This has been a really hard week for several of my friends. One lost a sister; another a best friend. Parents. Grandparents. Uncles. Even a spouse. Two friends were diagnosed with cancer. The grief that has flooded my social media newsfeed is a constant reminder that bad things happen to good people and my heart breaks for each and every one of them.
I also feel very helpless. How can I possibly help them in their time of need?
Yes, I can offer to make them a meal. I can pray. I can stop them in the store and ask how they are (but is this really a help or a reminder of their grief?) I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I feel paralyzed, like nothing will make a difference.
Have you ever felt like this before?
This morning as I sat in church, our pastor gave us a sermon on Doubt. Uncertainty. Not knowing what to do, or when to do it. How worrying about what others will think often times keeps you from doing the one thing you have been called to do. Talk about hitting me over the head with a message.
I want to tell you a story, one I have struggled for months to write. It may be a long one, so if you are reading this post in the midst of your busy day, you may want to bookmark it and save for later when you have more time. It’s an important story, maybe even one of the most important RAKs I’ve been a part of thus far.
This is the story of Secret Sisters.
A year and a half ago, a dear friend of mine from high school lost her young son unexpectedly. His life ended just weeks after he blew out six candles on his birthday cake. Diane posted a plea on Facebook for prayer as Nate’s tiny body went into cardiac arrest. Her next post was to tell us he was gone.
I sat there, staring at the screen of my phone, stunned and paralyzed by grief for my friend and her entire family. There was absolutely nothing I could do to change this situation. I couldn’t bring her boy back. Making a meal seemed pointless (I lost my appetite just reading her post, surely they wouldn’t feel like eating either.) I felt completely helpless; even kind sentiments shared on Facebook seemed trite and incomplete.
I spent the next few days crushed in spirit, consumed by an extraneous loss I couldn’t explain, a complete uncertainty of what to do next. Grief is an odd thing. It reminds me of a tidal wave, building in strength only to slam into everything in its path. Then it pulls back a bit, only to be followed by a taller, stronger wave that catapults your body over and under, slamming it this way and that, leaving your heart bruised and torn. All of which no one can see from the outside.
I struggled to understand why. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why I was feeling so much sadness when this wasn’t even my child? Why couldn’t I let go of my unexplained sorrow?
That’s when I heard the whisper on my heart. It was a single word, spoken in such a matter-of-fact way I might have easily missed it had I not been so desperate for an answer.
Do? Do… what? It was almost laughable, that command. I could barely lift my head above the mire and I was told to do. While I sat there that day, completely perplexed, I now imagine that God was looking down at me smiling, because he knew exactly what it meant. And He was about to show me, and others as well, the unimaginable love that could be poured out from one simple word.
The funeral home was like a mini class reunion for all the wrong reasons. My classmates and I tried our best to comfort our friends in their time of loss while joining together in shared sadness. There were hugs given, tears shed, tissues passed around. I saw my friend, Michele, and after a short conversation catching up on our families, I shared my thoughts about the message I had received.
“I feel like we need to do something. Something big. Something different. But I don’t know what,” I began.
“Me too! I was just thinking that on the way over here! We need to wrap them with love,” she responded, her eyes already twinkling with a bit of mischievousness that took me back more than twenty years to the days of our youth.
“Yes! Wrapping them with love! That’s perfect! But wait. It shouldn’t be just us. We need other people to help us.” My brain was already swirling with ideas, the locked door opened by Michele’s key of inspiration. “Let’s brainstorm some ideas and touch base in a few days. We can DO this!”
And thus, Secret Sisters was created.
The idea came together rather quickly. Michele and I wanted to wrap Diane, Kevin, and their two daughters with love and joy, along with sweet reminders of Nate who would always be with them in spirit. I thought of my wonderful college sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, and the different things we would do to lift one another up in times of struggle. Michele and I decided to create a little mini-sorority of our own, a sisterhood of twelve women who would commit their love, prayers, and kindness for this family. We started a private Facebook group and each invited five ladies to share in our secret mission.
Each gal was assigned a specific month of the year with three tasks to complete in that designated time:
- 1. Pray for the family each day.
- 2. Do something small for the family each week. (Send a card, leave a note of inspiration, etc.)
- 3. Do one “big” thing to make them smile. (Send a gift card for a dinner out at a restaurant, make a donation in Nate’s name, be creative!)
And that’s when the fun began. 🙂
We shared our stories and adventures in our private Facebook group, even adding photos to show what we had done. Many of our surprises were personalized for even greater meaning. This was one of the first gifts given:
Even though we each had our assigned month, and our own unique ways of sharing love with our friends, we signed everything we did as “Secret Sisters”. This group wasn’t about us as individuals. It wasn’t about outdoing someone else. Oh no, quite the opposite. We were simply a small group of ladies (with some help from spouses and children) who joined together in a common mission of love. Diane didn’t know who we were (or even how many!), but she shared her appreciation through Facebook, letting us know our gifts had been received with wonder and joy.
We continued surprising their family for a year. Gift cards. Flowers. Movie Tickets. Notes. Together we donated $100 to the Williams Syndrome Association in memory of Nate, signed simply “Secret Sisters.” One sister even wrapped and delivered 31 gifts so they would have something to open each day of that particular month.
As a group we laughed at almost getting caught. (When was the last time you left your house at midnight to sneak over to your friend’s house? Let me tell you, doing this in your forties is quite a bit different than when you were a teenager!) Being “ding-donged-ditched” took on a whole new meaning for the Secret Sisters.
Each month brought new surprises to make them smile. And Diane’s responses on Facebook reminded us that this collaborative calling to “Do” was greater than we could have ever anticipated when we began.
As we approached the one year anniversary of Nate’s passing, we wanted to do something even bigger. We knew it would be a challenging month; we wanted to shine the light of hope and give them something to look forward to.
So we decided to reveal our identities.
We reserved a shelter at the local park and sent them an invitation in the form of a puzzle they had to assemble together as a family. We even created a Secret Sisters email account so they could RSVP (thereby keeping our identities a secret until the actual cookout.)
And then, when we thought our mission couldn’t get any grander, something even more miraculous happened. I told the story of Secret Sisters to a perfect stranger, a do-gooder like me who does random acts of kindness (who swore she wouldn’t tell a soul). Upon hearing the story of how our group came to be, and my stories of sweet Nate, she donated a brand new iPad Mini to be given to the Methenys at the cookout. WOW.
On the day of the cookout, those who were available gathered together, several of us meeting each other for the first time. We all remarked on how this journey had changed us personally. Each of us had our own stories, our own reflections, of how being a Secret Sister impacted our lives. With each gift shared, our sisterhood of caring grew as well. We became more than just 12 ladies on a mission. We became like sisters ourselves.
The Metheny family arrived and the rest of the day was spent with smiles, laughter and love. The potluck food we brought was delicious and the time of fellowship was priceless. And like a year before, hugs were given and tears were shed, but not a single tissue was needed. These were tears of joy.
Which brings me the point of this post. When you feel completely paralyzed by grief to help someone else, please don’t wait for them to ask for help. They are drowning in sorrow and your kindness might be the only life preserver they get thrown. Don’t allow doubt to paralyze your good intentions.
Don’t worry about what others may think. Follow the whisper on your heart. Grab a friend or two and share the love. Trust your instincts. You never know the amazing impact your act of kindness can have on someone else’s healing journey.