The season of giving is quickly approaching, which for me instantly conjures up the sound of bell ringers, the noise from busy soup kitchen volunteers, and that inner smile feeling from donating to a cause close to one’s heart — the latter of which is known as “helper’s high.”
Today, I’d like to talk about that helper’s high and the concept of paying it forward. I am thankful to have had the opportunities to more deeply understand these concepts, mostly from volunteering at the trauma hospital where my son Steven was transported after an automobile accident that left him with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). The trauma hospital also helped him learn to navigate life without Aaron — his brother, his best friend — who did not survive the crash.
During Steven’s recovery, I knew I wanted to step out of my comfort zone to pay it forward — to help other families facing similar, uninvited circumstances — which was a big step for this behind-the-scenes kind of girl! After Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital became a part of the Trauma Survivors Network (TSN), I became their first peer volunteer. Above all else, I wanted others experiencing traumas and losses to know that they are not alone. Some families have welcomed me with open arms, some have needed more time. Just as every TBI is different, grief, acceptance, and healing also take many forms and timelines. But, for me, invariably, it has been a privilege to offer an encouraging word or a hand to hold when I can. Helping lift someone’s despair, even for a moment, even minutely, is incredibly meaningful. I think that had we had a TSN volunteer by our side reminding us that we weren’t alone in the wake of our double trauma those first few weeks and months might have been just that much easier.
There are many avenues available to pay it forward: You can donate blood, volunteer at an animal shelter, or rock babies at a hospital or women’s shelter, for example. If you prefer behind the scenes, you can write thank-you notes to service members, local fire and rescue personnel, or faithful police officers. Or you could become a pen-pal with a nursing home resident. The list goes on. We can all pay it forward in our own way to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Doing something kind for another person, no matter how big or small, not only positively impacts our own mental health but it can also bring joy to someone else. Even tiny actions go a long way. It feels good to do good. And, in my experience, good begets good.
I think about the darkest days of our lives after our sons’ car crash when our needs were so monumental we didn’t even grasp the magnitude. Our family, friends, and community rallied around us in more ways than I can describe — financial, emotional, and physical. Our home and precious pets were taken care of. You name it, they did it! We have always been the kind of people who prefer giving over receiving, but we were in no position to turn down the generous support we so desperately needed. And that support became our lifeline as we pivoted between cheering Steven on during recovery and doing everything humanly possible to bring honor to Aaron’s life. It is not humanly possible to personally thank everyone who paid it forward by helping us, nor do they expect a thank you. But I do know that because of the love and support we received, I now feel passionate about paying it forward when and however I can. Paying it forward is an active way of showing thanks and gratitude.