One doesn’t necessarily have to be a psychology major to learn about the five stages of grief by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. People are generally aware of the fact that grieving is a process and although those five steps offer a sort of framework, grief does not look the same for any two people.
2016 Was the first year that I lost someone close to me. In the years before. I had been told acquaintances had passed and I had attended a few funerals, but nothing that really hit me close to home. This year however, I lost three really awesome people- 2 gradually to cancer. And one very suddenly to an unforseeen health issue. I learned some invaluable lessons as a result of losing all three of them, but I felt like my grieving process was halted on one of the cases. An old teacher and a close family friend Velda Cobb-Brown has been gone for a year now, and dealing with that hadn’t been easy. I would say I am beyond the sadness, denial, and bargaining, but I felt kinda stuck at the anger phase. I was angry at God for taking someone who seemed to be doing all the right things from a Christian perspective, angry at myself for notbeing home and for choosing to stay at school and take finals even as the funeral went on at home last December. A year later, I was mad I didn’t tell her how much she meant to me when she was here and I didn’t reassure her that her girls would be loved because I just assumed she knew.
Being back home after college I hadn’t really seen her kids or her husband and that anger morphed into guilt for not being there for them. Then I realized how much of it was about me. Things change when you stop thinking about yourself and step into someone else’s shoes. I knew I had to do something with the holidays coming up and I couldn’t stop thinking about holidays for small children without a mother. My mom is in all my best holiday memeories and I can’t imagine her not being there. My desire to share some sort of love with all of these families, the need to feel like I was actively doing something about my grief, and the result of too many hours on Pinterest gave me an idea.
I entitled it #HolidayCheerInABox. The basic idea was to put together holiday gift baskets for the two kids in each family, not because I thought it would ever erase the pain of holidays without their mother, but because I hoped it would give them a reason to smile even for a few seconds. I’m still working on building the boxes now and putting things inside them, but I’ve bought lots of fun gift cards and added one of those 365 jar things- again Pinterest inspired– I wanted to fill the jars with as many notes of happiness as possible: bible verses, encouraging quotes, inspiring lyrics, jokes, and just personal notes. Ideally, I wanted the kids to be able to reach into this jar in any given day that they feel a little low on love and maybe borrow a little extra love through a note from someone else. I decided to open up the project to the community and I got so much help it shocked me. People donated money, wrote notes, and even offered to help me put baskets together. Most of these people I think on some level were also dealing with their own grief and trying to find a way to help the families too. In trying to help someone else, I ended up helping myself and helping others.
So a few days ago I left all my notes for the #HolidayCheerInABox project in my desk at work (I love that hashtag). If you’ve ever worked with kids of any age, you know what a bad idea that is because they want to see everything, read everything, be apart of everything And touch everything. One of my 8th grade students picked up the paper and read a few notes. For the next hour, he was nagging me to explain the project to him. I wasn’t sure what to say, or not say, but he’s easily one of the most persistent 13 year olds I’ve ever met so I had to come up with something fast. I told him I have a few friends who lost their mom and that I was creating gift baskets to make them feel a little better. Immediately, he wanted to be apart of it. I must have redirected him back to math 5 or 6 times but he kept asking, “what can I do Ms. M, I wanna help!” Eventually I told him to bring his favorite snack for me to add to the basket. I knew his heart was in the right place, but I assumed he would forget. Most 13 year olds I know are concerned with food, Pokémon, maybe girls, video games and friends- some. Arely even remember to bring last night’s homework to class let alone something else. The next day there was not one, but two acts of candy lying on my desk.
My heart was overwhelmed and I choked up a little bit at how much love this kid had. He didn’t ask how this death occurred, how old the kids were, what they looked like-nothing. He saw a problem and he wanted to help, without even knowing who he was helping.
What if we all had a love like that? What would that look like in the world? What if we loved on the homeless, the destitute, or just those around us who Are hurting everyday, whether we know them or not? What if we were all as impulsive as this kid was when in came to reaching out and being there did our fellow man. I imagine a world like that is about as close to heaven or whatever utopia you believe in, as we can get. When crosses all boundaries and just moves, it’s beautiful thing because much like small children, it does not discriminate.
I hope this story brought you as much comfort as it brought me. I know the holidays are not always so effortlessly happy for those of us missing someone who was always apart of them before. In my next post I will share a few things I learned about grief through the last year, so stay tuned. Until then, love as much as you can and as hard as you can, without second thought.
As always feel free to sound off in the comments with your thoughts, questions, and concerns. Have you lost anyone thatyou particularly remember every holiday season? How do you combat that and for those of you with kids how do you help them do that? How do you think we go from little kids who love others without second thought to becoming adults who are mostly only focused on themselves? This post was particularly hard to write so thanks for reading!