When it comes to figuring out how to deal with grief, many of us in bereavement make up our way as we go along. If you are new to this site, you will find that I have written many different articles related to this topic. Some are the standard “10 Tips for How to Deal with Grief.” Others are based on creative ideas that I or others developed out of their own loss and struggle to overcome grief.
This article is an interview with a grieving mother that introduced herself to me through this site. Rebecca Renaud’s daughter Mandy was killed in a car accident at the age of 17. Read on for my interview with Rebecca.
First tell us more about Mandy—both her life and the accident.
Mandy was always a helper, she gravitated towards the underdog, the new kids, the kids that needed help. It amazed me that she was also part of the mainstream crowd, it seemed that everyone liked her and that she made friends very easily.
It was first her smile that made her approachable, and also her sense of humor and her sense of self. Many students have told me that they miss having her to talk to.
She was active and feisty and a joy to be around. She was a cheerleader, an honor student, and she longed to finish school so she could teach. Her biggest life goal was to travel to Africa and volunteer as a teacher for at least a year.
She had just started her senior year of high school and had been dating the same young man for about 9 months. He picked her up on a dreary November afternoon to take her to a school function. They never made it there. A bad corner, wet road, fallen leaves and speed caused the car to loose control. Try as he might, the young man driving could not regain control. They left the roadway and collided with another car that had been traveling in the opposite direction. That poor woman and her children had pulled off the road desperately trying to avoid the out-of-control car.
Mandy was the only one hurt that afternoon. And in the midst of the tragedy, I have to thank God for making sure she was never in any pain. A kind traveler was to her side in 15 seconds and assured me that she had been knocked out instantly and never felt a thing. She left us after a brave struggle to survive before the ambulance could get to her.
Strangely just three weeks prior, Mandy and I had a conversation about what she wanted when she died. I had no idea I would need the information so soon, but I am grateful that we had the talk so I could be sure I was doing what she wanted.
Rebecca, we’ve titled this article “How to Deal with Grief through Kindness.” It sounds pretty upbeat and happy. But I imagine like most in grief you have had times of deep darkness and sorrow. What can you tell us about those hard times?
Oh I do, I miss her so desperately at times, and the emotions just over take me. Often when I least expect it... I remember being in the airport with my husband. We ended up sitting next to a group of young people that had been selected for the show "So You Think You Can Dance" and they were dancing and laughing - I just started to sob, I could picture her there, so excited to meet them, dancing and singing right along. However, each time I feel that way, I have to pull myself back to reality again, I have to remember what she wanted celebration of her life. And I have to remember that I should focus on thanking God for the gift of having her for the 17 years He gave her to me.
How did the kindness revolution develop?
One of the emotional times for me was the first Mother's day after her death, and I knew I needed to do something to get the focus off myself and my sorrow. So the idea came that I would purchase flowers and hand them out to random women on Mother's Day. We purchased over 100 roses. And wouldn't you know it, with every smile I received, I could see Mandy's smile. With every thank you and surprised look, I could feel her with us.
I just knew I had to continue this somehow. That night I dreamed about doing Random Acts of Kindness in her name. When I woke up I loved the idea but couldn't figure out how I would let people know what I was doing or why...
Then when I got to work an e-mail, advertising 250 free business cards, gave me the answer. Since then we have started the website to share her story and bring people together. I have made and given away many, many piece of jewelry and done countless other random acts of kindness. And people all over the world have joined in.
I’ve been fascinated lately with noticing how creativity has been extremely helpful to people in need of emotional healing. This kindness revolution seems like a pretty creative idea. How have you seen creativity at work in aiding your healing?
It's true, I don't like to take credit, I believe she knew what I needed and sent me the outlet. When I first started doing this, it was just therapy to create the cards, buy coffee for a stranger, pay tolls, and give away jewelry I had purchased. I figured it would have more meaning if I actually created the jewelry. So I learned how to make basic earrings and necklaces and found that I loved it. It filled up that free time at home, and gave me something to talk about, to be proud of.
On the same site that lets me create the business cards I noticed they did t-shirts so I created many for myself with her photo and text about kindness. A friend mentioned that there was a site that allowed you to add your designs and sell them for a small profit. So I started the Kindness Store, and I just love adding new designs and sharing them with people.
Mandy always said "I am going to be famous someday Mom" I had no idea at the time that it would be from my sharing her story after she was gone, but I am honored to take on the task.
I truly believe that focusing creativity instead of negativity saved me.
As you reflect on the title of this article “How to Deal with Grief through Kindness,” what suggestions come to mind about how other people might apply what you have learned?
First, what you feel is real, and it is OK. All of us grieve in a different way.
Second, I am so sorry, I wish no one had to experience the loss of a loved one (especially a child).
Third, there is a way to bring good out of the tragedy, I am not sure what that will look like for anyone else. But I do know that if you keep your heart and mind open, it will come to you.
Sadly we all will face grief at some point, so it is very important for us to find places, like your website, where we can learn how to deal with grief and realize that we are not alone.
Other articles on how to deal with grief: