Even now, 14 years later, I still think back on the moment and cringe. It was 2005, and Hurricane Katrina had just ravaged its way through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The communities were collectively mourning the loss of life and the widespread destruction, and my best friend was lamenting the tragedies that occurred. In response, I made a flippant comment minimizing the devastating losses – as a Florida native I had seen lots of minor hurricanes. But I had never lived through a major storm, and I foolishly assumed the damages were similar. I didn’t understand the true grief the people were facing, and in my inexperience and ignorance, I discounted a pain that I did not understand.
I felt almost instant shame after my remark – but, that moment turned out to be an unexpected turning point in my life. For perhaps the first time, I realized the huge damage we do when we minimize pain that we do not understand. Attitudes like mine in response to Katrina – when you assume something can’t possibly be as bad as you hear because you have never personally experienced it – are so destructive. But it was a short moment in my life that kicked off a quest to learn, to grow, and to give kindness to hurting people, regardless of whether I not understand their pain.
In 2010, I felt loss in a very personal way when I miscarried my first pregnancy. I was the first of my friends to be pregnant, and the thrill of carrying life was all consuming and exciting. But then, the spotting started. When I walked into my ultrasound appointment at 10 weeks, I knew the news would not be good. The doctor kindly held my hand, walked me through my options, and told me there was no heartbeat.
And while I had learned to give empathy and gentleness to others around me, I had not yet learned the lesson of extended that same kindness to myself. On Friday, I spent 12 hours in a hospital bed, sobbing into my sheets. On Saturday, I put on a pencil skirt and a brave face and attended an event. On Sunday, I walked into church only to walk back out again at the sight of a baby dedication. On Monday, I sat in my office, staring numbly at a computer screen. Three days later on Thanksgiving, I cried sitting at a full table and staring at mashed potatoes and turkey. My body didn’t heal for months. Probably because I gave it very little care. My heart didn’t heal for longer. Probably because I gave it even less care.
When in 2015, my cousin and best friend (Denise) came to me with an idea to create a gift box company to care for hurting people, it was divine timing. At the time I was experiencing an intense personal struggle and giving kindness to myself and others were at the forefront of my mind. It is no coincidence that laurelbox grew during a bitter season of loss in my life. But this time, I gave myself grace during the struggle.
I can look back now and see how the journey to learn kindness for myself and others has so clearly prepared the path for laurelbox. Our gifts are guided by a main principle – remind others they are loved and not alone. Whether you are in the midst of a struggle, or you are navigating your respond to a friend who is in grief, let your response be marked by openness and grace. We do not have to understand someone’s loss to react kindly to them in their grief. As I have learned in my own life, judgement rarely relieves someone’s pain.
One of my favorite quotes by Gail Caldwell succinctly sums up this journey – “I now know that we never truly get over great losses. Instead they carve us into kinder, often more gentle creatures.”