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.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Tiny Magical Miracles Everywhere

“I hate to say it, but the way it seems is that no one is fine. Take time to peel back a few layers and you will find true sadness.” So say the Avett Brothers. Sounds better in 4-part harmony, but you get the point.

Christmas is hard. There. I said it. Most of us are trying to please too many people or live up to unrealistic standards of joy and giving. In a society of constant information and feedback, our brains are on overload trying to process it all. Let’s be honest. It’s overwhelming.

Even the most outwardly “put together” people have struggles. Take me for example. I’m married to my high school sweetheart. We have two perfect kids. We own a business. We’re photogenic to a fault. Reality? Everyday I’m struggling physically & financially to stay alive after a near death illness five years ago.

"This Christmas has been harder than expected. As recently as Tuesday I was wondering if I can skip Christmas.  I’m grieving some close personal losses and my never ending medical expenses have strained my heart and wallet. I wanted to be able to help a grieving family this year, but I saw no way I could help a mourning family plus have the funds for my own Christmas. So I did what I do best. Complain.

I reached out to a couple girlfriends and let them know my existential misery was surely worse than any ever suffered. I whined about every petty thing disrupting my perfect existence. Getting it out made me feel some better. Misery might not love company, but telling others about your misery is calming. Selfish, but calming.

Within a few hours one of the kindest, most generous friends i have showed up at my business with gifts for the family in mourning. What makes this extra special? She’s never met these people. I was hurting for them so she was too. Double extra special? My friend has had a horrible year. One of her children was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness & the battle has been hard. Yet she saw the suffering of another and stepped up with abundance.

Really this was enough to taper my grinchiness, but an hour later a customer came into my business and made a purchase exactly the amount i needed to fund my own Christmas. God? Fate? Miracle? Magic? Needless to say, my heart grew three sizes.

These events might seem insignificant to those who are greatly suffering, but let it offer you hope. Tiny magical miracles are everywhere. We just have to open our hearts to see.

Love, S 

Kindnesses this Christmas


This year I decided, in memory of you, to volunteer with an organization that helps to settle refugees coming from other countries into the U.S. I signed up to read to children and give out children’s books at a resources fair for refugee families. I started the day in the reading room, helping children pick out books, but was quickly called in to serve as backup for the overwhelmed face painter. The line seemed never to shrink during the four hours I was there. One after another, I placed the tip of my brush to the faces of children of all ages, some of whom spoke no English. I touched their foreheads to move the hair from their eyes. Their little bodies were pressed up close all around me as I worked, painting the images of Batman, Spiderman, flowers, unicorns, and American flags—images selected by the kids. What an honor it was, to make a first impression on these families as they entered our country, to look into these innocent little faces and welcome them here. Thank you for inspiring me to open myself up to this experience.

Becky Boncal

Hello to you sweet Karla! I have a couple of stories of RAOK in the spirit of our children gone....I have donated 20 pair of shoes to children in a village in Tanzania for Christmas. Many of them have infected feet due to not having shoes. One pair for every year Samantha was here. It was her burning desire to travel to Africa, she never had the chance....on Christmas Day I will be making and delivering 100 turkey sandwiches to the homeless, in memory of my sweet son Ryan. I'm also collecting scarves gloves and hats for those who are in need. Stories for Theos stocking...please make it anonymous
Sending love.....

In loving memory of Samantha and Ryan 

Dear Friends, 

Our Act of Kindness this year was a cash donation for an outreach effort organized by friends and family members of some families in Puerto Rico. The organizers live in Florida and have been able to utilize a structured supply chain to restaurants and small businesses in Puerto Rico to get the relief items directly to some people in dire need. We love you guys and are thinking of you all!

Love, Pam and Annie 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Selah: Pausing to Give and to Grieve

One of the nearest and dearest things to my heart is the MISS Foundation and the Selah House Respite Center and Carefarm. We did a fundraiser for the Carefarm on Giving Tuesday this year and gave again to the building fund on another occasion this season. And then yesterday we got a beautiful post card in the mail telling us a donation to Selah was made in Theo's memory from a loving friend.

Please read this wonderful article that just came out today and if you are so moved share it with grieving people you may know, and if you are looking for a cause, this one is beyond worthy. It is so needed.

Help Build the Selah House

Twelve Years of Chistmas

Our son died of a brain tumor. This year is our twelfth Christmas without him. We live every day without him here. This is our life. As a family, and as individuals, we are trying still to figure out how to live our lives with such a crucial, vital, essential, important person constantly missing. The presence of his absence colors everything. Always.

Theo died February 20, 2006. That year was horrid. That first Christmas without him was a kind of black hole that is hard to describe. I have said many times that when my son died I realized how very little I knew. I still do not know much. The mysteries I have been confronted with offer very few clear answers. But I do know and can see that things have evolved. Things get different and sometimes that means “better,” and sometimes it just means different. It’s better that I can sing Christmas carols and actually enjoy doing it. It’s better that I can shop for gifts and not have a breakdown in a store, that I can go into a store at all is better. It is easier to put up the tree than it was before. Still hard. But a little easier.

To think that it has been 12 years since our first Christmas without him is kind of amazing to me. In many ways it really doesn’t seem that long. Considering the increased amount of stress we have endured over these 12 years, I would think it would seem longer. Shakespeare said, “Grief makes one hour ten.” I know in the early years that feels absolutely true. Right now though, twelve years seem to have passed by, not quite in a blink, but pretty quickly. Strange. But still. Twelve years is a long time. Relatively speaking. Always. Time is weird. I know that Christmas will continue to come for however long I am still breathing here on this planet without my first-born child. And that never gets better. But there are things that are easier. And I know that the love and kindness in Theo’s Stocking has made each year a little easier. Love and kindness really are the only things that make this grief any easier.

I would like to tell you the story of that first year.

Thelonius Luther Helbert Fueglein died on February 20, 2006 at nine months old. Theo was diagnosed at 3 months old with a brain tumor, a choroid plexus carcinoma. A very rare and deadly brain tumor.
The first Christmas after Theo died, 2006, I decided initially that I was not going to have Christmas. I did not feel celebratory; I did not want to have the holiday without my baby. But we had moved into a new house, we were planning to stay home instead of traveling to family celebrations—which I did not want to face. And so, I decided to decorate the tree and the house as if he were here, to honor him and also to have something to focus on. When I opened the box with Theo's stocking inside—a sweet little felt stocking, made by Theo's great-grandmother—and hung it by the chimney with care, I was struck by what that one small act really meant. In hanging the stocking, I was acknowledging our son's presence in our lives and honoring him as our child, but realized at the same time, that on Christmas morning there would be nothing in his stocking.

The image in my mind of the stocking hanging, flat and empty was so painful. And I did not want to put gifts in the stocking, candies, toys or other stuffers, which we would then open "for him." Imagining that scenario felt pitiful and hurtful. I did not know what to do. I just sat and looked at the stocking. I knew I could not take it down. It was Theo's. I would never, and will never, do anything to remove his memory, his presence, his place in our family, from our lives. But the empty stocking seemed a terribly looming symbol for everything we were missing.

And then I had an idea.

I raced upstairs to the computer and sent out an email asking our family and friends for help. This is what I sent:

Dear Friends,

Sorry this is kind of late--I just thought of it. We have a stocking hung for Theo (made by his great-grandmother, Jamie's grandmother) with a pretty dragonfly pin on it. I got really sad thinking that there will be nothing to put into his stocking for Christmas. And all of a sudden I thought of something really nice that all of you could do to help give Theo a present. And to help us feel a little better on Christmas. Sometime between now and Christmas, do something nice for someone, no matter how small or large, it doesn't have to involve money--just commit a random act of kindness. When you do it, think of Theo and dedicate that act to him and his sweet spirit. Please write it down and send it to me through e-mail. I won't read it. I will print it out and put it in his stocking and then on Christmas morning, we will open up all the notes and read them. If even only a few of you do this, we will have a really beautiful thing to share on Christmas in our sweet baby's memory and someone else (the recipient of your kindness) will benefit by a true example of the spirit of Christmas. I will pray that all of us will be struck by inspiration, that something will come to each of us, some kindness that we can share of ourselves, in Theo's name and in his memory, to benefit someone else. Thank you so much for your participation and your continued love and support,
Karla and Jamie

We received more emails that I ever imagined we would. People forwarded it on to others and I started getting mails in my inbox from people I didn't even know, from all over the country and from 3 other countries as well. It meant so much to us. Reading those kindnesses done in Theo’s memory and dedicated to his spirit got me through that terrible first Christmas morning without him. We continued the tradition the following year, 2007, as well.

The third year, I felt a little different. It wasn't as important to me to have the acts of kindness as tangible somethings in his stocking. It was just part of the way grief changes over time. I didn't need that physical act for myself anymore. I didn’t even need it for just him anymore. But I did want to continue the tradition of doing the acts of kindness in his memory. So I started Theo’s Stocking blog here and for the past 10 years, we have posted stories of the acts of kindness that people continued to send so that anyone who wanted to could share in the love. Even just reading the kindnesses makes your heart a little lighter and a little warmer.

Continuing the tradition of doing kindnesses in his memory brings the knowledge that the love, strength, beauty and goodness that he radiated still touches other people. I know that his love for us and ours for him continues to spread like waves of light into the Universe. One of the ways it does this is through simple acts of kindness that we choose to perform for no other reason than to help another person. And that is, of course, the true meaning of Christmas. It doesn't mean we have to spend a lot of money. It doesn't mean extravagance and isn't about feeling pressured to "do something." It can mean letting an extra car out in traffic—even when you are running late. It can mean holding open the elevator door for the person running to make it, taking the extra few minutes to really hear your co-worker's response to the routine "how are you?" It can be taking a bag of canned goods, even from your own pantry, to your community's Food Bank. It can mean giving your time to your church or volunteering for other charity. It can mean spending the few extra minutes to have a conversation with a neighbor or helping someone with their bags or leaving an extra $5 or $10 tip for your server.

We are all in need. When we find ourselves in times like these, times when we may feel frightened or bogged down in self-centered worries, the spirit of giving can truly provide, even if only for a moment, a respite from our own troubles, from our own anxieties and fears. For that brief moment we can be filled with that warmth of human kindness which is magnified by the act of giving of ourselves to others. If you try it, you will see.

We invite you to participate in filling Theo's stocking again this year. We invite you to do kindnesses in memory of your own beloveds who you are missing this season. We invite you to pass this forward, not only in your acts of kindness, but to others so they may have the opportunity participate, joining in to continue to spread the spirit of love and compassion through adding their own acts of kindness.

So, as I have asked every year:
Sometime between now and Christmas, do something nice for someone, no matter how small or large, it doesn't have to involve money--just commit a random act of kindness.  
If you would like to share it here at Theo’s Stocking, write it down and send it through email or Facebook Messenger.  Karlamarie@verizon.net or s2jafueg@vcu.edu

We will post your stories here on this blog as they are sent in so that we can all read and share in the kindness and love.

We wish a warm and safe and peaceful holiday to all. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Welcome ~

Welcome to Theo’s Christmas Stocking. You may have never been here before, or you may come here often. We encourage you to commit mindful acts of kindness for loved ones, friends, and strangers alike in honor of your beloved dead. The holiday season, traditionally a time of giving, provides us so many opportunities to do so. Send your act of kindness to us, and we’ll post it here in Theo's Christmas Stocking so that we can all share in the Spirit of Giving and Kindness.

Hey Professor F. 
Last weekend my family and I made some chili and went out to DC along with my church and served the homeless people there. Other people brought gift baskets with toiletries and stuff. The people there seemed to really appreciate it.

While usually I go to Monroe Park to give homeless people food, Monroe Park is closed. Where do they all go? I drove around a while and saw some dudes downtown who had some sad signs. I gave them bags of Hardees. True, fast food is not the best choice, but you never know: it maybe kept them from the brink of horrible hunger. Giving something small to someone might mean everything to them.

Monday, December 26, 2016


Hi Professor F,

A friend recently recited this mantra of hers to me; it goes along the lines of “never hesitate to help someone.” This philosophy was revealed after I mentioned to her that I wanted to treat this homeless man that we see often around campus. I happened to have an extra doughnut with me that I didn’t necessarily need because I had already eaten one. With her words of encouragement, I walked up to the homeless man with that gray cat of his, and simply handed him the treat and said, “I got this for you.” I didn’t really know what else to say---some people don’t like to be pitied---but I was relieved when he smiled and replied, “Thank you, love.” I’m glad that my friend told me this; her new way of living focused around providing others with a helping hand highlights the importance of giving back---an idea that is constant during the holiday season. I’m not sure why I was hesitant in the first place, but I’m glad to begin or rather continue, this journey of “giving” with the gift of self-satisfaction and respect.

Happy Holidays!


Hey Jamie,

Here's my good deed: a guy dropped a pallet of boxes on me at Walmart, the guy looked like he was having a bad day, and I helped him pick up all the boxes. He never said anything, but a bad day is a bad day.

Hope you and your family have a great holiday!

---Matt Clingempeel

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Dream

Prelude: Dream

I skim glistening waves of starcloud in a boat borne by weightless ancient dragonflies, one at the bow, one port, one starboard, one abaft, guiding from behind. My bright daughter Lula, the sun, hangs above me to my left, and the woman with whom I’ve chosen to share my life, Thelonius’ and Lula’s mother, Karla, the moon, hovers over my right shoulder. We sail to the distant Land of the Dead to visit our son and our brother Thelonius. I hope this time he will take a shape that is pleasing to see. In this Land of the Dead, the spirits sometimes recline on vast beds of ripe vegetation, sipping paradisiac joy from tulip cups, where laughter comes as easily as breath. But sometimes, dead shades mope in Grecian chains and groan with ghostly Roman longing, trudging through forever one-legged, syphilitic, blind. Other times in the Land of the Dead, blithe spirits romp with kittens, peacocks, lemurs and llamas, cartwheeling the Elysian Fields with giddy glee. Sometimes, though, the dead roast screaming in Christian pits of eternal Hell, or hide in the rotten cavities of Niflheim. And some other times, they stare at one another for days, and fall down laughing, in love with each other and with the sound of laughter, and with everything.
            It all depends on me: if my mind is right, my beloved dead boy will this time be as I choose to remember him when he was at his best, when he was smiling and eating, aping our expressions and laughing with us. If all goes well this time, when we reach that celestial shore, he will be as I choose to remember him.

Everything changes: this is for you

What will he look like this time?
            I run my vast catalogue of images of him through my mental viewfinder. Will he be the baby who emerged for his first breaths, fluid and wriggly, bloody but safe after such long labor? Or will he be stiff-armed and rigid, a crooked frame of locked muscles, his nervous system forever tight and impaired? Will he be happy and laughing, mirroring faces that brought him such joy, or will he be anxious and frightened, unable to comprehend the sounds he is hearing? Will his eyes be open or closed, laughing or frightened, amused or pained? Will they be focused on daddy and mommy and little sister Lula, or will he stare dead-eyed and blind, lost in a morphine haze? Will he be two months old, curious and amazed, or will he be three months old, stroked-out and nervous, startled at the world? Will he be nine months old, the age he reached when he died? Will he be filled with a tumor, with the wires and tubing that kept him alive? If he is nine months old, will a caretaker accompany him on the shore, a nurse or a nanny? Will this nurse be kind? Or might he be 11 years old, as he would be in this land of the living had he lived? Will he be good at math, bad at soccer, or brilliant at both? How tall will he be? How is his language proficiency? Is he good with his hands? Does he like to read? What kinds of books do the dead read?

            What will he look like this time? I think on all of the drawings I have made of Theo. Drawings as he was then, and as he is now---as barrel-chested baby and as skeleton. I have a big black book with thick paper, and with colored pencils and crayons and paint, I draw him. Sometimes he is a dragonfly, like those wise animals bearing our ship; sometimes he is only his tumor, a tiny human overwhelmed by black rot; sometimes he is a baby, sometimes an enormous, astonished eye floating in the sky. Sometimes he is an old man in an old hat and an old coat standing quiet in the rain. Sometimes he wears a golden dress. He is a cloud. He is in a purple tower. Through art, you find Self. Through art, you communicate with the your subconscious. In art, you can see your soul. It is one method by which you transform yourself. My Soul-Surgeon told me so, and I believe my Soul-Surgeon.
            I converse with Theo in my drawings. He tells me he is doing fine, that he is okay, that all is well. While it may seem insane to talk to my dead kid while rendering pictures of him over and over in different iterations, I think it’d be insane to ignore him.
            I see him everywhere, yet can never really see him. I close my eyes and am in the room where he died, and sometimes it feels like I never left that room. A crucial part of me died in that room, and when dementia and insanity claim me, I will eternally be locked in that room on Sheppard Street. I remember to the nearest skin cell and ounce what it was to hold him in my arms as he lived and died. I remember the pressure of his weight, the smell of his head, the texture of the sutures on his skull, the tubing of the catheters, of the machines, his intracranial pressure; my hands ache in the cold because of how hard I crossed my fingers to keep his ICP below 20. I remember the feel of his blind eyes and his chemohair and his soft blanket cloth, and they way he sucked the air when I placed him outside on a bed of fallen October leaves, knowing he’d never again get to smell this autumnal perfume.
            There is no cure for the grief that accompanies having a dead kid. And this grief becomes more acute during the holidays when I watch our sad TV, like the commercial wherein a rhythmless, drunken, red-and-white miniskirted woman throws presents at me in the spirit of the season. It seems the only way around the grief is through it, so I go through with paper and pen and paint and a wee dram of Maker’s Mark. I draw Theo. He is always changing; I draw Theo, and in minute ways, I change. And I write about it, and I change.
            Change can be good, change can be bad, change can be hard. Change is the only thing we can always count on. Nothing stays the same. This blog, a public forum, evolved from a private moment of intense pain. Karla’s experience on December 21, 2006 as she contemplated the empty and flat stocking which represented our first Christmas without our boy, our first Christmas with our dead child. The first year we asked our friends and family to do something kind for someone else. They typed down their stories and emailed them back to Karla. She printed them without reading them, folded them lovingly and put them in his stocking. On Christmas morning, the stocking was full. We read those gifts all morning. It changed our experience of that mournful day. The next year, she asked the same thing. The next year, we felt we wanted to share the kindnesses with a broader public and started this blog. People sent stories of kindnesses in Theo’s memory and we posted them here rather than stuffing the stocking. Soon after, we wanted this space to be for anyone to remember their loved ones.  
            We want this space now to be for you. It’s not about Thelonius anymore. Not really. He’s fine; all is well with him. What he’s left behind, this mess of a world, full of slavery and genocide and bullies and bullshit demagogues and guns and drugs and psychosis and murder and tumors and desires, this is the place of suffering, of bad decisions, of addiction and loneliness. If this stocking helps anyone aside from us, it is a good thing to keep doing. The holidays are enough of a slog. This stocking is for you. It is for you to remember your dead beloved. We are no longer doing this just to have something to put into a stocking made of felt and sequins. It is for you to think about what you’ve lost, and to try to make something nice, to make some sort of teensy weensy change somewhere with someone.

Postlude: Dream’s End

I stand in the bow of the boat and watch for the shoreline, Lula on my left, Karla to my right. My family is aglow, brighter and brighter, and the light wakes me and everything has changed again.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Day 2016

I baked a bunch of banana bread for the people I work with at school. In the main dining facility at school, there are a lot of non-student employees (dishwashers, prep-cooks). And often times the relationship between that group and the students is a little cold or non-existent. So in an effort to bridge the gap a little bit I brought some banana bread in on our last day before holiday break. 
---Tristan Heath

I was at the 10:30 pm Christmas Eve mass with my mom, dad and one of my brothers. We arrived at 10 p.m. so we were too late to find a seat together. My mom who had her hip replaced a year ago refused a seat. Not out of pride. The church was hot and humid and she wanted to stand by the open door. I watched as a mom of three with a new born hustled in the door and found a spot to stand next to a window on the other side of church. I thought, hopefully she will find a seat before mass starts. Mass was held in wonderful Franciscan church on Quantico. The Franciscan monks are known as the hippies of the Catholic Church. They teach love of all of God's creatures. The current pope chose the name of Francis and teaches similar to how the Franciscan monks have been teaching since my mom was a little girl. Because of its location, the parish mostly consists of marines, active and retired, and their families.
     As 10:30 approached older couples, young adults, and families of all sizes filed in the door. I noticed not one person had offered that mom with a baby strapped to her chest a seat yet. Even the elderly woman with her son next to me, not yet seated. I looked up and down rows for an opening to where I could point the couple. No luck.
     A man in a black suit seat near the choir gestured at the elderly woman and pointed to an open chair on the end. The chair was next to woman who was sharing a seat with her disabled son. He was 9 or 10 years old but could still fit on her lap for the duration of the mass. The man then walked to take his spot at the back of the church next to me. He gave me a warm smile and nodded politely at the elderly woman's son.
     Mass began, and the woman was now rocking her fussy new born as her two children were laying on the floor and climbing on the window somehow simultaneously. It made me cringe to think that I had not seen one person offer their chair to her or any of the others standing. The elderly woman sitting in the choir was now making friends with the woman and her son. They were smiling and whispering to each other during the sermon (I probably should have paid closer attention to the mass). As mass began to conclude, the young disabled boy climbed over the elderly woman and ran to the back of the church with a big smile. He ran into the open arms of the man in the black suit, then he shook hands with the elderly woman's son. It was only then that I realized the man next to me was not an usher, but the young boy's father. Everyone around the father and son smiled at the loving exchange.
     The woman with the new born never did get a seat, unfortunately. But that small act of kindness of the man and his family was still very heartwarming. I wish more could just offer one hour of standing, or sharing a seat, to allow room for someone who needs to sit.

---Christiane Morecock

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!!

This year I made a donation in memory of Theo (and in honor of Lula) to assist in purchasing an ultrasound machine for the pregnant women in Uganda.  

This is a project spearheaded by an anesthesiologist that I worked with for many years, Judy Gustafson.  She and her husband, Mark travel twice a year to Magale, Uganda to educate nurses, physicians and midwives.  Their team teaches infant CPR, heart sounds, surgical techniques, basic hygiene and hand-washing, and sunburn protection.  Their latest efforts were to help the albino members of the community and to provide equipment that we take for granted, like the ultrasound machine.  Through the years our staff has organized and supplied stethoscopes, medical equipment, teaching materials, and baby blankets for them to take to the clinic.  It has been a community effort within our OR/PACU departments.  In return, Judy provides us updates, photos, and needs lists for the next trip.  It has been a wonderful experience seeing this medical clinic evolve.  I wish there was more I could do to help, as I would love to travel with them sometime.  

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas season!

All my love --- Meg


I hope this makes it to you on time. This year has been especially hectic. I now have a baby son I am caring for at home while I teach classes at night and online, so I hope you understand about this gift coming in at the last minute. I have been thinking about you a lot again this year, as I have watched my son grow.  He has blond hair, like you, and he makes me laugh every day.

This year, in your memory, I have made a series of donations to a family in crisis. Their son was born with a rare and likely fatal condition called HLH. When little Sam was born this spring, his parents were seeking financial support so they could take time off work to be with him. The prognosis wasn’t good and the hope that he would make it through chemo and a bone marrow transplant was a long shot. He has had rough road, but he made it through these procedures, and the transplant seems to be taking. He went home from the hospital for Thanksgiving and is going well. The doctors believe he is likely to live a normal life. It truly is a miracle.

Aside from my donations to Sam’s family, I have resolved to always keep something in my car for the homeless folks I pass on occasion around Richmond and Bon Air. I kept bottles of water that I would hand out when the weather was warmer, and now, in the (not so cold) winter, I try to keep some cash on hand.

I have also joined a group—well, it’s an app actually on my phone—that allows me to offer guidance to blind people via my smartphone. They call and ask me questions and I am there to give them a little help. Last week, I helped a woman choose a color of yarn for an afghan she was knitting.

I am grateful to you, Theo, for reminding me to get involved and to help other people. It would be so easy, now that I have a baby, to put off helping because I feel busy much of the time, but you encourage me to live in the present and to do what I can when I can. That’s the gift you give me all year long.

Merry Christmas, sweet little boy.
Becky Boncal

Dear Professor Fueglein,

2 years ago, Safyre Terry lost her entire family in an arson attack. Today she is 8 years old. She suffered horrible burns all over her body and has lost her right hand and foot from the attack. This year for Christmas Safyre asked for Christmas Cards to fill her Christmas card tree. She's received many Christmas cards already! Her story and request went viral which is how I heard about her. My family wrote her a Christmas card and sent it to her. If you would like to send her a Christmas card as well, you can make it out to Safyre Terry, PO Box 6126, Schenectady, NY, 12306. I just wanted to share this as a dedication to Thelonius. Wishing you and your family Happy Holidays!
----Kinjal Patel

A week prior to finals, another student rushed up to me at the library as I was printing. She looked like she'd been or was about to start crying. She told me that she'd lost her student id and couldn't print anything, and that her final speech assignment for class was due in six minutes. Without her paper, she couldn't present. It was only 8 cents, so I printed her page out. She was ever so grateful and thanked me before sprinting off to make it to her class.
----Kal Boone

Professor F,
On my way back from work this morning I saw a homeless man holding a "anything helps" sign. I had a couple extra meal swipes on my card so I went to Bleeker and got a sandwich and chips and brought it to him. If nothing else, I know he had a damn good meal ‘cause Bleeker is the best!!
Yours truly,

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

10 Years of Kindness

On December 21st, the winter solstice, 2006, stockings were hung by the chimney with the greatest of care. I decided during that first Christmas season without our darling baby boy to decorate the house as if it were his first Christmas in our new home, just as if he were here to celebrate with us. He died on February 20, 2006 of a rare brain tumor. His first Christmas, 2005, he was here, we were together, but he was dying. That first Christmas, we were beyond sadness, living moment to moment, caring for his every need, not knowing how long it would be until he took his last breath, but knowing he would not live to see his birthday in May.

I don’t know what made me want to go all out with the decorations that year—I haven’t done it again since—but planning and decorating the entire house was a good distraction. It was painful yes, but it was also a creative act, which felt good. Making beauty where there was only pain felt like a good use of my energy and time. I still avoided the regular Christmas cheer though, I put the ornaments on the tree while watching Cujo and had a huge breakdown crying fit when Tad, the little boy in the movie stops breathing. I was crying and begging for him to live, terrified for his mother, even though I’d seen it before and knew that, in the film version, he does in fact, live. For the first time I could remember, I was exceedingly glad of Hollywood’s insistence on a happy ending. I just couldn’t stand it if that little fictional boy had died that day.

The last thing I did after finishing the tree and hanging wreaths and placing candlesticks in windowsills and lighting lights was the hanging of the stockings. Theo had a sweet felt stocking with a teddy bear sewn onto it, made by his great grandmother, Jamie’s grandmother, before she died. I hung Theo’s stocking last, next to our stockings, and then sat down to admire the finished, newly decorated living room. I do love the glow of the lights on the tree. In the silence, I gazed around the room. And in the stillness, the thoughts, and the grief, as they always do, began to rise.

Looking at his stocking, hanging there, empty, flat, with nothing in it, I thought of the coming Christmas morning and what it would be like to see his stocking remain empty on that day. Thoughts of putting things in the stocking and then opening it ourselves was heartbreakingly sad. Thoughts of leaving it empty and knowing that emptiness would continue to stretch into all future Christmases to come brought more waves of pain. Ten months into my new life of grief, a bare drop into a lifetime to come of mourning my beloved son in so many different ways, I thought I was rather used to the new and ever varied kinds of pain. Yet each time some fresh hell of a previously unimagined hurt swept through my heart and mind it was a brand new surprise. The empty stocking, hanging there, somehow full of every possible torture of all holidays to come without our child, was an indescribably original kind of gut-wrenching.

Suddenly inspired, I jumped up, ran up the stairs and sent off this quick email to friends and family:
Sorry this is kind of late--I just thought of it. We have a stocking hung for Theo (made by his great-grandmother, Jamie's grandmother) with a pretty dragonfly pin on it. I got really sad thinking that there will be nothing to put into his stocking for Christmas. And all of a sudden I thought of something really nice that all of you could do to help give Theo a present. And to help us feel a little better on Christmas. Sometime between now and Christmas, do something nice for someone, no matter how small or large, it doesn't have to involve money--just commit a random act of kindness. When you do it, think of Theo and dedicate that act to him and his sweet spirit.”

Now, 10 years later, the feelings surrounding Christmas are still very painful. Things are different, as things continue to be. It isn’t as important to me that people do things to help me feel better, or even that people other than us are thinking of Theo—though it is always a beautiful thing when I know that others are thinking of and remembering him. The acts of kindness are more about the pure acts themselves than about me or Jamie or even Theo. And this is really how Karma yoga, service to others, evolves over time. When we start out doing things for others, it is almost always self-motivated, and the more we persist, doing, loving, serving, the more it becomes simply about the works themselves. Serving others, releasing attachments to the outcome.

From the chapter on Karma yoga from my recent book Yoga for Grief and Loss:

            Teachers instruct that in performing Karma yoga we are to offer our actions to God, to the Universe, or to humanity. The ultimate goal is to allow our work to be transformed into purely selfless service to others. In grief, as in life, this is much easier said than done. However, when actions come from a place of love, whether the act is selfless, self-motivated, or driven by the desire for our beloveds to be remembered and known, the love itself can direct the outcome. When love drives the action, our personal motivation ceases to matter as much. Swami Vivekenanda taught in a series of weekly lectures given freely in his New York apartment in 1896, “We have to begin from the beginning, to take up works as they come to us and slowly make ourselves more unselfish every day. We must do the work and find out the motive, the power that prompts us; and, almost without exception, in the first years we shall find that our motives are always selfish. But gradually this selfishness will melt by persistence, till at last will come the time when we shall be able to do really unselfish work.”

I know that all the acts of kindness performed by so many who are remembering Theo, their own children and other loved ones who have died, all come from a place of love, and when this is the case, that love is directing the outcome.

Please feel free to take this idea and commit acts of kindness in memory of your beloveds and in the name of love and service. In doing this, we all get a little closer to perfect peace. Even for just a moment, which sometimes can last a lifetime.
I continue to pray, as I did that December 21st, 2006, that all of us will be struck by inspiration, that something will come to each of us, some kindness that we can share of ourselves, to benefit someone else. And that action will result in the fruits of love.

If you wish, email either of us your acts of kindness and we will put them here in this space rather than in the physical space of his stocking. Incidentally, we keep those slips of paper printed with the original kindnesses in his stocking year after year and read them every Christmas. Our family sends love and wishes of peace to all of you and yours this season. You can also comment in the blog.