1 Transcript: How to Rise Above Pain and Loss with Alissa Parker (Sandy Hook Mom)

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J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women Podcast, episode number 1.

A: Because there is so much more goodness than there is evil, and that truly is something that I have seen since my daughter's death.

Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women Podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.

J: Hi there, welcome to Vibrant Happy Women. I'm happy to introduce my guest today, Alissa Parker. Alissa is the mother of Emilie Parker who was killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012. She lives in Washington State with her husband, Robbie, and daughters, Madeline and Samantha, and she blogs about their family's journey through the grieving process after Emilie's death at theparkerfive.com. Alissa founded the Emilie Parker Art Connection, a non-profit donating 100% of proceeds to support community art programs. She also co-founded Safe and Sound Schools, which has had a profound impact on hundreds of communities and thousands of children across the country. Alissa is currently writing a book called ‘An Unseen Angel’ about her family's spiritual journey of learning to cope with loss. Alissa, welcome.

A: Thank you.

J: So I've given our listeners a broad outline of who you are, take a moment and fill in any gaps in that bio.

A: I think you covered all of that but, you know, it's funny hearing it because I still just consider myself, you know, just this simple stay-at-home mom and that's what I feel good with; that’s who I am.

J: Yeah, why didn't I have that in there? You are a stay-at-home mom.

A: No, no, no, that's… but that’s how I look at myself; that's who I am. And so…

J: Right. Alissa, on Vibrant Happy Women, we start our show with a personal motto or a favorite quote from our guest. We would love to hear what you have to share with us today.

A: Well, I would say that my motto was given to me at a very young age for my mother. My mom, I have a very good relationship with my mom; really close. And… and when I was young, I remember I was going through a really hard time, really difficult time, preteen timeframe for me. And… and I remember she came into my room and she had made… she's… she's an artist and she had made this drawing for me with balloons. And underneath it, in calligraphy, she had written ‘Rise above it’. And she explained to me how this had helped her through a lot of her struggles and… and hard, difficult times, and how it had empowered her. And at the time, I was really young, but it changed me. It changed me profoundly because, for the first time, I could visualize myself choosing to actually rise above whatever it was that I was dealing with; whatever hardship, depression, sadness, trial, that I could literally choose to put myself above it and let it go.

J: Oh, that's beautiful. Thank you for that. So let's move on to our first topic; your lowest moment. So, Alissa, you've obviously faced a massive tragedy and emotional turmoil during these last few years. Tell us about your lowest moment and how you've coped with that.

A: I think anyone who knows anything about her… our story would know that probably the most difficult day of course was December 14, 2012, the day that Emilie, my daughter, was murdered with her fellow classmates and educators at the school. If you would have asked me, you know, the day before I would have said, you know, my dad's death which was only a few months prior to Emilie's death, I thought that was the worst thing that had ever happened to me; and it was at that point. But losing Emilie was so profound because it she was a part of my everyday life, and… and of course, coping with just the loss and the grief was extremely painful and difficult and the hardest thing. But the thing that I hadn't really anticipated was how much it would affect my day-to-day life; how much it would affect my functionality as an individual. All of a sudden, I couldn't… I couldn't do the dishes, I couldn't cook a meal, I couldn't play with my kids, I couldn't talk to people, I couldn't function. And I… I didn't know what to do with that. I didn't know where to go and… and how to navigate through my whole life feeling like I had no control over anything anymore, no say. And… and it was infuriating because I'm a very independent person and I don't like seeking help from other people, I don't like asking for things. And, in my stubborn way, I didn't want help from others, I didn't want to… I wanted to pick myself up and do it myself and… and I was broken and I… and I couldn't do it and… and that scared me. That was really tough for me.

J: You couldn't function, and how did you get yourself out of that point? It was one step at a time. One of the things that I think this experience has taught me more than anything about myself was how to be patient. And that is not an attribute that I have naturally acquired. Becoming a mom taught me, you know, a lot more about being patient, but this was a whole new level because, not only did I have to have patience with, you know, my kids which was the only thing I really had thought about mostly before when it… when it came to patience, but I had to accept that I was limited, and accept that my husband and I had to do things differently, and accept that I couldn't do it all. And it was very humbling; it was very humbling. I had a lot of offers, sweet offers, from people, and my first intuition was to say, “No, I don't need help. I don't want your help. I can do it.” And I had to realize that I had to get the help. And, not just from friendly sweet people that wanted to bring a meal to my house, but through therapy, through connecting with other family members who were struggling through the same thing.

There was a lot of resources that I had to choose to take that were not easy choices to make for me. And… and each one of those steps, you know, helped just a little, but it's definitely a marathon; it's not a sprint. And each little victory each day that I would do, I learned to take pride in that. I learned to feel happy that I was able to do something that I didn't do the day before. And they were tiny; they were tiny things like, I was able to sit down and color a picture with my girls, you know, things like; that just simple little things. And… and I learned that those small victories, over time, have now taken me on a much larger journey where I can see the improvement now, I can feel how far I've come. But each step was… was miniscule; each step was tiny along the way.

J: Mm-hmm. There is a touching video about your family. I think the title is ‘Evil did not win’.

A: Yes.

J: So in that video, it shows someone bringing oil to your house and people doing all these kind things. Can you tell us a little more about that and how that helped you?

A: Absolutely. There were so many people that came and offered acts of kindness to us. The one that you were talking about in particular was, back East, you have these big huge oil tanks that… that fuel your house and run your energy and that was something very foreign to us. But what people don't understand is, to fill those oil tanks, it costs hundreds and hundreds of dollars; probably about $500 on average during the wintertime, which that was, and our oil tank was low. And it was so strange, I would remember I was downstairs in my basement and I was doing the most awful task, which was going through Emilie's artwork to take… we were… we decided to bury her in Utah where we were originally from. And we were getting ready to take all the stuff to… to Utah for her funeral. And I was going through pictures of her artwork and it was horrible! And I'm sitting right next to the oil tank and I could hear it filling; like I could hear the sound. And… and I remember thinking, “What the heck is going on?” you know? “I didn't order anything.” And… and I ran up the stairs and I looked up to… out through the window and I saw the sweet man filling up her oil tank. And… and, in that moment, I visually saw an opportunity for myself; an opportunity to hold on to someone else's goodness and lightness and let that lift me. Because I was in this hole; I was in a hole that I couldn't get out of alone and it was an opportunity to gain strength from someone else's charity.

J: Mm-hmm.

A: He came up and he said, “This one's on us. I'm so sorry for your loss.” And I sat there just speechless and… and that was a moment, a very strong defining moment for me to realize back to my motto about… that my mom had given me about rising above it; that I had a choice. I had a choice to rise above the situation. And if I can't provide it, I need to accept the light around me and let that lift me for now. Maybe I'll get to the point where I can do it for myself. And so there were so many other sweet things that people had done. We had a neighbor of ours that her son had been killed by a drunk driver, and she came by and said, “You know, I'm in a position to serve. All my kids are gone and I have this one child that still at home who's a special-needs child, he's in a… you know, he's in his 20s. And I'm home with him a lot and I'm in the position that I can serve you. I would love to take your daughter's once a week to give you some time to be by yourself.” She goes, “I know how important that time is and it's hard when you have kids that demand so much of your attention.” And she did. While we lived in Connecticut, every week, she would come and get my kids and take them for the day. And, I mean, that's unbelievable that someone would sacrificed that much time. And there were so many; so many things. But I could go on and on about the sweet things people did for us.

But… but it was really… it was really amazing to see that there was so much goodness. And that was kind of the inspiration for that video is, “Evil did not win because there are so much more goodness than there is evil.” And that truly is something that I have seen since my daughter's death, that, you know, that one act of evil did not define the rest of my life because there's so much more good that will outweigh that one evil act and that one evil choice. And… and that's what those people showed me was that, it still existed and it was still all around me.

J: I get chills hearing that story. You shared how you chose to see all the good that was still out there. Bring us forward to today. How are you striving to live a vibrant and happy life now in the present?

A: You know, I'm really glad that I have opportunity to this question because the thing I hear the most from people is, you know, “Your life is my worst nightmare.”

J: Mm-hmm.

A: And, you know, it was my worst nightmare too and it… it was obviously something that was very difficult. But, like I said before, I didn't want it to define us as a family. And it is a part of us, but I knew that there was more to be had than just that horrible situation. And I knew that what we were doing was right for our family. A couple months ago I was reading bedtime stories with my 2 girls and we were reading a princess story. And we got to the very end of the story and Madeline, my daughter who she was 7 at the time, she's now 8, she said, you know, “Is there a princess story that doesn't have someone who dies at the end?” And so we kind of were thinking, you know, going through the list of all the different princess stories and, you know, we couldn't come up with one that didn't have some someone died in the story. And Samantha, who was 6 at the time, said, “Oh my gosh! Mom, we are just like the princesses in these stories! They had someone die in their story and they all lived happily ever after just like us!”

J: Aww!

A: And it was like this moment where I felt validated that all the work that we put in into making sure that, you know, our… our daughters lives were full of happiness and joy, that what she was saying was not an act; we were happy, we are happy. And that's… that's a moment that I wish I could share with everyone because I… I get so often the sad… sad sweet faces of people, you know, feeling so bad for us, and what I wish they could feel was that moment of pure joy with my daughters. And… and when I said, “Did, you know that, you know, a lot of people don't understand how our family can have a happily ever after, why do you think we have a happily ever after?” And Madeline, the older one, looked at me like I was a little slow and just said, “Because we're happy.”


A: And there is so much truth to that. You know, our family is a very normal, happy family and it's taken a lot of work to sort through this. And… and we'll probably be sorting through the emotions of this for a long time. There's still struggles that we have and our children have of course, but that doesn't mean that we're not happy and that our life is not full of joy and love. And so, in that moment, I knew that all that struggle, all that hard work, you know, that… that we had had a victory; that we had made an impact on these girls lives that was a positive impact which, as a mother, that is your goal. Your goal is to be the best mother you can for your kids.

J: Mm-hmm.

A: And I felt so much joy that they felt that the same way I did.

J: Many of our listeners are struggling with a low point and I find it so inspiring how far you've come. What actionable advice would you give our listeners if they're struggling with a sad time or a hard time in their lives?

A: It's funny because the more anxiety I have accrued from this experience, the less stress I have because anxiety has caused me to simplify my life. And by simplifying and taking out all those added things that weren't necessary, I found that I've been able to manage that anxiety and stress much better. And so, you know, when I think about what I would say that… that works for me, it's simplifying my life and appreciating my blessings. And when I can focus on the good that is happening around me and I simplify all the unnecessary things, it's manageable. I… I can work through it and I can process it. And I will tell you, at some points in my life, that simplification was in drastic measures. I mean, I… I didn't have a lot that I allowed to be put on my plate because my focus was my family and… and myself. And I gradually was able to gain that endurance and that strength and… add more to that plate. But that simplification and that recognizing of the good around me, you know, was my… was my lifeline which was able to help me find that happiness again.

J: And would you say your life is still much simpler than it used to be before 2012?

A: Yes.

J: How does that look? Explain what that looks like for those of us who have a hard time simplifying.

A: You know, I learned to say no. I learned to say no to things that I don't need in my life. And we… we bought a house. We've since moved from Connecticut to Washington and we bought a house; has 3 acres, separation from a lot of people, we have chickens, you know? We've… we've made it a simplified life for ourselves. But I… I realized that prior to this, I… I held on a lot to other people's problems; other people around me, I took on the emotion of their struggles. And… and this has taught me to have a lot of empathy for people but, at the same time, not carry their burdens. And that was hard for me; that was very hard for me to learn that I couldn't manage other people's grief and loss for my daughter. And I felt that pressure a lot because people wanted to come and confide to me and tell me how much they were struggling with her loss, and I couldn't carry that burden for them. I couldn't be the person that comforted them. And I had to learn to say that; to say, you know, “I… I can't hold this for you. I can't help you.” And that's… that's hard, and that was hard for me to delegate that to someone else and say, “You're going to have to… here’s some resources. These are things you're going to have to do, but I can't carry this for you.” And that that same method has translated into other types of relationships, and… and me just learning to manage my emotions and my time more effectively.

J: Mm-hmm. And so you talked about not other people's emotions on you.

A: Mm-hmm.

J: How did that work in your marriage as you're both trying to cope with that loss?

A: Right, it was tricky. And the best way I can describe the emotional status of my husband and I after Emilie died, it was like emotions on steroids, you know? Everything… everything you felt was exaggerated; it was amplified. And that, that is a lot of emotion to contain. And so you can't contain it; it's not healthy to contain it. So how do you let it out? How do you talk about it in a way that is healthy?

J: Right.

A: And that's tricky. And so my husband and I, you know, we worked really hard at it and… and it took a lot of understanding and ground rules for us. We had to establish when we needed to vent, when we needed to let it… something out, that we couldn't take… the other person couldn't take anything personal, they had to just kind of take it. But the person who was letting it out had to make sure that they weren't saying anything that was hurtful or mean specific to that person, like saying, you know, insults or… or, you know, something that, you know, you had… you had to play fair.


J: So… but the other… but, you know, we would take turns; we would take turns. On good days that I was having and he was having bad days, he would vent and I would have to just sit there and let him do it and let him get it out. And then on my bad days, he would do the same for me. And we had to not be offended and let them have that moment; let… let us get it out without any stipulations that, you know, there was repercussions for… for what we were saying. That… understanding that it was just necessary; it was necessary for us to communicate that way.

J: Alissa, it strikes me that forgiveness would be a big part of your journey. Do you have anything to say on that topic?

A: It's interesting. You know, after Emilie died I… forgiveness was… I've always been taught, you know, I'm very religious and I've always been taught that, you know, you are required to forgive others. And that was something that was really difficult in the beginning for me to even imagine doing. And it wasn't just because I was hurt, I just didn't have the desire to even put the effort into it. I just didn't care; I really didn't feel like I needed to put any energy towards something that I was… it was beneath me, I didn't even want to care. But as… as time went on, it's been interesting how just certain things naturally have happened and, you know, because I'm a spiritual person, I really feel like they were sweet little gifts from up above that really softened my heart over time and have allowed me to feel forgiveness in my heart. And what I didn't understand before, you know, I always imagined forgiveness is kind of a one-and-done thing, you know? You come to a moment where you say, “I forgive you,” and then, you know, “Ta-da! it's done!” And that's not the case in this situation for me. Forgiveness happens constantly. Every time something happens that… that I feel this sense of loss, you know… you know, a holiday or a birthday that we just had that… that there's a moment where I feel this tinge, you know, “She should be here. She should be experiencing this and she's not.” And I have to choose to forgive over and over. Every time there's a new loss, I have to make that choice. And I didn't anticipate that it was going to be such a constant thing in my life. But, again, it… like anything, it gets easier and I know that a weight has been taken off of me because I have been able to find that forgiveness. But I do believe it was a gift because, again, it wasn't something that I really had had a lot of focus and attention on. And so I felt very blessed for the help that I've received in that process.

J: Mm-hmm. You mentioned that you're a very religious person.

A: Mm-hmm.

J: Was there a time when you felt angry at God for allowing this to happen?

A: You know, I never did. That was never something that came to me. And I… and I know a lot of people who really did struggle with that, and I… and I can see why they did. But that was never a part of my thought process, and I… don't I don't necessarily know why. I do know that, as I grew up and struggles and in justices were around me, I wasn't raised to blame God.

J: Mm-hmm.

A: I was raised by parents who looked at it very differently. That… that just wasn't where I went when I thought of God in relation to what happened to our family. All I could think was, “Help! I need your help!”

J: Mm-hmm.

A: And I… and I'm thankful that I didn't have to go through that kind of faith crisis during that time.

J: You are writing a book right now that chronicles your spiritual journey. Can you tell us more about that journey?

A: Yeah. It was definitely not something I ever thought I would do and had zero desire, to be honest, to do. And it just naturally happened through my writing and with the blog and… and I just felt really strongly to just keep writing. And as… as I was writing and that evolved into something more, I began to feel really proud of… of my daughter and her life and the… the things that I felt like I had learned from her and continue to learn from her. And if anything, I felt like sharing my story and writing my story was going to be a gift for my daughters; that they would have something to look back on and say, “So that's how you got through it. So that's what happened. That's how you were able to forgive,” or, “That is how you found peace.” I wanted to give them that gift because they're so young. And if anything happens out of it, that there is probably my main goal in writing my story.

J: Are there times when you've been able to feel Emilie close by?

A: Yes, but it… it took a long time for me. And I think if you ask anyone who has loss… lost someone in their lives, that's the thing you want the most, is you want to feel connection to them. And you hear stories about people having experiences of dreams and feeling their presence nearby during, you know, a special moment and… and I wanted it. I prayed for it. I tried to trick my mind into dreaming of her at night and I just… I felt nothing for a really, really long time. And it was heartbreaking for me because that is what I wanted more than anything, was to feel her because that loss was so incredibly hard. And my husband even had experiences, and I remember being… trying to be like happy for him like, “I'm so glad!” but inside, I was like, “But I want my turn,” you know? And… and it wasn't until I really started to fill my heart changing towards the person who killed my daughter that I started to feel her presence in my life. As my heart softened, her presence was so much more strongly noted in my heart. Like, I felt her often; I could feel her influence. And… and most of the time, it was around her sisters.

J: Mm-hmm.

A: And that was a beautiful blessing for me because she was their leader, she was the oldest, she took care of them, they loved her. And for me to see that that relationship was still there, that she was a sweet angel looking over her sisters, comforted me in a way that nothing else could. And there were so many amazing experiences that happened in our family that showed me, without a doubt, that we were still connected and that she’s still, you know, a part of her family. And that was why I named our… our blog ‘The Parker Five’ in the first place was because I did feel strongly that our family is still a family of five because she's still a part of us.

J: So you mentioned you feel Emilie is an angel in your lives. Can you expand on that?

A: Yeah. And, you know, this was actually a question I post a lot of people on my blog. I made a blog post because I was thinking so much about heaven and what heaven looked like, and I wanted to hear what other people thought heaven looked like. And so I… I asked the question, you know, “What does heaven look like to you?” And it was very interesting to see people's responses to that post because these were people from all different faiths, all different walks of life, and yet the experiences that they had were very similar to mine. And I found that so interesting that our experiences with those that we had lost were so… were so similar and so connected. And in all of them, you hear a lot about filling that presence with you. And… and until I had an experience that, I… I don't know if I could have articulated it and anticipated how that would feel. And having experienced it, I still struggle with… with it because how do you explain a feeling? How do you explain an emotion that… that only you understand? And it was based on a relationship, a feeling and a connection that I had that is very specific to her. And when I feel that feeling, it's undeniable that her presence is there. And that is what I hearing from other people was knowing that that was that person and knowing that they were still with them. And that was very comforting for me because it validated a lot of the experiences that I had as well.

J: Mm-hmm, a sacred experience.

A: It is.

J: Well, thanks for sharing that. I know that's very personal, but it's beautiful to hear how you've found comfort in her presence and how you've been able to forgive and go forward; so thank you for sharing that.

A: Thank you.

J: Since moving to Washington, you have this farm and you have chickens. Are you still active with your… your nonprofits?

A: Yes. I still do a lot of speaking with school safety. We… we have created a lot of free material online to parents and community members to continue to make their school safer and… and really feel hopefully inspired to know that… that they can make a difference; that they can make a change. And so we still do quite a bit with that with the Emilie Art Connection. Actually downstairs in our house right now, we currently have 6 laundry baskets full of art supplies that we're going to deliver this afternoon. And my daughter's birthday was recently; Emilie's birthday. And… and to celebrate her birthday, one of the things that we do is we make a significant donation to an art program and it’s to be able to help children in a… in a way that was very personal to my daughter. She was an artist and she communicated her emotions and her thoughts through her art. And we wanted to continue to support children who communicated the same way since art programs are often the first thing that are cut nowadays from schools. So right now, we're… today, we're going to actually go and deliver these art supplies to an organization that takes our supplies to children who are in the hospital and are suffering from, you know, either terminal affliction or chronic disease. And they go and provide art supplies and… and teach them different art things, and it's just amazing what they do. And so we have a whole bunch of goodies we're going to go deliver to them today, and we have a lot of other organizations that we've been working with as well, and supporting. So it's been really fun; it's been really fun to see where that's gone through the years.

J: So if… if someone wanted to support one of these causes, what would you recommend that they do?

A: If they… if they just go to either of the sites, family emilieparkerartconnection.com or safeandsoundchools.org.

J: And we'll have links to those in our show notes at jenriday.com/1. Alissa, we end our show with a quick round where we ask you a few of your favorite things.

A: Okay.

J: Share a personal habit that contributes to your happiness and success today.

A: Okay, it's going to sound like I'm crazy, but I would say talking to myself. I'm really good at talking to myself now, you know, understanding that is a habit of mine that has helped me probably the most.

J: So what do you talk about?

A: You know, just trying to understand, “Why do I feel this way? Why do I not want to do this? Why do I act this way when this person comes in the room?” you know? Just understanding the reason for my reactions, my emotional reactions, and just understanding myself, has helped me tremendously. And that helps me be successful and simplify my life. And so, yeah; talking to myself.

J: Perfect! I don't think we've had that advice before, but I'd like it.


J: Share a favorite easy meal that you guys like to eat regularly.

A: So I recently became a vegetarian a couple years ago, and so I've had to revamp all of my recipes. And my go-to one now is this zucchu… we call it zucchilini, but it's zucchini enchilada.

J: Mmm!

A: And it's just, you know, sauteed zucchini stuffed into an enchilada. It's really good and everyone likes it. So it's our go-to… our go-to meal.

J: Great! Could we post the recipe on our show notes?

A: Oh sure! Sure, of course.

J: Great! Send that over and we'll… we’ll put it up there. That'll be at jenriday.com/1. Okay, Alissa, what's your current favorite household possession?

A: Does my camera count?

J: Sure.

A: Because I would say my camera. I’ve… since losing Emilie especially, I've always loved photography, but I've realized how much I value pictures. And… and it's mostly for me and my family, but I love taking pictures and I love my camera.

J: Perfect. What's a favorite book you'd recommend to the Vibrant Happy Women community and why?

A: You know, I've been reading this book with my girls that I have loved and it's called ‘True Heroes’. It's inspired by real kids who have gone through or going through some significant illness like cancer and different treatments. So what they've done in the book is they have taken these stories of these children who have cancer and different illnesses and ask them what hero they would want to be in a story. And so it has all these different authors that have been paired with each of these children, and these authors have made these amazing, sweet short stories about the hero that this child wants to be.

J: Aww!

A: And then they've done these amazing photo shoots with the kids dressed in character and the stories are hilarious; they're so fun and cute and my girls just love them. So that… that's the book that I would recommend, ‘True Heroes’.

J: Name a favorite item on your bucket list and why, Alissa?

A: You know, I… my husband and I do talk about our bucket list quite a bit. The number one thing that we talked about doing that I would say I look forward to the most is we want to go to New Zealand and just take pictures; like have it be a photography getaway and the two of us just go and go on different hikes and different things and take pictures. That sounds really nice.

J: What's the best advice you've ever received?

A: Well, I hate to quote my therapist again but when… when Emilie died, she told me… because when I came to her I said, you know, “Tell me how to help my children. Tell me how to help my marriage. Tell me how to help my husband.” And she said, “The best thing you can do to help them is to help yourself.

J: Aww.

A: “And if you can take care of you and make sure that you are healthy and you are grieving correctly and you are doing the right things, you will help them. You will teach them.” And she said, “So the best thing you can do is take care of yourself first.” I think all moms can relate to the fact that we don't do that naturally. We naturally take care of everyone else and put our needs last. And that was a new way of looking at my role as a mother and… and that has been a really, really good piece of advice that I was given.

J: Mm-hmm. That resonates for me because that's exactly why this podcast is called Vibrant Happy Women because the greatest gift we can give to our children or our spouses or other people is our own happiness.

A: Mm-hmm.

J: And when that fact dawns on us and we can actually see that big picture, it's so much easier to take care of ourselves and, just like you said help, yourself first, and then through action, and you'll help others. Okay, looking back on your life so far, share your happiest moment.

A: Well, that change is probably daily. But the one that's in my mind right now, and the reason why is partly because my daughter's birthday just passed. But a few years ago, we were living on the coast for a little while for one of my husband's medical rotations. And the whole time that we were living there, we were trying to find whole sand dollars without any success. We would go to the beach every day and it was just be a piece of one or one that was cracked on the top, so we were so sad. We wanted to get one by the end of the day that we had there. And Emilie was so excited that we were going to… you know, we were going to find one by the end of the… of the time that we had there. And so my parents they come out to visit us that last week that we were living there, and we went out to this beach that we were told would have sand dollars; whole sand dollars. And so we got there and it wasn't quite low tide yet, because that's when you have to go out to find them, and we couldn't see anything so we were a little bit nervous. And so to kill time, we went into a store for a little while and then came back out. And… and Emilie is searching and… and I hear my dad and he's yelling, “Emilie! Emilie!” She comes running over and he points to the ground and she grabs this sand dollar. And my mom picks her up and we all are cheering for her and we're so excited. And so we continued to collect sand dollars and we ended up collecting like an entire bucketful. And it was so fun. And we were sitting down afterwards, my dad and I, and he said, “You know, I really didn't think we were going to find any sand dollars.” I said, “Well, I was kind of worried too that we wouldn't.” He said, “In fact, I was so worried that when we went in that store, I bought a sand dollar.”

J: Oh!


A: “And that first sand dollar I threw on the ground was the one I bought in the store.” And then he said, “I had no idea we would actually find more.” And so to celebrate my daughter's birthday, we went back to that beach and we collected sand dollars this last weekend. So it was a really fun memory.

J: So, Alissa, our final but most important question, we end each episode with the happiness formula. If you had to create a 3 to 5 part list of steps or actions that enable you to be happy despite struggle and pain, what would that include?

A: That would include simplifying love and appreciation. Those are the 3 things that helped me find my happiness.

J: Hmm, the trifecta of happiness.

A: Yeah.

J: Perfect. Thank you, that's beautiful. Alissa, give our listeners a final parting challenge; something that is actionable that we can work on in the week ahead.

A: You know, I guess it would come back to the same challenge, if you will, that I was given by my mom which was to choose to rise above it. There's a lot of power in those words and realizing that we have a choice and how things affect us, and that we have the power to choose to rise above those things that pull us down, that weigh us down. I think there's a lot of hope and happiness to be found in that. But that would be the takeaway I hope people will get from this is that we have the choice to rise above it, that we have the choice to… to let it go and worry about the things that are most important in our lives, which is our families and the people that we love.

J: Alissa, thank you for being so generous with your time and sharing your story.

A: Oh, thanks for having me. I appreciate the chance to talk.

J: Take care.

Isn't Alissa amazing? Alissa shared some true nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. And so we've prepared a PDF printable for you. You can print out these quotes and hang them up where you can see them and be inspired by them every day. To get that, simply go to jenriday.com/1download. Be sure to join us tomorrow as I interview Amber Price, mom of 4 and blogger, and she'll share with us how she's been able to increase her own happiness simply by making life happier for other people. See you then. Take care.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women Podcast at www.jenriday.com