Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Giving Tree {Year Two}

We're doing the Giving Tree again to celebrate Elliot's birthday in September.  Check it out!

I can't wait to start posting the acts of kindness!

Friday, September 9, 2011

One Year Later

One year ago today Nathan and I held Elliot in our arms as he took his last breaths.  It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago.  I feel so lucky to have had those last moments with him, because they have really carried me through the last year.  And, in another sense, when I remember it, it's like looking at someone else's life . . . . it feels impossible that I have really lost a child.

This week has been difficult, as we imagined that it would.  And, what has been surprising to some, myself included, is that Elliot's birthday was the hardest day of all.  All day I kept thinking that we should be watching our chubby healthy little boy shove cake in his mouth.  On the other hand, the year anniversary of his surgery, and today of his death just make me feel so grateful that our family has come through this year with strength.

On Elliot's birthday Nathan took the day off of work and we tried to make the best out of a really hard day.  We dressed Gavin and Quinn in their Big Brother and Little Sister shirts - originally bought for each other, but the morning of Elliot's birthday, I realized that Quinn is Elliot's little sister and Gavin is Elliot's big brother and so on went the shirts.  We took the kids to the zoo and Gavin was thrilled to take Quinn on her first train ride.

Later in the day, just when I thought that I couldn't make it through anymore of Elliot's birthday and I wanted to hide in my room, Nathan suggested we hang the acts of kindness on Elliot's tree.

Gavin's favorite part was taking the acts of kindness for swing rides . . . which turned out to be really beautiful.

This is how it looked when we were done.

And there were a few more acts of kindness . . . .

On the morning of Elliot's birthday, I went with Nathan while he picked up bagels and coffee and brought them in to his office for everyone to have breakfast.

An old family friend and her husband volunteered at a community garage sale that raised money for a good cause.

A friend of mine wrote out cards to all of her employees telling them how much she learned from each one of them and what her hopes were for them for the future.

A family member (who maybe did the most acts of kindness!) donated a lot of school supplies to a teacher who was just starting out.

The mom of a friend of mine did this one:  In the last month there were three times that she went into Subway and ordered a foot-long sub, asking them to wrap up the two halves separately.  She kept one half for her lunch, and gave the other half to a homeless person.  She mentioned that it wasn't something "grand" but it felt good to do, to which I responded that so many people had made that comment about their acts of kindness, but it was typically those that I loved the most.

One of Elliot's aunts and uncle spent the evening of his birthday folding one paper crane for each day of his life. They then walked around leaving them here and there hoping that people would find them and it would bring a smile to their day.

A good friend took the high road.  (This is one of my very favorites!!)  This friend was having difficulty with someone in their life, when they realized that the only person they were hurting by holding on to the anger was themselves.  This friend made it a practice to be kind to this person, and said that they would not have been as committed to it had it not been for Elliot's giving tree.  At the end of the message to me, my friend said, "Thinking of Elliot has reminded me that life's too short to be holding ill-feelings towards someone and how great it can be when I can make the choice to be kind instead."

I realize that there have been so many that I have said, "I love this one!!" to.  The truth is, I love each and every one.  As I was writing out all the acts of kindness, I was a little overwhelmed that so many people had taken time out of their busy lives to do something kind for someone in memory of our dear Elliot.  And even though it POURED the day after Elliot's birthday and all the acts are a little worn now, they have endured and hung on the tree all week long, reminding me that in the midst of my sadness and agony over losing my Elliot, kindness and love is still all around us.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Turn

When I started thinking about the act of kindness I would do to celebrate Elliot's life, I started to worry that something random wouldn't show up before his anniversary and then I wouldn't have done anything.  It also made me realize that I was kind of asking something big of all of you.  So again, thank you!

Because I didn't want to wait for something to just present itself, I decided to seek something out.  When I started thinking about it, one of the first ideas I had was to do something for another family that had been impacted by Vein of Galen Malformation.  Believe it or not, it wasn't so easy to find another family, as rare as VOGM is.  I found a few support groups online with different stories.  Many of them were from parents who had lost children years and years ago.  Some had stories of parents who had discovered their children had VOGM after they were born, and they were years out from their children's procedures.  It was wonderful to read all of the children who were doing well, and honestly, really painful to read stories from mothers like me who lost their babies.

There was one mom who stood out.  She had a little boy and had recently discovered that he had VOGM, just a few months ago.  They had already undergone his embolization procedure.  Everytime I read her story, it just struck me.  I would read about other children, but I would always come back to this mom and little boy.  So, I decided to send her a message.  I told her about Elliot and I told her about his giving tree.  I asked her to tell me a little about her son and her family.  And I asked her if I could send her a care package, explaining that I would like that to be my random act of kindness.  I included a link to this blog and a link to the Children's Hospital Al's Run page with Elliot's story so that she wouldn't think I was a random internet crazy person.  And then I waited.  After a couple of days not hearing from her, I was pretty sure she did think I was an internet crazy.  And really, who could blame her?

But then, about a week later, I got a message back!!  She told me all about her son and what had happened with him starting from just before she got pregnant with him.  And as it turned out, her son was born within days of when Elliot was born.  Her little boy was the exact age that Elliot would have been had he lived.  And it dawned on me why I had continuously come back to her.  I don't typically think about how old Elliot would be had he lived, it just hurts a little too much, and I guess this is why it never clicked for me, even though I knew from the support group page how old her son was.  Though it has been really scary and difficult to deal with the VOGM diagnosis, it seems as though her son has a good prognosis and is going to go on to live a normal life - which is so wonderful to see.

It has been great to message back and forth with her.  Though she talks about being grateful to have someone to share her story with who knows about VOGM, I really feel like it has been a gift to me to be able to share Elliot's story with her.  She just understands in a way that other people don't.  Each time I get a message from her, I get excited.  It's such a unique connection to another person, and I feel really grateful.  I did end up sending her family a care package, but that seems like such a small part of the whole thing.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that in trying to do something for Elliot, to honor his memory, I end up feeling like it's a gift for me.

It's hard to believe that on Thursday it will be one year since Elliot was born.  What seems more unbelievable is that a year ago today, I was still in ignorant bliss about my pregnancy, not having any sense of what was about to hit us. I feel really proud of what we as a family have done with the last year.  We fought harder than ever to keep our family together, to have Gavin feel happy and safe, and to bring Quinn home with us.  Thank you to everyone who helped us through this difficult year, it helped more than you can know having people who were pulling for us along the way.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Couple More

Yey!  I finally have a free moment to update Elliot's blog!

Some of our friends went to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July.  It was very crowded, and after the show ended, there was a rush of people headed to the exits.  Along the way, there was a row of tall trees with large protruding roots that had to be crossed to get to the exit.  Our friend noticed that there was an older woman trying to negotiate the roots with her cane in the dark.  She was holding an arm out looking for assistance, but people just kept passing her by.  Our friend stopped and offered her a hand to help her make it through the roots and to the pavement, leaving the old woman genuinely thankful.  He commented at the end of his message to me how good it felt to help someone else.

One of our family members was leaving her gym after her morning work out, as she was leaving she noticed a woman in a wheel chair trying to leave, but the handicap accessible doors were not working.  So she helped the woman get through the doors and realized that the woman didn't have anyone waiting for her to help her, so she asked if she could help get her to her car.  The woman quickly said "Yes please."  Our family member said she seemed tired from her workout, so she pushed her to her car, helped her stand by the driver's side door, and moved the walker in her back seat so that the wheelchair would fit.  After lifting the heavy wheel chair into the car she asked the woman if she does this everyday, wondering how this woman could lift the chair on her own.  The woman responded saying that her husband normally picks her up, but today he was having foot surgery - she was waiting for a special someone to help her.  Our family member ended the email saying, "I know that Elliot made sure my timing was on so I was there for her ( yes I admit I hit snooze twice).  She had the largest smile when I left and I knew that Elliot sent me to help her!"

A good friend was standing in line to rent a redbox and noticed a woman and her toddler standing behind her, so she let them go ahead of her, thinking of Elliot.

Another family member ran into a friend at church who's wife has been diagnosed with cancer.  He asked the man if there is anything he could do to help, like make some food.  The man said that his wife hasn't had much of an appetite, to which our family member responded, "But you have to eat."  The man's eyes lit up, and so our family member brought over dinner.  He ended his message to me saying, "Elliot is amazing and VERY inspirational."  I continue to realize this more and more.

Though this isn't an act of kindness, since it is Elliot inspired, I thought I would share.  The evenings with Quinn have been rough.  She seems to hate the hours of about 5 pm to 10pm - give or take a couple hours each night.  So last night I took her for a walk in our neighborhood during Gavin's bedtime.  She pretty much screamed the entire 40 minutes that we were walking.  I was starting to get frustrated since I had hoped that the walk would put her to sleep.  It suddenly occurred to me that I never really got to hear Elliot cry.  Most of the week he was alive he was on a ventilator and his screams were silent.  I remember saying to Nathan, "I have never wanted to hear a baby cry so much."  Remembering this, I smiled and the panic that a mom feels when her baby cries melted away.  We are blessed for each moment that we had with Elliot and as few as they were, they make us appreciate Gavin and Quinn all the more.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

More and Thank You

So, this week, some kids started joining in the acts of kindness for Elliot!  This makes me smile so much, I can't even tell you.

An old friend of the family sent me the sweetest message the other day letting me know that she had shared what we were doing in memory of Elliot with her six year old son.  He told her that he wanted to do something too.  A few days later, they were standing in line at the zoo and he let his sister and a friend go ahead of him in line, later he told his mom that he did it because he wanted to "do something kind to remember Lisa's baby."  I love kids so much, they have such amazing hearts.

Another friend recently told me about her daughter's lemonade stand.  She said that her daughter told her that she wanted to give the money she had raised from the stand to Children's Hospital.  When my friend told her daughter about Al's Run and us trying to raise money for them in honor of Elliot, she told her mom that that's what she wanted to donate the money to.

Another old friend sent me a message telling me that her four month old son has had an ear infection.  His very compassionate older sister, who is two, has been feeling bad for him and the pain he was in and wanted to help give him his medicine.  My friend, remarked on how it was difficult enough to give her son his medicine without the "help" of a two year old.  She went on to say, "I initially said no, that mommy and daddy had it covered. But then I thought of baby brother Elliot and how much love he showed people in such a short time. It seemed appropriate to let her shower her baby brother with love (and pink stuff) in Elliot's honor. So - we let her squirt in the last drop of medicine and she was delighted. Now at each dose, she wants to put in 'just the last one.' It's fun for her but you can also tell she feels like she is helping her little brother."  I loved this one so much.

A family member of ours recently remembered Elliot by spending time at the bedside of a terminally ill friend and reading to him.

I got a text message from a friend the other day that she lent her ipass to a coworker. She said how much it brightened her day to do something kind for someone else in memory of Elliot.

Another friend has been collecting school supplies for children who need them in honor of Elliot's memory.

The old friend with the amazing six year old also shared with me that in memory of Elliot she wrote a letter to a friend who lost her husband two years ago.  She shared with her friend how often she thinks of her husband, misses him, and what an important person he was to their family and church community.

And even though I would have done these two things anyway, it was wonderful to do them for Elliot - I babysat for some great friends who haven't had a date night since before their two month old was born.  And recently I took a little trip to see my Great Aunt Betty who is in the hospital.  She is a wonderful woman, and I brought her flowers to brighten her day, and chocolates to give to her visitors.  She is a giver, and I imagine it is torture to be visited by so many people and have nothing, being that she's in the hospital, to offer them.

I can't thank everyone enough for participating in this.  Receiving these messages and adding them to the blog has made me so happy, and made me feel closer to Elliot.  This is such a gift at a time when I am missing him so much.  Thank you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In the hopes that I will be too busy giving birth to update for a while . . .

Since putting up the blog, I have gotten a bunch more acts of kindness sent to me.  Each one is like opening a little present.  I am loving this.

Today I got an email from one of those wonderful people I mentioned who reconnected with me after years to offer prayers and support when we lost Elliot.  In honor of Elliot, she recently undertook a volunteering project administrating a new program called National City Project which seeks to reduce juvenile crime by offering victim-offender mediation.  Reading this one made my day.

A friend of mine recently emailed me to tell me that while at the grocery store recently she was picking up flowers for her daughter's daycare teacher as a thank you, since her daughter will be moving to a room with older children.  While at the store, her four year old asked her if they could get flowers for his teacher too.  She said that she was about to explain to him that they didn't need to get her flowers since he would be with his teacher for a while yet, and then stopped, remembering Elliot.  They bought a potted plant for his teacher and included a note thanking her for taking such good care of him.  My friend said that it made the teacher's day.  She ended the email to me saying, "Thank you to your dear sweet Elliot for reminding us to cherish the special people in our lives and to remember to let them know how much we care about them."

Another friend recently shared this story with me:  A friend of hers recently went missing, and when she found out that they were holding a search for him she was compelled to help, in honor of Elliot.  She said that she was nervous about what it would be like or what she would say or do.  She said that she prayed that Elliot would accompany her on the search, and she found his presence to be comforting.  When she got to the search she got fliers detailing her missing friend and for the next four hours went door to door in farm land to share his story.  While it was hard to share his story, she was taken aback by the faith, hope, concern, and love that complete strangers had and shared.  She said that as it was nearing dusk, the sunset had a spectacular glow.  They didn't want the sun to set because of it's beauty and because they were trying to cover every address assigned before dark.  She said, "I'm convinced Elliot was with us every step and he did his random act of kindness by holding the sun up just a few extra minutes that evening."  My favorite part of this story is what my friend took away from it: "A community is an amazing thing. People truly care and are more than willing to go an extra mile even if it is for a complete stranger.  This world is filled with so much love, hope, and faith, and it is remarkable."  I am touched by what she took away from this and it also makes my heart skip a beat - in a good way - because these are exactly some of the lessons I took away from my experience of losing Elliot.

Thank you.  These messages all touch my heart.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Kindness is Starting to Flow!!

I have been enjoying reading acts of kindness so much, that I thought I would share with everyone!!

I'll start with my favorite one from yesterday:
After talking to a friend about her family who is dealing with massive flood damage in Minot, ND, I thought about how much Gavin's spirit got us through some very dark times. I asked him to paint them a picture to cheer them up, and explained that we could do something kind for someone else as a way to remember Elliot. I'm not sure that he understand how doing something nice for someone else was also doing something for Elliot, but he happily painted them a picture with lots of beautiful little houses. As soon as we dropped it in the mailbox at the post office, he said, “Are they happy now?”

Someone else, after thinking and thinking of what she could do to remember Elliot, made a donation in Elliot's name to an artist's project that he is doing in honor of his son and the child that he is expecting. 

The very first act of kindness I got in my email was from someone who made new neighbors a basket full of fruit, nuts, candy and a card to welcome them to the neighborhood.

Someone else was at a Summerfest concert and noticed a large family (grandma, grandpa, their grown children, and their grandchildren - teenagers and children) all dancing, laughing, and enjoying a concert together.  The grandma was trying to capture this moment with her camera, but was struggling and close to being knocked over by the "die-hard" fans.  Our dear friend thought, "I should go take a picture of that family for Elliot!!"  She did, and they were very grateful.

Another person thought of Elliot after getting some coupons in the mail.  She had two and took them to the store they were good at, found two young families shopping and gave them the coupons.

Someone else was driving through her neighborhood when she saw a group of young girls with a lemonade stand.  She pulled over and donated $2 for a delicious cup of lemonade.

We have a family member who is helping out with a newborn, so that they baby's mother has an easier transition back into work.

Another friend was at the laundromat doing some laundry when she noticed a woman who didn't have any laundry detergent and she was looking around like she didn't know what to do, so our friend offered her some money to buy some.

Someone else saved the day while thinking about Elliot!  She bought and installed a sump pump in a family member's home so that their house could close as they had already relocated out of state.

A dear friend of ours helped out someone who's employees didn't show up by doing their work that needed to be done.  She ended the email to me by saying, "I can't remember the others. But there are plenty.  I think of Elliot every time.  Thank you."

I love all of these!  A number of people have ended their messages to me telling me there are more to come, remarking that they love this idea, and saying thank you.  And while I love these messages, it seems like the thanks goes to Elliot, my special little boy who continues to inspire and amaze me.