“What the heart gives away is never gone-
It is kept in the heart of others”
Robin St. John
One of the redefining moments for individuals who have experienced catastrophic loss is their ability to do something significant to honor the memories and legacies of their deceased loved ones. In the early phase of loss or transition, it is difficult for many to muster up the concentration and energy to accomplish this task.
During the first two-plus years after my daughter Jeannine died, the emotional pain associated with her death immobilized me. That, combined with my lack of energy, made it impossible for me to think of significant ways to honor Jeannine. In the tenth year of my journey, Jeannine’s life and passage into eternal life has become such a part of me that everything I do is an acknowledgement of her legacy.
The Quest for Meaning
On several occasions, I have heard parents express their desire in early grief to be able to discover ways to honor their children. I usually remind them that their desire will translate to action over time and to be gentle with themselves until they are able to take the next step towards transforming their grief into something meaningful.
It is my belief that we can begin to honor our children and loved ones, in general, through seemingly small acts. Many of these acts may have already been performed by individuals prior to experiencing the death of those significant to their lives. These acts can therefore be performed automatically, which is a benefit to those individuals addressing the challenges presented by the shock, numbness and lack of physical energy in early grief. These acts can have a positive impact in ways that we never dreamed possible.
The One-Cent Solution
I routinely return pennies that I receive as change from store purchases either by depositing them in a designated container or by giving them directly to the cashier. I recall doing this fairly regularly prior to Jeannine’s entrance into eternal life, but was never aware of its significance until now.
For example, I used to go to a convenience store near my former place of employment and would routinely leave my pennies for the storeowners. During a subsequent visit to this establishment, the storeowner expressed his appreciation to me for leaving pennies behind and vowed to make it up to me if I was a few cents short on a future purchase.
The Trickle- Down Effect
Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness can make a difference for a moment in the life of someone, perhaps someone you will never meet. Think about it, if you gave back six pennies a week, several people stand to benefit. First, the six individuals who were the benefactors of those pennies benefit because they do not have to break another bill to come up with the exact amount of their purchase. Plus the cashier benefits from learning about the joys of doing something nice for someone.
Of course, the benefactor of that penny may also choose to do an act of kindness, as well. A small act of kindness does have a trickle down effect. Who says a penny can’t change the world!
So what does the gift of a penny have to do with transforming our worldview after the death of our loved ones? In early grief, the pain that we feel is commensurate to the amount of love that we have for our loved ones.
For those who have been successful in finding meaning after death, the love that they have for those who have predeceased them generalizes to all who cross their path. The acts of kindness that follow are a product not only of our desire to do something positive in the face of catastrophic life events, but of the deep love that we have for those family and friends who have predeceased us. In this way, they are always present and partners in our quest to learn how to live redefined in a new world, and to help us redefine the world in which we live.