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

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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.

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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)

 

 

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#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

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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

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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.

If you give your neighbor a plate of cookies…

 

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If you give your neighbor a plate of cookies,
You might be a little surprised when another cute and sweet neighbor unexpectedly delivers a plate of cookies to your house just a half an hour later.

If you leave a few scratch-off lottery tickets at a couple of gas pumps,
You might scratch your own head when you receive a bunch of scratch-off tickets at your own front door later that same night.

If you leave a few different gift cards in discreet places around town with notes that say “You Matter” and “You Are Loved”,
You might have to wipe away tears of joy when you receive a basket full of gift cards with a card that simply says, “Thank you”.

If you make a donation to an important cause,
You probably wouldn’t expect to find a $20 bill in your wallet just moments after you hit “submit payment” (especially because you never have cash!).

If you leave a “You Are Beautiful” sticker and Starbucks card on an airplane in the hopes that it’ll calm another passenger’s anxiety,
You might not expect that at the very moment you taped the card to the safety instruction manual, your father would send a text offering to buy you a Starbucks and soothe your own sad and anxious heart.

If you lost one of life’s most precious gifts,
You would never, ever imagine that this same gift could keep giving.

Ah, Noochie.

 

Note: This piece is (sorta) inspired by the children’s book, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” by Laura Numeroff and written in honor of my nephew, Patrick “Noochie” Berg.

The Power of a Post and 30 Acts

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The day started at 3:00am with a tap on my shoulder and a weepy “Mom, my tummy hurts.” The dreaded wake-up call came from our eldest child, who we thought might escape the terrible stomach bug that has plagued our family the whole week. Unfortunately, she didn’t escape it, and the rest of the morning was a somewhat chaotic blur of tears, towels, blankets, dry heaves (me), ginger ale, laundry and “the bucket”.

It was a difficult way to start the day.

And then a little bit later this morning, I received this Facebook message:

“Yesterday, I went to POSH nail salon in Southport, CT. It is my place for pedicures! I asked if they could possibly make a donation to Donate Life CT – Gala as a silent auction item. They generously gave me 4 gift certificates and an added bonus for a total of 5 gift certificates. They said a kind person had given this extra and it was from Noochieraks!!! I am a huge pay it forward kind of gal and actually belong to a Random Acts of Mail Kindness, letter writing group. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Know that your gesture is making a difference and the world is a better place because of your kindness!”

Terrie, the thoughtful woman who posted this message didn’t know that I went to the nail salon a couple of weeks ago and intentionally chose a person to receive the gift card after I left. She also didn’t know that that same woman must have paid it forward or donated the gift card back to the salon. In addition, Terrie had no idea that I went into the nail salon on that day, my mom’s birthday, because I wanted honor my mom (and Noochie and the 365 acts of kindness challenge). Lastly, she didn’t know that I woke up this morning with a sick child and felt tired, sad and defeated.

So, without any knowledge of the above, Terrie simply posted a comment. And…with her kind words, she completely turned my day around and my daughters who were not feeling well at all, also smiled when I read the message to them.

I know this may sound like a stretch, but in many ways, it felt like a gift from my mom, like she was telling me, “Stay strong, you’ll get through this, I’m always here.”

You just never know the ripple effects of one simple act of kindness. 

 

…And speaking of acts of kindness, I’ve completed THIRTY so far. Here’s what I’ve been up to since “The First Fifteen”:

#30. Sent a cookie bouquet to friends who just lost their beloved pup of 15 1/2 years.

#29. Brought dinner to a special family.

#28. Waved at a stranger who was waiting on the corner for a bus. Thought he’d think either:
a. This woman is hitting on me, or
b. This woman is crazy, or
c. This crazy woman is hitting on me.
Regardless, he smiled and waved back. :o)(correct answer: B)

#27. Left a couple snow brushes/ice scrapers next to snow-covered cars during the blizzard.

#26. Made a small donation to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. When I said I would donate, the gentleman sounded so relieved/surprised/appreciative and said, “Are you sure?!”…wish I could have donated more.

#25. Donated gently used coats and snow pants that I was holding onto for sentimental reason to Goodwill.

#24. Made a small donation to an important cause for my cousin’s daughter.

#23. Became an Eucharistic Minister at our Parish.

#22. Ding Dong Donut: Dropped off a box on donuts at my neighbors and ran. :o) (Full disclosure: it was buy one get one free offer from Entenmann’s)

#21. Put post-it notes with inspirational messages on random cars outside the Melting Pot in Darien. Brian helped too!

#20. Mailed a card to a friend I haven’t seen in a while.

#19. Sent a funny picture to a friend.

#18. Bought a manicure for someone (on my mom’s birthday).

#17. Sent an encouraging note to someone.

#16. Didn’t honk (or swear!) when someone cut me off in traffic. Sometimes silence is the best act of kindness. :o)

The First Fifteen!

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Sometimes it’s hard to see the bright side of things.

That’s one of the many reasons I am so grateful for this project. Despite the post-holiday blues, a virus that’s been plaguing our household for weeks and just really missing some important people, kindness has become a bright spot in each day.

Here are the first 15 Acts of Kindness that I’ve completed (only 350 more to go!):

15. Supported local and not-so-local Girl Scout Troops.

#14. Sent an email to a former boss who inspired me.

#13. Donated gently-used books to the Wonderland Book Savers

#12. Wrote a positive review for Target in Trumbull, CT.

#11. Shared that same hilarious book with friends.

#10. Bought a hilarious book for myself (sometimes it’s good to be kind to yourself).

#9. Secretly hid “love” notes in our kids’ lunchboxes.

#8. Sent an email complimenting a friend first thing in the morning. (This was inspired by a LunchBox Love Family Kindness daily email #LBLKindnessChallenge http://www.sayplease.com)

#7. Stepped out of my comfort zone.

#6. Thanked a first-time Uber driver with a Starbucks gift card for getting me to the airport safely and on time.

#5. Picked up trash in a parking lot.

#4. Left a Starbucks gift card with a NoochieRAKs card and YAB (You Are Beautiful) sticker in the safety brochure on the airplane.

#3. Donated gift cards to Bridgeport residents displaced by fire.

#2. Gave a compliment to a stranger.

#1. Donated to the Vanessa Rich Leadership Fund at the National Head Start Association.

#365ActsofKindness #NoochieRAKs

#365ActsofKindness

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❤️This starts today.❤️

It isn’t so much of a new year’s resolution, as it is a commitment to continuing what we started with NoochieRAKS: Noochie Random Acts of Kindness.

Today I am asking for your continued support as I take on this new challenge. I promise not to fill up your newsfeed with too many posts, but I will provide updates because I’m worried I cannot do this alone, I know that action begets action (kindness inspires kindness), and I’ve heard from so many people, both near and far, that they were helped by all of our efforts.

Thank you for your never-ending words of encouragement, thoughtful messages, creative ideas and your many, many acts of kindness.

I am so very grateful.

 

Kindness Project FAQ’s:

  • What are the goals of the #365ActsofKindness project?
    • To complete 365 random and not-so-random acts of kindness throughout the year
    • To help make people feel less alone
    • To bring awareness to suicide prevention, a cause that is of utmost importance to me, my family and many, many others
  • What are some examples of Acts of Kindness?
    • Smile at a stranger
    • Holding the door for someone
    • Writing a note and putting it in my children’s lunchbox
    • Giving someone a compliment
    • Paying for a person’s coffee at Starbucks
    • Recycling, Reusing, Repurposing
    • Thanking our kids’ teachers
    • Donating to a favorite cause
    • There are so many more – many of which do not cost a cent!
  • Why post about this?
    Many people do nice things every day, multiple times a day and don’t ever feel like they need to announce it. This is true for me too! However, the kindness communities to which I belong, emphasize the importance of sharing this information as these acts inspire others to take action. Also, it’s easy to forget sometimes that there is so much goodness in the world…who doesn’t like to see a little good news every once in a while?
  • Where will the completed Acts of Kindness be posted?
     In an effort to spread the kindness and not overwhelm one social media platform (or your newsfeed), I will post updates on Facebook (either my page or the NoochieRAKs community page), Twitter and occasionally update this blog site. I will also try to organize the information by using the hashtags: #365ActsofKindness and/or #NoochieRAKs
  • How often will the Acts of Kindness be posted?
     If I can be perfectly honest, I really have no idea how often I’ll be able to complete these Acts of Kindness. There may be days when I accomplish one-two a day, but may be there days when I don’t have any acts of kindness. Another reason that I think posting about this will keep me honest and motivated.
  • Where did you get the idea for the #365ActsofKindness Project?
     There are many similar projects taking place all over the world that have inspired me. However, I was the lucky recipient of an Act of Kindness (#353, I think) from Rachelle Jervis, AFSP Regional Director. Following her 365 Acts journey and then receiving her act of kindness were huge gifts that arrived at just the right time. Lastly, I am inspired by MANY (you know who you are!) friends and family who have completely surrounded me with love and grace throughout my life, and especially over the last six months.

Clean-Up on Aisle Seven

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the culprit

 

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I was in the middle of Stop & Shop when I saw a box of rye-flavored Triscuits. Those particular triscuits were a favorite of my mom and John’s. The lonely box was at an end cap, propped up among many other “holiday” favorites, including Stove Top stuffing, gravy in a jar and cranberry sauce.

I started to cry.

Luckily, it was very early on a Sunday morning, so the store was pretty empty. I immediately pulled my sunglasses down to cover my eyes.

I wasn’t sure why I had had that reaction or what had triggered it – I go to the store on a regular basis and walk right by the crackers, chips, pretzels, even the Hallmark card section, without incident. It made me feel vulnerable, uneasy and out of control.

Thinking that I was “over” it, I took the sunglasses off and turned down the next aisle only to feel suddenly surrounded by Starbucks K-cups. My mind went straight to the last time I had bought them – a visit to Chicago last November while my nephew, Patrick, was staying at my mom’s house. Patrick…

I started to feel that familiar, tingling, burning sensation in my eyes and nose, and I had to put on the sunglasses again.

Praying that I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew, I put my head down and pushed my cart through the aisles hoping I could somehow regain some composure. Candy is always a good distraction. So, I walked over to the candy aisle and grabbed a big bag of mint M&M’s. I also decided to message my lifelong friends, as they were coming for a much-anticipated visit the following week.

I texted that I wondered how long it would be before I heard, “Clean-up on aisle 7!” over the loudspeaker.  I was a total mess.  Their responses were immediate, thoughtful, encouraging and there was no judgement.

Holding back more tears, I typed that I was really looking forward to their visit, more than they realized, because I was struggling with an overwhelming flood of memories…

All those memories…being with family, seeing my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, my brother saying, “I’m getting that!” after EVERY single toy commercial leading up to Christmas, my mom saying with almost every single bite that, “I shouldn’t be eating another bite!”, the Christmas carols, my siblings and I begrudgingly polishing the silver ornaments before they could go up on the tree, posing on the stairs before we could tear into the presents, and even the simple and mundane memories…the crackers and the Starbucks. We all have memories…some are on the surface and some are locked away, and then all it takes is something like a box of Triscuits to bring it all up again. And it hurts. Grieving, especially during the holiday season, really hurts.

With that pain, however, there is joy. I know I don’t always see the joy right away, but it’s there.

There is joy in remembering how much Patrick enjoyed a good cup of coffee, especially espresso, which he’d finish in 45 seconds or less. There is joy in remembering my mom closing her eyes and smiling while she went for that third or fourth bite of pumpkin pie after the table had been cleared. There is joy in remembering John loudly humming along with the Mannheim Steamrollers Christmas album. There is joy in remembering the Christmas tree falling on my little brother, Brian, while we watched t.v. together. There is joy in remembering how the entire pew would shake as my siblings and I tried to hold in our giggles during those more reflective, prayerful moments at church. There IS joy.

There is joy when I think of some of the new memories my family and friends created just this year…from the Chicago girls visit, to the Fireball old friends/new friends toasts, the trips to NYC, the Thanksgiving program and intimate family dinner, and the harmonica that wouldn’t die. There is joy.

Some people think we shouldn’t dwell on the past because we cannot change anything – we should just look ahead. For me, it’s because of my past and all of the people who shaped it, that I even have the strength to look to the future.

And I just realized that it’s because of my past that I now know how to navigate the grocery store during the holidays, which is the quickest route to the candy section, and that the alcohol aisle opens later on Sundays. I also realized that there are many people wearing sunglasses in the grocery store on Sunday morning. I used to think it was just because everyone was out celebrating the night before, but maybe some of those people are trying to deal with painful memories too.

I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

the key to grace

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over twenty-one years ago, my brother, brian, went missing. he had struggled for years and we were immediately worried. we searched and searched for nine gut-wrenching weeks, his body was eventually recovered on north avenue beach.

to say that our entire family was devastated is a huge understatement. my parents lost their youngest child, their only son, and my sisters and i lost our baby brother.

and yet, somehow, life, although forever changed, went on…my nephew, patrick, was born a month later.

my dad referred to him as the “blessed distraction”. and he was…for all of us.

life, although difficult at times, is so beautiful. and it does go on…

but life stopped again a little over three years ago, when my step-father, john, went missing. we searched and searched for two of the most miserable weeks a family should face. at one point, when his location was discovered, my mom quietly asked me, “are you going to go down there and bring him back?” i was literally jumping out of my skin at the thought of sidling up next to him at some random bar and saying, “please come home…we all love you so much.” how many times did i have that reoccurring dream with my brother…”come home, you are loved, please come home…”. i wept while sharing my plan to get him with one of my best friends and a key member of the search team, her response, “this is redemption”.

and then it happened again. before i could book a flight out there, his body was found by a man in a boat just off of the coast of key west. we were completely devastated.

i kept thinking about how john lived his life and how, at least on the surface, he always chose to see things in a positive light. a friend gave me a gift with this definition of grace after i described john to her.

“grace: life is a classroom. we are both student and teacher. each day is a test. and each day we receive a passing or failing grade in one particular subject: grace. grace is compassion, gratitude, surrender, faith, forgiveness, good manners, reverance, and the list goes on. it’s something money can’t buy and credentials rarely produce. being the smartest, the prettiest, the most talented, the richest, or even the poorest, can’t help and being a humble person can guide you through your days with grace and gratitude.” ~philosophy

on the verge of having a major nervous breakdown, i reached out to anyone who would listen to me tell my family’s story. one friend referred me to the afsp (american foundation for suicide prevention) and the out of the darkness walks, which helped a lot. thanks to the loving support of friends, family and the afsp, team choosing grace was created.

over the last three years our team has been choosing grace. we’ve raised awareness and funds for research, education, suicide prevention efforts and support for those left behind. we are not alone. it seemed as though our family was beginning to heal. this could not happen again.

and now we face another loss.

two weeks ago, my sister and brother-in-law lost their son, patrick. he is gone. the person who absorbed so much pain on behalf of others, couldn’t bear the pain anymore. it is beyond comprehension.

i cannot do anything. i cannot do enough. i cannot take away the pain his parents feel and i cannot stop my own pain either. my sadness, which i know is secondary to his parents’ and my father’s pain, permeates everything.

it is hard, but i think we are all trying to choose grace again. our friends, family and complete strangers are helping. the kindness that patrick shared with us just by being born is being paid forward…acts of kindness in his honor have been reported in 21 states, as well as mexico, the netherlands, u.k., canada, and these acts continue every day thanks to one simple hashtag:  #noochieraks.

the givers and the receivers are experiencing the same feelings of kindness, love and joy that we experienced from knowing patrick, or as i call him, “noochie”.

a couple of days ago, a friend gave me a truly unique and special gift…the key to grace. i promise i will pay it forward. as their founder says, “every key has a purpose.”

every life has a purpose.

i am still searching for mine.

~you can check out another way to pay it forward here: http://www.thegivingkeys.com

~information on the afsp and our team’s efforts may be found here:  http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=77364