Gratitude + Passion = Purpose
A Note from Kerry Vagg, Founder of Code Gratitude
Manners were very important growing up in my house… My mother was the eldest of five daughters to her missionary parents, so with that said, she was raised with very strict and high expectations. Saying “Please & Thank-You” was an absolute must, I am actually pretty sure I remember seeing it noted in my baby book that I had my own toddler version for those very words. Some may express an almost apologetic response when hearing of such strict upbringing, but I am truly thankful for having been raised with an understanding of the importance of expressing gratitude…no matter what the situation.
Reflecting on all that I have to be grateful for has not always been the easiest thing to do. The words,” Thank-You” are spoken almost without a need to think, when you have just unwrapped a little box containing a sparkly new diamond ring or when someone holds the door open for you while you are struggling walking out of the mall with a stroller and three young children. It’s in the darkest moments, shadowing the tragedies in life, that you find yourself grasping for any little thing to be grateful for. Not because it is expected or being asked of you but, for that human need of reassurance that you are loved and therefore have reasons to be thankful.
Painfully, I uttered those two words, “Thank-You”, repeatedly, to each and every one of the hundreds of people who walked by me to pay their respects to our family after having lost my son Cody to a heroin over-dose in August 2017. Was it done consciously or just out of habit? To be completely honest, it was probably a little bit of both but ultimately, I felt the need to genuinely express how grateful I was that these friends, family members, co-workers, etc. took the time out of their busy lives (some waiting in line for 3 hrs.) to show love and support to us when we were in need.
Our family was anticipating the tough emotional days ahead with the upcoming year anniversary of Cody’s passing. In silence I sat on the ride home from a visit with my sister in C.T., searching my heart and what was left of my cloudy mind for some small way to fill this ever-growing void. One that would help me re-focus, make a difference, ultimately, one that gave me a sense of “Purpose”.
“You are the strongest woman I know”, that phrase has been spoken to me uncountable times, especially this past year. Trust me, it’s not a compliment, it’s more of a response given because they can’t comprehend how a mother could continue to function after the death of her child. I had spent the past year exerting the last of my energy, trying to hold my family together, while grieving the loss of my son, as gracefully as possible(as if that is even possible). Everyone handles grief in different ways, some may find strength amidst support groups, but I had spent so many years preserving Cody’s request for privacy while he battled his addiction, breaking that silence in a public way didn’t come naturally.
My Faith has always been the cornerstone for my persistence and resilience in pushing through the worst of these days, providing me the strength I needed presently but also the hope for better days. Having been blinded by grief this past year but now focused on, what was my purpose in all of this? I wondered, if it had been something obvious that I had missed amidst the current chaos of my “new way of life”. How could I possibly make any difference in something so “epic” as this heroin epidemic?
Honoring the memories of my son’s life… my little boy who wore his Daddy’s fire helmet and spent hours sitting on his ride-on fire truck toy. The same boy who grew up to be a young man that pursued and dreamed of being the same hero that his firefighter dad is. Playing back those sweet memories of Cody, gave me pause, a moment to reflect on how my husband’s career has been both a blessing and a curse.
Months prior to Cody’s passing, John had come home from his shift upset and frustrated. I knew something was getting to him, but he rarely voluntarily shares the downside of his job. When I asked him what was going on he just said, “Kerry, I feel like its HOPELESS…We save so many people every day from over-doses, only to be met with their anger when we give them Narcan and sadly a lot of them can’t get into treatment, so we see the same people hours/ days/ weeks/ months later in the very same situation”
I saw the look of a man who has been a firefighter for 20+ yrs., feeling defeated and helpless because bottom line, his job all comes down to “Saving Lives”. I put on my motivational speaker hat and started preaching to him all of the supportive innuendos from, “that person you saved is someone important to someone and even though you may not get to hear about all the success stories, they exist” It’s no secret to those who know him that my husband is a stubborn, old school firefighter, so my words didn't bring him much comfort.
A few nights later Cody pulled into the driveway on his motorcycle with a friend. He walked in with this young woman and she introduced herself to John saying-“Mr. Vagg, my name is Krista and I want to thank you for saving my life- I overdosed and you and your crew saved my life, I have a son and he would have been without a mom if you hadn’t been there for me!”
I know this all happened for a reason… I saw that small glimmer of hope reappear.
Krista has continued to be an encouragement to our family. In the months following Cody's passing, John was struggling with not knowing if he'd be able to handle doing his job, specifically on an over dose call. One night Krista stopped over and as we were saying our good nights, she reached over and grabbed Johns arm, looked right at him and said," Mr. Vagg, you were Cody's hero- he always talked about you and wanted to be a firefighter like you... I know it’s an unbearable burden for you carry but, YOU ...HAVE TO go back! This is what you are meant to do, there are so many people that need you to save their lives!" With goosebumps from those words she spoke and the conviction in her voice, I turned to him with my arms folded in front of me and said, "well apart from a huge boulder falling from the sky on your thick head, I don't think the answer could be clear! ... Again, he is as stubborn as they come :)
Despite the devastating personal loss that our family has felt after losing Cody to addiction, my husband and my youngest daughter, an Emergency Medical Technician, eventually returned to their jobs. Every day they go to work and are reminded that neither one of them, or their peers were able to “Save Cody”.
Something good has to come out of all of our suffering, it just has to! As I am deep in thought and searching my heart for a way to honor Cody and be a light in this sometimes dark world, I start thinking of that small “gift of hope” that Krista gave to my husband when she thanked him for saving her life. My mind started racing, overloaded with ideas. That’s its!! More people need to receive that "gift of hope"!! What if there was an organization that would help provide and arrange opportunities for those in recovery to express or relay their gratitude to the emergency responders, counselors, hospital staff, etc. that had a part in saving their lives. Having shared their "gift of hope" through expressions of gratitude, they too would be receiving a "gift", one of healing to take with them on their journey of recovery.
I contacted Krista, who just had her 2nd child and currently works as a mental health peer counselor at Catholic Family services and involved with local halfway houses. She was so thrilled and excited when I asked if this was something she may feel led to do and she jumped right in, working on making this happen.
When you find something you feel passionately about, it’s very difficult not to want to share it with anyone and everyone you encounter. So, needless to say, I have been telling just about anyone who will listen to me! One of my best friends and biggest supporters, happened to be the first person I mentioned this to and through her happy tears she asked me, ”what are you going to name this organization?” Hmm, I hadn’t even thought about that yet! The next morning the name literally just came to me…CODE-Gratitude!
This name was so perfect, so fitting… it says exactly what its mission is and for our family, it is a way for us to remember Cody. I have very fond memories of my father walking in and saying,” Hey Code-man, how’s it going?” I am sure it brings back memories for many of his childhood friends and family that called him that as well.
CODE-Gratitude is currently in it’s beginning stages and coming together step by step, making connections with local emergency response services, in addition to counselors and groups that can offer this to those in recovery. Fueled by our passion for bringing hope and healing to both those in recovery and to the emergency responders who saved them, we are anxious and look forward to fulfilling our mission.