Stephen and I at home in our garden
Last year, our founder and CEO, Arianna Huffington, began a new holiday tradition. Instead of giving Thrive Global employees cozy pajamas and sweaters, as she had done in the past, we all received a TisBest charity gift card, so we could make a donation to any cause close to our hearts. For me the gift was particularly meaningful. A few months earlier, my beloved husband, Stephen Beech, had died after a three and a half year battle with brain stem cancer. We’d spent 29 years together, and in his honor, I made my donation to Saint John’s Health Center Foundation in Santa Monica, directed to Dr. Santosh Kesari’s Neuroscience Research at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, where Stephen was treated. I found that the simple act of making a donation to Dr. Kesari’s wonderful team had an unexpected impact. In the midst of my grief, I experienced a sense of peace and purpose.
Brain cancer is a neglected area when it comes to funding, and this year I was delighted to use my TisBest card for another donation to support Dr. Kesari’s research as he continues his work towards finding a cure.
Stephen was diagnosed with a rare brain stem glioma in March 2018. As families everywhere will relate, the news was devastating. Following that initial shock, we were optimistic that he’d recover, but after two operations and multiple rounds of treatment, he became 100 percent disabled. It must have been unimaginably hard for him, but he never complained — he taught me so much about endurance and unconditional love.
I looked after Stephen at home, together with our grown daughters, Chace and Ava-Rose, and our wonderful caregiver, Ana Gonzalez. Throughout Stephen’s long illness, our brilliant and compassionate neuro oncologist Dr. Kesari and his colleagues, Dr. Jose Carillo, Dr. Naveed Wagle and Dr. Akanksha Sharma supported our family in ways that went way beyond medical treatment — answering calls in the middle of the night and giving us advice. Dr. Sharma actually raced over to our house as soon as she heard he had died.
For the last year of his life, Stephen was lying in the hospital bed at home, unable to talk, swallow, or breathe on his own. His intellect was unimpaired, but he had a feeding tube and was hooked up to oxygen. He had double vision and couldn’t move a muscle. It was difficult because he had so many setbacks, but caring for Stephen was a privilege. And there were many joyful moments — evenings with our close friend, Nancy, when we would all sit in the bedroom laughing and listening to music — his favorites like The Band, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, and Rachmaninoff.
As Stephen became weaker, we continued to pray for a miracle. That didn’t happen, but in the past year, I’ve experienced a different kind of miracle — the magical power of giving back. When Stephen died, I thought that perhaps, for a while, my daughters and I had given “enough,” that we needed a break. However, the TisBest donation sparked a new understanding of what it means to give, how there is never a good time to stop giving. Stephen was a great example for me and for our daughters. Kind, compassionate, and capable, he was a property manager and in his spare time he was constantly helping out friends and neighbors with any household project — from installing cabinets, to fixing leaks, or moving house, forever putting his old, white Dodge pick up truck to good use.
I don’t possess any of Stephen’s practical skills, but I can contribute in my own way. And that’s what I’ve endeavored to do over the past year. In May, I participated in a walk to mark Brain Tumor Awareness month. I keep in touch with nurses who played crucial roles in Stephen’s care. And I spend time with Ana, who looked after Stephen with such devotion.
I also go back to Saint John’s to visit Amin Muhammad, senior security officer at the hospital.
Amin would welcome us with a warm smile when we arrived for our many appointments, helping us with parking, finding a suitable wheelchair, and chatting. He was unfailingly kind and friendly during the long weeks I spent with Stephen living in the hospital.
When I’m out and about, I try to be observant and mindful. If I’m shopping and notice someone struggling as they carry their bags to the car, I’ll help. I smile more, and I remember to thank the people serving me in my local coffee shop and bookstore, and connect with them. And instead of rushing through my week, assuming that my own concerns are of paramount importance, I give a little time to those who might need support. An elderly friend is recovering from a serious illness, so I’m shopping for her and visiting her at home. I’ve realized, though, that during the hours we spend together, we’re simply enjoying each other’s company and it doesn’t feel like giving at all.
It’s been another challenging year for my family. My dad died in May, and our dog, Puck, died. For support, I’m taking our Thrive Giving Every Day Challenge, focusing on a variety of simple Microsteps. Here are my favorites:
- Perform one small act of kindness for someone each day.
From holding the door for a stranger to lending a hand to a colleague, these micro moments of giving will make others feel valued and fill you with a sense of purpose.
- Each day, spend time on someone else, even if you’re busy.
Helping, listening, or simply being present for someone else can benefit both you and whoever you’re helping. Research shows that when we spend time on others, our sense of our own time actually expands.
Recently, I’ve had an interesting awareness that there’s no clear delineation between giving and receiving. It’s not that I’m being altruistic and selfless (as my daughters would be the first to tell you), I’ve just discovered that donating money, time, or even thinking positive thoughts about others brings me joy.
And giving is inextricably linked with gratitude. I’m grateful that I can cook for my family, or listen to a friend who’s going through a difficult time. I’m grateful for my amazing daughters, for my mum, back in London, for my supportive friends and for my spiritual community. I’m grateful for my job as senior writer at Thrive, and for my colleagues. One major part of my job involves interviewing members of our Thrive Challenge community who are changing their lives with Microsteps, and helping to tell their stories. Learning how they are overcoming challenges is an honor — and a meaningful way of giving back.
I still experience waves, sometimes tsunamis of grief, that overwhelm me without warning when I glance at his favorite green checked shirt still hanging in the closet, because I can’t bring myself to give it away. I’ll find myself in tears doing the laundry — that was his job and he did it perfectly. But rather than spiraling into despair, I’ll watch a Thrive Reset (a short, calming video), I’ll breathe deeply, let the grief go and focus on giving.
As I sit here at my desk, I’m recalling Stephen’s last day. October 8, 2021, was a bright and sunny Friday, full of hope. I walked around the block while chatting on the phone to Sherin Thomas, a Thrive Challenge winner and Walmart associate. Sherin had just found out that she was a 2021 Grand Champ, winning $50,000, and wanted to share her excitement. We had a lovely conversation, I returned home (I work remotely), took a break and made lentil soup for dinner.
Chace was with her dad and Ana. She’d lifted Steve into his wheelchair and moved him outside (as she did every day) so he could enjoy the warm sunshine while she read The New Yorker to him. It was an article about tennis, which he had loved to play. I wandered into the backyard, gave Steve a hug and went back to my office. Moments later, I heard Chace shout, “I think Daddy’s stopped breathing.” I raced outside. Stephen had coughed and taken his last breath. I remember feeling distraught, grief-stricken, guilt-ridden: I had been working on the final morning of his life.
It took me a day or two to understand that I had spent that final morning well. Stephen couldn’t tell me, but I know he would be happy that I was giving back and doing work that matters. Suffice to say, as I navigate this new chapter without the love of my life, I have made it my mission to continue Stephen’s legacy and give back with love.