Nov 3, 2011

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The Happiest List

The Happiest List

For the past few years, I’ve been privy to a tradition so sweet and meaningful that it brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. It’s called “the Happy List” and it was started by a friend of mine when her friend was sick a few years ago.

Kirsten (my dear friend and former nanny to my children) and Rae had been best friends since high school. Rae had been diagnosed with cancer as a child, and had radiation and other treatments throughout her childhood. She not only made a recovery, but was also known as a ray of sunshine and bright light to those who knew her. Over the years, Rae and Kirsten would send each other “happy lists,” lists of things that made them happy, when they were feeling down or knew the other needed a lift. Their happy lists contained items from the mundane to the deeply meaningful, but each that made them really happy. Sometimes the lists made such an impression on the young women that they would forward them to other friends or family members, who would sometimes add their own items to the lists.

In the fall of 2008, Rae became ill. The effects of the radiation she’d had as a child had weakened her heart and caused her to go into cardiac arrest. As Rae lay unconscious in the hospital, Kirsten tried to think of a way to connect all the people who were visiting Rae and praying for her recovery. It soon occurred to her to compile a “Happy List” and forward it to Rae’s friends and family.

Kirsten also decided to send the list to other friends of hers who never knew Rae, and that’s when I got involved. In honor of Rae, Kirsten asked all those on the expanded email chain to pray for her friend, to send along their own “happy lists,” and to forward the email to any friends or family of theirs who might be willing to join the effort in Rae’s honor.

I sent my list to those on the email chain as well as my own family and friends who I thought would appreciate it and join in. I began getting dozens of emails from people I’d never met containing lists of things that brought them joy. It impressed me as such an intimate thing to share with strangers, but so many of those who heard Rae’s story couldn’t help but join in. So the “happy lists” grew and spread. Many of my friends to whom I forwarded the list not only sent along their own lists, but also mentioned to me how moved they were by the whole thing.

I, too, felt so affected by the process and really felt impacted by Rae, though I had never had the occasion to meet her. I felt as though I could feel Rae’s life and the power of her spirit through the happy lists that were bringing so many people together. Her light clearly shone so bright and affected so many, and I prayed along with so many that Rae would recover and her light shine on.

Rae died on October 21, 2008, at the tender age of 24. A year later, to memorialize her, Kirsten sent out another “happy list” to the expanded email list of people who had been praying for Rae. Again, many dozens of emails poured in from both people who had known Rae, as well as those who hadn’t. Each list was so personal to the individual who had written it, and so meaningful. The outpouring of emails, the “happy lists” that grew and spread, were evidence that Rae’s light indeed shone on, despite the loss of her physical presence.

As a parent, the lists move me so deeply. Imagining the loss of a child is so difficult, and each year as the lists go around I think of Rae’s parents, whom I’ve never met. I pray for them and mourn their loss. But I also feel gratitude for the way that they are able to see (from the “happy list” emails, as well, I’m sure, as in so many other ways) the beautiful light their daughter spread to so, so many people, and continues to spread. It seems a perfect tribute that Rae’s dear friend Kirsten started and continues.

Last month, the third annual “happy lists” were exchanged for the anniversary of Rae’s death. This year, not only did dozens of people send their “happy lists,” and Rae’s friends mentioned how much they missed her and appreciated the lists, but many people wrote that, though they’d never met Rae, they felt so grateful for being included on the email chain.

I feel the same. Thank you, Kirsten, for your beautiful act of friendship (and for including me on the lists), and thank you Rae, for your bright spirit and shining example of joy, even in difficult situations. You have changed my life, though I never knew you. Your spirit shines on.
(In photo: Kirsten (L) and Rae (R))
*Photos courtesy of Kirsten Archambault


  1. Ali, your words are beautiful and I too cherish receiving and sharing these happy lists. May we all continue to appreciate all our blessings in life-big and small. What you put out always comes back to you. Rae must have been so special.

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