The Turning Point…

IMG_3863
photo taken from http://www.goodreads.com

 

My homework for the writers’ workshop this week was to answer the question, “What was the turning point when you decided to Choose Grace?”  I knew the exact moment and told our instructor that I would be happy to answer the prompt she gave me. Two weeks and MANY tears later, I only scratched the surface of that question. As it turns out, there wasn’t one specific moment, but a collection of moments that took place during the time my step-father, John, went missing and then later when he was found.

Many of my friends will remember my obsession with the children’s book, Wonder, by RJ Palacio, shortly after I went through that experience. At the time, I spoke with friends near and far about our favorite characters, passages and quotes throughout the book, especially toward the end (but I won’t give those away as I still recommend this book for all ages!). What I couldn’t explain at the time was that the most moving passage for me, was the following:

Hey, is this seat taken?

I looked up, and a girl I never saw before was standing across from my table with a lunch tray full of food. She had long wavy brown hair, and wore a brown T-shirt with a purple peace sign on it.

Uh, no, I said.

She put her lunch tray on the table, plopped her backpack on the floor, and sat down across from me. She started to eat the mac and cheese on her plate…

My name is Summer, by the way. What’s yours?”

When I read these first few lines in the “The Summer Table” chapter, I started to weep.

Not just a few tears, but a real ugly cry. I wasn’t quite sure why I had had this strong of a reaction to these particular words. I certainly wasn’t a middle school student and I didn’t know anyone with a facial deformity, like the main character, August. Why, then, was I having such a strong reaction to these characters in this book?

Still sleep-deprived, guilt-ridden and anxiety-prone, I started reading Wonder just one month after my step-father’s body had been recovered off the coast of Key West. The memories that surfaced during his disappearance, the desperate search and then the recovery were brutal. All of the feelings that I had pushed away for my brother, Brian, who also went missing, who we also searched for, and then later found, resurfaced with a vengeance.

The pain of knowing that these two beautiful and gentle souls had lost hope was indescribable.

While sitting there weeping uncontrollably, I realized why the words from Wonder struck such a chord. Brian and John were just like August. While they may not have had the complex deformities that his character had, they were suffering in other ways. Brian and John’s injuries were invisible. They, just like August, felt completely isolated in their pain.

In fact, we are ALL like August at one point or another. We ALL have something.

And, we all have the capacity to be like Summer. We all have the ability to change the course of someone’s day, someone’s life, with just one simple act of kindness. Or, as I like to call it: grace.

When I really thought about Summer’s seemingly simple act during one of August’s lowest points in the story, it triggered a whole series of questions, thoughts and even more tears. From the more book-specific questions: Would I have gone to the aid of an outcast when I was a kid? Would my children be brave or decent enough to do this as well? To the more personal reflections: Did I reach out to Brian when he needed me most? Did I do enough to let him know he wasn’t alone? Could I have saved John by reaching out to him sooner? Did I miss signs that he was losing hope? To the more philosophical question: What does the world expect from me?

Losing John seventeen years after losing Brian, changed me forever. I literally shattered into a million little pieces when I figured out his location: a terrible, heart-wrenching phone call that I placed in the middle of the night to the Monroe County Coroner’s Office provided the answer I prayed so hard not to hear.

I am different now and I look at others differently now too. It’s almost as if I am looking through a camera with a “suffering” lens. There are so many people who are suffering…so many of us who are fighting every single day to escape the pain.

The whole scenario with this fictional character, Summer, and her ability to Choose Kind, to help someone she viewed as suffering, or as isolated, just for the sake of being nice or helping another person, spurred me on my mission even more.

When I started reading the book, it had only been three weeks since I had made my own pledge in front of about 150 mourners at John’s funeral. I pledged that despite the most unimaginable and hopeless outcome, I had decided to “Choose Grace”.

What did that mean? What is choosing grace? As I explained in the eulogy that I wrote for John, it meant that I was going to choose to find the beauty deep within an incredibly terrible situation. I was going to live life the way John lived his life when he was well – with rose-colored glasses, a beautiful optimism, an urge to help others and a gigantic, hearty laugh. I decided that while I have a choice, I was going to choose grace.

Before all of this happened, I was not what people would describe as the PollyAnna type. I had experienced a bunch of losses and had become quite cynical over the years, but what I experienced during those weeks of John’s disappearance, search and the weeks following his loss, made me gravitate towards the other side. The bright side. There are so many stories of people who stepped up to help me find John. Every time I called someone new, I told them about who John was and explained to them our family had gone through this before with filing a missing persons’ report, searching for our loved one, holding onto hope despite the odds that were stacking up against us. There were just so many stories of people who were willing to do anything to help us – from the guy who said he would post flyers in Key West after he got off his 8-hour shift, to the sheriff who said he would hand deliver the note I wrote to the man who found John’s body. He did this after I explained that I never got to thank the person who found my brother’s body along North Avenue Beach. He understood that I couldn’t let this go again.

Despite the terrible outcome, deep sadness and the stress this put on our already fractured family, I had hope. I had hope that I could be like Summer’s character. Hope that my children would also “choose kind” when given the choice. Hope that I could help other people, even if it was just one person, from feeling alone…from losing hope.

When you are thrown into a chaotic situation, and you feel like you are spiraling out of control and losing your mind, you never know where you’ll find peace and inspiration. For me, it was during an incredibly difficult time from a special book with an important message: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

To answer my instructor’s question, my turning point was my breaking point.

The Grocery Store Visit and the Weekly RAK-Up

image
on autopilot (google images)

I vaguely remember the first time I heard about the grocery shopping and delivery service, Peapod. I was working full-time, really didn’t like having to shop after work or on busy weekends, and thought it would be an excellent way to help save time and money. The Peapod truck, like the UPS and FedEx trucks, was already a fixture on our street.

 

Several years later, when I had two children and was working part-time, one of my friends who was in a similar position, mentioned that she was using this service. There was a big promotion and lots of money and time to be saved. She LOVED it! It seemed like the perfect solution to my biggest conundrum at the time, which was…how can I avoid bundling up these two babies, listening to them cry and whine, and figure out how to choose (somewhat) healthy foods and save money? All I had to do with this service was “point and click” and our weekly grocery list would be delivered right to our front door. It seemed like a win-win for our family.

Later that week, when I was at my mom’s house and mentioned that I was considering this service, she responded, “Well, I can definitely see the benefits, but it’s just another way for people to stop leaving their homes and connecting.”

While I often dismissed many of my mother’s comments, this one stuck with me. That, and I never seemed organized enough to get a full grocery list together for an order, so I just continued on with my one, two or three weekly trips to the grocery store.

About five years ago, in a new town with three kids and a terrible winter that never seemed to end, I was pushing the grocery cart around the store with two screaming kids who kept begging for everything on the shelves. Money was extremely tight at the time and we had to stick to our list – there was NO negotiating and the crying and whining would not stop. I remember feeling so embarrassed about how my kids (and I!) were behaving and wanted to get out of the store as quickly as possible. Of course, all of the lines were taking forever. As I tried to negotiate my way into the shortest line, I passed a woman who was holding a scanner in one hand and pushing her shopping cart with neatly organized bags with the other. She picked up a jar of sauce, scanned it and placed it in one of her bags. I stopped her to see what she was doing. She explained that she was using the store’s scanner, which meant she could scan her items, bag her groceries as she went along, and then she avoided the lines by going to the self-checkout. She said it cut her shopping trips by at least 10-15 minutes.

I started using the scanner on our very next visit.

Not only was the shopping quicker, but I could view the prices of everything immediately and my “helpers” loved scanning the items. When the store introduced the online deli feature a year or two later, it streamlined the process even more. I was becoming a more effective, money-saving consumer. I was in and out in 25 minutes or less – it was great!

Then, one morning during one of those shopping trips, the scanner broke while I was checking out. One of the cashiers came over, voided my transaction and said I would have to take all of my groceries, which were already bagged to the “regular” line. I’m embarrassed to even admit how I annoyed I was while waiting in the long line to have the items re-scanned and re-bagged. When it was my turn, the cashier greeted me with a huge smile, apologized for the “scanner inconvenience” and asked me how my day was going. The bagger asked if I wanted her to throw away all the garbage (i.e., old receipts, legos and goldfish) that had accumulated in my recycleable bags over the years. It was nice to be helped and I realized with surprise that it was the first time that I had spoken with someone other than my family all morning. It was the quickest conversation, but I thanked her for asking how I was doing and told her that I had forgotten how nice it was to chat in the check-out line. These scanners were great for convenience, but I was slowly losing connections with others.

My mom was right.

Now, while I admit that I have not given up the scanner or the deli kiosk, I do try to interact with at least one person (either someone who works there or another customer) during each visit. This week, I made an effort to smile at others and greet them. And yes, I know I look a little crazy. However, I was pleasantly surprised that EVERY SINGLE PERSON returned my smile.

And, when I said, “Good Morning. How are you?” to a well-dressed, adorable elderly lady in one of the aisles, she looked up surprised, stopped pushing her cart, and responded with a beautiful smile, “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”.

We should never forget how much we need each other.

image

#60. Wrote a letter of encouragement to a friend.

#59. Participated in several volunteer opportunities at children’s school.

#58. Bought some special treats for our pup, Jane and our hamster, Mr. Gus Whiskers.

#57. Smiled and greeted several people at Stop and Shop (RAK of the Week).

#56. Returned a random shopping cart back into the store.

This week, I tried to participate in FREE acts of kindness…it’s not that easy! Do you have any FREE RAK ideas, you’d like to share?! I’d love to hear them as I have 360 more acts to go…thank you! :o)

Uber Kindness and The Weekly RAK-Up

uber-logo

“Thank you for listening, Boss. You are a good mother…I can tell. Your kids are lucky. Thank you so much for listening.”
Today, during an early morning uber ride, I met a driver with an interesting story. Born in India, he was one of eight children, left school after the 7th grade and started working to help support his family. When he moved to the United States many years ago, he continued to work, taking odd jobs along the way.
Thirty-eight years ago, he and his wife bought a home in Rogers Park (my old ‘hood!) and started a family. They had two children – a boy and a girl. Throughout their lives, he taught them many life lessons; like how to earn and save money, that they needed to respect their parents (he gave them a tour of a juvenile detention facility to make his point), and the importance of education. His children both excelled, graduated from college and are successful in their professional endeavors. He has two grandchildren, who bring him more joy than he could even begin to describe, however, his smile told the entire story.
In three months, he turns 68-years-old and will retire from his full-time job. He will travel to India, and when he returns, he’ll go back to his part-time uber gig. He enjoys meeting people and hearing their stories.
I know this will sound like an easy or obvious act of kindness, but it’s one that I often forget about…listening. Truly listening to a person tell his story, without interruption, thinking about the next thing to say and without judgement. Because I did this, I learned many valuable life lessons, received the highest compliment and connected with someone who loves his family as much as I love mine.
We can really learn so much about each other when we really listen.
IMG_3429
#57. Listened (without interruption) to a man’s life story.
#56. Helped a woman whose carry-on was stuck in the overhead bin.
#55. Left a “kindness”note in a bathroom stall at LaGuardia.
#53. Gave a little extra tip for great service at a restaurant.
#52. Brought dinner to a friend who just had a baby.
#51. Gave chocolate to a conductor who was having a bad day.
#50. Woke up a sleeping passenger when his cell phone fell onto the floor of the train. He was SO appreciative!
#49. Put garbage can lid back on trash can (instead of walking by it).

The Bright Side

Intensity.

It is usually considered a good thing.

When we describe a person as intense in their careers, education, athletics, etc., it’s looked upon as a strong personality trait.  It often describes a person who is focused and motivated. These individuals work hard to achieve their goals.

But what about emotional intensity?

I’m not so sure that everyone would describe it as a positive attribute. It can be exhausting to be with one of “those people”. :o)

I am what most people would consider to be a very INTENSE person.

As my close friends know, I LOVE making connections with others, but I have an incredibly difficult time making small talk. I prefer to dive in and go under the surface than discuss more top-of-the-surface issues.

For example, don’t you learn more about people when you discuss how they feel in the weather rather than what the actual temperature is on a certain day? Wouldn’t you want to share stories about our best friends, rather than our favorite pair of shoes or handbags or places to shop? And while I love to chat about the Real Housewives of NYC or Atlanta or Beverly Hills or Orange County, wouldn’t it be more meaningful to talk about how your dad is getting along since your mom died?

You see my problem.

I should clarify. I’m not saying that small talk doesn’t serve a purpose. It does. And I’m not saying I don’t do it either. I do. It just so happens that I really like to watch and recap the Real Housewives. It’s a great escape from reality. It keeps things light. However, I am just unable to keep up my end of the conversation, so a “light” conversation with me usually turns into something like this:

Friend: “Did you see that episode this week? Her sister is nuts!”

Me: “Well, I don’t know that she’s ‘nuts’, I think she has some really serious addiction issues and I feel really sorry for her and her kids…”

You see my problem.

Being a “Debbie Downer” is truly a downer sometimes. And that’s not to say that I can’t be a lot of fun. It’s true…I used to be HILARIOUS! I can do the best impersonations, make a complete fool out of myself for a laugh and tell hysterical stories. However, over the last five years, I’ve definitely mellowed and now most people only get to visit the “deep end” of this pool. While I used to host huge house parties, I will tell you this, nothing clears a party faster than when someone asks me what I’m up to these days…

Party Guest: “Wow, you sure go back to Chicago a lot, what are you going for this time?”

Me: “I’m organizing a team for a suicide prevention walk.’

Party Guest: “Oh”

Me: “Yea”

Again, you see my problem.

So…this happens – A LOT. And, because I’m totally awkward and not very quick-witted, it takes a long time for me to recover. Like, it might not be until I’m driving home in the car 45 minutes later or when I’m about to fall asleep later that night that I realize how I should have responded without getting too deep. It isn’t unusual for a friend to receive an email or text apology after I’ve over-thought the situation for HOURS on end.

And, it’s important to note here that it’s not like I’m walking down the streets of Fairfield or Chicago telling everyone and anyone my business. As any (tortured) Public Speaking 101 student remembers, you need to “know your audience”. I am careful who I reveal my intensity to (well, most times).

Because of my emotional intensity, and trying to “read” my audience, I now save the heavy stuff for certain people. And because my family and I have experienced a lot of tough stuff over the last several years, I’ve had to allocate the stories around to a lot of different individuals, although my husband, Dave, bears the brunt of it. And it is a heavy burden.

I refer to these folks as my “safety nets”. And I am so incredibly fortunate to have them. As someone who identifies strongly as more of an introvert (I get my energy from being alone), I do have a lot of close connections. It’s just that when you’re an emotionally intense person, I have found that it’s better to “share the wealth” with many, in order to keep those friendships. Basically, these people save me from myself. They know (at least I hope they know this) that I am ALWAYS there to listen to them and their stories as well. As long as it’s not about shoes or handbags (just kidding…sorta).

I also choose to spend a significant amount of time alone. And it’s not because I’m sad. I just really, really, REALLY enjoy being alone, which doesn’t happen all that often. And, I need to stress here, it’s not because I don’t like people. It’s actually the reverse. I love people with an INTENSITY that’s exhausting and very difficult to understand unless you’re hardwired or socialized this way too.

Over the last few years, I have found the best of both worlds in social media, more specifically, on Facebook. Yes, I know all the statistics about how bad it is for you and your relationships, but for me, it has helped. Like, really helped. I love connecting with people, I get to edit my comments (impulse control issues here), “like” to show support for my friends and see their adorable families and what they’re up to – all from the comfort of my little corner on our oversized forest green outdated sectional. Life is good.

And if you’re a Facebook fan like me, you know it isn’t rare to come across one of those “fun” little personality quizzes that show up on our newsfeeds once in a while. I usually don’t take the quizzes, but when the “Bright Side”, a great site for spreading happiness had one, I decided to take it.

Although I was not expecting this answer from the sweet little “happiness” site, I was not completely surprised. It read:

 

The results: “Your subconscious is obsessed with the fear of losing someone close. The pictures you have selected suggest that from a very early age you have been a very emotional person. You have matured fast, and realized that people sometimes get hurt. This realization has made you worry for the people close to you, and that has only grown as you’ve matured. Your subconscious is constantly running. It also tells you that you should do something in order to save the people who are closest to you. There is no real way to let this feeling go, but instead of worrying, you should try to channel those feelings into something positive.”

While I think many factors play a role in my intensity, there is a lot of truth in those words. The fear of losing someone close is with me every single day. I’m not sure if it’s the result of losing so many people, or losing so many people to suicide. It is just so complicated.

As the results indicate, the fear may never go away, but I can learn to channel it in positive ways. Forging ahead with the kindness initiatives, continuing my volunteer work with the AFSP and always looking forward for new learning opportunities are just a few ways that I am trying to do this.

To my friends and family…I hope you now have a better understanding that there’s a real reason for my intensity. I love you more than you can ever imagine and I am terrified of losing you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for continuing to be there for me.

Intensity, as it turns out, may be my bright side.

The Chicken Meatball and the Weekly RAK-Up

FullSizeRender
hello. my name is jane.

Almost a year ago, I started this blog about loss, acts of kindness, grief and the furry friends that have seen us through the most difficult times over the years. While the focus of my blog is shifting slightly – one thing has remained the same – we are still being supported by a sweet, furry friend. This time…it’s Jane.

Jane. Janers. The Queen of Puppy Selfies and Road Trips. Our unofficial “comfort” dog.

There’s nothing plain about this Jane.

Jane joined our family two and a half years ago and she quickly adapted to being a part of the Riggs’ crew; she was younger sister to our sweet, Bailey, and felt right at home with Emma, Kate and Brian, too.

While Jane is a pretty calm presence in our house most of the time, she gets a bit riled up when new people come to the front door (who can blame her?) or if she’s found a ball. If you happen to catch her eye when she’s holding a ball in her mouth, then you’ve pretty much signed on with Jane for the long haul. She must play fetch, which means YOU must play fetch. And she’s relentless. She will spend hours catching and dropping the same ball over and over and OVER again. When our friends visit, they are often rubbing their shoulders when they’re leaving, as if they’ve torn their rotator cuffs…her fetching skills are just that intense. But, other than that one “demand”, Jane is the most low-key, low-maintenance member of our family.

We love our Jane.

Jane is loyal and protective and takes care of us as only a family dog can do. She was even there for each of our kids when they had the stomach virus just a couple of weeks ago, never dry-heaving (unlike their mother) and cuddling up lovingly and patiently right next to them, just like Nurse Nana from Peter Pan. She’s the first to curl up next to me and just be when I’m sad, which has been more than usual over the last several months. She also has this funny way of cheering us up by reaching her paw out and tapping us when she wants you to pet her. I mean, c’mon…you can’t help but smile when she taps you on your shoulder, hand or even face with her fuzzy paw.

IMG_3384 (1)
fuzzy paw (do you see the heart?)

 

So, this week…my featured RAK is focused on kindness to animals (#47). While we would have had her groomed at some point anyway, this #365Act project reminded me to take a moment to be mindful of our pup’s loyalty and unconditional kindness (and to give her an extra “chicken meatball” dog treat too). :o)

 

 

IMG_3429

#48. Gave a little extra tip to the dog groomer because she did such a great job and was so nice to Jane.

#47. Took Jane for a little spa treatment (a.k.a. the groomer).

#46. Offered my table at Starbucks to a couple who was looking for a spot to sit.

#45. Brought celebratory champagne to a friend who just finished chemo. 

#44. Mailed a Valentine to a friend.

#43. Wrote a “thank you” note to one of the teachers for the AWESOME 1st edition of the school newspaper.

#42. Picked up boxes that a person dropped in front of me at store.

#41. Delivered flowers to a friend who just experienced a loss.

#40. Paper-clipped a scratch-off ticket to the seat of the grocery cart I was using and then left in the parking lot.

#39. Secretly snuck a lotto ticket with a “good luck” note into the pocket of a coat of one of the guys stocking shelves during my early Sunday morning grocery run (the coat was hanging in the next aisle and I was able to just drop the note inside the pocket…I didn’t pick pockets, I promise!). 

#38. Made a donation to St. Baldrick’s Foundation for childhood cancer.

It was a busy and fun week and people have started to send me some more creative and different ways to Be Kind to others. I am so grateful for these ideas…please keep ’em coming! I have 317 more acts of kindness to go…

The Weekly RAK-Up

image

The RAK of the Week:

#34. Wrote a Letter for Hope…

A few months ago my friend, Julie D., introduced me to the letter writing campaign, TWNMLL: The World Needs More Love Letters, when she chose this organization for her NoochieRAKs or Noochie Random Acts of Kindness.

If you know Julie D. (or “Sis” as I call her because my mom fell in love with and basically adopted her the first time she met her), it is no surprise to you that she would find this incredible global social movement that connects people with one another. Not only does it connect people, but it fosters feelings of love, support and inspiration during a time when a person may be feeling unloved, unsupported and uninspired.

We have all been there.

So, Julie D. signed up to become one of the letter writers and then she posted about this thoughtful act of kindness. With her act, she not only mailed off letters of encouragement to people in need, she unknowingly encouraged me to sign up for this letter writing campaign as well.

Last week, I received an email with the subject: “Screw the blues…we’ve got letter requests!” in my inbox. I was excited to receive this letter writing assignment because I had missed the deadline on the last one. In the email were brief profiles of five individuals who are currently going through a difficult time. Each one of these people has a story. They also have a loved one who knew about TWNMLL and secretly signed up to have hundreds of love letters bundled up and sent to their loved ones’ doors.

The backgrounds of these individuals vary a great deal…there is an Iraq veteran who is having a difficult time adjusting to life back home, a mother who served as a caretaker for her daughter who had leukemia and now for her husband who has cancer, an 18-year-old woman who had recently lost both of her parents, and a woman who had to make an adoption plan for her baby and is struggling with being separated from her child. Her name is Hope…

Upon reading these profiles, I gathered up all of my letter writing supplies and sat down at my desk. I wasn’t quite sure where to start because all of the stories were so compelling. I decided to start with Hope, not only because I love her name and its meaning, but also because I am close to a few people who have been adopted, including my husband. I have always felt such deep admiration and gratitude toward the women who have had to make that most ultimate selfless sacrifice for their children. So…that’s where I started.

I was surprised that while I had never met any of these individuals, the words came easily. I really wanted to connect very personally with each one of these people. While their stories and backgrounds were all so different, there were many similarities. When I was writing these letters, I kept thinking about their stories, their pain, how alone in the world each one must feel…

Would these letters help ease their pain, even for just a little bit? What could I say to help them? Would they be able to receive and read all of these letters yet or was their suffering just too unbearable right now? I had so many questions that would be left unanswered.

After I finished writing the letters, I put them in envelopes, sealed, addressed and stamped them and then put them in the mailbox. While it was such a small task, I felt a great sense of accomplishment that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I really cannot describe it, other than this way…if you could say many of the things you’ve wanted to say to a person you’ve lost, only you get to say it to a living, suffering person who could possibly still have Hope…isn’t that an incredible gift? I’m probably not making much sense here, but that’s how it felt. There was also something to saying these words to complete strangers. Sometimes it’s easier to share our innermost thoughts and secrets with those we’ll never meet.

Sis, thank you for choosing grace on behalf of my nephew, Patrick/”Noochie”. By including me, you helped me channel my pain into something that is hopefully helping others. I’m pretty sure my mom “adopted” you for a reason. :o)

If anyone else would like to learn more about this letter writing campaign, you can visit moreloveletters.com to read all about the founder’s story and sign up to receive letter writing assignments.

And now…here’s the Weekly Round-Up (or RAK Up!) of the other Acts of Kindness from the week:

#37. Struck up a brief conversation with a stranger about the weather (neither of us was wearing coats in February!) and wished him a good day.

#36. Left a lotto scratch-off ticket in a journal at Home Goods.

#35. Found pennies and other coins for kids’ Penny Challenge at school.

#34. Letter writing for those who can use encouragement (see RAK of the Week).

#33. Wrote and mailed thank you notes.

#32. Baked and delivered chocolate chip cookies for our neighbor and her caregiver.

#31. Left scratch-off tickets at the gas pump.

I am always looking for new and creative ways to complete random and not-so-random acts of kindness. If you have any ideas or know of someone who could use a little kindness in his/her life, please let me know…I have 328 more acts of kindness to go!!

 

The Writers’ Workshop

image

Last night I attended my first-ever writers’ workshop. I initially signed up for the group because I was looking for guidance with telling my story – whether I should continue writing my blog or possibly look into writing a longer version of the story that I’ve been trying to tell for the past couple of years.

This was the first “class” I’ve taken since grad school and I was nervous, but excited to get started. I arrived a few minutes early with my backpack, a notebook and pen and a few short writing samples. If there was a front row, I would have been sitting there too. I was ready to take in as much as possible.

We dove right in by going around the table to introduce ourselves and talk a little about our writing experience and topics. I have to admit, that at that moment, I literally felt like bolting for the door. I realized I was sitting among some seriously accomplished writers; there were published authors in mystery and food writing and a former New York Daily News celebrity news columnist and parenting blogger. While completely intimidated at first, these women immediately put me at ease. In just two hours, they embraced me and my story with so much warmth, compassion and support – I definitely felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

Because I am still trying to figure out where I want to go with my work and writings about suicide awareness, research and prevention and my kindness campaign, they helped me generate ideas about how, when and where I should start. The instructor gave each of us an assignment for the week ahead, which should help keep me motivated and focused.

In addition to some research and putting together a timeline, one of the other writers suggested that I set a weekly goal for my blog. I am taking her excellent suggestion and will provide a weekly recap of the acts of kindness I accomplished over the week for my #365ActsofKindness project.

I know it’ll take a while for my story to take shape. I think I am closing in on some ideas, but telling my story involves uncovering some very painful memories and it will take time. I know that there’s a reason my life crossed with and was profoundly affected by the lives and suicides of my brother, Brian, my step-father, John, and my nephew, Patrick. I want to know why I felt so connected to each of these three sensitive, gentle and highly intelligent people when they were living and why I still feel such a connection to them now. It is because of them that I feel such an urgency to embrace life, even on my worst days, and help others.

So, just like my first writing class, I am nervous, but excited about starting this process. As one of the other writers said, “There aren’t any grades or tests, so you don’t have to worry!”. I am constantly reminding myself how lucky I am to be surrounded by such supportive people.