Heather Jackson is the co-founder and CEO of the Realm of Caring Foundation (RoC), an internationally acclaimed nonprofit primarily serving families who are dealing with life-limiting and chronic health conditions. The number of people her organization has served has grown over 10,000% since 2013, from 400 families to over 53,000. Her “why” is her youngest son Zaki. After he journeyed from hospice to health using Charlotte’s Web, Heather made it her mission to empower families who find themselves in the same position her family was in.
Heather has over 11,000 hours of research tucked under her self-taught belt, is a published researcher, author and speaker and has presented in six countries.
Heather is leading a movement to reimagine the way we think, talk and respond to cannabis and hemp and the people who use it. Heather’s work has been featured on Dateline, the New York Times, National Geographic, TIME, Good Housekeeping, 60 Minutes Australia and CNN with Sanjay Gupta, to name a few.
Five years ago, I laid eyes on and wrapped my arms around Jimmy Fowkes. Instant love! He did show up with yellow roses after all. I was full of hope that we would kick cancer’s ass together. And by together, I mean he would fight, and I’d simply hoist his tired body on my shoulders and climb the mountain, holding a not so trusty compass and his parents’ hands. They had fought for eight years to beat brain cancer. They fought hard. And in the end, it took him. I think Dan and Margo would say it was all worth it though. As a parent whose son used to receive hospice palliative services, I’d say it was and is. All of it. The stress. The money. The “alternative therapies”. The travel. The hopes dashed only to be found again. All worth it. Every bit of it.
Jimmy’s death almost ended me, and by default, the Realm of Caring. It happened shortly after several families lost their children. I remember (although blurry), it hitting double digits. I remember it being right about Kennedee’s death, and I thought, “That’s it. I’m done. I’m not built for this.”
Seeing Kaitlyn mourn her second child gaining entrance to heaven. The inequities of this life. Ecclesiastes held no answers. My minister held no answers. I certainly could not understand getting to know and love the best people you’d ever meet in your life dealing with unthinkable tragedies. Starting a new day trying to live without someone you can’t live without.
I called Cate, my old hospice counselor and dear friend, and quit. She let me. Then she gave me another story to tell myself. And I learned through more grief and more death and more mourning that grief is praise. On this day, two years ago, I went to Christi’s house because … well, I don’t really know why besides an insatiable longing to do so. It was the Divine prompting me. The Divine had prepared me in the previous years how to simply be a support to a loved one during this transition from life to life everlasting. Being there for Reggie’s passing and being there for the Bundukamara’s was one of the greatest honors of my entire life.
I still don’t understand the inequities of this life. I wish I could tell you I have some answers about why suffering exists. And why the most amazing and loving people have to deal with unthinkable things. But I don’t. I don’t have any answers. But I know grief is praise. God does indeed give you more than you can handle. Often. That when you know someone who has lost someone they can’t live without, say, “Let it matter!”
- They aren’t suffering anymore.
- Heaven rejoices.
- Time will heal all wounds.
- They’re in a better place.
- Oh, I lost my _______ (insert your animal’s name) last year. Please, for the love do not compare the death of your pet to the death of a person, no matter how much you loved your dog!
- What can I do to help you?
- I’m praying for you.
- I’m thinking of you.
- I can’t imagine. I’m so sorry.
Don’t say any of those things. Don’t say anything. Just listen. Let them wail. Let them scream and cry and raise a fist. Let it matter. Let it all matter. Because grief is praise. It is the praise of someone you loved more than anything. And you just don’t know how you’ll go on.
Don’t say say anything, and don’t say, “let me know if you need anything.” Just start doing things. All the things. Just start feeding people and cleaning and embracing and crying with them and showing up and keep showing up. When everyone else has moved on, keep showing up!