We invite you to remember your loved ones who have died by committing an act of kindness in their honor. Love, kindness, generosity, sharing, these are the gifts we can give to them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happy New Year!

From Lydia Armstrong:

Jamie and family,

I know this is late, and I'm sorry, but I kept waiting for some really excellent opportunity to do something really nice for someone to come along, and it didn't. But I work at a retirement home, in the dining room, and it's sort of my job to do nice things for people all day. I make sure Mr. Beverly's bread is always toasted on his sandwiches. When Eulah comes to lunch a half hour after the dining room has closed, like she does every day, I make her something to eat and pat her shoulder when she starts to cry at her own confusion. I gave Mr. Jackson an extra piece of spice cake and asked him how he was settling in. I try to make the new people feel welcome and the longtime residents feel important. I always go across the hall to the activities room to see what new puzzle Betty and Al are working on, and I always put a few pieces in. I know everyone's name, which seems simple and kind of obvious but the other day I said hello to Lucille and she said, "Thank you for knowing my name. That helps." There are other things, stuff like acknowledging people and remembering little things. 

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and happy New Year.

From Triet Le:

On my flight from Richmond to Oklahoma one week before Christmas Eve, I met a woman named Vickie. She was on my right, next to the airplane window. After a few minutes of silence and awkwardness, we said “hi” to each other and started talking. 
Miss Vickie had just visited her sick mother and was on her way back to Los Angeles to celebrate Christmas with her daughters. It had been many years since they had had a reunion on this joyous occasion.  Besides, she had just divorced an abusive husband.“This Christmas will be better than the past few years,” she cheerfully said. 
I was genuinely happy for her. Her willingness to share the deeply personal stories touched me and urged me to do something. So I decided to make a sketch of her as a way to remember this friendly, opened and benevolent woman. I asked her for the permission. She resisted by saying she was old and not beautiful. I said I would do my best and she hesitantly agreed. 
Thirty minutes of concentration passed and the sketch was done. Though I was not satisfied with it, I showed her anyway. She remarked that it made her feel old, which she said was the fact. Nevertheless, she liked it, especially the contemplative eyes. 
“It’s the first time someone has drawn my portrait.” 
“I would like to give this sketch to you. Would you like to have it?"
She gladly accepted it. I was honored to be the first person to draw her portrait. My greater honor was to give her a little joy before Christmas. 
After the plane landed and before saying goodbye, to my surprise, she pulled out a grey scarf from her hand bag and gave me. I thanked her and felt so grateful.

Happy New Year, Mr. James. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

December 28, 2014

From Lenore Gay:

I've been donating for the past several months to Doctors Without Borders, earmarked for Ebola. When I saw pictures of children who were orphaned by Ebola, and maybe sick themselves, Doctors Without Borders seemed to be doing very important work in West Africa. My grandson and I will be delivering food to the Central Va. Foodbank over the holidays.

From Theresa Kennedy:

I know this is a bit late, but today I gave two tickets for the train at Short Pump to the people in line behind us.  The people ahead of me had gifted two tickets to me and I wanted to pay it forward and, of course, I remembered that I wanted to do an act of kindness for Theo. 
          Merry merry!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Day 2014

From Alisha Abrams:

As always, thank you Professor F for remembering to email all of your old students to remind us to be more mindful, kind, and caring during the holiday season by performing a random act of kindness. I appreciate hearing from you every year and I hope Theo's stocking is full of wonderful acts of kindness. 
This year, I kept Theo in my heart as I gave to: a young high school senior who could not afford a class ring, Salvation Army bellringers nearly every time I saw them outside in the cold this season, and also as I gave to a dog rescue to help them pay for food and medical care for the dogs they save. I hope you, Karla, and Lula have an amazing holiday season.
Kind Regards, 
Alisha Abrams

From Grace Hammock:
Hello Professor F!
Merry Christmas and I hope you and your family are enjoying your break. As part of your request for Theo's stocking at the end of the semester I have tried my best to do something nice everyday, even if it's small. I have paid for the person's coffee who's behind me, helped people carry their groceries, and have spent more time with my family than ever this holiday because I have truly realized what the meaning of family is and you helped me do that. Also, I wanted to make sure that my paper about genetically modified children did not offend you in any way. I wish more than anything for your family that you would have been able to see the future of Theo and that he would still be with us today. I can't tell you how inspiring your story is and how much my heart aches for your family. I'll be thinking and have been thinking of you and your family and I hope you guys have a wonderful Christmas, you deserve it. See you next semester.

From Anonymous:

In the Christmas season we tend to have a lot of extra food around. Every year we bag up the extra granola bars, crackers and cookies. On the plastic bag we put inspirational quotes and hand them out whenever we see a homeless person. I know that will only feed them for a short time but we do what we can to help others.

From Anonymous:

My mom has Parkinson’s Disease and I find it very hard to be nice to her and be around her without feeling overwhelmed with sadness. I don’t tell her I love her enough and I try to avoid conversation with her when I’m home from school. I know this is the opposite of what I should be doing at this time but interaction can be difficult with her. I heard about Theo and I thought of a good way to honor him and something good to do to fill his Christmas stocking. I thought about my mother and how she is still alive and healthy and how lucky I am. I called her up and sincerely told her I love her, and no matter what happens I will always love her. That phone call meant a lot to her and it meant a lot to me. I hope you and your family have a good Christmas!

From Colleen O’Brien:

My great grandmother just turned 99 a couple days before Christmas. She lives in a retirement home and doesn’t get a lot of visitors other then my grandma. I thought it would be a good idea to get a couple of band friends together and go over some Christmas music for the retirement home. We did and everybody really enjoyed themselves and it meant a lot for the residents there. At the end of the concert my grandma brought out a cake we made for her while I played happy birthday on my saxophone.  She was overwhelmed with happiness and I’m really glad I did that for her. It’s the little things that you do for others this season that make it special. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!

From Michael Barnes:

HEY Professor F.
I have another act of kindness for the stocking for Theo that I wanted to share. I need to give some background info first though: for the past two years I have done this thing called "Reddit Secret Santa" in which you are randomly matched with someone in the same state as you, or on the other side of the country, or on the side of the world. Sometimes the gift exchange does not go as planned and some people send their gifts but do not receive a gift in return. The website, Reddit Gifts, then asks if you would like to be rematched to send a gift to a person who did not receive a gift. So I decided to sign up for that option because I felt like it was a crappy thing to not receive something for the holiday, especially when the while point of the program is a worldwide gift exchange. On top of all that it just really feels like the right thing to do, you know? To make a stranger’s day just seems right. Anyway, that's my contribution in honor of little Theo.
Hope all is well with you and yours,
Michael B.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December 24, 2014

From Pam Powell:

Annie and I are making a donation to the Baby Greyson Grace Fund. Greyson is the son of our friends Chris & Kelly and spent most of his first 7 months in the hospital because of a tracheoesophageal fistula. Happy holidays to Karla, Jamie, and Lula, and as always, we hold Theo close in our hearts.

From Anonymous:

Daisy Troop 5449 took LOADS of gifts to a family in need--4 year old K. and her mom, who is expecting a new baby in a couple of months They loaded up the house with new Dora and Doc stuff, books, toys, clothes, a stroller, a carseat, baby tub, blankets, supplies and more! Such a wonderful thing to do for this beautiful family!

From Dyanne Helbert:

Mama died January 29, 2013 and I had not until this past summer gone through her belongings
and still didn’t know what to do with them. When my friends came for a visit, I asked them if they would help me clean out her things. We packed all Mama’s clothes and put them in their SUV. Still I couldn’t decide where to send them or who would even want them. While we were sitting in the living room that evening my friends’ daughter turned on Theo’s tree. Theo is my Grandson, and I keep his tree decorated with beautiful dragonflies and clear lights always. As I sat looking at the tree I decided to send Mama’s things to Wise Manor, a nursing facility in our hometown of Wise, VA. So many of the residents there have very little or no family to get things for them. The administrator there was so happy as she said, “to receive so much
new and almost new clothing for the residents.” I know both Mama and her Great Grandson, Theo are happy with my gift of kindness year.

From Amy Martin:

As I was out and about today I made a special effort to hold doors for others, help old people with their bags, generally be extra nice and helpful in memory of Theo. Hopefully I made a few people's days a little bit easier.
Merry Christmas!

From The Pandolfe Family:

Hey Jamie,
I think this is a wonderful tradition. Each year, Theo’s Stocking makes me reflect on the year that’s passed to see if I’ve been kind to people. The one thing I might get right is to teach my kids that those around us in need are not invisible. We offer money and we roll down our car window for the homeless person standing at the side of the road. We check in with the man or woman sitting on the sidewalk and, while giving that person some money that might help, also take a moment to recognize them as a brother or sister. Each time, I think the same thing -- that it could just as easily be us sitting there in need. I try to be consistent this way and, if there’s anything I’ve taught my kids, I hope it’s that we’ve shown them that those who need help are people just like us, who deserve our full attention, love and care. They are not invisible and we will not pass them by as if they aren’t there.

                        David, Carri, Samantha and Cooper

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

December 23, 2014

From Anonymous:

It's pretty simple. I try to smile at people, especially elderly people. I spend a lot of time with old people these days. I realize that many are strong and sharp mentally. But many are frail and confused. They tend to be ignored and devalued, even resented for going a little too slow, for requiring more clarity and repetition (and volume), for needing help to do what the hale and hardy take for granted. A smile is like a wonderful, delicious tasting medicine with no side effects. It touches even people who hardly remember their own names. More wondrous yet, this medicine works both ways, because when you recognize another human being in a positive way, you become a more positive human being yourself. 

From Robin Tomlinson:

Hi James,

Thank you for keeping me on this email list. I often think back to the writing class I took with you with great fondness.  
             The holidays are not the happiest time of year for everyone. Things can get stressful with holiday shopping and sad when we are reminded of loved ones who aren't with us. So I decided, with Theo's stocking in mind, to simply smile at the people I see out and about. Not a forced smile. But a genuine smile with the intention of spreading warmth and kindness. It's nothing big. I just feel like we all could benefit from a shared smile, eye contact, and a kind word here and there.  
             Thank you again for including me in your beautiful tradition. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday and a very happy new year!  
             Warmest Wishes,
             Robin Tomlinson

From Leslie Cohen-Gee:

Dear Theo,

This is a story about your dad's act of kindness and not my own. I hope you like it.
             Your dad will always have a special place in my heart because of the kindness he showed me during a very difficult time with my own child. You see, when my youngest daughter, Hannah, was eight, she was kicked in the jaw by a large quarter horse. Her jaw was broken in three
places and she had many other facial bone breaks. She was rushed to MCV by ambulance and stayed there for four days and nights. She came out with both jaws splinted and wired shut. This is where your dad comes in.....
             The day after we got home, there appeared on our front porch a big, beautiful homemade lasagna.......on top read a little sticky note "Made by Jamie Fueglein." I was only acquainted with Jamie Fueglein at the time and never imagined he would be someone who would cook dinner
for me and my family.
             For the first few days and nights at home, Hannah had to be fed by syringe. I had to get juice and medicine into a syringe and squeeze it into the side of her mouth in order for her to be able to get anything in. Well anyway, we baked your dad's lasagna for dinner on about the third night home, and Hannah smelled it and wanted some so badly. The problem was that she couldn't eat with her mouth wired shut. I felt very sorry for her. I never dared eat in front of her. So when the lasagna came out of the oven and Hannah looked at me with hunger in her eyes, I knew I had to do something, and I did. I got a big spoon and pressed the lasagna down on top, so that the juices came up and flowed into the spoon. In that way, I was able to get about 6 or 7 tablespoons of liquid lasagna into a glass to feed to Hannah through a syringe. She was elated! She hadn't tasted real food in over a week, and she was just delighted to have something that tasted good and hearty and real. That was the first time since her accident that she seemed happy and I attribute that to your dad. I will never ever forget his kindness and the good feelings it brought to our household.
             Thanks for listening.
             Leslie Cohen-Gee

From Anonymous:

My sister has an alcohol problem, so she often wakes up hungover or comes home looking like hell and unproductive throughout the day. My mother has anxiety, so this causes her much distress. When I come home from college, I try to help my sister every morning to feel better so that she can be more productive and to avoid my mom constantly seeing her like that. I make her breakfast, help her clean and encourage her with advice and kind words so that she can be more productive and successful. I kind of secretly do this in hopes that my mom can have one less thing to worry about in her day.

From David L. Robbins:

Dear Theo,

As per your instructions and kind nature, I have done the following. I hope you approve and my spirit measures close to your own.
  In the grocery store at 25th and Main, the lines were long, with many holiday shoppers on the cusp of the evening. The check-out lady in my line was harried and ill-natured, pressing on with her duties with barely concealed reluctance and one eye on the clock. I had not too many food-stuffs to purchase, some apples, nuts, a salad, a dozen cans of flavored soda water, and an onion. Oh, and bread pudding, Theo. Bread pudding is my sin. The check-out lady fairly snarled that after me, she was closing the line. Behind me were several folks, all with many groceries. Immediately to my rear, a short and elderly gal held only two items, an apple crisp from the salad bar and a cold bottle of Coke. When everyone behind her began to file away, grumbling in search of another line to get in the back of, I asked if could please purchase her items for her. She graciously agreed, doing for me her own random act of kindness.
  I hope this qualifies. But I will try again for something bigger and more worthy. I believe the elderly gal will keep at it, too. She seemed the sort.
  Oh, and I'm starting a writing program for veterans with the Virginia War Memorial, which I will want to speak with your daddy about soon.
  Merry Christmas, Theo. You are not as missed as you might be if you were not so well kept present by your wonderful parents. 

From Matt Clingempeel:

I’ve been thinking about Theo’s Stocking for a few months now, what good deed am I going to do? Sadly, it is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that most anyone wouldn’t do. I’ve looked for those big moments to really help someone, but none have arisen for me. Maybe that’s good that crazy stuff isn’t happening to people around me.

             Anyway, each time I mow the lawn, I try to mow an extra pass or two into my neighbor’s yard, so they have less to do. I do the same when I gather leaves. Also, the other day at the gym, two repairmen were trying to get these huge parts of a treadmill through a door. There was no way one of them could hold the piece and the other open the door, so I stopped working out and held the door until they could fit the thing through the door. Lastly, I’m taking this online screenwriting class from UCLA and this kid in my class got cut off during our meeting last week, so his work wasn’t critiqued by the group. The following day, I reread his pages from that week and the week prior and emailed him a more comprehensive critique on his story thus far.
             I know none of these are spectacular, I wish I had done something better, but the year is not over. I will let you know if I have something bigger to contribute to Theo’s Stocking.
             I hope you and your family are doing well.
             I’ve also put it down on my calendar to run my stove fan all day on 2/20. 

From Lenore Gay:

Hello Jamie,

My eight year old grandson and I are going grocery shopping. We'll buy a cartful of food and deliver it to the Central Va. Food Bank. He'll be in charge of picking out the healthy foods. He remembers our tour of the Food Bank the last time we were there and is eager to donate food again. 
  Happy holidays to you all!

From Anonymous:

First of all, let me say how much I love this tradition, and that I take stock of my year in part based on whether I have anything to contribute to Theo's Stocking.

             This year I noticed a trend in which I'll be at the store, in line to check out, and someone ahead of my will be short for what's due at the register, and I've offered to pay the difference. More recently there was a student in ahead of me at the parking kiosk and, for some reason, it wouldn't take the change she was putting in - so I offered to pay with my card. I paid for the full two hours of parking, even though she had change for just a little over half that. What I love about doing this is how the person's face goes from flustered and embarrassed to relieved and grateful - it's a beautiful thing that so far has only involved pocket change, cents on the dollar. 
             Merry Christmas, Baby Theo - and God Bless Us, Every One!

From Kim Gibson:

In memory of Theo Fueglein, I Kimberly, sponsored 11 children for "Secret Santa."  Nathaniel, Rodney, DeSean, Mason, Elijah, Levi, Logan, Cailyn, Saniyah, Liberty and Nydria are all under 5 years old and were in need during this season. I have learned that no act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted. For these acts not only bless the ones who receive them, but also blesses the giver.  With that in mind, I purchased clothing, shoes and toys for these beautiful children, knowing that one day they too may be a blessing to someone else.  Mother Teresa once wrote "It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you...yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand." This act of kindness is dedicated to and in honor of baby Theo.                  

            May his spirit live on through our selfless acts this Christmas season and throughout the year. 

From Theresa Gavigan:

To the Helbert Fueglein Family:

I am committing to a meditation practice in the coming year and would like to dedicate my first hour of practice to your son.  

From Kelly Ball:

Hey, Mr. F! 

Though I try to commit several big acts of kindness every year, recently I got my sorority sisters to help me make a bunch of encouraging cards for children with AIDS. We sent them to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. They sent me a letter back saying the children loved them, and one kid even made me his own card! 
             I love hearing from you every year. I hope you're doing well! 

From Amanda Marsico:

Hi. It's been years since I've sent an email to you, and as time passed, so did my memory of this wonderful testament to kindness and giving that you do each year. I took your class in 2007. I'm pleased to see the link to your blog pop up on Facebook from some friends who have more recently taken your classes. 

             Even though I lost track of your yearly good deeds for Theo, I never forgot what I learned in your class or how you went about teaching it. Who I am as an Eng Comp 111 & 112 professor is largely because of what and how I learned in your class. 
             In preparation for an overseas move, I have begun sorting through art and school supplies, most brand new, that have gone unused. I can't take anything with me when we move, but the children of the Richmond YMCA will get great use out of all of it. I'm happy to give it to kids who need it--there should never have been such excess in my life anyway. 
             Normally I would never publicize an act of kindness. I don't do it for recognition. But, for Theo, I gladly bend my rules.
             Thanks for all you do.

From Laura Longmire:

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for including me in Theo's stocking - I am not always the best about writing things down, but I do think of Theo and I like that in turning outward and thinking of other's I am honoring your son.  I think so many things around losing Anna Grace and the holidays seem to increase me thinking of her in certain ways.  I am grateful for the sweet girls I have but so sad to have not been able to share in Anna Grace's life.  I am also thinking of you and Karla as your heart yearns for your sweet boy and enjoys the blessing of your beautiful Lula.
             Much love to you all!

From Becky Boncal:


Being pregnant, I have been thinking a lot about Theo this year. You’d think the last thing a pregnant person would want to think about is a friend’s baby who passed away, but my thoughts are not necessarily what you would expect. Theo has given me comfort. I started thinking about him this summer, during our wonderful experience at the Podium T3. I actually do think of him every time I see you, because it is ingrained in my memory of when I first met you, in your class at the Visual Arts Center, you had that thermos with his picture printed all over it. When I saw it, I thought, “How cute; this guy must be a doting dad.” As I tried to come up with responses to the prompts during writing time, I sometimes stared at Theo’s little face on your thermos, thinking that he looked a lot like you.  At some point after the class ended, I Googled you and came across the Theo’s Christmas Stocking blog. I couldn’t stop reading. The writing was beautiful and devastating. I felt lucky to get to know Theo through his parents’ point view. 
             But there was another reason I thought about him a lot during the T3 this summer. You know I was pregnant, but what I don’t think I told you was that during the last part of that week, I was struggling with some rough news. A test had come back that showed our baby had a very high chance of having Downs Syndrome. We were told we would need a more accurate test to follow it up and confirm. It would take two weeks for us to get the results from that follow up test. During that time, my husband and I were up late into the night, discussing our options, preparing ourselves for the possibility of life with a special needs child, doing our research. We learned that Downs Syndrome can mean serious, even fatal, congenital problems. 
             At that time, I was far enough along to feel those little kicks and turns in my stomach. Until I became pregnant, I’d spent my whole life, from childhood—from the moment I learned about what pregnancy was and where babies come from—dreading and fearing pregnancy. But I was surprised to find I liked being pregnant. I wasn’t really sure the baby was a “person” yet, but it was alive and it was with me all the time. I began to feel those first inklings of parenthood—that sense of responsibility and terror and love and the feeling that there is another presence always with you, always on your mind. In fact, that feeling brought back a very old memory from when I was a kid, around 6 or 7-years-old. Like many children, I often fantasized about having a small, portable friend I could carry with me everywhere. In my case, it was a bunny who lived in the breast pocket of my school uniform. This bunny didn’t really look like an actual bunny; it had a sort of asexual human-shaped body and a bunny head. Its name was Little Bunny and I used to talk to it all day long, especially when I felt upset.
             When I got the news about our baby’s first test result, I realized that no matter what happened to that little being, a bit of him would always remain there, inside me, the only one like him ever to have been or be. And I thought about Theo, and hoped that if I had to face a crisis, I would be able to do for my baby what you and your wife did for him. Maybe it sounds corny, but I took some comfort in the fact that, if something did happen to my baby, he would be with Theo, wherever Theo is. 
             We were lucky. The second test came back showing that our baby was healthy and normal—and that he was a boy.  Since then, he’s grown and so have his movements, and, as I approach my due date, I’ve thought a lot about what it will mean to have a son (I was so sure I was going to have a girl), what it will mean to raise a boy with blond hair and blue eyes, as we are likely to do if he looks anything like my husband. The massive risk we take in embarking on parenthood, the risk to our very souls and selves, was apparent to me in those two weeks, that in parenting, we make ourselves eminently vulnerable, as Tolstoy described it in Anna Karenina: 
 There was nothing cheerful and joyous in the feeling; on the contrary, it was a new torture of apprehension. It was the consciousness of a new sphere of liability to pain. And this sense was so painful at first, the apprehension lest this helpless creature should suffer was so intense, that it prevented him from noticing the strange thrill of senseless joy and even pride that he had felt when the baby sneezed.

I’ve kept Theo in my mind because his life, the way you have shared it, is affirmation that even a brief life is a unique event, and not only worth the risk— it is the reason to risk, that all life is brief. Each Christmas, when I am reminded of Theo’s Stocking, I find that I am called upon to take a very small risk in doing something kind for someone else. Last year, I waited and waited for the right opportunity to come along, when I could commit my act of kindness, and yet somehow, nothing seemed big enough, or kind enough, or worthy enough of his memory, so I never followed through. This year, I wasn’t going to let that happen.
             A friend of mine, who I haven’t seen in years, is also pregnant. When she found out via Facebook that I was pregnant too, almost out of nowhere, she sent me a gift. I consternated over what to do for her in return, what would mean more than just sending her another baby item. Finally, I mailed her a coat that was given to me by a resident at a retirement community where I used to work. It was a special coat from a special friend, though a little too small for me, I hoped it would fit her. But that didn’t seem like enough. This week, my friend had her baby and so I mailed her a gift card to Whole Foods. It wasn’t much, but I hoped it would make even one meal easier for her. But even after having done that, I still feel myself on the lookout for other acts of kindness I might commit, some larger gesture of giving, worthy of Theo. It’s an amazing thing that here, almost ten years after he left this earth, I’m trying to do something for him, and that he has been able to do something for me. 
             I am sorry we didn’t end up getting to be neighbors. My husband and I bought a house in Bon Air, though I did fall in love with the neighborhood in Lakeside, the cards just fell where they fell, and we now live in a house that is perfect for the family we hope to raise. If you ever want to get together for a drink or coffee, I’d love that, and I’d love to meet your family, if ever it’s convenient. I also want you to know that you can always talk about Theo when I’m around—it wouldn’t ever make me uncomfortable.  In fact, it would make me happy. 
             Wishing you and your family a beautiful Christmas this year,
             Becky Boncal

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I was thinking of Theo...

Each year, we open this blog with an inaugural address in which we describe ways Theo has impacted our lives during the year even though he is no longer with us in this physical space. He is always in our heads and in our hearts. I want to repost last year's introduction because it shows a lot about our son that most people would otherwise never get to see.

I was thinking of Theo…

“I was thinking of Theo,” my friend Nicole said yesterday.
“So was I,” I said, and couldn’t help but smile, struck by how I’d been longing to hear someone say I was thinking of Theo without even realizing I had wanted it. Nicole had given me a present.
I didn’t mention to her that I think about Theo every day. Thinking about Theo is, for me, much like breathing. It’s a constant. At the same time, thinking about him sometimes socks all the air right out of me. Sometimes when I see a flaxen-haired boy of nine who’s been lucky and skillful enough to reach the age Theo would be were he alive, I need to lean against something solid and focus on expanding my diaphragm to breathe. It’s a precarious balancing act some days, a faltering dance. I think of him, I breathe; then I think of him gone, absent, dead, and I can’t breathe.
Nicole is wise and kind enough to know I think about him every day even though I didn’t say so. Generally, I don’t talk much about Theo. One minor reason is because some days I feel like I can’t breathe (see above ↑ paragraph). But this hinges greatly on another reason: no one really wants to talk about a dead child. After all, what is there to say? How’s he doing? How’s his teething? How’s soccer camp going in the afterlife? If someone were to ask how I am coping having a dead child, I could go on and on, and there’s danger in that. While I don’t expect anyone to therapitize me, a pretty shabby feeling people who have kids can identify with is when your child is ignored, disregarded, forgotten. Especially when you miss the child so much that at times you can’t breathe. I’ve been enculturated to understand that talking about a dead child kills the mood in every room except in those few specially designated rooms where people purposefully go to talk specifically about dead children. Such rooms exist, and most people, luckily for them, need never visit. But try it—over dinner, or, say, on a date, at a party, or even in church! of all places—bring up dead children, and see if you don’t get the stink eye. The mood shifts; you can feel it in your skin. The barometer drops. Eyes dart, fingers twiddle, and you can see your breath in the air as someone clears his throat in uncomfortable recognition that he will one day die like all the rest of us poor slobs. We’re in this together, after all, though people don’t generally conduct their day-to-day mindful of this understanding, and within a minute, someone changes the subject, and the topic drifts back to something pleasant for everyone else to be comfortable again: sports, food, new plastic stuff to buy, the dreaded I was on Facebook and I saw a picture of this cat… The one who is most afraid of death tries hardest to crack the first joke following that pleasant rebound.
So it’s brilliant that Nicole said “I was thinking of Theo.” She was being bold and she was being mindful. Until she said this, I did not know how I much I’d wanted someone to appear before me as if by magic, providence, or kismet to say “I was thinking of Theo.”
Turns out, you are right now thinking of my son; thereby, you are giving me a gift as well. You, then, are a mindful person. It is amazing, really, that you are here reading this, enduring such jolly holiday tidings, breathing in and out, hopefully comfortably, perhaps contemplating what you can do to make the world a touch better and to fill the stocking for Theo, for your loved ones, for yourself. That’s the job of the stocking: it is for Theo, it is for your loved ones, it is for strangers, and it is for you. You, reading this now, are here because you are mindful.
Some of you have come here for years, and yet you know so little about Theo. What is there to know? He lived for nine months. He lived for 271 days. He only lived for three relatively healthy months in which he was able to laugh, cry, smile, swing, eat, stretch, poop straight, and babble. Then came the concluding six months, bedridden, tubes and tape, shunt and port and machinery and “Careful if you touch him, you may pull this tube out… Watch out for that wire…”
I will tell you that in my experience there is little that can surpass the great beauty in the mundane act of watching a healthy baby sleep well.
Since I have you here, now, being mindful, breathing in and out, and since you may know so little about him, I will tell you a few things about my boy Theo.
Thelonius Luther Helbert Fueglein was born with a mohawk. It was tall, bright yellow, and it refused to stay brushed down. People asked what product (as if) we used to make his hair to stay up like that. I have a hundred pictures of him with his giant yellow mohawk. When the surgical prep team shaved his three month old head to resect his lemon-sized brain tumor, they left the middle path of hair intact, seeing no reason to disrupt his life any more than it had been. I have a hundred pictures of him like this also. He was eighty-nine days old when they shaved the sides of his head.
Theo loved to swing. When he was two weeks old, 75 days before the tumor hit, we found that nothing would calm him faster than strapping him into his blue car seat and swinging him in wide arcs through the air. His eyes would open wide on the forward swing, narrow as he arced back. His mother Karla talked about how he was going to love roller coasters when he grew up.
Theo loved his mother. Often when she entered the room, his ears would prick up a bit, and he’d follow her movements. Babies so young don’t track with their eyes, but if he was watching anything, it was her. He knew when she was in the room. She was protector and she was food. After the tumor was resected, she was just about the only thing he’d respond to, if weakly.
Theo loved ceiling fans. As his newborn eyes adjusted to the life whirring around him, his eyes grew wider for sightings of Mommy and of ceiling fans. He was mesmerized by them. Maybe they helped calm the brewing pressure in his cranium. I am convinced that this is why swinging helped him feel better when he’d whimper and cry.
Theo loved the hum of the kitchen stove hood vent fan. When swinging him below the ceiling fan wouldn’t calm him, I would dance him in slow circles in the kitchen, on each revolution swooping his bitty body beneath the hood vent fan. I would sing to him a simple song:
         Where are you my darling boy?
         Where are you my Theo?
         Here I am, here I am
         I’m in the kitchen in daddy’s arms.
         When the sun has gone to sleep, we will find our rest
         On the hillside, on the soft warm ground
         And the moon will settle us down
         As the world spins ‘round and ‘round.
Ten minutes of any syllabic babble usually did the trick, until he was three months old. Then the tumor hit, and everything changed.
            Theo cried for hours after he’d had his stroke while we waited for the anesthesiologist from another town to come to the big city put him under for an MRI. We still had no idea what was wrong with him. Since he was crying, he could not be dead, the only comfort. Half his body moved differently from the other half that would not move. No matter how I tried to distract him, he would not look at me. I remembered wondering if he was blind. On that night, he was not. Blindness would come later, after the chemo. We rocked him and swung him in tiny arcs in cramped quarters. I sang him the song::
                    Where are you my precious boy?
         Where are you my Theo?
         Here I am…
I asked Karla if she wanted to sing. She did not—the first time she’s ever been unwilling to sing! Only then did it hit me what these words could mean. I’ve never sung that song since, and I never will again. We didn’t turn off the kitchen vent fan until after Theo died. 
Theo loved his Calming Vibration bouncy seat that displayed in an archway before him a tiny aquarium scene between two clear plastic panels of a happy starfish and two kissing fishes. Real water pumped through this small aquarium, spinning the smiling starfish! Two animals hung from the bottom of the aquarium scene for him to play with: a green seahorse/dragon thingy and an orange fish. When he grew agitated in his massive blue steel cage hospital bed, we’d secure the base of the chair on the bed and strap him into the seat, mindful not to pull out any of his various tubes and wires, and hit the on button: he’d vibrate to the tinny version of Brahm’s Lullaby.
Theo lost his mohawk to the first and only doses of cytoxan and vincristine chemo he got. After his eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair fell out, his head from behind resembled a dented baseball, red stitches from the shunt and the resection arcing from the base of his neck up around his ears. One might find the comparison somehow wrong or mean. More than anything in the world, I will remember Theo’s battered skull. It will be one of the last things I see before I die, I am certain of it. I will love his head always.
I remember how Theo’s head smelled during the various stages of his life, the various shapes it took on: from the copper-scented conical dome he was born with, fuzzily soft and smooth, that assumed a rounder shape the longer he was out in the world with us; to the flatish backside that resulted from his first three seemingly healthy months lying on his back, to avoid some sudden infant death, when it smelled like Dreft and sweet new baby skin; to the broken ball smelling of surgery and gauze and Betadine and tape it became when his cerebral cortex collapsed and the occipital plate sunk in and upward. I see all these shapes everywhere. I see his head in cloud formations, in the pattern of wood grain on telephone poles, in oil stains, in the black and gray patterns of slate rooftops on distant houses, in the river as it flows over rocks and fallen tree branches, in hubcaps, in streetlamps, in dreams. I see these things and I think: Thelonius… Sometimes I imagine Theo’s head growing right out of my own. It pops up out of my right ventricle, his head with eyes and smile and mohawk. He travels with me, up on my head, looking at all the things I look at, thinking of the things I am thinking, and we are of one head.
            The shaved side patches grew back once the toxic chemo left Theo’s system.  Some hairs grew quite long behind his ears. But nothing ever regrew where the mohawk had been. For the last three months of his life, Theo had a reverse-mohawk, an anti-mohawk, puffy on the sides, bare down the center.
I love the shapes Theo’s skull took.
            Another thing to tell you about Theo: he taught us many things during his brief stay with us. I figure he taught us more things, or, at least more crucial things, than we could have ever taught him.
He taught us patience. .5 mg. lorazepam (working its way up to 1 mg, then 1.5) crushed into .5 mg/ml phenobarbital, followed twenty minutes later by a 10 mg/15 ml. solution of morphine. Twenty minutes later, 5 ml. formula mixed with .5 ml of lactulose and/or docusate. Thirty minutes later, fentanyl nebulizer. Set up the feeding pumps. Wash the syringes. Where’s the chloral hydrate? Clean the Hickman port with the proper dose of heparin. Ativan, methadone, Zofran, oh my! Twenty-four hours a day, our dining room was his hospital.
He taught us endurance. How many long nights did I hold him, wondering if he’d die in my arms before sunup? I could count them; I could break it into minutes. I'd rather not, though. Sometimes it feels like it is still happening. It feels like it was decades ago; it feels like it was yesterday. We still endure.
He taught me how utterly critical the simplest motion can be: once per second for hours I stroked with alternating thumbs that small space between his eyebrows to comfort him after his gastrointestinal tube placement surgery as he was withdrawing from morphine. Those minutes and hours were the most crucial hours in the world.
He taught us how to value time. When things would careen south with him—stridor breathing, gagging, crying—time would speed up, everything would become utterly crucial. He'd calm, and time would slow to a crawl. A trip to the hospital: anything could go wrong. The way time moved while we were with him was like regularly experienced life-time, but incredibly intensified. What he taught us is knowing how and when to adjust. Someone told me it seemed like forever ago that Theo died, while it seemed to me in that moment that he died yesterday; the next minute it felt like he'd died seven years ago. Sometimes I think he’ll die tomorrow. To this day, he is still teaching us about time. He is teaching us that time does not heal wounds: what matters is what we do with our time, how we spend it, how little of it there is.
There was a word on the one-piece, snap-up, soft fleece sleepsuit we buried him in, medium blue with dark banded collar, a solid, strong color on him, featuring a childlike rendering of a mighty orange lion, maned thick brown. Next to the lion, the word “BRAVE.” His dying took forever, and then it ended in an instant. It took all the hard-won qualities Theo taught us to be able to hold him and watch him breathe his last breath on Feb 20th, 2006, at 3:33 in the afternoon.
It is very frightening to be brave. Theo taught us what it was to have to be brave for a little while.
We remember all this because of the most important quality, the sum of all these pieces: Thelonius taught us to be mindful.
These are the things I have to tell you about Theo. And so we dedicate this stocking in mindfulness to Theo, to you, to your loved ones, and to strangers we’ll never meet who are anyway our brothers and sisters. As wise man Stan Kustesky once said on this blog, “When you really get down to it, all we have is each other.”
I am grateful to you for being here, reading this, and I am grateful to be the father of Theo and Lula.
Go be mindful and have a fantastic New Year.

— Jamie F.

Monday, January 20, 2014

January 20, 2014

From Janet Lynn:
This morning I paid for a woman and her young daughters breakfast. She needed more money and I stepped in to pay for it. I was thinking of our baby boys, TJ and Theo. She thanked me and hugged me. It was a warm grateful hug that made me cry. This small act of kindness has made my day :)

From Anonymous:
I donated to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence.

From Anonymous:
I gave to the Richmond Peace Education Center.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

From the Students at Warren County School

From A Warren County Student:

"First off let me say "RIP" to Theo and much love to the family. "When it's our time come, we will see him again." My act of kindness is being there for people just not me family but anyone whose having problems. I keep it real. I'm always that helping hand I feel as though I can make a change in the world if not I will spark the brain that will change the world.

From Aaron Harper:

Dear Mr. F.,
I've heard about what happened to your son, and I just want to say, I'm sorry for the lost of your son. I did something nice to honor him. To remember your son when he was alive we planted food for people who might not have food.
Aaron Harper

From Ahaquisa:

Dear Mr. F.,
I heard about your son. I did something nice to my brother, sister, and boyfriend. I help my sister with her problem or whatever and my brother help be nice to people. I help my boyfriend with his attitude problem. I'm really sorry about your baby son.

From Melody Alford:

Hey this is Melody Alford from Warren County High School so Hello Mr. F., I heard about your son and I'm sorry for your lost he was so young and cute but R.I.P. Theo. Umm I do a lot of nice things for people, I'm more like a helping hand and a giver . So I guess when others don’t have I give that’s a everyday thing that warms my heart. I love kids so I love to give them and make them happy and laugh. I put smiles on loving faces.

From Jamarcus Davis:

Hello Mr. F.
I heard about your son, so I did something nice in honor of your son. Just a few weeks ago the librarian at my school lost some money that she needed to eat with, so I helped her find her money. It was twenty dollars. Most people would have just kept the money and not said anything, but I picked up the money and gave it to her. It felt so good.  I hope you and your family have a merry X-MAS.
Jamarcus Davis

From Kylee:

Dear Mr. F.
You were very young Theo, you died young and the story I was told has done something to me. I've been doing good deeds all week since I heard about your child. I spent time in  the community, bought my mom a purse. I never met you or your child Theo. We always live.

From Nathaniel Timothy White:

Hello Mr. F. my name is Nathaniel Timothy White, but you can call me Tim or Nate..I heard about your son. I feel your pain. Before I was born I had a sister and when she was born she died. Now let's not talk about me and my life but the thing I did nice to honor your son is to plant food for people who need it.
Love: Tim

From a Warren County Student:

I heard about your lost and I am sorry to hear that. But my act of kindness consists of given back to the ones who have less than me. The reason I am going to do this is because it is better to give than receive, and also God has blessed me with things so I will bless others with things too. So I look at it as loving my neighbors. But I hope you have a blessed holiday.

From Joseph:

Mr F.
I heard about your son. I did something nice to honor him to do on the date 12/20/2013. Me and my third period class went outside to harvest collard greens from the garden to send to different places where kids don’t have nothing to eat so I showed my respect and picked them for the people. I respect you for sending the letter to let us know about your son. I just want to say I really appreciate you for making me write this letter.
Sincerely: Joseph

From Myesha Wallace:

I heard about your son. I did something really nice to honor him and I really hope he accepts it and happy holiday to you and your family. P.S. we went to the garden and we picked collards.

From: Larissa

To Mr. F.
I heard about your son. I did something nice to honor him.
Ever since I heard about your son, it made me think how grateful I am here today so I started doing things for people like helping people with things they need like donate things to people who need it and thank god for the people and family you have in your life.
PS Hope y'all have a very merry Christmas.

From A Warren County Student:

Dear Mr. F. I heard about your son. I did something nice to honor him. I did work for my uncle by working on houses with him

From Preston:

Mr. F.
I heard about your son. I did something nice to honor him by harvesting collards for the hungry.

From Kenyahre Watkins:

Mr. F.

I heard about your son. I did something nice to honor him by making sure that people in need have food to eat this time of year.