need other people to help us.” My brain was already swirling with ideas, the locked door opened by Michele’s key of inspiration. “Let’s brainstorm some ideas and touch base in a few days. We can DO this!”

And thus, Secret Sisters was created.

The idea came together rather quickly. Michele and I wanted to wrap Diane, Kevin, and their two daughters with love and joy, along with sweet reminders of Nate who would always be with them in spirit. I thought of my wonderful college sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, and the different things we would do to lift one another up in times of struggle. Michele and I decided to create a little mini-sorority of our own, a sisterhood of twelve women who would commit their love, prayers, and kindness for this family. We started a private Facebook group and each invited five ladies to share in our secret mission.

Each gal was assigned a specific month of the year with three tasks to complete in that designated time:

  • 1. Pray for the family each day.
  • 2. Do something small for the family each week. (Send a card, leave a note of inspiration, etc.)
  • 3. Do one “big” thing to make them smile. (Send a gift card for a dinner out at a restaurant, make a donation in Nate’s name, be creative!)

And that’s when the fun began. 🙂

We shared our stories and adventures in our private Facebook group, even adding photos to show what we had done. Many of our surprises were personalized for even greater meaning. This was one of the first gifts given:

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ladybug response post

Even though we each had our assigned month, and our own unique ways of sharing love with our friends, we signed everything we did as “Secret Sisters”. This group wasn’t about us as individuals. It wasn’t about outdoing someone else. Oh no, quite the opposite. We were simply a small group of ladies (with some help from spouses and children) who joined together in a common mission of love. Diane didn’t know who we were (or even how many!), but she shared her appreciation through Facebook, letting us know our gifts had been received with wonder and joy.

We continued surprising their family for a year. Gift cards. Flowers. Movie Tickets. Notes. Together we donated $100 to the Williams Syndrome Association in memory of Nate, signed simply “Secret Sisters.” One sister even wrapped and delivered 31 gifts so they would have something to open each day of that particular month.


As a group we laughed at almost getting caught. (When was the last time you left your house at midnight to sneak over to your friend’s house? Let me tell you, doing this in your forties is quite a bit different than when you were a teenager!) Being “ding-donged-ditched” took on a whole new meaning for the Secret Sisters.

ding-dong ditched

Each month brought new surprises to make them smile. And Diane’s responses on Facebook reminded us that this collaborative calling to “Do” was greater than we could have ever anticipated when we began.


Petunia note

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breakfast goodie

Book Donation



As we approached the one year anniversary of Nate’s passing, we wanted to do something even bigger. We knew it would be a challenging month; we wanted to shine the light of hope and give them something to look forward to.

So we decided to reveal our identities.

We reserved a shelter at the local park and sent them an invitation in the form of a puzzle they had to assemble together as a family. We even created a Secret Sisters email account so they could RSVP (thereby keeping our identities a secret until the actual cookout.)

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And then, when we thought our mission couldn’t get any grander, something even more miraculous happened. I told the story of Secret Sisters to a perfect stranger, a do-gooder like me who does random acts of kindness (who swore she wouldn’t tell a soul). Upon hearing the story of how our group came to be, and my stories of sweet Nate, she donated a brand new iPad Mini to be given to the Methenys at the cookout. WOW.

On the day of the cookout, those who were available gathered together, several of us meeting each other for the first time. We all remarked on how this journey had changed us personally. Each of us had our own stories, our own reflections, of how being a Secret Sister impacted our lives. With each gift shared, our sisterhood of caring grew as well. We became more than just 12 ladies on a mission. We became like sisters ourselves.

The Metheny family arrived and the rest of the day was spent with smiles, laughter and love. The potluck food we brought was delicious and the time of fellowship was priceless. And like a year before, hugs were given and tears were shed, but not a single tissue was needed. These were tears of joy.


Which brings me the point of this post. When you feel completely paralyzed by grief to help someone else, please don’t wait for them to ask for help. They are drowning in sorrow and your kindness might be the only life preserver they get thrown. Don’t allow doubt to paralyze your good intentions.



Don’t worry about what others may think. Follow the whisper on your heart. Grab a friend or two and share the love. Trust your instincts. You never know the amazing impact your act of kindness can have on someone else’s healing journey.

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Where do I even begin?

I have tried to write this post several times over the past 72 hours to no avail. It seems with each RAK I complete, more madness, more sadness enters this world. I find it very difficult to share the simplest of blessings, overwhelmed by the grief of tragedy and loss. On Sunday, I completed RAK #12 of #26 acts. Nothing big, just a little show of kindness that blessed a stranger. On Monday I heard about the devastating tornado in Oklahoma that obliterated an entire town, including an elementary school. How could I possibly write about my RAK… something so basic, so “no big deal” in the face of such destruction and shock?

On Tuesday I received a post notification written by the husband of a sweet friend of mine, detailing the impending passing of his wife from this life to the next. Mel, just a few years older than me, was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer eight months ago, the same month I underwent testing for breast cancer. Today she passed away.

Why? How? Why? The questions circle in an everlasting turnabout, stuck in my mind. Why do bad things have to happen? How can anything I do possibly make a difference? Why would anyone want to take the time to read my little RAKs when there are so many other things to ponder in this world?

And yet RAKs do make a difference. And you do read my posts. Maybe because we know there is no answer to question number one.

It’s funny in a way how God speaks to me sometimes. Maybe you are not a believer in God, but I am. I hear his voice on my heart in the most unassuming situations. Right before learning about the tornados on Monday, I discovered this video on You Tube. (You can skip through the commercial in the beginning after a few seconds). I held it together until I realized it was all focused in a hospital and that’s where my dying friend was spending her final hours. When the words “Just signed DNR” appeared on the screen, I was done. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Then later that night, I heard about the tornado. More tears.

This morning, after reading about my friend’s passing, I saw this quote in my FB newsfeed:


I had to laugh. It is EXACTLY how I would expect Mel to respond had I made the statement to her. Kindness is ALWAYS a big deal!! No matter how small it may seem in your eyes, it’s a big deal to someone else. I like to think it’s a big deal to God, too. Aren’t we commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves?

So that realization is what has pulled me out of my blog post slump. Kindness matters.

Random Act of Kindness #12 is a simple act, completely random, and nothing more than being kind to a stranger. We were eating at a serve-yourself style pizza restaurant following my daughter’s dance recital. As I was making my salad, I noticed an eldery woman with beautiful white hair and cane pushing her tray near mine. She was moving slowly, carefully, but despite her best intentions, the tray wobbled and her empty water cup fell right into the heap of spaghetti sauce she had placed on her spaghetti. Without a moment’s hesitation, I reached over and grabbed the cup off her tray. “Let me clean this off for you!” I walked away towards the drink counter to grab some napkins when another simple thought spoke to my heart. “Fill her cup.” I returned to the lady with her now cleaned cup, but instead of placing it on her tray, I asked what kind of drink she wanted. “I will fill it for you!” She smiled and spoke gently, “Water, please.”


When I returned to her in the line, she was struggling to balance her cane and her tray while reaching across to maneuver a slice of pizza off the counter. Glancing down, I realized she never grabbed an empty plate! (The plate on her tray was completely filled with spaghetti and sauce.) Instinctively I ran to the end of the line, grabbed a plate and placed it right underneath the gooey pizza, mere moments before it slid off the unbalanced spatula. “Oh my! I didn’t even think about a plate!” she exclaimed as I breathed as sigh of relief. (THAT could have been a mess!)

I laughed a little, then grabbed her tray. “Do you want more pizza or are you ready to sit? I can carry your tray for you!” She was completely shocked, taking several seconds to process what I had just asked. “Are you sure you don’t mind? That’s very kind of you.” She pointed to the table where her family was sitting and I walked with her as she hobbled with her cane. “Thank you! Thank you so much! So sweet.” (Below is a photo I took of her at her table a little bit later.)


As I turned to make my way back to the salad bar (I had simply left my salad plate right there in the line, lol), I caught the eye of my daughter who had witnessed the entire event. In the brief moment of connection, her smile was simply an extension of my own, radiating the joy of simple kindness.

This RAK is dedicated to Madeleine Hsu, age 6, who like my daughter was “a shy little girl who always seemed to have a smile on her face.” My dear friend Mel had a smile that radiated, too. I hope Madeleine’s family can find comfort in knowing that even the smallest acts of kindness are being done in her memory.

Share the gift of love with others. Our time here is brief, dear friends, but we truly can make a difference.

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