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.

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. 

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.