Love lives on forever, even after the body has been returned to the ground and the angels are rejoicing in heaven. Sometimes the love left behind gives us strength. Sometimes it looks like two twin boys who march forward, not knowing yet the depth of their loss. Sometimes it looks like a little girl growing into a young woman and each facial expression reminding us of her momma’s not-so-subtle rebellious side. When we lose adults, we must find strength and courage in the love left behind because we must help their babies, whether they’re two or 22, remember them.
Sometimes the love left behind hurts. To remember is to feel and to feel is to ache with abandoned longing. This love is the empty side of the bed, the unfinished LEGO sets, the missing voice in a beautiful duet, the light no longer shining in a school. Yet as much as it hurts, we must remember and we must do something with all this love. In doing so, we keep the names alive, we find joy in the remembering, and we can do incredible good for a broken world.
My childhood friend Misty Lei Tomblin has been gone for three and a half years. It doesn’t seem possible. Some days, I feel like she was just taken from us. Misty Lei was on her way home from work on a sunny afternoon, headed to pick up her daughters from daycare when she was hit head on by an intoxicated driver. She never stood a chance. In one second, she was taken from us –her mom, her daughters, her friends, her brother, her niece and nephew -in a completely senseless accident.
Some days, I feel like she’s been gone for years. I don’t remember her voice or her scent anymore. I watch her daughters, now ages 7 and 13, growing up separately, raised by different fathers in different counties, and my heart breaks a little more. It’s salt in a never-healing wound. Nevertheless, we try to continue to smile and stay strong for her children.
In that spirit, for well over two years now, we’ve been doing Random Acts of Kindness on the 6th of every month, the day Misty Lei was taken from us. Misty Lei was a whirlwind of a woman, a single-mom devoted to her children all while rising in her career. In the midst of all that, she would often go out of her way to brighten her friends’ days, from sending unexpected flowers to getting everyone together for dinner to sending uplifting text messages every morning. It’s hard enough to be a good mom and have a stellar career; yet, Misty Lei managed to also be a great friend to so many.
We will never understand why she was taken from us so early. I frequently hear the saying “everything happens for a reason,” but, darn it, I cannot fathom a reason good enough to justify two little girls growing up without their mommy. I don’t believe we are meant to understand the why. But it is essential to me and to her friends and family that Misty Lei’s life not be forgotten and her death not be in vane.
But there are many friends and family members who have left us in the last few years, and try as I might, I can’t understand their trips to heaven coming so early either.
My nephew, Jack Donaldson, possessed the brightest 12-year-old mind I have ever known. He was a firm believer in Jesus, the most creative big brother, and he loved to pass a baseball with his dad. His mom, my husband’s sister, wrote a NY Times Bestselling memoir titled Rare Bird, which tells her story of both grief and hope with unbelievable grace over a year after Jack drowned in an unlikely flood on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Jack went outside to play with friends one day after school and never came back.
One year ago, a classmate of my son Riley’s was killed during his first week on the job. Hunter Osborn was only 19. He was athlete in our community and just an all-around good kid from a great family. A year ago we stood as one to release candles in his memory. To have lived so few years, yet to have marked so many lives speaks volumes to his character.
Just a few months ago, the niece of a teacher at my daughters’ school thought the “hard stuff” was finally behind her family. Meagan and her fiancé Danny had been blessed with twins, but they were considered very high risk mono-mono; in other words, the babies shared the same amniotic sac. Delivered at 32 weeks, the boys, Gabriel and Lincoln, miraculously fought and survived, spending four weeks in the NICU.
Meagan and Danny were settling into a new home with this new life while blending children from Meagan’s previous marriage – Brayden, Bailey and Brynlee–as well as Danny’s – Emma, Cavin and Wyatt. Life was crazy and full and beautiful. Just a few days after returning home from a wonderful family vacation, Meagan woke up and Danny was gone. A brain aneurysm had ruptured in Danny’s sleep, leaving Meagan to wake next to an empty body and to spend the rest of her life grieving what could have been, what should have been, and wishing for the days she’d once thought were the rough ones.
Readers of this blog are also aware of my sweet friend Shelly Kraus, who was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer last fall. Her spirit and positivity throughout her battle were inspiring. As she neared the end, she prepared others for her death. She never lost faith in God. In fact, she shared her adoration of Him with all she met, quoting her life verse, “Truly, He is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress; I will not be shaken.” And she wasn’t, but, boy, has the loss of her bright light for Jesus led to some dark hours for those who love her. I miss her wisdom, her soft voice, and her smile.
Death too early rocks us to our core. It could have been you. It could have been your child. Your brother. Your mom. For many of us, it has been. While death is a natural part of the process of life, when it comes too early or out of order, when a mother buries her child, it is also just as natural to struggle with understanding God’s ways.
We don’t get to control our arrival date into Heaven. Nor can we just stop loving those who make the journey ahead of us. But we can control what we do with all the love left behind in our hearts. Choose today to make the world a more beautiful place in honor of one of these individuals –Misty Lei, Jack, Shelly, Hunter, Danny –or, if there is someone in your life you want to pay tribute to, do this for him or her. Join us for 14 Days of Love.
February 6th will mark exactly 3 1/2 years since Misty Lei’s death. Fourteen days later, February 19th, would have marked her 37th birthday. We want you to join us for 14 Days of LOVE in honor of Misty Lei Tomblin or a loved you have lost and would like the world to remember.
Here’s how it works. First, you and your children (or grandchildren or students) will make the 14 Days of LOVE banner. I’ve done most of the work for you. Just click on the two PDF files below and print. My girls had a blast making this fun, little craft.
Pennant 1 (Just click.)
Pennant 2 (Just click.)
Next, you’ll need the following supplies.
- Construction paper or card stock
- Pennant PDFs
- Elmer’s stick glue
- Washi tape
- Heart-shaped stickers
- Cut out the pennants.
- There are two blank pennants in case you’d like to do something different.
- Cut out a background pennant in a color of your choice for each.
- Measure even spacing between pennants. I used 6″ between pennants with 12″ on each end.
- Glue the card stock under the ribbon, then glue the back of the pennant to the card stock. (This sounds complicated. You’ll understand in the next photo.)
- We added Washi tape, which comes in all sorts of fun colors and styles. We used a glittery one because Misty Lei was all about the bling!
- Hang up your banner for your family, classroom, everyone to see.
Now, a few notes. We’ve tried to select acts of kindness which would not be cost prohibitive. Many of the items are probably things you already have around your house. To do every act, here’s what you’ll need.
- construction paper
- Valentine’s Day craft of your choice
- three $1 bills
- 2 packs of microwave popcorn
- $3-5 in quarters
- bake a treat of your choice & cookies of your choice
- a little snack for one
- a package of diaper wipes
- fleece blankets ($2.88 at Walmart)
- stationary and pen
See, most of this you already possess, right?
Okay, another critical note, it is imperative to get your children on board with this. Explain why we have created this initiative and that it is so important to those who do not want their loved ones forgotten. Your kiddos will probably have lots of fun putting the banner together. Then, as each task is completed, use a foam sticker to cover that pennant as a check-off.
Children, just like us adults, love the feeling of accomplishment when they are able to check-off items on their to-do list.
Anytime we do a random of act of kindness, from buying the meal for the car behind us in the drive-thru to donating hot chocolate at the Friday night football game, we leave an LEI card. It very briefly explains why we do what we do and shares a bit of who our dear friends were. This year I’ve also created in memory cards of Jack Donaldson, Hunter Osborn, Danny Pumphrey and Shelly Kraus. You are welcome to share any of those special cards as well. Simply click on the link below, print, and cut each card out. There are six cards per page.
It is true that each person handles grief differently. I’ve seen it firsthand. Some cannot bear to hear even the name of their loved one; while others need to share stories and hear the name over and over again. Those of us who adored Misty Lei have grieved differently, yet similarly. Her loss makes us cling tighter to the living, especially our own babies, and we insist that her tragic death not be the way she is remembered.
So I ask you join me in this important endeavor. From Feb 6th to Feb 19th, spread love and kindness wherever you are in memory of my dear friend Misty Lei Tomblin. If you choose to do 14 Days of Love for Jack, Shelly, Hunter, or Danny, perhaps a different set of 14 days would work better for you. Don’t get hung up on the dates. Focus on letting that overflow of love already inside you OUT, sharing kindness and letting others know these names.
Or, if you have lost a loved one, do this for him or her. Notice there is an extra pennant with blanks on it. Fill in your loved one’s name, birthdate, and death date, and commit to honoring him or her for fourteen days by making the world a kinder place.
Please share your stories here in the comment section of this blog or over on our LEI Facebook page or A Broken Crayon Facebook page. Or upload your photos to Instagram at #14DaysofLoveLEI. It means so much to us to see how far this initiative reaches.
It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but it occurs to me that it also takes a village to grieve the loss of a child, whether that daughter be 34-years-old or that son be 12-years-old. It is hard, painful work, the expense of living and loving one another with our broken hearts. 14 Days of Love is an opportunity to grieve, share, and love together to honor those we miss so very much.
Will you join us?