This Christmas will be our third Christmas without our beautiful boy, Theo.
This Christmas, were he here, he would be 3 years and 8 months old. Our son, our first born child, was the bravest and sweetest boy. Everyone who knew him, who saw him, who spent time with him, knew how special he was. Many people who did not know him, who never met him, also know and have been deeply touched by his life.
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. From the moment he went in to surgery, 2 days after be became sick, I kept a record of his life, his illness, his treatment, his death, his story, in a blog at http://www.babythelonius.blogspot.com/ Please feel free to go there anytime to read his story.
I wanted to create this new blog specifically for a very special project we call Theo's Christmas Stocking.
Holidays are very difficult after your child has died.
That sentence is an understatement and sounds almost ridiculously simplistic when held next to the actuality of the deep pain of living through holidays, birthdays, ordinary days, without your child. It is difficult to describe the depth of feeling, the depth of the pain, the weight of their absence. I must say in my experience, the first year following the death of my son was, as bereaved are told to expect, the "worst"—as in, "the first year is the worst". And it is true in many ways. After the first year, things do change. The pain is not as raw, not as omnipresent, it changes, but it is still there. It finds ways of sneaking up on you. Hitting at times when you don't expect it and hovering over everything at those times when you do expect it—like the holidays. The pain never really goes away, but it is true that after that first year, it seems somehow easier, more plausible, that we can and do find better ways to manage it. Better and more effective ways of living a productive life without breaking down every time we think of the fact that we are living our lives day after day and year after year without our precious child here with us in this world. It does seem that, after that first year, the possibility of living a productive and, yes, even a happy life while our child is dead, does become more feasible.
But it's still awful. It never stops being awful and unfair and deeply, deeply painful.
I am trying not to turn this space into a discourse on how finding the right support, having space and time to grieve, getting help if you need it if your life isn't so productive, and so many other things, are the right and helpful things to do if you are bereaved--even though those things are all very important and a lot of my thoughts and energies are focused in those directions since Theo has died. But I don't really want that to be the main focus here.
My reason for creating this blog is purely to share our Christmas Wish.
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 knew that I could not 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 my energies 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.
Smiling, I raced upstairs to the computer and sent out an email asking our family and friends for help. This is mail I sent:
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. We continued the tradition the following year, 2007, as well.
We want to make Theo's Stocking a tradition each year to celebrate the life and the continuing presence of our sweet boy in not only our lives, but others' lives as well. I know that his spirit and beauty touched more people than I will ever know and in continuing this tradition, he will continue to do so.
This year, it feels a little different. It isn't as important to me to have the acts of kindness done so that I will have something in his stocking, a tangible something to take the place of gifts he is not physically here to open. It is, I suppose, part of the way grief changes over time. I don't seem to need that physical act for myself anymore.
Instead, the act of continuing this tradition serves to remind and assure me that other people are thinking of him and remembering him, the two most important things to a parent who has lost a child. But even more than that, is the knowledge that the love, strength, beauty and goodness that he radiated will continue to touch other people, that it will continue to spread like waves of light into the Universe through simple acts of kindness that we will 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—not many people have a lot of extra money to spend anyway this year. 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. I can mean giving your time to your church or volunteering for other charity—they are all in dire need right now.
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.
This year it seems of particular importance too, not just for the very good reason of remembering and honoring Theo, but to share his legacy with his little sister.
Our beautiful daughter Lula was born this year and will grow up knowing she has a brother and knowing how very special her brother was and still is. In continuing this special tradition of Theo's Stocking, we can teach her not only about giving to others, but also have another opportunity to share with her about her brother; how his spirit continues to touch, teach and inspire others—including not only his parents, but so many, many others.
We invite you to participate in filling Theo's stocking again this year. We invite you to pass this forward, not only in your acts of kindness, but to others so they may have the opportunity to know of Theo and choose to 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 the two previous years:
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 at my home address or to email@example.com set up just for Theo mail.
This year, instead of printing them out and putting them physically into his stocking--which will still be hung--I will post them here on this blog as they are sent in so that we can all read and share in the kindnesses committed by others for this very special purpose.
We will make the pledge to post several times weekly the daily kindnesses that we will
commit, so that we can share with you throughout this holiday season. Please check back frequently to read about the acts of kindness being performed by all who participate.
We wish a warm and safe and peaceful holiday to you all—Thank you so much for your love and support.
To inspire, and if you have the time to read on, here are some of the previous acts of kindness done in Theo's honor from the past two holidays, Christmas 2006 and 2007:
For my gift to your family I chose to babysit for a mom with 6 kids so that she could Christmas shop peacefully and enjoy the alone time. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.
#1--I offered my car for jump-starting a beleaguered truck (even though I was already running late getting out of town). Sadly, the jump didn't actually start the truck--but at least it helped diagnose the problem!
#2--Margie and I shared our Jelly Bellies with a store clerk--he was delighted.
#3--We donated the book, "Corduroy," to the children's wing at a local hospital--a childhood favorite of mine that my mom always kept in her collection for teaching first-graders how to read.
Dear Theo, Tonight my wife and I performed a Buddhist practice called Shower of Blessings an d I thought of you and your parents, with love and all warm feelings.... Compassion is forever, and love is forever, and therefore you are forever.
I thought and thought about what to do for you. I wanted to do something that would directly help another child in need. Then one day I was reading Sports Illustrated (I am a closet sports fan) and saw a beautiful article about the Nothing But Nets program. It was started by a sports writer who heard about all of the children in Africa dying of malaria. He cleverly brought awareness to the cause by inferring that most sports are played with nets, but who knew that nets could also save lives? Thousands of children have benefited from having mosquito nets placed over their beds to prevent the spreading of malaria. Since we know that two nets will be sent in your honor, we can only hope that they will help protect small children who would otherwise be vulnerable to disease. I hope that your mommy and daddy find some comfort in knowing this.
Dear Karla and Jamie,
I have visited an old person's home and given a Christmas card to all the residents, along with a Santa pillow to go on their couch. How lovely that your beautiful baby has engendered so many warm acts and the spreading of loving care.
Hi Karla and Jamie,
This is such a good idea- you're the best!! We are participating in the United Christmas Donor Program, which is operated by the United Way of Central Indiana. Caseworkers from various agencies in central Indiana have referred the families with the greatest need to the Donor Program to receive holiday assistance. We were assigned a single mother with 5 kids, ranging in age from 4-14. Their mother lost her job in 2006 and they have had a difficult time. They lost their home and don't have a running vehicle. They have secured housing and our friend is working with their caseworker to try and find them transportation or get their vehicle repaired. The family provided a wish list and we were able to get almost everything on the list. We found out yesterday that they don't have a Christmas tree, so right now, our friends are helping with getting together decorations and a tree to deliver to them tomorrow with their gifts.
In honor of Theo, I have purchased a dragonfly ornament for their Christmas tree.
My friend and I did something we called "guerrilla love," in which we wrote down on pieces of scrap of paper the words "you are beautiful." The papers looked like someone had to write something in a hurry and was using whatever was at hand. We each took ten of these and secretly put them out into the world: on windshields, in tip jars, in bike helmets hung on locked bikes.... Our idea was that someone would come back to that spot and have the experience that the message was written just for them (which of course it was, we just didn't know who "they" were). An anonymous note saying "you are beautiful," a message from someone out there, it can make a person's whole day, or at least that's what we told each other when we thought it up. We found the feeling of spreading that kind of joy and reassurance is infectious and wonderful!
So, in honor of Theo's bright spirit, with the love that surrounds him in mind, I repeated the "guerrilla love" tactic and passed out ten messages anonymously to ten people with the words, "you are beautiful" over the course of the day.
Thank you, Theo, for reminding me of how good that feels.
Karla and Jamie,
I was at the CVS the other night and found myself helping an elderly man to his car with his bags. As I did, your email asking us to think of Theo came right to mind. As I walked to my car from his, I remembered the times I spent with Theo. Although they were brief, they touched me.
I am here in the office today passing out gifts and am thinking of Theo, you, and Jamie with lots of love. I expressed your request to some of my friends and they said that they would, during this season,think of everyone who has lost someone, particularly those who have lost children. I hope these simple acts of kindness and reflection, in Theo's name,brings you some peace and warmth during this season. Theo is loved.
Last Friday, I had an overwhelming feeling about my husband's grandmother. She has been bedridden with Alzheimer's and its effects. I called my husband and told him he needed to see her. That same day, she had slipped into a coma. She passed away Monday. My husband's Mom and I have never really been close, and it has always been a strained relationship for a variety of reasons. When she called about her own mother, I felt awful. I thought, I really should do something for her. But then my mind rolled back to the number of times that I had been disappointed by her, and her lack of support toward me during recent deaths in my family. I let it get the best of me and I thought...no, I don't want to help her out. But then your sweet angel's face and name came into my mind. I decided that I should do something because it is the right thing to do, and I would let him be my guide to help her out. I have talked to her daily about what she needs. I have made her chicken noodle soup, and delivered it to her.
It is bittersweet to me that I needed a tiny baby to remind me of what was right...and to take the high road. I also thought that maybe she needs guidance in how to help family members in troubling times. I can help her do that with Theo on my mind and heart. This may not seem earth-shattering, or even significant to you. But I want you to know that Theo helped me build a bridge of forgiveness with my mother-in-law. I will be forever grateful. Who knows where it will lead us, but I know that I made a good decision and helped someone in need in honor of Theo.
Dear Sweet Baby Theo,
We tried to think of something to do in your honor, something special. We know the holidays are hard for lots of families that don't have a lot but also so many animals that don't have families or nice places to live or anything to eat. So we bought a BIG bag of dog food to take to the Richmond SPCA in your honor. We placed it under their tree and said a prayer of gratitude and sent you a kiss to the stars. We look for you on dragonfly wings, we know you are not physically here but your spirit is EVERYWHERE. We love you baby.
Dear Jamie and Karla,
Well, I have to say your email resulted in me reflecting quite a bit on how much kindness I offer to the world and whether I'm making any difference that matters. I've been obsessing on it a little, to tell the truth, but I think this a good thing given that it's Christmas. What better time? Let's get back to that issue shortly. For now, though…My wife and I were talking (not so much about giving, but about other events in our life) and she told me that there's this old woman in a wheelchair who comes into the Starbucks she manages, and that she's always appalled to see people pretending the woman's not there. They don't hold the door, blow past her, all that. My wife not only makes her drink but takes the time to deliver it, makes sure she has a sip, and wipes her mouth with a napkin if need be. Am I doing anything like that on any regular basis?
My wife and daughter volunteered their time to Christmas wrap boxes for Meals On Wheels. I was home with our baby son feeling that was good enough at the time, but now realize I should have been there too. Sure, more than likely, we would have been chasing the baby all over the room, but at least I might have wrapped one box…So, we return to the issue I mentioned at the start. What the heck have I done lately to make anyone's life better? Probably not that much, really. And for the past few days I've kept looking around to see if I could do something, half-hoping a puppy would run out onto the road for me to save, or something along those lines. That didn't happen, so I got to thinking and this is what I managed to come up with for this year:
I did take the time the other day to ask the guy working the cash register at Sheetz if all the ringing of the kitchen timers made his ears hurt at night when he went home. He told me it used to bother his sleep at first, but he's gotten used to it. I told him I used to be a bartender, and after busy nights back then my dreams were often interrupted by people popping into my mind to ask for a drink. I learned he wants to be bartender when he's old enough.
Along the same lines, at Ukrops not too long ago, I learned that the old lady slicing my turkey has lived in Virginia her entire life and she bought a house on the water thirty years ago. Something I don't imagine we'll ever be able to afford, and I told her so. Suddenly, she was rich and I was poor. That felt good, all things considered at the time.
I became friends this year with a woman at work whose husband died this time last year. I'd pretty much bypassed her before, but I ended up getting to know one of the nicest people imaginable. She ended up giving me her husband’s coats because she didn't want to see them go off to Good Will anonymously, and I wear them proudly (they are truly beautiful coats).
Lastly, the other day, the guy next to me in a public restroom was having a bit of difficulty getting started, so I kept flushing my urinal and whistling until he was fine and things were flowing. Hey, you do what you can, right? Tomorrow, though, I'll see if I can do more. Thanks, mostly, to your note.
I don't have to worry about those around me contributing. Evidently, they've been light years ahead of me the entire time. Clearly, I'm not the champion of this story, but the one who has much to learn. I have no doubt that those around me are also doing the small stuff too, and not even thinking about it either way, before or after. They're just more advanced than I am. Another chance to learn. I hope this letter is worthy of being in Theo's stocking, and that the two of you enjoy reading it on Christmas morning. By the way, we passed your email onto others, so you may be hearing from people you don't know at all. Hope that's okay. Such a wonderful (perfect, really) idea.
Dear Mr. F and Family,
After class on Thursday I couldn't get what you said and what you had asked of us out of my head. So the other day at the super market I was getting a Christmas bag for my mother and as I walked out this elderly woman was struggling to push her grocery cart to her car. So I offered to help and unloaded the groceries into her car. I hope that I can add to the many gifts that you will receive this Christmas. May god bless you all and may you have a wonderful Christmas filled with happiness and Love.
Dear Jamie and Karla,
We thought of Theo lat night when my family went caroling around my brother's neighborhood. The joy that music brings and the tradition of sharing happiness with others at the holidays reminds us that gifts need not be tangible in order to be deeply felt and meaningful.We wish you much joy and peace at the turn of the new year.
I am sending this much later than I intended to and hope that it's not too late to include in Theo's stocking. In honor of Theo and our loved ones, we donated three flocks of chicken and a goat from Heifer International.
I'm almost late with this. But I was telling my boys about the story you told us: how you have the kindness stories emailed to you and put them in Theo's stocking and read them Christmas morning, and then I told them my story I had planned to send you (but got too busy to send), and they insisted: do it now, at 11:15 on Christmas eve, send it now. So before we read The Polar Express, like we do every Christmas eve, I'm sending this out to you -- hopeful you or your wife will be up late and will get it before tomorrow morning and it will find its way into that stocking with the other stories: our collective love of your baby son.
I was in Costco printing pictures. Only one machine worked; the other was broken, and a long line of disgruntled, impatient needing-pictures-for-Christmas-immediately people stood behind me. Directly behind me was an elderly man, kind of chubby, wearing overalls. He heard the grumbles of the woman behind him, how I was taking too long, how she didn't expect to spend all afternoon in line at the picture machine in Costco. He cajoled her and smiled and reminded her that this was the season, and hey, at least she had her health. Finally, I was finished. I looked back at him and apologized. He said, "I have never used this machine." He looked kind of hesitantly at the long line of unhappy people behind him. "I'll show you," I said. And so there it was: he and I, downloading his hundred or so pictures, and he had to stop at many of them to tell me who everyone was: "That's my granddaughter Marylee" he said. And another of Marylee. And another. He chuckled and shared stories and those people behind him complained and glared and talked impatiently among themselves. And we didn't care. And I felt the best feeling: that feeling of helping out this man who was so joyous about his granddaughter, a feeling of stopping the frantic rush of Christmas to simply share a moment with a man I didn't know.It was good. And I thought of your baby. How he'd want to hear those stories about Marylee too.
Dear Jamie and Karla,
This weekend, we stopped traffic in Arlington to dig through our purses and find money for a woman who held up a sign: "homeless artist." She had that dizzy kind of blonde hair that I love, and wore this black coat with a matted fur collar, and horns were blaring and the woman ran to our car, babbling her thanks, and we were digging like crazy to find any bills we could, as cars made their way around us and the crazy world went on.All the good things we do, are done with the backdrop of the frenzy of this season. Thank you for reminding me to do good things. Thank you for the opportunity to share them with you and remember your special boy.
Dear Mr. Fueglein,
The last day of class really made me think of the importance of family. My act of kindness was simply to spend some time with my mother, which I do not do as often as I should. She leaves for Japan on the 29th, and I made sure we spent a lot of time together before she leaves. Thank you—and Theo—for everything you've taught us this semester. Merry Christmas to you and your family.
You, your wife and your son Theo have been on my heart ever since you shared the letter your wife wrote last Christmas. I hope this email finds you both filled with peace as you celebrate your son in such a beautiful way. Your request, in honor of Theo, made me much more aware of my interaction and treatment of others. I hope I will continue to live in a kind of way that will honor Theo. I am grateful that you shared with us all your request. It really touched me in many ways. The things I did were by no means huge, but I think the message you conveyed put it best. It is the simple things that make the most difference.
For me they were patience and thinking of others needs: When wanting to get home after a long evening I let other cars go ahead of me and was actually happy to do so even though I was so tired. After I was cleaning all day, my husband was fixing a door and made a mess with wood shavings all over a freshly vacuumed floor, and instead of being critical I related to his frustration that the simple project had turned into this huge ordeal and he was frustrated. I was thankful of his work and tried to understand where he was. We were both trying hard to get ready in a short time for guests and doing this project was not in the plan but had to get done for the door to fit in place. Those are two things that come to mind - I hope that there have been more ways in which I was able to honor Theo and your family I wish you a blessed Christmas!
This is such a small thing, but its fresh in my mind because it happenned today. I was late as usual mailing my Christmas cards and packages so there I was standing in the postoffice line in the few seconds I had to spare before Zach gets off the bus in between seeing pts. (That had to be a run-on sentence-sorry Jamie). Anyway, the lady behind me had 2 small children with her, one of which was in her arms and in desperate need of a nap. She only needed stamps. When my turn finally came, I knew I could wait a few more seconds, no matter what else was on my agenda. I motioned for her to go ahead of me and she was very appreciative. It was a little thing but I've been there before in her situation and knew it would make a difference to her. Have a wonderful Christmas. I think of you all of the time and Theo's stocking is a wonderful idea.
Please email your Kindnesses to Karla's home email or to firstname.lastname@example.org