It is quite possible that one simple little sentence, scrawled on a paper placemat in a restaurant in Sausalito, CA in the early 1980’s, sparked the concept of “paying it forward.” Now as we begin 2021, Random Acts of Kindness have been all over the news and social media and have become a powerful way to connect with others in these trying times. 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 things, yet those casual “little” things are very often quite significant, not only for the person on the receiving end of the kindness, but also for the one performing it.
Several years ago, just before the holidays I had the opportunity to spend a day performing Random Acts of Kindness, and that one day of focusing on others who were alone, hurting or missing someone special to them was honestly the highlight of the Christmas season for me. I went home at the end of the day feeling better than I had felt in a long time.
A short time later, I heard an interview with a psychologist talking 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. He said that performing random acts of kindness releases endorphins and serotonin, chemicals that nourish and improve one’s mental state. As I listened to him speak, I remembered how amazing, how humbled I felt as I planned and carried out my random acts of kindness. I couldn’t get his words out of my mind.
While that psychologist was not specifically talking about people who are grieving, I couldn’t help but think of the parents I’ve met and the stories I have heard throughout my years at Share. I began to do a little of my own research and found that it 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 doing kind things for others:
- generally leads to compassionate feelings
- induces feelings of gratitude for what one has rather than focusing on what is lacking
- promotes a sense of connection to other people
- aids in boosting your self-image
- can alleviate feelings of stress and even chronic pain
- can boost self-confidence
- can induce what is called “helper’s high”—an increase in energy followed by a period of calmness and serenity.
Additionally, doing kind, unexpected things for others, even small things, increases the amount of a crucial antibody that strengthens the immune system. So, 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.
Fascinatingly, 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 learned that 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.
In a nutshell, showing kindness and generosity, even in small doses, is a win-win situation for all involved, and even those who aren’t involved.
You may be wondering what this means for you. As bereaved parents, we often ache with abundance of love for our babies and struggle to find meaningful ways to express it, to share it with the world and those we love. You may find the idea of RAK’s inspiring, and you may experience 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 make the death of your baby any less heartbreaking, it may do your heart some good to do something good. Additionally, grieving parents often feel lost and unsure of their purpose now that their baby is gone, and studies show that focusing on others can boost self-esteem and give meaning to one’s life.
In my years at Share, I have witnessed a great many powerful acts 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. 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 also help heal their hearts and soothe their spirits.
I have been fortunate to have witnessed firsthand how often parents bring comfort to their heavy hearts and meaning to their babies lives when they give their time, talents, and kindness to others.
Several of our Share parents have asked their friends and family members to perform a random act of kindness on their baby’s birthday or other significant date and write about what they did, and even share photos. I have seen how much this means to parents when others also do things in memory of their baby, how comforting it is to know that on that one day, others are thinking of their child.
If there is an act of kindness that you are inspired to do for your baby, please do so! Leave a special note behind, or keep the secret tucked in your own heart and mind. If there is an idea for kind ways you would like to see your friends and family honor your baby’s memory, let them know, and watch how the RAK’s can build not only your community as a whole but your relationships within your circle, too. 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. No idea is too small, and Random Acts of Kindness do not need to be grand. 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. Please feel free to share with us any acts of kindness that you have done in your baby’s memory or ones others have done for you and your little one. Perhaps today, we can boost one another’s spirit and connect in our common value: kindness.
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 and her personal experience as a bereaved parent brings an invaluable perspective to her work. Rose does much of the research for Share materials and has published articles in several professional journals throughout the country.