“Annie’s Kindness Blankets is a Hug it Forward, Kindness Campaign that delivers an everlasting hug to anyone who may need. There’s a team of women who run Annie’s Kindness Blankets. We are Team AKB. Each of us have a unique relationship and a special love for Annie, as well as so many others who knew her. Our team is comprised of her daughters, cousins, grandmother, aunt, and friends. Our story is no different than so many others who lost someone to depression/suicide. It is a heartache like no other. Annie’s story is likely not different than those struggling and in a dark place. The pain she felt, like so many others do, is so unimaginable; all they want to do is make the pain end. It is a hard thing to grasp all around. We hope others read our story and understand we all need to band together and be more loving, more kind, less judgmental and really listen when someone needs us to.
The journey our grief took us on is how we landed on the path to spread love and kindness. That is what embodies who Annie was – someone filled with pure love. So, that is how we carried our grief, delicately holding others’ hands until they felt her love, like we do. We have no doubt she is the leader of this pack of women. She carries the torch in search of others who need help, a hug, someone to talk with or to create a safe place for others to speak their truth. How did we get here? We got here tragically, when Annie felt like she had nowhere else to turn and left this world. This is the story of our beautiful Annie, how Annie’s Kindness Blankets came to be and what Annie’s Kindness Blankets is about.
On March 30, 2015, our Annie died of suicide. She left behind her 3 young daughters. That evening, we were all crushed. All of Team AKB has a different story of the night that changed our hearts forever. Some were sadly in the home where she passed, others were away at college, some got a phone call at 3 a.m., some were told in person, some over the phone. There is no etiquette on how you relay tragic news. But we all remember the exact moment we found out, forever. You do not really understand what the word ‘blindsided’ means until you are truly blindsided. You don’t come up for air when that happens. We all went numb; we were at a complete loss. A complete and total shut down of our world happened, for every single one of us in so many ways.
There is truly no way to describe what you go through when you find out. You go through a range of emotions, disbelief, ‘no way did this happen,’ panic, feeling afraid and deep sadness. You are removed from anything you ever knew and are so lost. You don’t know how to navigate this, and your brain can’t process it. You are angry and confused. You want to scream until it is not real anymore and your real world comes back. But it does not, and it never will again. But what can break you, can teach you how to navigate this world in a different way. If you let it, it can make you bitter, but it can also make you more compassionate and more understanding. It can drive you to do whatever you can to make sure this does not happen to any other Annie’s out there and then ultimately, to any other family.
Suicide and mental illness were never a topic of conversation in our family, not because we were trying to avoid it, but because we never thought something like this would happen to us. It was never spoken of, never truly discussed in a healthy manner or any manner at all. Not at home, not in schools; it really wasn’t discussed anywhere. When we lost our Annie in this way, we could not comprehend what had occurred. Her funeral services are a blur, and we have a hard time trying to remember what happened in the months following her death – we were all in a shocked state. For Annie’s daughters, the thought of being motherless never occurred to them, and yet there they were, sitting in a world where they can’t hear their mother’s voice, cannot see her face, can’t sit with her, talk to her, have dinner with her or watch their favorite movies with her. Life as they knew it with their mom, was now silent.
The thing about losing someone to suicide, something no one tells you, is how awkward it is to be around your family afterwards. When you lose someone to cancer, you always hear, ‘She was so strong; She fought as long as she could.’ With suicide, it’s often times, ‘How could she do this? What a selfish act.’ As a family, we all held mixed emotions after her loss. We were angry, confused, depressed. But Annie held on as long as she could. She WAS strong enough to stay in this life, she just couldn’t see it in herself and, ultimately, the lies in her head won.
There are so many beautiful memories of Annie. Her grandmother, who is part of Team AKB fondly recalls: ‘The first beautiful memory was on a Monday morning, April 2, 1979, the day Annie was born. The traffic to the hospital was horrific. I thought for sure we would not make it to the hospital. I was so relieved when we made it there. The weather started out with snow squalls, very high winds, hail, rain, thunder, and lightning and then the sunshine came out for the rest of the day and Annie was born. I was right there in the delivery room with her mom. I was so happy and excited when I heard her first cry and got to hold her and walk right beside her baby bassinet when the nurse brought her to the nursery. I felt so fortunate to stay with her while the nurses tended to my beautiful, newborn granddaughter. She gave me a new lease on life. What a happy day for me, her mother and our entire family.’
When she was younger Annie’s favorite toys were her dolls, and she had so many. She played with them all the time. She had a special name for every doll and remembered them all. She would line them up on the living room carpet, at the base of the couch and up the stairs, and tend to them individually. From a little girl to a beautiful grown woman, she was always so caring, loving and kind and did not have a mean bone in her body. And her laugh, her laugh was contagious and infectious. If you ask anyone who has ever met Annie what they remember about her, there would be an amazing amount of descriptions about her love and kindness, but the one true thing that will always be part of those descriptions is ‘her laugh was amazing.’ Annie married at 19 and had 3 beautiful daughters. She loved them so fiercely. She was the most amazing mom. And when she received her LPN Nursing Degree she beamed with happiness. Because this is who she was, someone who only loved and cared for all. And being a nurse fit that part of her heart. We were so proud of her.
We all have many memories with Annie, unique to us. From living with us, being in our wedding, being in hers, to family events, attending carnivals, vacations, school activities, concerts, working with us, proms, plays, and all the activities she shared with her daughters every single day. We could go on and on, there are just so many awesome memories. You see, Annie was an outstanding, amazing, loving, kind and incredible human being. That’s where depression and suicide trick us. We never know what someone is going through. For all the reasons described above, you would never, in a million years, think Annie would end her life. But she did.
As her daughter Christina describes, ‘Losing my mom to suicide gave me a lifetime of trauma, insecurities, and trust issues. We were in such a dark place, we had to find a way out.’ This is how Annie’s Kindness Blankets came to be. It was a way to help heal our hearts, but also a way for us to reach out to others to let them know they are not alone. We wanted to share the sunshine she created in all of us with so many others. To be her voice and for so many others who are afraid to speak their truth. To let as many as we can know, it’s okay to not be okay. We chose to put Annie in front of us, not behind us, and by doing that we embarked on a journey that has changed our lives for the better, and we know it has changed so many others. Yes, it is incredibly heartbreaking we do not have Annie here with us any longer. But we feel her all around us. And with each Annie’s Kindness Blanket we send, we know others feel her, too. She is hugging them so tight, each time they wrap that blanket around them. This is what helps all of our hearts beat more peacefully, knowing her kind aura is circle this world, helping so many.’
When we started Annie’s Kindness Blankets our initial goal was 35 blankets. 35 was the number we chose because this was her age when we lost her. We were going to hand make 35 no-sew fleece blankets, attach a label that speaks about kindness, place them in their own tote bag and send them out to anyone who may need an extra hug. An everlasting hug. When we dropped off the first 35 blankets, we never imagined the response we would get. Not only did we lift other’s hearts, but we also felt ours lifted as well. We never imagined Annie’s Kindness Blankets would have grown the way it has. Pre-Covid, we had blanket making events where hundreds of people would show up. They would come to sit and make blankets to help someone else not feel so alone. They too would come and be able to discuss depression in a safe place with their families. Annie’s Kindness Blankets created a way for the conversations to be started.
We have so many stories of volunteers with their own struggles or their own losses. Stories they never felt safe to talk about it. We have hundreds of organizations, groups, and individuals who roll up their sleeves and continue to help us, before and through Covid-19. We have hundreds of volunteers over many states, with amazing individuals spearheading Annie’s Kindness Blankets in MA, NC, NH, MD, IL, FL and AZ. We coordinate through social media the volunteers’ efforts and they make and deliver Annie’s Kindness Blankets in their surrounding area. Annie’s Kindness Blankets are made by Girls Scouts, Eagle Scouts, High Schools, large organization such as the Discovery Channel, Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA and many others. To date, we estimate over 10,000 Annie’s Kindness Blankets are sprinkled across the world. We sometimes just sit back and can’t even comprehend how far-reaching Annie’s Kindness Blankets has truly gone. How much Annie’s sweet soul and beautiful light has helped so many.
We receive hundreds of messages letting us know we have directly made a positive impact on someone’s life. Some of the responses are, ‘Words are not adequate to convey the thanks I have for Annie’s Kindness Blankets,’ ‘Thank you for the blanket, a beautiful surprise. I love it. I lost my adult son to suicide and I feel like he sent this blanket to me,’ ‘Thank you for sharing Annie’s life and experience with me, it has saved my own’ and so many others just write to say they truly feel like it’s an everlasting hug. And the requests continue to pour in. We have so many folks who just need an everlasting hug and we will provide them to as many as we can for no cost. Mental health is like physical health, and this is our treatment. An everlasting hug. If there is something ever so surprising that we have learned about mental health, it is you are not your mind. You are not your thoughts. You are simply an observer of the constant whirlpool between your ego and your soul. We say this because we do not realize as human beings how powerful we truly are. The wheel in our head is constantly spinning and it is ever so easy to get lost in it if you don’t firmly plant your feet on the ground.
Her oldest daughter Angela recalls, ‘When we lost my mom, it threw my mental health into the fastest carousel ride my head has ever been on. The constant doubt my insecurities would plant in my mind like, you will never be good enough for people to ever stick around, and what if you commit suicide too? These thoughts flooded my brain. It’s not something I ever wanted people to know about me, that I was uncertain of my place in this world. Until one day, at an Annie’s Kindness Blankets event, I realized every single person was here, in this room, because at some point in their lives their mind was asking these questions too, or they had lost someone to these questions, or they had been affected by depression in some manner. And all those, in this room with me, making Annie’s Kindness Blankets and discussing a delicate subject together, all chose one way to battle this topic, they chose kindness. The powerful act of kindness these blankets represented was something that gave every one of these strong people the courage to start saying these questions out loud, including myself.’
This organization has allowed us not only the opportunity, but every person we have touched, to speak their mind and for us to be there and to remind them it’s okay to not be okay and we will get through this together. We have respected the stories strangers have shared with us and in return this has given people the opportunity to set themselves free in a safe and nurturing environment. If there is one thing, we have been taught from this experience is to say how you feel no matter what, because it matters. Restricting your feelings because you don’t want to make others uncomfortable, leaves you restricting yourself from getting help and healing. We hope by speaking your truth while hugging an Annie’s Kindness Blankets will help you take the first step in continuing that for the rest of your life and inspiring others to do the same for themselves in the process.
Kindness is contagious and we plan to keep spreading this in hopes that one day it won’t be seen as just an act, but as a lifestyle and ultimately will save others. One kind act can change someone’s life and we believe, with the help of all our volunteers, we may have changed thousands. Annie’s light and love were truly like no other when she was here with us, and we continue to see and feel her amazing aura spread across the world. There is so much we have taken away from our journey with Annie’s Kindness Blankets. Knowing you never truly know what someone may be going through and how a simple act of kindness can have such a strong impact on someone who may be struggling. This kindness campaign started in a way to help us grieve, but sharing Annie’s story opened our eyes to others struggling in their own ways and seeing how supporting and being kind to those in need caused a ripple effect of kindness that we knew we had to continue to spread love to others. Once one feels the warm hug of an Annie’s Kindness Blankets, it wraps them up in kindness allowing them to know it’s okay to not be okay. Our mission is to open the conversation surrounding mental health and letting others know they are never alone.
This journey we have been on has been messy, heartbreaking, and raw and we miss her with all our heart, and we know we will always feel this sadness. We are very aware this kindness campaign was created because we lost something so beautiful, but it helps keep our hearts peaceful knowing we may be helping someone else. She would want it this way. We know she is proud of all that has been done and we know she is standing by our side. She is saying, ‘Let’s go girls, we got this’ and we do. We are Team AKB.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Barbara of Annie’s Kindness Blankets. You can follow AKB on Facebook and Instagram. For volunteer information or to request an Annie’s Kindness Blanket, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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