Kindness is Good for the Soul

By: Rose Carlson

Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.  ~Anne Herbert

It is quite possible that one simple little sentence scrawled on a paper placemat in a restaurant in Sausalito, CA in the early 1980s, sparked the concept of “paying it forward.” Random Acts of Kindness, or RAKs, such as paying for coffee for the person behind you in line at Starbucks or taping a $1 bill to a vending machine may not seem to be all that significant in the grand scheme of life, yet those casual “little” things can be powerful, not only for the person on the receiving end of the RAK but also for the one performing it.

This is a topic I think about frequently, not only in my personal life but in my professional one too, as I hear of ways the parents we support at Share honor their baby by doing things for others.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity on one day to do several RAKs. I was going through a bit of a challenging time, and I decided to spend an entire day doing things for others as a way to get out of my head and focus on others who were alone, hurting, or missing someone special to them. This one day ended up being the highlight of the Christmas season for me that year, and as I drove from store to store, shopping for the most perfect gifts, and as I dropped them off at various places, the low mood I started that Friday with quickly dissipated. I truly felt as if I was “high on life” to use an old and worn-out cliché. I went home at the end of the day feeling better than I had felt in a long time.

A short time later, I was watching a morning television newscast, and a guest psychologist talked about the benefits of performing random acts of kindness and how doing so actually stimulates the production of feel-good chemicals in one’s brain. As I listened to the show, I remembered how amazing and humbled I felt as I planned and carried out my random acts of kindness not only a few days before, but other times as well. I couldn’t get his words out of my mind.

While that psychologist was not specifically talking about people who are grieving when he said that performing random acts of kindness releases endorphins and serotonin, chemicals that nourish and improve one’s mental state, I couldn’t help but think of the parents I’ve met and the stories I have heard throughout my years at Share. The more I thought about it, the more I became intrigued by the subject, and I began scouring the internet searching for anything that verified what the psychologist I heard on television said.

I discovered much more information than I ever imagined I would. Research really does support the notion that doing kind deeds for others has a significant benefit on both emotional and physical well-being. I read article after article, each confirming that when people do kind things for others:

~ it generally leads to compassionate feelings
~ they experience a boost in self-confidence
~ it induces feelings of gratitude for what one has rather than focusing on what is lacking
~ stress and even chronic pain may be alleviated
~ they experience what is called “helper’s high”—an increase in energy followed by a period of calmness and serenity
~ it promotes a sense of connection to other people

Additionally, doing kind, unexpected things for others, even small things increases the amount of a crucial antibody that strengthens one’s immune system. Not only does reaching into your heart to find ways to do nice things for friends and strangers make you feel wonderful emotionally, it can also help you feel good physically.

What I found fascinating the more I read is that these “feel good” benefits do not only affect those receiving and performing the RAK, but they carry over to those who simply observe one taking place. I read that many times, just witnessing a RAK can lighten a person’s mood for the rest of the day and even inspire that person to pay it forward. I read one article that mentioned a study done on women with Multiple Sclerosis who performed random acts of kindness; the study revealed that the women with MS obtained more benefits than those who received the act of kindness.

In a nutshell, showing kindness and generosity, even in small doses, is a win-win situation for all involved, and even for those who aren’t involved.

You may be wondering what the point of this is, and what it means to you as a bereaved parent.  What it “means” is that you may find a great deal of comfort and “feel good” moments when you do something for someone else in honor of your baby’s sweet memory. While doing so will not lessen your grief or make the death of your baby any less heartbreaking, it may do your heart some good to do something good. Bereaved parents often feel a sense of disconnect, and as noted above, doing things for others can promote a sense of connection to others. Therefore, doing kind tasks may help ease some of those feelings. Additionally, grieving parents often feel lost and unsure of their purpose now that their baby is not with them, and studies show that focusing on others can boost self-esteem and give meaning to one’s life.

There are so many possibilities and opportunities that I can’t possibly list them all, but in my years at Share, I have witnessed a great many activities that grieving parents have taken on in memory of their babies. In fact, it is quite common that one of the first things grieving parents wish to do once the initial shock of their baby’s death has passed is something…anything…for others that will help heal their hearts and give their baby’s too-brief life a special purpose. Parents often call within a very short time of their baby’s death, sometimes only a few weeks, and want to know how they can help, and what they can do to assist other parents in their situation. They may ask about starting a support group. Many want to know how to go about creating and donating memory boxes to their hospital.

I have met parents who sew tiny felt shoes for babies who are in the neonatal intensive care unit as well as parents who crochet and knit darling little hats, blankets, and wraps that will fit babies the size their baby was. One mom asked for pledges of money as she ran a mile every hour for 13 hours in honor of her daughter’s 13 birthday after she was born still. Another recently asked for donations to a children’s hospital in exchange for exercising every day for 100 days in memory of her baby who died.

I have been privileged to know countless parents and grandparents who have volunteered for Share in many different capacities:  Volunteering at fundraisers or in the Share office, moderating chat rooms and message boards, serving on committees, preparing bereaved parent packets, singing at memorial events, making awareness pins to hand out at events.

It’s as if bereaved parents instinctively know that putting the abundance of love they have for their beloved baby to “work” will not only give their hands and minds something to do but will also help heal their hearts and soothe their spirits. Over all my years at Share, I have frequently witnessed firsthand so many beautiful ways parents bring comfort to their heavy hearts and meaning to their babies’ lives when they give their time and talents to others. That is how I ended up at Share in 2002—I had several miscarriages many years ago when those losses were not recognized, yet I felt compelled to do something to give some meaning to the lives of my four tiny babies, so I started volunteering at Share.

If there is something that touches you or inspires you in some way, use your own creativity, talents, and memory of your baby(ies) to guide you in finding a unique and meaningful way to honor them. In the process of making someone else smile, you may just bring a smile to your own heart at a painful time when smiles are likely rare. You do not need to wait for a special occasion such as a birthday or due date; any ordinary day when your heart needs some comfort can be its own special occasion. And know that no idea is too small, so do not tell yourself that if you do not have the resources for something grand that what you do will not be good enough. Keep in mind these words from Mother Teresa.
“We can’t all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”

You may never know how far-reaching your acts of kindness will be and whose lives will be touched because of you and the great love you have for your baby.

I will leave you with this thought:

A little spark of kindness can put a colossal burst of sunshine into someone’s day, especially your own. ~Unknown

About Rose Carlson

Rose is the Program Director at Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support. She came to Share in 2002 as a volunteer and eventually joined the staff in 2004. She has a BS in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Her personal experience as a bereaved parent brings an invaluable perspective to her work. Rose manages the Share Memorial events, serves as an educator and is the Share Chapter coordinator.

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