How Giving Back Is Helping Me Heal After the Death of My Husband

By donating money to brain cancer research, I’m feeling more positive about life.

Elaine and Stephen with their dog Puck on the beach in Santa Monica.
Elaine and Stephen with their dog Puck on the beach in Santa Monica.

Every holiday season, Thrive Global employees have received the same gifts from our CEO and founder Arianna Huffington: a cozy sweater or pajamas. It’s a tradition. This year, though, Arianna decided to do something different. Starting a new tradition, she gave all of us a TisBest charity gift card that we could donate to any cause close to our hearts.

I found the gift to be profoundly meaningful — inspiring me to do something positive following the death of my beloved husband, Stephen Beech, on October 8 this year from brain stem cancer. I donated my gift to Saint John’s Health Center Foundation in Santa Monica, specifically directed to Dr. Santosh Kesari’s Neuroscience Research at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, where Stephen was treated. Dr. Kesari is not just a brilliant scientist and a world leader in the field of neuro-oncology, he’s a warm, compassionate man. He and his team devoted so much care and personal attention to Stephen, doing everything in their power to try and make him better. They never gave up hope.

I’ve been so sad, missing Stephen deeply — and the simple act of giving back has been extraordinarily (and unexpectedly) helpful, taking me out of my own grief. As Arianna Huffington says, “Giving is one of the most effective ways to boost our own well-being and gain perspective on our lives.” 

To provide some context to my own journey and explain why the gift had such an impact on me, Stephen was diagnosed with a rare brain stem glioma in March 2018 and from that shocking and distressing evening onwards, when we were given the news at the ER, I’ve been navigating the most challenging journey of my life, hoping and praying that science, along with miracles, would heal Stephen and save him. Although Stephen ultimately didn’t survive, our journey has been filled with blessings and support — gifts of all kinds — from friends and family members. In fact, giving has been a continuous uplifting theme throughout his illness.

During the past three and a half years, Stephen and I found our relationship growing and expanding. I finally came to understand the true meaning of unconditional love. All the judgments vanished. Together with our daughters, Chace and Ava-Rose — and our exceptional caregiver, Ana — we looked after Stephen at home. It was difficult beyond belief because he had so many setbacks. But caring for Stephen was the honor and privilege of my life.

At the end of his life, Stephen couldn’t speak or move a muscle. His intellect was unimpaired, but he couldn’t eat, he had a feeding tube and he was hooked up to oxygen, as well as having many other serious conditions. It is the kind of existence which ostensibly sounds unbearable, but Stephen was heroic throughout. He never, ever complained and never gave up. He wanted to live, to be with us, and we all found joy spending time with each other — listening to music and meditations, watching politics and great comedy, and having a laugh with friends. We had many magical moments. 

The grief I’ve been feeling since he passed away has felt intolerable at times — waves of pain — and I know anyone grieving the loss of a loved one will relate. Stephen and I were together for 29 happy years and now I have to learn how to live without him. However, there is a lot to be grateful for: our daughters, my work at Thrive Global and the comfort of family and friends. I’ve also discovered that giving simply makes me feel better. When you’re focusing on others, you don’t focus on your own sadness. 

Stephen, Elaine, and their family in London at the Olympics.

During his life, Stephen was always giving. He was a property manager, a highly practical man. He noticed things that needed to be fixed, wherever we were. In our house, he repaired everything from washing machines to broken chairs. When friends and neighbors had any kind of household emergency, like a burst pipe or power cut, they’d call Stephen, who would stop what he was doing and rush over to sort out the problem. He had a quiet mission to help make people’s lives easier. That’s what he’s known for in our community. Sadly, I don’t have his practical skills, but I do want to continue that legacy of service and giving back in my own way. 

So my gift certificate (along with a donation of my own) is going to Dr. Kesari, his wonderful colleague, Dr. Jose Carrillo, who also treated Stephen, and the rest of our team, as they continue their excellent work and find a cure for brain cancer. That’s Dr. Kesari’s goal and one he is intent on accomplishing. 

Inevitably, it wasn’t until Stephen’s diagnosis that I paid any attention to brain cancer. Quite honestly, it was too scary. Now I know that in terms of fundraising, brain cancer is a neglected area. And having experienced the impact of the disease on our family, I am committed to supporting brain cancer research in any way I can. 

I also know that this gift certificate has led me to a significant new stage in my own healing journey. Giving is rewarding; I view this gift as a seed. As I find my way in the world without the love of my life, I will seek out further meaningful ways to give back with gratitude.

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