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My wedding was both the best and worst day of my life. Here's what I learned.

10 days before my wedding, my brother lost his fight with pediatric bone cancer.

My wedding was both the best and worst day of my life. Here's what I learned.

It was my wedding day.

I stood outside the doors to the chapel. My heart was racing, and I felt my eyes fill up with tears.

I can’t do this.


Before I could turn and run, the doors flung open. I was caught off guard as 80 expectant faces turned to look at me. I scanned the crowd. I saw my family and friends. I saw my dad and stepfather waiting in front of the altar to give me away. But I was going to have to walk down the aisle alone, and that was not how it was supposed to be.

I don’t know how long I paused there. I felt like I couldn’t move.

Then my eyes found my future husband, Joe. And right next to him, I saw a single candle burning on a tall candelabra. Gulp. I looked back at Joe and decided that if I could make it down the aisle to him, I’d be OK.

I felt as if my knees might buckle, but somehow I began walking. It was surreal. I felt as if I were floating, but I eventually made it down the aisle.

Me and my husband-to-be on my wedding day. All photos from the author and used with permission.

18 months earlier, my 16-year-old brother was diagnosed with a rare pediatric bone cancer.

The diagnosis was grim. The prognosis was not good. He was quick to rally. He was going to be fine. He was going to live his life. He was still planning a future. He packed a lot of living in a short time.

10 days before my wedding, he lost his fight.

Now, I look back and I don’t know how my family and I made it through both a funeral and a wedding in such a short span of time, but we did. There would be no postponing of the wedding as I’d suggested. Every single member of my family told me in no uncertain terms that my brother would never want me to put it off. He always said he "didn’t have time for cancer." He didn’t let it stop him from doing the things he wanted to do, and he would be highly pissed if I let cancer stop my wedding.

So, even though we were still in a state of shock, we had a wedding. There were tributes to my brother throughout the wedding, including the single candle that stood where he was supposed to stand as a groomsman. We read a beautiful poem in his memory during the ceremony. We played his favorite song at the reception. And we danced. And we drank. And, inexplicably, we had fun.

15 years have passed since that day.

15 years and I’m still trying to figure out how to move through life without him. 15 years and I’m still learning about how this "after part" works.


A school picture of my brother.

I would gladly trade the things I’ve learned to have my brother back, but I learned a long time ago that bargaining doesn’t work. So usually, I choose to appreciate the lessons I’ve learned instead.

1. I’ve learned to cut people some extra slack.

You really don’t know what people are going through. You don’t know what they have endured. You don’t know what battles they may be fighting.

There were the times during my brother’s illness when I would find myself driving 15 mph in the left lane. I’d be lost somewhere between grief and exhaustion, and I would arrive home with no idea how I got there. There were times when I’d look up distractedly at the grocery store, only to realize that I’d been standing in the middle of the aisle, lost in thought, for 10 minutes.

I used to be the person who honked impatiently and threw dirty looks as I zoomed past a slow driver, but not anymore.

Now I know what it's like to really have a bad day, to be so lost in a world turned on its head that you’re completely unaware of your surroundings. I learned that we all have bad days. Some of us have really bad days. Most of us are just trying to make it to tomorrow.

2. I’ve learned that true compassion and grace are about suspending judgment.

Over and over, I saw that real compassion is giving people the benefit of the doubt: granting them access, assisting them when you don’t know them, being patient and kind even when you don’t know what they're actually going through.

If you have to know the behind the scenes? If you have to know their story in order to be kind? If your kindness is based on an assessment of their pain and if it is conditional? Then it’s not truly kindness; it’s just judgment.

I didn’t get this before. I wasn’t cruel, and I wasn’t mean-spirited, but I was impatient and I was easily irritated. That was before I realized the depths in which people can be trapped while still looking completely normal to the rest of the world.

3. I’ve learned that comfort sometimes comes from unexpected places.

There are people who had a huge impact on me, who helped me through difficult times, and they probably don’t even know the significance of their actions.

Sometimes, for me, it was the soft-spoken coworker who offered me a hug as I was leaving to meet my family at the hospital. He was shy and reserved, but he wrapped me in a big bear hug when I was overcome with emotion. I knew this small gesture was not easy for him to give, but his effort to offered me solace.

In another moment, that solace came from my brash, loud, jokester boss who let me take off as much time as I needed to be with my brother at the hospital. Another time, it was my friend from work who calmly assured me that I would feel joy again after I tearfully confided my fear and pain to her. And often, solace came from my husband’s brother and my sister-in-law, who drove 12 hours to attend my brother’s memorial service.

I learned that an act of kindness, no matter how small, is never wrong. Sometimes it’s the thing that can help someone put one foot in front of the other.

4. I’ve learned that I can still, even 15 years later, be blindsided by the cruel reality of it all.

Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my kid’s swim practice when a memory knocks the wind out of me. The next thing I know, I’m wiping away tears and hoping no one notices.

Sometimes I’ll be eating dinner at a restaurant and the waiter might look just like my brother. I’ll feel the loss and pain take over and overwhelm me. And in these moments, I’m always surprised at the cruel force of grief’s ability to blindside me.

Sometimes I'll see him when my kids do something especially mischievous, and my thoughts unwillingly flicker to images of my brother, to memories of the antics of a little boy long ago.

Me and my brother as young children.

Then, I start imagining what could have been: him egging them on, encouraging their exasperating behavior. And I can almost hear him laughing, enjoying every second of finding a way to torture me as an adult like he did as a little kid.

You can bottle yourself up and try to insulate yourself from it, but let me tell you: It’s not going away, so you might as well let it happen. You’ll feel it, you’ll hurt, but I’ve learned that you’ll also be OK. You will be OK.

5. I’ve learned that I’ll probably feel my brother’s presence forever.

I'll still see him in each of my children, in their personalities, in their senses of humor, which is what my brother was known for.

I'll still feel him when my family is together and my sister and my parents are laughing and we’re giving each other a hard time. I often feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I feel a warmth come over me, a warmth hard to describe because it’s unlike any sensation I’ve felt before.

And I hope I'll still feel him, forever, kicking me in the ass when I’m about to chicken out on doing something that scares me. I can almost hear what he would say to me in those situations: Don’t give up. You’re better than that.

I’ve learned to recognize these moments, when I feel him with me. They are bittersweet. They are welcome. And they tug at my heart because they will never be enough.

6. What I’ve realized most of all, after all of these years, is that there didn’t need to be a replacement for my brother.

When we knew, in those last weeks, that it would not be possible for him to walk me down the aisle, I contemplated other options. But in the end, I decided there was no understudy, and there would be no last minute stand-in. I couldn’t imagine replacing him in that role.

And as always, even though my brother wasn't physically there, he showed up. He kicked me in the ass a little and told me not to be scared. He reminded me that I didn’t have time to let my pain stand in the way of my wedding, my happiness.

Me and my husband walking down the aisle after our marriage ceremony.

In the end, my brother was still there with me on one of the best days of my life because he always has been.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.