I've traveled a twisty road so far in life and like most everyone else - I've had my ups and downs. We all have our story don't we? And yet I find that when we're lost in our moments (our moments of joy and our moments of pain), we often think that the experience of these emotions is different for us than it is for everyone else. "No one could possibly know what I'm going through." Sound familiar? Well - I share this message with you today with the hopes that through my experiences with gratitude, giving, and grief that perhaps you'll see yourself along side with me somewhere. I know many of you have been there. Maybe in your past... Maybe in your present... Or maybe in your future. No matter what, and no matter when... You are not alone! Hang on... This one is a little bumpy (but has a good-feels ending... I promise).
Giving - I've come to realize it is an action that will always be returned to you. Often amplified based on your intention and the power of love by which you act. Whatever GOOD you put out there will come back at you ten-fold at least. I have a humbling little story to illustrate this one...
As some of you may know, my career path began with a Nursing degree. Once a nurse, always a nurse! I have been forever changed by my time working as an RN (yes, I miss it every single day but that's another story). I had the privilege of working in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, caring for babies and children and of course... Caring for their families too. I often tell people "It was the BEST job and the WORST job ever" and I'm sure you can understand why. I was witness to miracles and the strength of the human spirit. I also saw the most incredible losses that a heart can withstand. I still hold many of my stories deep inside, but one in particular taught me the power of giving.
I was working a night shift and was assigned to a little guy who had undergone a major heart surgery a few hours earlier. He was incredibly unstable and it took not one but often 2 or 3 nurses and a doctor at his bedside to care for him over that 12 hour shift. His family was also there - two at a time at the bedside (house rules) - and I'll never forget the intense worry that I saw in their eyes. They'd already had a terribly long day and they knew just as much as I did that he may not make it through to the next morning. My heart was aching for them... My adrenalin was pumping... My feet were aching (I didn't sit once that shift)... And for the first time in my nursing career... I prayed silently as I worked. I just knew this little guy had more things to do, more places to see, and more love to share with his beautiful family. I spoke to him and reassured him as much as I could even though he was heavily sedated and on a ventilator. I made sure he knew which of his family members were at the bedside holding his hand, because I knew that he'd be comforted in knowing where the warmth was coming from. Then, rightly or wrongly, and despite how many other things were going on for this little guy that night... I took a moment to put his Sponge Bob socks on his cold little feet (he loved Sponge Bob). I will never forget those bright yellow sock and how out of place they seemed in such an intense situation... But it seemed like the right thing to do.
Well... To our delight and surprise, he pulled through the night and gradually recovered over the next several weeks. I wasn't assigned to him again before he was discharged to the regular ward but I would always give the family a wave as I walked by his bedside. I was so thrilled to know his very scary night had a happy ending after all!
Fast forward several months later - I was out for lunch with my son and I happened to recognize this family as we were being seated at our table. Everyone looked fantastic and my heart fluttered a little. "He's come so far!", I thought. His Mom gave me a knowing smile and a nod and so I did the same. A short while later, the family - including this little guy - walked over to our table. His Mom told me that her son wanted to say something to me. He stepped out from behind her and in the quietest little voice said... "I remember you."... "You were the angel that took care of me the night I was so sick." "I remember your voice, and I remember you telling me I was going to be OK." I didn't know how to respond. The tears came before I could find my words and I managed to stand up and give him a hug (then his Mom too). I thanked him for coming over to tell me, but there really were no words to convey how touched I was. He heard me? How?? He thought I was an angel!? Still to this day, I'm not sure how to process it all - but what I do know is this... For all that I GAVE into saving that little boy that night... It was presented right back at me times a thousand when he approached me that day. I gave 12 hours of hard work, some extra TLC and a handful of prayers and he gave me a renewed purpose in life! One of the many experiences from my nursing career that I will be forever grateful for... And just the beginning of a recurring "angel" theme in my life.
Gratitude - It seems like a bit of a buzzword these days, doesn't it? Beyond the journals and the meditation exercises (yes, I buy into those too, but they aren't for everyone)... There is some real power in TRULY knowing what gratitude means. We often say we're grateful for this and that. Sometimes with sincerity... Sometimes not. I had heard somewhere that "Gratitude makes what we have enough". I don't think I really "got" it until about 4 years ago, after a phone call from my Dad's neurosurgeon. The biopsy results were in. It was a Grade IV Glioblastoma. He had "maybe" a year to live with treatment. A couple of months without. It hit me... Whatever time we had left with Dad... It was just going to HAVE to be enough. And so - we had to be grateful for every minute within every day/week/month that we had together. Easy to say - harder to do. It's tough to have a heart full of gratitude when it's also full of worry. Worry that he'd fall and hurt himself. Worry that he'd forget to take his anti-seizure medication. Guilt for having moved him into an Assisted Living facility instead of keeping him in our home (two-story homes + walkers don't mix). Guilt for not spending enough time with him before his diagnosis. Guilt for not being able to do more. Frustration for being a former nurse and not being able to 'fix' things. The list went on. My heart was full (of sadness, guilt, frustration, and worry) and so how does gratitude squeeze in? By seeing things through his eyes. My dying father came to have a different perspective on life - and if he could discover gratitude when he had every reason to feel resentment and fear - surely I could find room for gratitude as well.
It was always about the little things. Dad being grateful for a no-snow day so he could go for a walk by himself around the block with his walker. The 20 minute coffee dates. The silly jokes and puns. The old pictures and cards. The stories and the memories shared. The two birthdays we got to celebrate with him. The games of crib. Watching him teach my son about evolution. Watching him grow closer to my husband. The orchid he brought to bloom in his suite. The ballet videos he loved to watch. The one shelf in his hospice room that was just wide enough to hold a few picture frames. The squeeze of his hand. The sight of his watch on his wrist. So - Many - Little - Things. And what they added up to... Was MORE than enough.
Dad took it a step further. He wanted to thank all the people in his friend circle for their love and support on his journey. He asked for my help in coming up with a small gift that we could mail over to the UK to his many friends with a Christmas card. We didn't have much time. I went to my studio and it was if someone whispered "angels" in my ear. I knew I had just enough wings and crystal to come up with a simple angel design - I just didn't know what people would do with them! It wasn't really jewelry... They were too small for decorations... And so I thought - they'll just have to be charms! I showed Dad the idea and he loved them. We knew they were the right gift, for so many reasons and so we made a few dozen to send off. As they arrived in the UK - his friends began changing their Facebook profile pictures to snap shots of their respective angels. It was the experience of watching Dad's face light up - with gratitude - when he saw these pictures in his newsfeed that I really understood just how powerful the emotion was. It was with gratitude that Dad was going to finish his journey - and because of that - his journey was complete.
And Grief... Well... She will teach you a great deal but she can darn near take you out in the process. How you channel her will make all the difference. Dad passed away on January 13th, 2015. The waves of grief come and go and they will never, ever completely subside. There are days that I hear his laugh in my memory and I smile - and there are days that I hear his laugh and I cry. It goes both ways, but it would be all too easy to let the grief - the tears - the loss - the sadness to win. But grief has taught me not only through my own experience - but through other's experiences as well. My family and Dad's friends - who have all had the same loss I've had. Their grief has shown me I'm not alone. Those who have come into our Circle of Angels and shared how their little angel charms have meant so much to them. Their grief has shown me there is hope. And the many, many people that have come together to pay-forward kind acts through our Circle of Angels project, whether it be making angels or doing kindness scavenger hunts... Their own experiences with grief have shown me just how much GOOD can result from coming together, even through the really tough stuff.
So I leave you with this: Everything comes full circle. Through the act of GIVING, the experience of GRATITUDE, and the sharing of GRIEF - there is always healing in helping others. Kindness through action, my friends... we are not alone - and we ARE stronger together.