October 3rd tends to swoop in and cover me in an eerily unusual calm. In the week leading up to it however, I’m a manic, grief stricken, emotional mess, inwardly. Outwardly I’m a mess that looks exactly like a person with perfectly manicured nails, expertly applied lipstick, and a perma-grin who goes around saying “I’m fine, really, but thank you for asking”. I find myself counting down the days until it’s over. Counting down the days until another of my deceased daughter’s birthday’s pass and I can get on with feeling the preemptive grief of Thanksgiving and Christmas, then New Year’s, then her death date. Then I get to swim along with eight blissful months of only my day to day grief, without some calendar specific date slapping me in the face.
This year was harder. It was easier. I don’t know what it was. I just know I’m fine, and also, I hurt, all at the same time. It’s just another day, and it’s not. I tend to start compulsively baking, eating, making craft projects, and shopping for all of the aforementioned during this time. Anything to take my mind of my lonely longing heart. Sometimes the pain is multiplied when combined with fear. Fear that she’s no longer my child, in the active sense, but just a memory to those who knew her, and worse, only a story to those who didn’t.
The thing you should know about grieving parents is that every time you want to tell family and friends about your child’s accomplishments, funny anecdotes of their behavior, or important memories you want to share, we do too. The problem is they’re physically gone, and you’ve most likely already heard everything we have to say. That’s one of the things that hurts me the most, I find. I want to talk about her. I want to tell about “the one time that…”, but there are no new stories share, no new pictures to show, nothing you haven’t heard before. So we talk in a loop, and keep bringing them up, not to make you sad or to make you feel badly about sharing your stories and pictures, but because we desperately want to be included, and don’t want our children to be forgotten.
I firmly believe that the purpose of my Miss Elliott’s life was to spread the message that every life is valuable and important, no matter how short, and no matter how small. I also believe that her work can continue, and that we can all help spread this message. This year as her sixth birthday approached I decided to start a campaign I called “Six Years Six Acts for Miss Elliott”. I challenged everyone to spend the week leading up to her birthday committing one random act of kindness per day. I further challenged people to move outside of their comfort zone by not simply purchasing a latte at the local Starbucks, but by trying to spend little or no money a few of those days and to do something they might otherwise not. The point of the exercise wasn’t to make it easy, it was to have some actual forethought, combine it with resolve, and take action for good.
Furthermore, I challenged individuals to reflect back at the end of the week to how their random acts of kindness affected not only the person they were kind to, but themselves as well. I took this challenge too, of course. And over the period of the next six days I found that on some days I used money for my kindnesses and some days I didn’t. Sometimes I spoke to the person/people and sometimes my kindnesses were anonymous. I also found that no matter what happened (even when certain stores refused to let me hand out my free kindnesses to customers, and I came home crying with Loren telling me her was sorry Corporate America ruined my attempt at changing the world), I gained something every time.
When I woke up on the morning of October 3rd this year, I felt relieved. I was overwhelmed by pictures and messages of people telling me about their kindness experience. I was blanketed in comfort which served as my armor against grief that day. Instead of wallowing in my sadness over her absence I had made the day meaningful for not only myself, but others as well. I don’t know how much exponential impact these kindnesses had on the world, but I hope it gave people a reason to smile, and I know it gave my daughter’s name relevance.