A Soulful Message: Healing Grief

This year has been especially challenging for me as I process that 5 years have passed since I last saw my daughter. We just celebrated the 7th anniversary of Bella’s birth last week. I try to imagine what she would look like, but I just can’t picture it. I can’t visualize what my life would be like today had Bella survived. This is a harsh reality to accept.

5 years is a milestone, and it was one that broke me. 2 months after what seemed like walking down a winding road blindfolded, I wasn’t feeling any better and had no idea why I wasn’t improving. Knowing writing is my best therapy, I still wasn’t able to focus enough to formulate a sentence, which was frustrating because I knew this is what I needed to do to develop understanding of what I was experiencing.

That’s when I decided to share what I was going through in the last of the #1 Bestselling 635 Series, 365 Soulful Messages: The Right Guidance At The Right Time. The title of the book spoke to me, and I asked Bella to bring me clarity as I wrote about the next phase of my journey through grief.

 

Love Never Dies

I began living every parent’s worst nightmare on the morning of June 28, 2014. Bella was a happy, healthy toddler; her death was sudden and unexpected. Instinctively, I held on to every piece of my child that I possibly could in fear that I would forget her. Once a parent loses a child, their worst fear becomes that their child will be forgotten.

I was terrified that I would forget the little things about Bella: the smell of her hair, the sound of her voice, the touch of her skin. I deeply feared she would lose importance to me as time passed. I knew that my memories would eventually fade, and this shattered my broken heart.

Every year on the anniversary of Bella’s death, I honor her short life in some way. I expected this day would become easier with each passing year, but this year I spent the day hiding, refusing to acknowledge that my daughter has been gone for five years. My heart ached as I realized my worst fear was coming true: I was beginning to forget. I cried harder that night than I had in years. I was grieving, this time for the memory of my daughter.

I wasn’t coping well and took some time off work to focus on self-healing. When I struggle, I look within for answers. This was when the message was loud and clear. I began to see the unfair expectations I had been placing on myself. I expected to never forget a thing about my daughter. I was also placing unrealistic expectations on my grief, but grief is unpredictable and has its own agenda.

The intricate details of my daughter’s life may fade away, as it’s humanly impossible to remember every single detail, but I will continue to remember what was important. Regardless of how much time passes, I can never forget Bella because she is a part of me. Nothing can change what she means to me, not even her death. Although memories will fade with time, my love for her will never die!

 

Grief is a never-ending journey and once we can begin to accept that the process never fully completes, we can begin a new level of healing. This new understanding has helped me accept my scars. They aren’t going anywhere. For the most part, they blend well with this new life I am creating, but sometimes they become irritated and demand my attention. And I am learning to be okay with that.

It is an honour to be a contributing author in 365 Soulful Messages, a book filled with personal stories that contain uplifting signs and messages – from here on Earth and beyond – that helped each author change their life in a positive way. This soulful collection contains one inspiring story for each day of the year from over 200 authors, and I’m so happy to be part of it! You can check it out HERE.

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Order now for LOTS of free gifts. After purchasing, go to  www.365soulfulmessages.com to claim your free gifts. 🙂

#365soulfulmessages

Unrealistic Expectations in Grief

I was on a mission to heal my grieving heart. I believed that if I could heal myself, I could help other grieving hearts heal too. I felt strong and happy, and thought the worst days were behind me.

Then, on the 5th Anniversary of my daughter’s death, grief came crashing down around me, except I had no idea what hit me. Grief was in front of me, but I failed to recognize it.

Life threw me a few unexpected hits earlier this year, and a few devastating incidents later, I wasn’t coping very well.

Then, we celebrated the grand opening of Bella’s Splash Pad less than a week before her 5th Angelversary. I hadn’t expected the celebration to be an emotional one. It was, however, much more than that. It felt as though I was reliving the day of her funeral all over again. Raw grief tore open a healing scab and I began to bleed once more. I’ve spent the last 3 months putting band-aids on this fresh wound hoping it would go away.

But I know better than this.

Grief doesn’t heal on its own. The only way to heal a grieving heart is through the pain. You can’t hide from grief. It lingers until you look it straight in the face and succumb to it.

I had expectations of my own grief. I thought that because I was feeling healed, it meant that I was healed. But I misinterpreted what I was feeling and ended up lying to myself.

The law of gravity states that what goes up must come down. Roller coasters have their twists and turns, and it’s a ride you can’t predict.

The only thing predictable about grief is that it’s unpredictable.

Child-loss is a lifelong journey. My child died, and with her went a piece of myself. I can never be whole again, nor do I want to be! She left this empty space that is now filled with love, but that space still belongs to her and emptiness will always remain where Bella should be!

Rainbows and Bella’s signs from heaven are a great way to feel her presence, but nothing can replace the feeling of holding your child in your arms.

I am forever changed because of my daughter. And if that means I will break every once in a while, then I choose to embrace that.

Grief has it’s own life. Enjoy the good days, and experience the bad days for what they are. Feel them; be with them.

Hold yourself through them.

Find peace in them. Somehow. Because experiencing them is the price of the love that will always remain.

Grief is a reminder that a piece of you resides in heaven.

It’s been a journey of learning to be okay with not being okay.

Just for a little while.

Because the pain will recede once it’s been expressed, and the scab will begin healing again.

And better days will come.

Much love and #StayStrong❤️

Code Blue: The Trauma of Watching My Husband Die (Part 2)

Note: To read Part 1 of this post, please click HERE.

It was a quick ride from the airport to the hospital. I shook my head to rid the thought that this was my 4th ambulance ride. It’s no wonder sirens always take my breath away. Tom was stable, and that was the only thing that mattered.

We arrived at the hospital and I waited alone in a small room while they settled Tom and ran some tests. About an hour later, they brought me to his new room.

I felt cold all over and couldn’t stop shaking; my anxiety was extreme. Tom was still his happy-go-lucky self and his positive attitude helped prevent more anxiety build. That false sense of hope I had earlier reminded me that anything can happen at any time and just because he seemed okay in that moment didn’t mean a thing.

The nurse informed us that the cardiologist would be doing an angiogram that morning, but we weren’t given a time. I sat beside Tom and we waited in silence listening to the beating of his heart through the monitor.

I couldn’t take my eyes off my husband who looked like a human pin cushion. He was hooked up to 6 IVs and was still having a heart attack. I paid careful attention to his heart monitor and he would often hear an extra beat. Every time his heart beat extra, mine would skip a few and I’d hold my breath. I’d ask him if he was okay and he would reassure me that he was fine. My stomach was in knots and I needed constant reassurance that he was okay.

Suddenly, his heart monitor sang; 2 cardiologists and 2 nurses rushed into his room with a defibrillator. They were very concerned, and I panicked once more. Tom’s heart had skipped a bunch of beats, but he was awake and the monitor settled. They decided to leave the defibrillator “just in case.”

It was his parents 50th Wedding Anniversary and they were out of town celebrating. Tom asked me to wait until after his angiogram, once we knew what was happening, before calling his parents. I agreed to call them once we knew something, and dreaded ruining their big day.

They finally wheeled Tom into surgery at 11:30 am. They told me they would be gone for an hour, but not to panic if they weren’t back in an hour as sometimes it takes longer. I kissed my husband goodbye and told him I’d be with him, and pointed to my heart. “I love you so much!!!”

The wait was agonizing and I watched every minute pass on the clock on the hospital room wall. I was still freezing and couldn’t stop shivering. I texted with my mom to try to distract and pass time. An hour passed and he still hadn’t returned. He finally returned 15 minutes later.

They found a blockage in the part of his heart that is responsible for the rhythm of the heart, which is why his heart was skipping beats and why he felt flutters in his chest before the heart attack. The blockage was between 90-100%; like a flap, it would block (Tom would be in pain) then the blockage would open allowing blood to rush through. We were told this intermittency may have saved his heart a lot of damage. They removed the blockage and put a stent in, but Tom wasn’t out of the woods just yet. He continued to have flutters in his chest.

I stayed by Tom’s side for the rest of the day and felt a strong need to touch him. I lay the opposite side of his bed and held his hand. I got him water and ice and anything else I could do for him. I just wanted to be helpful and make sure he knew how much I love him.

I was fearful of leaving his side. I didn’t even want to go downstairs for food, but eventually I had to force myself.

I left home with the clothes on my back, my wallet, phone and a charger. I needed food, my allergies were bad, and I was still battling severe anxiety. I tried to eat a sandwich but the food went right through me. My friend Claudia came that evening with some food, drinks, deodorant, toothbrush and a magazine. It was so nice to see a familiar face. She offered me a place to sleep but I wasn’t ready to leave Tom’s side.

The night nurse told us that overnight guests aren’t allowed but she brought in a chair that reclines so I would have a place to sleep. I wrapped myself in blankets and shivered all night. My allergies weren’t subsiding and I couldn’t sleep. I listened to Tom’s heart monitor as I lay awake, thoughts swirling in my head. He would snore a bit but would wake startled a few moments later. His heart would occasionally have a few extra beats. I would look over and make sure he was okay every single time.

I was so scared to lose him.

In the morning, he explained to me that he was afraid to close his eyes. He didn’t want to die again. The feeling he had before coding was wanting to fall asleep and he was at peace, but he wasn’t ready to stop living this life. He was afraid that if he closed his eyes, he would never open them again.

They moved Tom to another room and I wasn’t able to stay the night. Claudia picked me up and I really struggled to leave Tom’s side. The separation anxiety was strong and I felt as though I was leaving a piece of myself behind. I held tears back and focused on my breath as we drove away from the hospital, away from my husband.

While we drove, I called home to check on my kids. When we got to Claudia’s apartment, I struggled to say a word. I felt like I was drowning in sorrow. I was finally in a place where I could feel these negative emotions as I didn’t have to hide them from Tom. I couldn’t hold it back anymore and sobbed.

“I almost lost my husband. We got married 3 weeks ago and my husband almost died. He DID die and he came back! I am so scared!!!!”

My friend tried to comfort me. “I don’t know what to say.” I told her: “Don’t say anything, just be here!”

I slept beside her on the couch that night, terrified to be alone. My anxiety as so strong that was shaking; I literally shook the couch.

The next morning, Claudia found some clothes for me to wear and drove me to the hospital.

Tom was able to leave the hospital floor so we sat outside to get some fresh air. The hospital was blocking the solar eclipse that was occurring on the other side. The warm air nourished our battered souls.

We were hopeful to be heading home but due to the flutters and how severe the heart attack was, the cardiologist wanted to keep him again for observation. Claudia picked me up and I stayed with her again. She washed my clothes for me so I’d have something clean to go home in. I slept in her bed alone that night.

Tom was discharged the next day. The cardiologist came to see us and explained that Tom’s heart was stunned and would be functioning at a 3 or 4, but expected his heart to be at an 8, 9 or 10 at his follow-up appointment in 6 weeks. He explained that this type of heart attack typically doesn’t have symptoms and happens in your sleep. Known as a “widow-maker,” it’s the kind of heart attack that you go to sleep and don’t wake up from. The blockage was located at the top of the heart, which cut off blood to the rest of the heart and typically causes irreversible damage. Tom was not showing signs of heart failure and he was hopeful that damage would be minimal. We wouldn’t know for sure until his follow-up in 6 weeks.

Tom read as much as he could about his condition, the type of heart attack he had, and cardiac arrest. I struggled to read or talk about it as it would upset my stomach. I was suffering from severe anxiety and remained off work for weeks as I adjusted to a new normal, once more. I would wake up frequently in a panic and would have to make sure Tom was breathing. The effects of stress were obvious; I was sleep deprived and was shedding pounds quickly.

Six weeks later, we attended his follow-up appointment. We were informed that there was no permanent damage to Tom’s heart. It was a miracle!

We struggled together and separately through the aftermath of what happened. We were both experiencing the after-affects of trauma, but from different perspectives. It was challenging for him to understand how deeply I was affected by his near-death, but I needed to process what happened and allow myself to experience the feelings that came along with it. I worked through this independently to protect my husband from unnecessary guilt. His health may have been the cause of suffering for us both, but we stood together in the aftermath and held each other up as we both healed.

Although it took us months to recover from this, I am thankful that we were able to come together in our experience and fears and are now stronger as a result. Love truly has the power to conquer all. I will never take this man for granted and am grateful for every day we have together.

#LoveHeals

Code Blue: The Trauma of Watching My Husband Die (Part 1)

Our wedding day was magical, like a scene from a fairy tale. How could I possibly know that 3 short weeks later, I would stand on the sidelines as I watched my husband die right before my eyes.

After our wedding, we went away for 3 days, just the two of us. It was a great trip, but something didn’t feel right to me. I began to experience anxiety about my husband’s health. There was nothing to trigger it; he was perfectly fine. We both thought I was just paranoid.

It all began a week after we got home. I was at work when I received a text from him saying: “Don’t panic, but I’m on my way to the hospital.” Anxiety had been building inside me for a week and as I read those words, I felt it erupt. I could no longer see clearly and wasn’t able to read the rest of the message. I stood in the middle of the street unable to find my car keys when my boss offered to have someone drive me to the hospital.

There he was, laying in the same room my daughter laid when the medical staff tried so hard to bring her back to life. I pushed the flashback aside and saw that Tom looked absolutely fine, but something was going on with his heart and we wouldn’t know what was wrong until he could get an appointment with his cardiologist. We waiting on pins and needles as I treated him delicately, as though he were made glass. His symptoms would come and go. I couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep because I was absolutely terrified that something would happen to him.

And then it did.

A week later, it was just before midnight and we were settling into bed when he got up to use the washroom. I couldn’t shake the heavy feeling that came over me. Then he rushed back in and said: “We need to go to the the hospital. NOW!!!” I jumped up and threw clothes on as quickly as I could while my legs struggled to support my weight. I grabbed my purse, my phone, and a phone charger thinking it may come in handy. My mother was 6 hours away so I told my father he needed to come NOW and stay with our kids because we needed to leave. “I think Tom is having a heart attack!”

Tom was brought in by ambulance and I followed behind. We were back in that same hospital room. He was in a lot of pain and nothing was helping. His blood pressure dropped and they needed to stabilize him. He seemed calm for a moment and we were alone when he suddenly sat up and said he could feel a wave of pain coming. “Go get someone!!!” His heart monitor began to go wild and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

When you have experienced a trauma and sudden loss, you understand that bad things can happen at any time and know that people die. “I can’t lose him too… It can’t end like this… The Universe can’t be this cruel. I CAN’T LOSE HIM TOO!!!!”

I backed myself into the corner and was petrified. My heart and brain were fighting; my heart told me to be at his side so he knew he wasn’t alone, but my head screamed at me to stay out of the way! I knew the scene I was witnessing was traumatizing me and I tried to stare at the floor. There was a flashing blue light behind me and the words “code blue” were relating over and over on the speaker. I felt as though I were outside of my body as I watched helplessly as my husband died.

My legs were too weak and I couldn’t stand up. I was on my hands and knees and couldn’t breathe. So many nurses piled into the room, all standing around my husband as they pumped air into his lungs and tried to get his heart beating again.

A nurse brought me to another room, the same room I sat in when I was told Bella was gone. Tears streaming down my face, I pleaded with the nurse: “I can’t lose him too…” I was in shock and my fingers were frozen stiff. The nurse called my niece to come so I wasn’t alone.

Tom’s heart stopped for 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity passed by. I lived in a world without my husband for 2 whole minutes. Even though he came back to his body, Tom was in serious condition and time was not on our side.

He needed to get to another hospital where they could perform an angiogram to locate the blockage in his heart. Thankfully the medical team were able to stabilize him so he could make the trip. I was relieved that I was able to fly with him and our first plane ride together was by air ambulance. I was a 3.5 hour drive from home with nothing but the clothes on my back, my purse, cell phone and charger, and most importantly, my husband! I was not going to leave his side.

(To be continued…)

To read Part 2, please click HERE.

From Flashbacks to Breakdown

I went on a trip last night, back in time to 3 years ago. It wasn’t something I was expecting and took me by surprise. The flashbacks were intense and flooded me with panic. Watching the band play, dancing and having fun, how could I be so carefree hours before my entire world was about to shatter? I was clueless as to what was about to come.

The panic was suffocating me. Tears streamed my face; I couldn’t see and my legs were seizing. I needed to get out of the building but couldn’t see or walk. Tom took me by the hand and led me to the exit where I was finally able to open my eyes and breathe. I regained my composure and went back inside but instead of enjoying the concert, I tried to focus on anything other than the flashbacks that wouldn’t stop. Is Aria ok? Is something bad going to happen again? I shouldn’t have come! I fought back tears until the last song was over.  

My best friend was was so excited when she found out her favourite band was coming to our hometown. I attended the homecoming concert the night before Bella died. It had been my first night out in months. Last night, I felt like I was living that night all over again with a different awareness, knowing something terrible would happen. 

The arena was set up the same way and many of the same people were there. I have been more focused on the date of Bella’s anniversary than the events leading up to her passing and didn’t give it much thought, but while driving to town last night I realized that it may be difficult to be at this concert. If it wasn’t for my friends’ excitement about seeing Walk Off The Earth, the band that helped her through her grief after losing Bella, I wouldn’t have stayed but felt this was something I needed to do… for both of us. 

After the last song, the lights came on and as soon as I spotted my friend, I ran up to her and said “I did it! I got through it!” She hugged me then held me as I fell apart. The tears wouldn’t stop; the pain felt fresh and raw. I wanted to scream and run away. Memories were flashing before me, worries flooding my mind. Panic, regret, and pain. It was as though no time separated Bella’s death from the present moment 3 years later.

This is grief. It returns when you least expect it. Sometimes it will make its appearance when you’re in public, but this is beyond anyones’ control. Last night, I decided to stay and try to take control of my grief, but I lost the battle. I had a breakdown in public. I re-experienced trauma and released my pain in front of people who know me and many more who do not. 

It took a lot of strength and courage to get through last night. After the concert, I met one of the nurses who tried to save Bella. We talked for a long time and I am so deeply grateful for the words we exchanged. I am so thankful for all the people who tried to save my baby girl. Meeting her made it all worthwhile!

Grief isn’t linear. It ebbs and flows like the ocean. It’s unpredictable and sometimes has a life of its own. I felt like a failure last night but as I’m processing it, I’m seeing it in a different light. I miss Bella so much. I can’t erase what happened. I can’t go back in time. I can’t change a damn thing about any of it! But I can experience every aspect of this loss and grow from it. All I can do is try my best to #StayStrong❤️

Wisdom From The Past

The purpose of life is to experience. It is not our experiences that shape who we are but the choices we make from these experiences; what we choose to perceive, how we choose to react, and what we choose to take away from it all. We all go through good times and bad and the bad times allow us to appreciate the good. I’ve been through a lot recently and I may have scars, but I wear them with pride as I have learned a lot from them and I am a better person because of them. I choose strength and self-love, and choose to share this love with the world in hopes to inspire others and change lives. It is what you make of it so #StayStrong ❤️ – Angie Carter (June 21, 2014 – One week before Bella passed away)

Sometimes when we look back, we surprise ourselves. I often feel amazed when I look back at my written words. Did I write that? I don’t remember. Where did it come from? I’m in awe of how my own words helped me through the darkest days of my life. How could I have known what I would need to hear just one short week later? I had no way of knowing what was coming, but I have strong sense that something (a force?) was preparing me for what was to come. It was inevitable. When I look back at the last 6 months of Bella’s life, I was undergoing an enormous shift. I was waking up, accepting life as it was. I was finally adjusting to life as a single mom and made a point to celebrate life with my kids every single day. I was happy and felt fulfilled.

A few days after this inspiration hit me, I had the words “Stay Strong” tattooed on my arm. When I woke up in the Emergency Room the day after I lost my daughter, the doctor and nurses were in disbelief at the fresh tattoo on my arm. It’s as though I had the words I would need most permanently etched in the place where my eyes couldn’t miss seeing them. Reading these words helped remind me to live when I would forget to breathe.

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June 25, 2014 – 3 days before saying goodbye.

In 7 days, it will be 3 years since I’ve held my baby girl. Today, I stand by these words that escaped my fingertips and am grateful they crossed my screen today. I am reminded of my life purpose. The next week will be an emotional ride, and once again I will visit the past. I will look at photos and remember the final days I had with Bella, relive the last memories we made together. Remembering her brings me so much joy, but memories bring deep pain as the two are intertwined. Grief is the price of love and memories are the prize. No one can ever take these priceless moments away from me.

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June 21, 2014 – Blowing bubbles with her brother Hudson. She loved her puppy backpack.

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June 22, 2014 – The day the power went out and we spent the whole day outside. It was the best day we ever had!

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June 22, 2014 – Sleeping peacefully in the same outfit she’s still wearing today…

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June 25, 2014 – The day I got my tattoo and Zia Lori picked Bella up from daycare, but forgot her diaper bag. HA!

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June 26 – Bella’s new favourite snack. I still have this bag of edamame in our freezer.

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June 27, 2014 – The last photo I have of Bella… also the last day I would ever know what “normal” feels like.

My hears hurts tonight, but once again I must choose how I react to this pain. She’s still here with me, holding me, guiding me. What matters is what I choose to do with this pain and instead of letting it eat away inside me, I am choosing to share it with the world. Letting it out can be painful, but every tear that falls helps my soul heal a little bit more. Instead of keeping these beautiful memories inside, I am sharing them with the world because this is now the only way to keep Bella alive. It is what you make of it so #StayStrong ❤️

 

 

 

One Good Deed is All It Takes

Like a boomerang, you know it’s going to come back eventually. I can no longer predict when it will return; I feel like I’m throwing blindly. On my way to work this morning, I had a brief visit from grief. The lady in front of me in the drive through couldn’t have possibly known that I was fighting to hold it together. Two tears managed to escape. I took a deep breath and tried to ground myself. Work is not a place to bring grief. I got to the window and the cashier told me my coffee was paid for by the woman ahead of me. I didn’t know what to say; it caught me off guard. I did what I always hope others will do in a situation like this and handed the woman $2 and a Bella Angel card. “Please, pay it forward!”

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Please pay it forward❤️

That one small random act of kindness was enough to shift my morning. When I arrived at work, sadness lingered but it didn’t remain. I’m in the process of transitioning back to work full-time after a year on maternity leave and it has not been an easy process. I’m struggling with being away from my daughter. I miss her, deeply. This intense longing for her is not a feeling I am familiar with as I didn’t experience this in the past.

The last few weeks have also been a learning curve. Trauma affects the brain and my memory is not the same as it was post-loss. I changed careers when I was 2 months pregnant with Aria. I worked at my new job for 6 short months before taking a leave of absence in anticipation of my daughter’s birth. I am now trying to remember all the details required of me at this new job I barely had a chance to learn. To say it’s been stressful is an understatement. I can say that I love what I do and am surrounded by wonderful people which makes the process much easier. For this, I am grateful!

Since my return to work, I have been more mindful about the energy I put into the Universe, whether it’s through random deeds, increased patience, or simply a shift in attitude. I have been making a conscious effort to make a minimum of one positive exchange with the Universe every day. I call it my “one good deed.” What I have noticed is interesting and quite beautiful.

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Bella Angel Card

When my day starts off on a lower vibe, these exchanges have completely shifted the course of my day. Some “deeds” have taken a lot of energy from me. Some of these “deeds” have simply been “being in the right place at the right time.” Other “deeds” have lifted me up and brightened my day (hopefully along with brightening someone else’s day too). I have also made “selfish” acts of kindness, where I do something nice for someone else to prevent negativity from finding me, and to my surprise, it actually worked!!!! After 3 rough days at work, I bought the person behind me in the drive-through their coffee. This was “selfish” because it was effortless and I did it to feel good. I had an amazing day, so it worked!!! I hope I made someone else’s morning that day too.

These “deeds” have also come back to me. This week, I checked Bella’s email account and there was an email from the Calgary Food Bank. A friend had made a generous donation in memory of Bella’s and although this took place in December, I just found it now. My son received a Bella Angel card in the mail this week along with a $20 donation towards his karate Board Breaking challenge.

I truly believe that everything eventually comes full circle. It’s only a matter of time before what you put out comes back to you. The good, the bad, the love and kindness, but also the darkness. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of what you’re exporting.

Thank you to the mystery woman from this morning. I appreciate your gesture. I went back through that same drive-through to get a snack later today. The woman who gave me my food told me the card was passed on, and the recipient began crying when she was given the Angel Card. I don’t know who this person is or why she cried, but I hope this made their day a little bit brighter.