by Karla Helbert
The twelfth coping strategy is “Something Nice for Someone Else”
For many people in grief, doing acts of kindness, volunteering, doing something to bring comfort, a smile, or some love to another person is a way that we can find a bit of peace within our own pain.
Research shows that volunteerism and altruistic acts to benefit others have long term physical, emotional, and mental health benefits. Doing things for others can result in increased feelings of well-being. It brings a sense of purpose and helps us create meaning when life makes no sense. Studies also show that giving help to others report more benefits than those who receive.
The first Christmas after my son died, the most painful thing was putting up his stocking. Looking at his empty, flat stocking was the worst feeling. Thinking about what to do, I had an idea and felt inspired. I emailed my friends and family and wrote, “Sometime between now and Christmas, do something nice for someone, no matter how small or large, it doesn’t have to involve money—just commit a random act of kindness. When you do it, think of Theo and dedicate that act to him and his sweet spirit.”
I asked them to write down what they did and email it to me. I printed the kindnesses without reading them, folded them and placed them in his stocking. I got acts of kindnesses in his memory from all over, even from people I didn’t know. Christmas morning, we were able to take them out and read them to each other. Each act of kindness to someone else was like a gift to our child as well as to us.
We also began doing random acts of kindness in his memory. Inspired by the MISS Foundation Kindness Project, I continue to do anonymous acts of kindness throughout the year, and always throughout the Christmas season. It brings a sense of connection, of purpose. We share Theo’s Stocking story with people every year and invite anyone who wishes to do an act of kindness in honor of someone they love. They can email us or comment on the blog we now keep and we will post the kindnesses.
Here are some kindness ideas that may spark inspiration:
- Make a batch of cookies and share them with neighbors or friends. You might want to do this anonymously.
- Tape quarters to a vending machine for the next person to use.
- Make a card or draw a picture for someone you love.
- Create small care packages in sealable bags including lip balm, water, a dollar or two, snacks. Give them out when you see homeless or people asking for money.
- Pay the bill for the next person in line at the drive-through or a toll booth.
- Make a piece of art and give it away.
- Leave extra big tips for servers in restaurants.
- Think of someone who has helped you in your grief, or at another time in life, and write them a letter thanking them, letting them know how they made a difference.
- Offer someone who is rushed or who has more items go ahead of you at the store.
- Offer a sincere compliment to someone.
- Give a gift to someone for no reason.
- Ask how someone else you know who is going through a difficult time how they are really doing—and listen to their story.
- Place sticky notes with messages of kindness on public bathroom mirrors, in random places—in shops, tucked into grocery store flower bouquets, around your workplace, on the bus, in a taxi. They might say things that you would like to read yourself. You are beautiful. I love you. You are not alone. You can do this.
- Make note of local charities and non-profits whose missions reflect your or your beloved’s values and learn more about volunteering. When you feel ready, call.
- Donate dog or cat food to your local animal shelter.
- Make copies of your favorite photos of family and friends send them the people in them.
- With sidewalk chalk, draw pictures or write inspirational quotes or messages in public places.
- Send a copy of a book that you love or that you have found helpful to someone else.
- Send a care package to a soldier far from home.
- Leave a book with a note for the person who finds it in a café or airport or other public place.
- Pick up trash when you see it.
- Plant a tree in your loved one’s memory. Plant several trees.
- Create a memorial garden and lovingly care for the plants and flowers.
- If you read something that is helpful or inspirational on a blog or social media, leave a comment letting that person know that their words or posting helped you.
- Each day, ask the Universe for opportunities to serve and to be kind to others. Take them.