How My Nephew's Death Taught Me Kindness

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A handful of years ago, I became an aunt for what seemed like the bajillionth time. We have a rather large family, with lots of cousins running around from the age of thirteen on down, so when this little nephew made his debut, we had the “welcome to the world” routine down pat.

How My Nephew's Death Taught Me Kindness

He was born two days before my birthday. I remember making jokes about how smart he was not to try to share the day with me by choosing his own birthday. I regretted that later when they rushed him to the hospital close to midnight the evening before I turned 40.

He stopped breathing.

He turned blue.

There was an undetected heart problem.

Two weeks later, after sixteen days of life, he died, and our family was devastated.

In the wake of his passing, his parents were overwhelmed with love and support and incredible acts of kindness from our extended family and the community. Meals were made. Expenses were covered. Prayers were felt. Needs were met.

Almost a year later, as we approached the anniversary of his birth, we were also expecting the arrival of his younger brother. This in many ways both eased and complicated the grief. I began to think about how we would remember such a tiny person's short life span as time marched on.

As his aunt, it was likely that, in a few years, I would not feel the weight of the anniversary the way his parents would. I was afraid to forget. It was just 16 days out of my life. I mean, I'd already lived 14,610 days myself. Sixteen days seemed so insignificant, even though he was not.

As that anniversary approached however, so did my own birthday, and with that, I knew I wasn't going to forget. I wasn't going to forget all of the kindness his little life generated all around that time period. I wasn't going to forget how good people stepped up and showed compassion during a difficult time.

I quietly came up with a little plan to pay tribute to a beautiful, but short lived life.

The first year I did it all by myself. No one knew except my husband. I made a list of sixteen random acts of kindness, and starting on his birthday, I followed through by marking one off each day for sixteen days.

  • leave a starbucks card in a library book
  • write a glowing letter to a company about an employee who served me
  • make dinner for a family
  • buy a cashier lunch

When year two began to roll around, I gently asked my kids if they remembered their little cousin who didn't live very long. The older two did, but the youngest did not. I enlisted their help that year:

  • leave a $5 bill in a Redbox case with a note suggesting it be used for popcorn
  • leave a snack in the mailbox for the mail carrier
  • take a treat to our librarians
  • tape a baggie of change to a vending machine

They loved it! They thought up new ideas for us to do.

  • feed the birds
  • take the trash cans back up to the house for the neighbors on trash day
  • bake cookies and give them away
  • do a sibling's chore without them asking

By the time you read this my kids and I will be well into our annual R.A.K. fest in honor of my nephew. My children will barely remember him, but I know they will at least remember what it is to be intentionally kind.

This was my nephew's greatest gift to me in his short life. So in honor of him, and in memory of the random acts of kindness that were shown to his family, my children and I intentionally pay forward the kindness that our family was shown.

  • donate personal care items to the foodbank
  • write a note to someone who needs encouragement
  • send a package to a soldier
  • drop quarters in parking meters downtown

As we do this to celebrate his life each year, I pray my kids will take the desire to purposefully be kind with them through their whole lives.


*This guest post was submitted by a dear friend of mine, who requested to remain anonymous. This story is part of the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. For more details about this awesome challenge, click here. If you’re ready to sign up, just click here.

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