Nicole Smith (Alpha Lambda | Valparaiso). Nicole began a day of service and acts of kindness in honor or her daughter, Olive, who lived a short but meaningful life. Nicole also brings attention to infant bereavement and parenting and pregnancy loss through speaking engagements and writing contributions.
In July 2014 after a textbook pregnancy, I delivered our firstborn child. Olive was born unresponsive and unexpectedly passed away 36 hours later. My world was rocked, to say the least. I had prayed for and dreamed of this baby for so long and then she was just gone. I recognized I had two choices: I could stifle my grief or I could share it; I chose to share it. I began my blog Olive and Her Branches as a way to process my grief and to help educate others on infant loss, pregnancy loss (we’ve had three miscarriages) and parenting after loss (the joys and challenges of having a child after loss).
As the first anniversary of Olive’s birth and death approached in 2015, we asked people to do an act of kindness in her memory. I set up a Facebook event to help us see the beautiful ways people were spreading joy and love by using the hashtag #olivesbranches. We were blown away at the response. That first year, thousands of people all over the world spread kindness as a way to remember her and other babies/children that had been lost. It was beautiful; we witnessed everything from paying for someone’s Starbucks to delivering bottled water to local homeless shelters. We even had someone anonymously pay tuition for children to attend a private day school in our community!
What amazed me so much was the support I received from my Chi Omega Sisters. Both my initiating chapter and the chapter I advise showed support for our #olivesbranches day on their social media pages, and sisters that I hadn’t seen or talked to since college were posting the amazing ways their families were celebrating Olive’s life. Women I advised with showed up at the run/walk to benefit our local children’s hospital; ready to walk with our team in memory of Olive. I still, three years later, have Chi Omegas that will reach out to me and encourage me and let me know they are praying for our family; sisterhood truly never stops!
Each year #olivesbranches has gotten bigger and more meaningful to us. It’s been a great way to help us through a difficult day, but more importantly it’s a way for others to share love and kindness with a world that so desperately needs it.
The most rewarding part of all of this has been giving the community and, more specifically, other loss parents an opportunity to have an open and honest discussion about grief and loss – and what that looks like to each of us. I have been able to share my story from behind a computer but I feel most connected when I’m able to stand in front of a group of people and give a face to loss. Not one of us is exempt from death or loss and there is a stigma that we should deal with our feelings in private, but I disagree. While social media can be an outlet for oversharing, it can also open us up to discussions with people we wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to reach. Discussing one’s vulnerability with the public isn’t for everyone but it has been a great tool for me; helping others to know they are not alone – that they don’t have to grieve in silence or in shame – has been very powerful.
My faith has played a huge role in my journey. I believe the words of Jesus when he told us to love God and to love others (Mark 12:30-31). In Matthew chapter 14, beginning at verse 13, we see Jesus feeding the five thousand. “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.”
It’s easy to overlook this really important piece of the story. The “what had happened” in verse 13 that Matthew is referring to is the killing of John the Baptist. Jesus was mourning the loss of his cousin; his friend, the man who baptized him and prepared the way for him. Jesus tried to retreat, but the people continued to follow him and he does a remarkable thing: he serves them.
You don’t have to be religious or spiritual to find the importance in serving. We live in a world that so desperately needs to see our truth as human beings: we hurt, we help, we persevere. Sometimes we need the lifting and other times we do the lifting; it’s the most profound way to live in unity with each other.
Nicole Genthe Smith is an initiate of the Alpha Lambda Chapter of Chi Omega at Valparaiso University in Indiana. As an alumna she serves the Beta Lambda chapter as Personnel Advisor. Nicole also serves Chi Omega as a member of the Advisor Recruitment Team and the Fair Play for Chapters team. Prior to joining those teams, she served on the National Advisory Training Team for six years.
Nicole is married and resides with her family in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI. Since her daughter’s passing, she and her husband have welcomed a son, Abner, in 2015. In their free time they enjoy spending time at their lake home in northern WI. Nicole also enjoys cooking, reading, writing and public speaking.
You can follow Nicole on Instagram @oliveandherbranches, where she is most active, or read her blog, www.oliveandherbranches.blogspot.com.