Lessons for our Birthday

Posted by Lara Stanze on Sunday, September 15, 2013


As we celebrate the 2nd birthday of Spread A Little Joy, I find myself reflecting on all of the amazing people we have met these past two years, and how much they have changed my life. While also reflecting on the lessons I have learned along the way, I thought I would share a few with you.

Joy for All

“We could all do with a bit more joy in our lives,couldn't we? The wonderful thing is that when we start spreading joy, we actually begin to experience more joy in our own lives too!"-Steve Goodier

When I first started SALJ, I naively thought we would be merely helping others who had suffered like my Mom. Little did I know, granting wishes would end up bringing as much Joy to me, and to our many, many Dreammakers, as it does for the Dreamers. We have heard: “This is the best experience I’ve ever had in my life!” or “If I had known how gratifying this would feel, I would have done it so much sooner.” and “I think this experience has changed my life!” Sounds like quotes from our Dreamers, right? But guess what? They are from our incredible network of Dreammakers, the people who have helped us make dreams come true.
Reaching out, giving your time, your skills, making connections, even donating money towards a particular Dreamer’s wish that touched your heart or moved your soul, and then watching that dream unfold and bring HOPE and JOY into someone’s life changes you. You are helping to create someone’s moment: a moment that will become a part of a family’s history. It is the gift that keeps on giving, for everyone involved.

Everything Changes…Except the person

Sometimes there's just comfort in the ordinary: the old slippers, the robe, the morning routine… so many things.
Learn to appreciate the ordinariness
I sure do with each day. –Joy D. Brown (written by Joy one month before she lost her own battle)

Every Dreamer we meet is in a battle, the battle of their life to be precise. Their families have rallied, their friends, neighbors, and coworkers all step up, ready to ease their burden, help in any way they can and they appreciate it all, probably more than they even know how to express. When someone we care for is sick or hurting, we want to help, to coddle and to protect, and we should. However, we cannot forget that our loved one is still the same friend that we teased yesterday about being too overprotective, or the coworker we take for a beer after work, or the neighbor we sit in the driveway with as our children play.
 If you read our FB page, you’ve probably read the thoughts of one of our first Dreamers who said it best, “It’s just a disease, it didn’t steal my identity.” Even though they are sick, weak, or tired, we need to try to remember to still see the person, not the disease. Don’t change the way you relate…if you’ve always called them to hash over last night’s Grey’s Anatomy or to vent about your spouse, children, mother-in-law… continue to do so. Because, while everything else is changing in our Dreamer’s lives, they are still the same person they were yesterday, and that may very well be the only consistency they have right now.

It’s my party and I can cry/laugh/get mad if I want to!

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.-Victor Frankl

When my Mom was sick, I often became frustrated with her reactions. I am a worrier by nature- a typical Type A (is there a type AAA?!) who analyzes, over analyzes, and then reconsiders every possible scenario and outcome. My Mom, on the other hand, had this amazingly positive, ‘when life gives you lemons, not only do you make lemonade, but you throw a party’ attitude! As we went through her diagnosis and subsequent treatments, I was frequently concerned and even impatient with her carefree attitudes. After researching her latest chemo regime, I was worried- shouldn’t she be too? When her appetite waned, I became anxious and encouraged her to eat, while she joked about how she was sexy skinny. I rarely saw her cry and get mad, but even when she did, it was not at the situations in which  I would have expected her to be upset. Therefore, I worried about that. After she passed, I realized the attitude that she had her entire life - the upbeat, happy-go-lucky vibe that she kept even during her illness- is probably what kept her going and enjoying life literally up until the very end.
After spending time with Dreamers and their families, I’ve learned this: they need to be able to react however they choose. Don’t feel bad if they aren’t happy, sad, tearful, or mad when you would expect them to be. If they handle the upheavals of their current situation with grace and a smile on their face, but break down in sobbing tears because their McDonald’s French fries are cold, that’s okay. And if they don’t get mad at this nasty disease that has changed their life, but get seriously ticked off when ‘The Bachelor’ is preempted by a baseball game, that’s okay too.

Listen. Really, truly, listen.

“But there's a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother's story, because hers is where yours begin.”
―Mitch Albom

There are stories to tell. Histories to learn. I think this may be one of the most valuable lessons and certainly the easiest to do. Whatever you are doing, stop right now, and have a conversation with your mother, your father, your grandparents, whoever connects you to your past. We are disconnected these days. I can hear you saying, “What? We aren’t disconnected! I haven’t seen you in ten years but I’m reading your post!” Not to sound ancient, but I am talking about in person, face to face, lips moving, heartfelt interaction. Kids and parents today communicate and keep in touch by texting, emails, FB, twitter and now, without words, they use photos to express feelings by SnapChatting! This is all great and a fantastic way to stay in touch in this busy world and honestly, without it, Spread A Little Joy wouldn’t be able to do what we do. But we have lost the art of reminiscing...
Some of my fondest memories are of my grandma telling stories of her childhood as an orphan, how she and her sisters survived the often cruel orphanages at the time, how she and my grandfather met, and her, always entertaining, memories of raising my Mom and Uncles. These are the hidden pieces that make us who we are. The Dreamers we meet have fascinating stories! It doesn’t matter how old or young they are, trust me, they know things you don’t know.
We fulfilled a Dream for a woman who wanted a reunion with a long lost loved one, who was mostly unknown to the rest of her family. We have had dream requests from people that just want us to help them tell their story. Sometimes they don’t know how to express their feelings, or maybe they think their loved ones don’t have the time or interest to sit down and hear all of their memories of days gone by.
Someday, you will wish you knew who those people are in that faded photo your Grandma keeps, who taught your Dad to throw a football with his arm angled just so, why your Mom started calling her brother by a silly nickname that has now stuck for 40 years, or why a certain habit seems to be passed down from one generation to the next. Talk to your family. Another thought…write down or record what they tell you. Priceless.

These are just a few of the gifts I have received from Spreading A Little Joy. I have learned that JOY shared keeps giving back. I’ve learned that it is important to talk to the Dreamers, to hear their thoughts and to understand their feelings about this challenge they are coping with and why their special wish is important to them. And I have learned to look past the illness, to see the person. I cannot wait to see what our next year of SALJ holds. As we grow, I continue to be thankful for our backbone: our Dreammakers, without whom, there would be no Spread A Little Joy. From the bottom of my heart, and from all of us here at Spread A Little Joy, we wish all of you a Happy Birthday! Thank you for letting us be a part of your lives.




Tags: spread a little joy  memories  cancer  giving  joy  family history  dream