Saturday, February 11, 2017

Happy birthday, my child

Dear Lovey,

It's hard to believe that 23 years ago today you birthed from my womb into our waiting arms. I can't help but wonder what you would look like now, what you would have accomplished, and what goals would be in your cross hairs next.

Would you have reached your dream of the Olympics? Would you be graduating from Stanford?

One thing is for certain—in the short time you spent here, you taught us to use compassion to make a difference. I've tried to model myself after you, and like to think you would be proud of the person I've become, even though my heart is heavy on days like today. 

More than ever I yearn to wrap both arms around you, steal a kiss from the top of your head while secretly taking in the smell of your hair. I want to feel the softness of your teenage skin. I want to make jewelry with piles of pearls, crystals, and elements spread across the table between us. I want to rock out to music together on the way home from the pool.

These are the things I think of every day, but they're especially tender on days like today.

Most days I want to spare the world my pain. But in moments like this I want the world to know that grief is okay.

I want them to know it is okay for me to be sad, that my heart hurts years later and I will cry, but they should not be frightened of that. 

I know there will always be some who lack compassion and cast judgement against my sorrow, but they do so only out of fear for their own grief not yet experienced.

One day they too will learn that great sorrow stems only from great love.

So Lovey, on your birthday today I make you two promises. First, I will never be angry at those who tell us to get over it. Their judgement is cast out of fear, and I cannot be angry at fear. Second, I vow to cover the brokenhearted who are stung by such words with love and compassion so they don't feel alone. 

Because loneliness on this journey surely turns a tender heart bitter.

And a bitter heart in a living person is more tragic than a tender heart in a dead person.

Lovey, you had a premonition that we would soon be separated. I don't think you were afraid to die. I think you feared for the grief I would face.

But there is no need for you or anyone to fear my grief.

It is the worst journey imaginable, yes. But I am a better person because of it. 

It has taught me to see outside my own world.

It has opened a vein of compassion that never runs dry.

It has taught me patience and grace in the face of judgement.

My world, blessed with loving family and friends, has grown even richer with new friends who are old souls of the very best kind.

It's your birthday today, and yet I feel like it is I who has been given gifts—gifts of purpose amid pain, gifts of kindness amid judgment, gifts of helping others to help my own heart to heal.

I am not afraid of the grief I now bear. For without grief there would be no need for hope. 

And hope is the best gift of all.

Happy birthday, Lovey. I love you.

Love,
Mom  XOXO

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Power of Kindness, Endorphins & One Judgmental Judy

Yesterday a woman said she would only donate to Project Kindness if it benefited Americans, not the orphanage we're delivering supplies to in Costa Rica. Although her judgement hurt, she wasn't wrong. I get it. There are plenty right here in our own back yard who could use these supplies. 

Yet her words stung. 

But I forgive her, because she just didn't know.

She didn't know that I've spent the last 30 years tending to those in our own backyard. I've prayed with addicts on dark streets at night. I've given socks to homeless people with bare-footed babies in December. I've fed hot meals to lines of hungry people. I ran supplies down the hospital corridor when I was a teen. And fought fires and saved lives out in the field in my thirties.

Yes, I started volunteering that young. I'm now 51, and it's never gotten old. 

After we lost Aly, my volunteering shifted from helping others to helping myself. Spreading kindness became the balm that soothes my broken heart. Just like a runner needs to hit the open pavement for a daily dose of endorphins, I need to give. Spreading kindness is my endorphins.

Also just like a runner, I don't always take the same route. When giving to others, a change of scenery is good once in a while. 

Judgmental Judy also didn't know that Aly's birthday is just on the horizon. I feel the sorrow deep in my bones. To handle the added layer of sadness that comes with certain days of the year, I need to up the ante to find my endorphins. Delivering supplies to the poor around Aly's birthday is the perfect way to spread kindness and help my own heart to heal.

But why Costa Rica and not East St. Louis? 

Because Aly was mesmerized by Latin America. She studied the Mayans, the Incas, and Easter Island every chance she got and it was on her bucket list to visit those places. But she died before she understood what fueled her fascination. 

Maybe, just maybe, when we deliver donations to Costa Rica, we'll find out. And if not, there is always next year. And the year after. Just like in America, there are plenty of people who need kindness in Peru, Brazile, Chile, and Honduras.

That's why Judgmental Judy's words sting my soul. She would only help Americans. My dear sweet hubby is Australian. Should he help only Australians? I'm a female. Should I spread kindness only to other females?

Of course not.

In between trips seeking to understand Aly's fascination, I'll continue to deliver kindness right here in my homeland. I'll hold babies born to addicts on American streets, soothing their wail as their wee body goes through painful withdrawals. And continue my work alongside our Grief Diaries village helping to bring comfort and hope to others through sharing our own stories of survival.

Maybe one day I'll run into Judgmental Judy and have a chance to explain the power behind spreading kindness both near and far. But I won't explain to her why we do this in February, near Aly's birthday. Or why we chose Costa Rica, a region Aly loved. 

There's a proverb that says to be careful with words, because once they are said they can only be forgiven, not forgotten. I may never forget the sting of Judgmental Judy's words, but I do forgive her absence of empathy and understanding—she has never walked in my shoes.

She doesn't know that spreading kindness is my endorphins. 

She doesn't know that helping others helps my own heart to heal.

She didn't know Aly, nor her fascination with Latin America. 

She doesn't know the lifetime of sorrow I now carry in my heart.

When we deliver donations to the poor in Costa Rica, I'll think of Judgmental Judy. 

And be glad for her that she just doesn't know. And hope she'll be spared from ever finding out.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

5 Shocking Myths About Drunk Driving-And Why We Ignore Them

New Year’s Eve is a time of closing out the end of the year and ringing in the new. Filled with gaiety and parties, it also caps off the deadliest season for drinking and driving according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The predictable toll from impaired driving results in a life sentence of heartache for everyone.

No one ever sets out to maim or kill when they make a choice to get behind the wheel while drunk, but that’s the thing about alcohol—it impairs our judgment. Partygoers who are too intoxicated to make the call for a taxi or Uber somehow escape the watchful eye of friends, bartenders, and store clerks. 

Consider the case of Brandon Thomas. The 17-year-old student was on his way home in December 2012 when a 22-year-old drunk driver drove north in the southbound lane of Highway 22 south of Calgary. By the time Brandon saw the drunk driver in his lane, he had no time to react and was hit head-on. The 22-year-old, who had no prior run-ins with the law, was arrested at the scene and then released while Brandon went to the morgue.

On a busy stretch of freeway at rush hour, how did the drunk driver, who struck two other vehicles in his three-quarter ton truck before killing Brandon, get so far on the road? 

That’s the thing about drunk driving—because of the myths that continue to surround alcohol, partygoers and their friends can easily fall victim to common deceptions. Because of the destruction left in the wake of those who succumb to the effects before planning ahead, the cost to our society is dear. With New Year’s Eve upon us, one of the deadliest weekends of the year, dispelling the myths that continue to surround drunk driving bear repeating—because the life saved may be your own.

Myth #1: Drunk driving is just an accident.
It’s not an accident when a person makes a decision to drive drunk, distracted, or in a negligent manner. It’s a crash that is fully avoidable. In a time when Uber and Lyft are just a finger swipe away, partygoers who fail to plan ahead really have no excuse to overlook responsibility. “It is a conscious choice resulting in a preventable tragedy,” says Bill Downs, president of the nonprofit organization AVIDD, and a father who lost three kids to a drunk driver in 2007.

Myth #2: Alcohol affects only seasoned drunks and young adults.
That’s another thing about alcohol—you don’t have to be a drunk to be drunk. It impairs the judgment of everyone, not just alcoholics and young 20-something males. Consider the case of Janakae Sargent. One night in November 2006, the 20-year-old Texas Tech University was easing into an intersection in the same moment a 48-year-old female ran a red light in excess of 100 mph, striking Janakae’s pickup. She died four days later from her injuries. The drunk driven had a blood alcohol content of 0.25 percent. Janakae had nothing in her system; not even an aspirin.

Myth #3: Intoxicated people look obviously intoxicated
Not all intoxicated partiers look drunk as they get behind the wheel of a car. Short-term effects of alcohol begin with relaxation and reduced inhibitions, which is what makes alcohol so tempting. In an effort to keep the buzz going, partygoers continue the alcohol. As the blood-alcohol content increases, brain activity slows down. Concentration begins to dive, and reflex and response time become dangerously slow. All the while, the drinker’s outward appearance looks deceptively fine. This is how they escape the watchful eye of friends, bartenders and store clerks.

Myth #4: Coffee or cold air will sober up the drinker
The only way to get sober is to allow the body time to metabolize the alcohol. On average, it takes approximately 2 hours to metabolize 4 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirit. Simply put, there is no magical shortcut to sober up. Until then, your brain remains under the influence.

Myth #5: A DUI can be resolved in under a couple of years
Sure, the drunk driver faces charges and court time but in instances of vehicular homicide caused by drunk drivers, these offenders rarely receive a life sentence in prison. The victim who is injured, or the family left behind when a life is lost, is handed a life sentence of grief and pain.

We all want to enjoy the final holiday of the year. Dressing up, cutting loose, and letting our hair down with friends is tradition for many. But if you haven’t yet planned ahead for the safety of yourself and others, I’ll leave you with the following poem. Written by Janakae Sargent at the tender age of 13, her mother found it after her daughter’s death—7 years later. Eerily describing the crash, Janakae had titled it “Life.”

LIFE - By Janakae Sargent

I went to a party where they were serving beer

I didn’t drink once that night because the results I fear

I know the effects of drunk driving now more so than ever

The choices some people make just aren’t very clever

I was leaving the party so I would be home by curfew

I saw headlights on the wrong side of the road

The other driver didn’t have a clue

That he was about to hit me, there wasn’t anything I could do

Now I’m in a hospital where everything is new

The other driver sent a card; I hear he’ll be all right

The doctors told me he didn’t need to stay the night

They also said I’m paralyzed from the waist down

That’s the thing about doctors; they don’t mess around

I’m lying in a bed that isn’t mine, and I have a few questions to ask

My future’s uncertain, my present dark,

and I don’t wish to speak of the past

I didn’t drink and drive, and I wouldn’t let my friends.

So why am I to be the one who will never walk again?

_____

Lynda Cheldelin Fell is the award-winning author of Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss by Impaired Driving, one title in her 5-star series dedicated to raising awareness on relevant issues. Learn more at www.LyndaFell.com.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Poem

A poem for all my friends and family with heavy hearts.

T’was the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Lost in deep slumber, tucked warm in our beds,
our hearts were heavy as memories danced in our heads.

What are loved ones doing in heaven on this night?
Are they sending us kisses by the moon’s magical light?
Or do they dance among the gifts sitting under the tree
waiting for family to open with laughter and glee?

I tossed and I turned, caught up in my sorrow
And finally got up before the clock struck tomorrow.
What was I searching for in this quiet hour?
I didn’t know; I just felt lost in sad dour.

As I sat in the dark watching the tree all aglow
I pondered a small glass of top-shelf merlot.
Would it ease my sorrow, bring joy to my heart?
Oh, how I wish I could find some kind of jumpstart.

And that’s when I spied it, a book on the shelf;

it sat right next to my grandson’s red-suited elf.
The book beckoned me, and I knew in my heart
that the comfort it offered would sweetened my tart.

I opened the book and made some new friends
and followed their journey through bumps and the bends.
I read about their tears, fears, and feeling insane
and learned how they survive through the terrible pain.

Inspired by their determination to go on in spite of their loss,
I marveled that my heart now felt less cross.
How could it be that such stories, so broken,
could soothe my own heart from words written, not spoken?

I realized then why the stories touch me so deep inside.
It’s a gift from each writer to readers who’ve cried.
The stories, as hard as they are, offer little gifts of hope.
They say “We’re with you; you aren’t alone as you cope.”

I finished the book, and the top-shelf merlot.
My heart felt lighter than it did hours ago.
I made my way back to my cozy-warm bed,
laid down and pulled the covers up to my head.

As my family continued in deep slumber,
I marveled that angels in heaven must be a large number.
No longer was my heart heavy with sorrow
because I now knew I could face another tomorrow.

If my friends in the book could cope and survive
I reasoned that perhaps I could at least try.
As slumber overtook me, I drifted off to sleep.
Feeling less lonely now, I had no need to count sheep.

One final thought drifted through my sleepy head
as I laid there tucked in my cozy-warm bed.
What are loved ones doing in heaven on this night?
Are they sending us kisses by the moon’s magical light?
Or do they dance among the gifts sitting under the tree
waiting for family to open with laughter and glee?

Yes, I believe they are.
Merry Christmas to me.

By Lynda Cheldelin Fell
12/24/2016


Friday, December 16, 2016

Happy anniversary to me?

One year ago today I released the first books in the Grief Diaries series. And today I'm releasing the 20th.

In the past 12 months, we've grown to over 500 writers, published 20 titles, and earned 4 literary awards. 

But today's release is bittersweet for me. 

When we lost Aly, our 15-year-old daughter, in 2009, my dear sweet hubby buried his grief in the sand. He escaped into eighty-hour work weeks, more wine, more food, and less talking. His blood pressure shot up, his cholesterol went off the chart, and the perfect storm arrived on June 4, 2012. Suddenly my husband began drooling and couldn’t speak. At age forty-six, he was having a major stroke.

My husband survived the stroke but couldn’t speak, read, or write, and his right side was paralyzed. Would things have been different had I understood what was going on inside my dear sweet hubby's head? I knew what was going on inside his heart: utter devastation. But he hardly cried. Why? Could I have prevented the stroke, and spared our family another tragic turn of events, if I had the resources to know what my husband was feeling? 

Yes, today is a milestone, but a bittersweet one. I wish this book had been around when we lost our daughter, so I might have had a better understanding of my dear sweet husband’s state of mind. Would it have prevented his stroke? I’ll never know. But I’m comforted knowing that this book is now available to help others better understand loss through the eyes of the men they love.

A heartfelt congratulations to the 14 men brave enough to bare their hearts for strangers around the world to read. Yes, real men cry. Maybe, just maybe, this book will help fight the man code, the stigma, that men shouldn't cry.

Real men do cry. And these men are brave enough to share it. Thank you Chuck Andreas, Jeff Baldwin,Robert Boos, Rodney Bruce Cloutier, M G Coy Jr, Bill Downs, Jim Fennell, Jeff Gardner, John Pete, Carl Harms, Stephen Hochhaus, David Jones, Robert L Rieck, Michael Gershe, and thank you to Glen Lord for writing the book's foreword.

Happy one-year anniversary, Grief Diaries. 

#GriefDiaries #GriefMen #RealMenCry

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Coincidence or Fate?

On the eve of releasing our 19th Grief Diaries title, Poetry & Prose and More, I stand in awe of the beautiful assortment of entries collected in this book. Some are tender, some are raw, others are inspirational. This one in particular was just lovely. Enjoy!

Coincidence or Fate
BY MARILYN ROLLINS
2011

On a return trip from the deep south, we were on I-65, in northern Alabama when my husband suddenly turned off an exit and said, “We need gas.” I noticed that there were no gas stations right off the interstate and said to him, “Well, we’d better go on to the next exit.” He crossed back over I-65 but continued on the back roads. 

Since this is not what my husband would normally do, I questioned him again, telling him that if we were that low on gas we should go to the next exit and not roam a strange area on a back road. He continued on, and in a few minutes we did find a gas station. He began pumping gas as I dug for money to get a bottle of soda. As I walked into the store, Bob was talking to a man about our “tiny travel trailer,” which has a very retro look to it. When we had paid for everything, we pulled forward. Bob had told the man and his lady friend that he would show them the inside of the trailer. 

The lady friend stepped in first and fell in love with it. She commented, “Oh, we have talked so much about doing something like this, but I lost my only daughter a couple years ago in an accident, and I just haven’t wanted to do anything.”

I was stunned. I showed her Randy and Sara’s pictures and told her how we had lost them in an accident five years ago. We hugged for a few seconds. She had never heard of The Compassionate Friends. I had her sit down at the dinette and for the next thirty minutes or so I told her all about TCF and how I have come full circle and am now a chapter leader for the group. 

When we got back on the road, I looked at my husband and said, “That was supposed to happen, wasn’t it?” He just smiled back at me and said, “And you didn’t think I knew where I was going.”

I had just finished reading a book, An Invisible Thread, by Laura Schroff, based on the premise that we are all connected to the people that we are supposed to meet by an invisible thread.

What led us up that road? Was it coincidence, or were we connected to that lady and gentleman by an invisible thread?

After finding a campground for the night, we settled in. The next morning, Bob topped off the gas tank again as we began the last leg of our journey home. He went into the gas station and on the way in he bent over and picked up something. I knew that he had found “a penny from heaven.” As he walked back to the truck, he bent down again and smiled as he picked up a second one. We so often find them two at a time. One from Randy and one from Sara.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The 12 Nights of Christmas

T’was the first night of Christmas
And all through your house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Except suddenly one little soul did appear
It’s your Little Elf, and he brings holiday cheer!
Tonight it’s a partridge for your pear tree
And tomorrow, who knows, You must wait and see
So turn on your porch light each evening with care
And know that your gift soon will be there
But don't try to catch him or he'll disappear!

Have you heard of The 12 Nights of Christmas? Also known as Secret Santa, I came across this concept years ago while reading "In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas" by Dan Schaeffer. In the back was a chapter describing his family tradition modeled after the 12 days of Christmas. Beginning on December 13 and ending on Christmas Eve, the family left a treat along with a cute poem on a neighbor's porch every evening. The whole idea was to teach kids that giving was just as fun as receiving.

Twelve nights sneaking around the neighborhood playing ding dong ditch? How fun! I especially loved the idea of helping my kids learn the joys of giving at such an impressionable age. And so that December gave birth to a new family tradition for the Fells.

Now our oldest daughter was away at college and our teenage son was busy with high school activities, so that left our two youngest as santas. As I explained what we were embarking on and why, they were thrilled with the idea of sneaking around the neighborhood for any reason. At age 10, our daughter much preferred to be an elf as she was female and Santa was, well, male. But with her 8-year-old brother as Santa, an elf's superior, that wouldn't do either. To keep the village peace, we became elves instead of Santas.

Now as a family of six, we were on a budget. Armed with a shopping list, my first stop was our local dollar store. Thankfully, this was our only stop—everything we needed was there. Taking home our supplies, we got to work printing the poems and preparing the bags while the kids giggled at the notion of 12 nights of mischief over Christmas vacation.

It was already December, and the first night was fast approaching. Fairly new to the neighborhood, we discussed who should be the lucky neighbor. A couple months earlier, I heard that Neighbor Tom had lost his wife to cancer. She was well loved by all who knew her, and I couldn’t imagine what the holidays must be like for Tom and their two children. To my mind, it was clear that Tom’s home could use small doses of nightly cheer. The kids quickly agreed, and the matter was settled.

On the evening of December 13, my two elves giggled nervously as we bundled up and headed out into the night. Sneaking through the quiet snow-filled streets of our neighborhood with a flashlight was as magical for the kids as it was for me; I treasured our memories in the making. Also, I had never realized just how quiet—and beautiful—the cold, deserted streets were at night. It was like another world waited for us each evening, a peaceful, enchanting winter wonderland that could only be experienced on foot. The magic was heightened when the kids giggled over my clumsiness in the dark. Note to self: Get more flashlights. 

Upon returning home from our adventure each evening, we warmed our hands around a mug of hot cocoa, and warmed our hearts around the whim that our nightly surprises might bring cheer to Tom's family.

The next eleven nights flew by and soon it was Christmas Eve, the 12th day when we had to reveal our identity. I suddenly became nervous. I had never actually met Tom, and worried that maybe our nightly gifts had been a bit too much for the family's fragile emotions. But there was no backing down now; we had to finish. That afternoon we arranged a dozen homemade treats on a small holiday plate, covered it with red plastic wrap, taped the final poem to the top and—not trusting my children to walk two blocks with a plate of goodies—we drove to Tom’s house. We climbed out of the car, gathered on his front porch, and I rang the doorbell.

When Tom opened the door, we nervously started singing: 

We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas,
and a happy new year!

Well, I ended up singing that cheery first verse by myself because my elves stood glued to the porch with mouths frozen shut. Realizing I was on my own and because my children say I’m tone deaf, I quickly decided that one verse was more than enough for this poor family.

As soon as I stopped singing I realized that Tom and his two children had tears in their eyes! Oh, dear. Was my voice that bad, or was our entire mission just one big flop?

Quickly, I decided the best way to handle this was to explain that we were the Little Elves responsible for the nightly treats, and then leave the poor family alone. After all, it was Christmas Eve and here we were intruding on their fragile emotions. 

But I soon discovered that I had nothing to fear at all: they were crying because of how much they loved the little gifts, and now it was coming to an end! It turns out that Tom and his children not only enjoyed the element of surprise, but the nightly anticipation was a wonderful respite from the constant sadness, and lifted their spirits. Mission accomplished!

That first year proved a wonderful experience and we continued the tradition, choosing a different neighbor each year, until tragedy struck our own family. In 2009, my 15-year-old elf, Aly, died in a car accident while coming home from a swim meet. Caught in my own fog of grief, I had no reserve left in my tank to carry on our family fun with our youngest. With a broken heart, our once beloved tradition came to an unexpected end.

In the years since losing Aly, in fits and starts our family has learned to laugh and feel joy again but I’ve never forgotten how bleak those first holidays felt.

I’ve also learned that helping others helps my own heart to heal.

Now that our grandson is 9—the perfect age to become an elf—reinstating the old family tradition will offer both giver and receiver a nightly dose of good cheer, and enrich our holidays in magical ways just as it did in years past. I already know who this year's lucky neighbor will be, and our gift bags are assembled and ready for delivery starting December 13.

Project Little Elf was inspired by that first year with Tom and his children. Having faced loss since then, I now fully understand how the holidays can feel less than cheery, and how a little kindness can go a long way. And nobody needs it more than the bereaved facing their first holidays.

If you too would like to teach your children how to be givers of kindness and learn the joys of giving, all the instructions and printables to begin your own family tradition can be found at www.GriefDiaries.com.

Above all, the nightly trips to a neighbor’s porch is more than just a little fun. It holds the promise of magical memories for children of all ages, and gives the bereaved the priceless gift of a heart full of cheer they’ll treasure all year.

Happy holidays!