Suzette Ratcliff is on a mission. Her mission is to spread love through acts of kindness while keeping her daughter’s memory alive.
In honor of her daughter Rachel Ann Clark, Suzette started a Facebook page called Real Acts of Compassion, where she asks people to reach out to help others and challenges them to make a difference in the community. On the morning of Sept. 17, 2009, Rachel Clark left to go to work at Sertino’s. She would never return home.
“She got to the stop sign (at the end of their road, Oldbury Street in Vidor); we don’t know exactly what happened, but she was out in the road – whether her brakes didn’t work or how she went through it,” Suzette said of the fateful day. “Then, an 18-wheeler collided with her car. I got up just a few minutes later and put my shoes on to go to a garage sale that no one else saw. I don’t even think there was one, but I just had this urgency to get up and go. When I got to the end of the road, I came right up on the wreck. … Immediately, I needed (the loss) to make a difference.”
Suzette needed to share her grief despite the fact she was having trouble talking about it. She decided to use the most convenient medium and expressed herself through writing. “I immediately started a blog,” she said. “I got sick of hearing myself talk about it. I could write it down and that way everybody around me could kind of see where I was without me having to say once again, ‘I’m bad.’ Then I thought if it helped anyone else struggling with that type of grief, good.” According to Suzette, she heard from a lot of people who knew what she was experiencing. “It’s a very different type of grief, a mother’s grief. It’s hard to understand. I’ve met so many other moms; everyone has a story. No one is immune to grief. It’s just opened a lot of doors for me to be able to share my faith.”
Suzette said she started thinking about the Facebook page, Real Acts of Compassion, on Sept. 17 of this year, the three-year anniversary of Rachel’s death. She decided to go forward with her idea in honor of Rachel’s birthday, Nov. 1. In late October, she posted an event and started the page she envisioned.
“She would have been 22 on this last birthday, Nov. 1,” said Suzette. “Usually what we do on her birthday is – Rachel loved boots – we go and I buy the girls (daughters Kennedy and Kaitlin) boots. For this birthday, for me personally, I needed it to be bigger. … I wanted this birthday to have an impact. So I came up with the (Facebook page), Real Acts of Compassion. Those are her initials, RAC. … It just fit. That is what she was — compassionate.” “Rachel’s life made a difference,” Suzette posted on her Facebook page. “Let’s make what would have been her 22nd birthday make a difference too.”
Suzette explained that the page is meant to inspire people to perform acts of kindness, but not randomly. “There are Random Acts of Kindness that people talk about, and that’s great. But rather than random, I want the acts to be real. I want it to be something with a purpose, a purpose in your heart to make a difference.” Suzette said when she was alive, Rachel performed acts of compassion often in situations involving her friends.
“It was just the way she lived, whether she stayed up all night talking to a friend that was having problems at home, or whatever. When she was a senior she took a trip to Disney World with the choir. When we picked her up from the trip, she said, ‘Can we please go to McDonald’s? I’m starving!’ I asked, ‘Why are you starving? You had plenty of money.’ She said, ‘I used the last money I had to buy a birthday present for this girl that was with us.’ It was her birthday and nobody was making a big deal about it, so she spent a ridiculous amount of money on this Hannah Montana towel at Disney so this little girl would feel special.”
Suzette said it is not necessary to make a grand gesture. Small acts can have a big impact. Rachel’s sister Kennedy, who is in eighth grade, and the girls from the Vidor Junior High School volleyball team she plays for wore an ink stamp with the Disney character Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Rachel’s favorite character, on their last game on Nov. 1, Rachel’s birthday. Suzette’s brother, Bruce Guillott went to Patillo’s and ordered dinner. He told the cashier that he wanted to pay for the next five people who ordered links, the same thing he and his family purchased. The cashier was taken aback, he told her. It took him a moment to figure out what to do, but he did it. Guillott asked that the server let the people know the gift was from Rachel. Suzette said she thinks the people reading her Facebook page will get the idea from the examples provided there and pass on the compassion.
“Forgive somebody,” Suzette suggested. “Ask for forgiveness. We create these walls. It’s easier to just push people away. You just don’t know what a difference you’re gonna make. Whether you go sit by that kid at lunch, you know the one who no one wants to sit by, or what. It makes a difference. One girl said she just put her to-do list aside and went and visited her friend who she really needed to go see. That’s it! It’s putting someone else first.
“We’re not wealthy, and Rachel was not a rich person, but if she had five dollars and you needed it to eat, you got the five. She just was so generous and so compassionate. It wasn’t just about things she could buy. It was just with her time, just sitting and listening; anything she could do for anybody, she did it. It just came out of her, light just came out of that child. Everyone said, ‘She was my best friend.’”
Suzette said she does not want people to get the idea that she believes her daughter was flawless. She said that is not the point of the memorial page. “She wasn’t perfect, but she was compassionate. I don’t want people to think we never had an argument or she never got in trouble. It’s not about that. She was a human being.
“Do a real act of compassion. We use words like ‘love’ about pizza, about Justin Bieber. The words get so watered down they lose the real meaning of what they are. People don’t even know what compassion is. I looked it up: sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it. That was her. Anytime she saw anyone hurting, she had this need to make it better.”
When Suzette asked that people perform a real act of compassion in honor of Rachel’s 22nd birthday, she requested they post their good deeds on the page to offer examples of simple things people can do to enrich the lives of those around them. She said the posts are not people bragging about what they did, but rather suggestions as to what may be done.
Shama Dawson from Houston posted, “Today I passed off a huge bag of yarn to my friend who knits for charity!” Donna Little said she and her husband Tony from Vidor honored Rachel by paying for someone’s dinner. Little said, “Tony and I went to a restaurant and saw two men sitting at the counter alone and picked up both their tabs as they ate and left before they knew their bill was paid. We told the waitress to let them know this was a random act of kindness in the name of Rachel Clark, who is a inspiration to us all.”
Rachel’s cousin Amber Broadway of Buzzard’s Bay, Mass., shared an act of kindness on the Web page: “I went to the Salvation Army recently (and, oh, how Rach could appreciate that...) and was browsing through the books. I was startled to see a very scruffy looking Scottish terrier in a shopping cart in the aisle. Never one to pass a sweet doggie by, I told the puppy hi. The owner of the dog was an elderly woman. She was sitting in a nearby easy chair reading a book. She told me the dog’s name was Abby, and then proceeded to keep on talking. I think too often in our society, we don’t listen. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them.”
Merlene Rainwater of Vidor said she helped an elderly couple at Walmart with their shopping carts. Ame Franks of Vidor purchased “Get Well Soon” balloons from a hospital gift shop, and then gave them to a lonely woman in long-term care who she had never met. And the list of examples goes on and on.
Suzette said she is pleased by the response she received on Rachel’s birthday, but intends to continue her endeavors beyond that date. “There’s a voice that I keep hearing saying that I’m not done. There’s more to tell. There are more people to tell. I think the world is so hungry for love. They’ve tried all these electronics and things and it’s not working. People are disconnected. This is the relationship, it’s just this,” Suzette said, motioning toward her laptop screen. “That’s not real.”
Suzette said her belief that she can make a difference and help people learn to connect motivates her to keep up with the Real Acts of Compassion page. She said she hopes her Facebook following grows so that she may encourage more people to reach out through good deeds and share Rachel’s legacy of love.