“Today is the anniversary of my mom Rita’s death. I was 22 when she died so this year has special significance as my daughter Emma is 22. We are going to do 22 kind things together in honor of my mom. The first is asking people to join us in honoring this day with an act of kindness. Would you consider doing something kind for someone today and sharing it with me? We will include your act of kindness in a prayer, along with those of my family, to send my mom this evening.”
That is that message I sent to family members and a few friends on Monday, October 22nd. It was my brilliant friend Audrey’s idea. She suggested it when I shared the fear of my mom’s impending anniversary. I thought the day would trigger a depression or something worse. She called her idea turning the tide on 22.
When the 22nd landed, I prepared to step on a land mine, a moment when sadness explodes without warning. Fortunately, I spent the day with sweet girls, as their substitute teacher, at the Atlanta Girls’ School. They kept me connected to love. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure the day would have been foggy.
For the kindness challenge, people responded in lots of different ways. Some made donations to nonprofits, some offered quiet gestures, and others gave their time to someone who needed it. My cousin Suzanne blew me away. She has two children and works twelve-hour shifts in a hospital as a physician. Her four-year-old daughter is currently in a body cast. She’s been stretched to the limit this last month. Still, Suzanne took time to do the following for a patient.
“I was rounding on a 75-year-old man who was admitted for passing out. He had a urine infection which was likely the cause, no other real issues and ready to be discharged. He had sad eyes. I was busy but thought of your message this morning so I decided to sit down in the chair and probe a little further.
His wife passed away last year and around the same time he lost his son to cancer. His other son was disabled at the age of 21 from a car accident and was living in a nursing home. He needed to talk. He needed someone to care. He needed to be heard. He never thought he would be old and alone and worries about what will happen to his disabled son when he passes away. He didn’t realize how much he needed his wife until she was gone. We talked about life. I offered bad ideas about getting involved in a church group or support group. He nodded. I could not help him but I could offer kindness and a conversation. I sat for 45 minutes with him as he unloaded some sadness from his heart. I think it helped him, I know it helped me. We miss you Rita and to young Annie who lost her mom at such a young age, I hope someone was there to sit and listen to you.”
Emma and I try to do something kind for someone every day now. My husband Mark and my son Matt joined the challenge too. So far, I’ve discovered that the best thing you can do is ask someone about themselves and be prepared to listen to his or her story with your whole heart. Today, a person I’ve never talked to before told me about his suicide attempts and how his fiancée helped him find meaning in his life. He is 22.
Kindness is starting to feel less about being kind and more about power. Each time I hear a story or do some small thing that brings a smile, I realize that kindness is a force. It no longer feels a bit silly to talk about. I’ve seen it in action enough to know that it is an electric and bold force for good.
October 22 will not just be a grim reminder that my mom is gone. It will be a national holiday for our family. The day we celebrate sharing our hearts with strangers and turning the tide on sadness.