Meet Ben who in this picture is nearly three, happy, lively, and the best little brother a kid could have. He is the son of Jeanette and Dean Packard and the brother of Matthew, who is three years older. On March 29th, 2002 Ben was feeling a little under the weather with a nasty cough but no one expected anything serious. He and his big brother were playing with a family friend when he began to cough and his airway swelled shut. Despite his mom’s best efforts at CPR, Ben died on Good Friday. As any parent who has lost a child can relate, his parents were indescribably devastated, depressed, and wanted nothing more than to be dead as well. However they had Matthew to think about, who was grieving too at the young age of 6. I had the honor to hear Jeanette speak personally about her son, the tragedy and the aftermath during a class at the U of A. Speaking about the incident was just one of her ways of coping with the grief.
The family began to try things to help them cope with the magnitude of the situation they were facing. They came up with a design for a bell made out of pottery pieces and began making them in their home with friends. They found that the project itself as well as being surrounded by family and friends who wanted to help was very therapeutic for them. They decided to make hundreds of bells and distribute them in the community to encourage kindness which was crucial to their healing process. The family wanted to find a way to continually spread kindness in their son’s memory. Thus Ben’s Bells was created. On the first anniversary of his death, hundreds of Bells were hand made and distributed across Tucson by volunteers. They hung them in trees, in parks, and in neighborhoods. Unexpecting people began to find the Bells which come with a note telling the person the story of what they have just found and asking them to spread kindness. Stories started pouring in to the Packard family about how much finding the Bells meant to them, how they were dealing with their own grief, and what they were planning to do to spread kindness. The local newspaper picked up the story and they began getting contacted from various different groups, organizations and individuals who wanted to help. They now have a studio where Ben’s Bells are made and they distribute them in the Tucson community twice a year. No one knows when exactly the distribution will take place or in what area of Tucson they will be. You can not and will not ever be able to buy a true Ben’s Bells because they are solely meant to be found by the right person. If you are in the Tucson area you can stop by the studio and paint pieces of the Bells for free. The family project turned non-profit organization also travels and distributes Bells remotely. They have also incorporated what is called a “Belling” which honors kind people in the community. They receive a Bell and a story in the newspaper detailing their kindness. You can go to the website and nominate a Bellee.
I have never forgotten about this family since the time I heard Jeanette speak. It is amazing to me that they were able to turn the loss of their son into a massive effort celebrating and encouraging kindness. It is a truly remarkable way to commemorate Ben and make sure he lives on through the kindness of others. Do your part by spreading a little kindness of your own.
Ben’s Bells is a non-profit organization that relies on donations and proceeds from their shop of merchandise in order to continue to fulfill their mission. Stop by their website and you can also read stories from people who have found the Bells, be prepared to be emotional. Be on the lookout for a colorful Bell in the tree tops, you never know when you might find one and it will probably be when you need it the most!