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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 26, 2016


Christmas

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!

---Anonymous


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




Theo,

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,
----Gray




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. 

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.
                        Love,

                        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.
             Love,
             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:


Jamie, 

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