Thanks. Giving.

Yesterday, I stopped at Subway to pick up a sandwich for my daughter. In line behind me stood a young policeman. Something about him reminded me of my grandson Jacob, and I immediately knew I wanted to pay for his meal. He protested when I told the cashier to add his total to mine, until I handed him one of the random acts of kindness cards I carry in my purse. “In honor of my grandson,” I insisted. Reading the card, his eyes softened. He nodded, thanking me.

I cried all the way home.

Why am I crying? I initially wondered. The goodwill gesture was a simple one. Not terribly expensive or elaborate. I usually felt lifted through performing random acts of kindness in memory of our sweet boy. Why was I crying?

random act of kindness

Then it hit me.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” the young man had called after me as I turned around to leave. Happy Thanksgiving. 

I was going to be alone on the holiday. Several of my children were scheduled to work, another lives in CA. Since I have to go into work this weekend, we’d all agreed we’d wait to get together in December when Emily visits Iowa with my grandbaby Tommy.

But I wasn’t crying because I was going to be alone.

The tears came because I can’t fix the holidays and make them the way they used to be. Everything is different since David died in 2012 and Jacob the year after. Holidays aren’t the same. I can’t give my children back their dad or repair the deep wound of child loss my daughter and son-in-law live with daily. To make matters worse, I moved away from the two-story home that served as a gathering place to a tiny house an hour or more away from children and grandchildren. Gatherings aren’t as easy or convenient. I can’t make holidays what they were. I can’t fix what was irrevocably broken by loss.

With the unexpected day off alone, I decided to go through letters my mother had written to me, organizing them into binders like I’d done with the letters she’d written to my grandmother. It was the best thing I could have done.

Nov 7 1978 letter

Mom didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving 1978? I’d always imagined my mother making a big deal out of Thanksgiving, memories of a white tablecloth, fine china, and candles on the table. I can’t recall whether any of that happened on Thanksgiving 1978, or if there was turkey served, or a duck or goose my father had raised. What I can say with some certainty is that I came home from my first semester at college to a family that loved me. And, evidently, my dad didn’t care whether any plans were made. He’d reassured Mom, told her not to worry about it.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the food, the fancy china, tablecloths and candles. It’s about family, and I have family to be thankful for, whether I see them today or not.

Then there is this letter, written in November 1990:

Nov. 27 1990 letter

More than five years after Dad’s death in May 1986, my mom was keenly feeling his absence. Much like we keenly feel the absence of David and Jacob.

What can I do about that?

It’s true I cannot bring them back. Cannot make everything the same. But there is something I am determined to do. I can be a better person because of them. I can honor them through my actions. Live a life they would be proud of. Do good in their name. Give a stranger a sandwich.

Give thanks for having had them in my life.

 

 

Kindness and Butterfly Coins

I’ve been doing random acts of kindness since the death of my eight-year-old grandson, Jacob, in August 2013. Shortly after Jacob died, my daughter and I designed cards to leave behind whenever we chose to do an act of kindness. It seemed a fitting way to remember and honor a little boy who was kinder than anyone we knew, challenging ourselves to be more like him.

random act of kindness

Anyone who has been following my blog for any length of time, is aware of what butterflies mean to me since my husband’s death, particularly blue ones.

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So when I heard about using Butterfly Coins for random acts of kindness, you can imagine my excitement. Founded by Ron Hornbaker and Bruce Pedersen, ButterflyCoins.org is a global experiment to inspire and track the butterfly effects of random acts of kindness. The coins are coded so you can follow the ripple effect of kindness.

Of course I wanted one of the 2018 editions of the coin with a beautiful blue butterfly design. (now sold out) Minted in solid, thick brass, two inches in diameter, the coin weighs nearly two ounces, and features a color enamel-painted butterfly. It is beautiful.

butterfly coin

By carrying one of the coins in your pocket or purse, you’re reminded to look for opportunities to help someone, friend or stranger. Pass along the coin with your kind deed, encouraging the recipient to pay it forward. The coins have unique tracking codes on the back, along with instructions to make a brief story note about how they received it. Each coin has a dedicated story page, where you can watch your legacy of kindness unfold countless times into the future, forever.

The 2019 Second Edition coin is a Monarch, and on sale right now for $6.95 each by clicking HERE.

monarch coin

Of course, I’ll have to come up with an act of kindness worthy of this beautiful coin. Most of my random acts of kindness are small; pay for the person behind me in line at a window drive-up, purchase a piece of pie for someone sitting alone at a restaurant, leave a dollar and a Jacob card taped to a pop machine. While my favorites are those I can do as a faceless, nameless benefactor, leaving the card behind, opportunities do arise that I just can’t resist. Most recently, there was an older woman checking into a breakfast at my workplace. I heard her telling her female companion she’d saved for the $10 cost by putting one dollar bills into an envelope as she got them. When she retrieved the envelope from her pocket with a shaky hand and opened it up, I saw confusion on her face and heard her gasp. The envelope was empty! Her companion seemed just as flustered as she was, so I asked if I could cover her breakfast in honor of my grandson.

“Please let me,” I pleaded when she demurred. “I love doing random acts of kindness in his name, but haven’t had the chance recently.”

“His name was Jacob,” I added when she finally agreed, partly because I didn’t have a card with me, but mostly because I like to be able to say his name.

This week, with wind chills dipping below zero in Iowa, I’m carrying gloves in my car with the cards.

gloves

Yesterday, I chased an older gentleman down when I spotted him waiting at a busy intersection, hunched over against the wind as he zipped up his coat, stomped his feet, and clasped his bare hands together to blow on them before shoving them into his pockets. I made several laps around a bank parking lot until he reached the drive. When I opened my window and handed him a card and a pair of gloves, his face lit up as if I’d handed him a gold coin.

Or a beautiful brass butterfly one.