“It’s interesting when you’re in crisis the subtle things you do to shield people from knowing how bad things really are or how sad you really feel. After all, as the caretaker, you have to be the strong one. You have to hold it together. You have to make sure everybody else is ok.”
Those are the words of Diana Register, a heartbroken widow in the throes of grief over the loss of her husband to pancreatic cancer.
Unwanting to drag others down or ignite feelings of pity from friends, family, and strangers alike, Diana often found herself seeking out hiding places to let it all out.
In fact, for her, the grieving process started long before she had to lay her sweet husband in the ground.
She explains that even before her husband’s death, she would search for places to go where people couldn’t see the uncontrolled waterfalls from her eyes that silently screamed her pain — the pain of the loss that she had not yet experienced, but soon would.
“The closet was a favorite. The shower. But when I wasn’t home, it was parking lots that became an asphalt covered oasis. I found very early on that red lights didn’t work well because people look around when they’re stopped waiting for the light to turn green. They’ll catch you with mascara tears and while they won’t say anything, there’s that awkward moment where you lock eyes and you know they’re secretly wondering what’s wrong with you. And then there’s that feeling you have after a tragedy where you don’t care what somebody thinks of you but at the same time, you don’t really want to have to explain anything.”
That’s why parking lots became her safe haven to cry it all out. While they were often packed with shoppers, Diana noticed that people were generally too self-occupied with the mission they were on to pay much attention to the mascara bleeding down her cheeks.
But as grief often goes, she couldn’t always perfectly time when or where the uncontrollable sting of the loss would hit her.
One day, as she was about to place her order in the Dutch Brothers coffee drive-thru, the overwhelming sadness hit her like a tidal wave in the middle of her conversation with a friend.
“I could barely catch my breath and the ugly crying started,” said Diana. “The problem was, I was stuck in the coffee line. At Dutch Brothers. The one place where all the workers are young, happy and jamming out to music. And there was no way out. I was literally blocked in, so unless I wanted to back right up into the SUV behind me, I was about to be seen for the mess I really was.”
In a split-second decision, she decided to face the barista in her broken state and place her order. But what Diana did NOT expect was the beautiful surprise she received at the window:
“She took one look at me and saw how disheveled I was and said nothing. She just handed me my drink. A drink I didn’t order because I couldn’t even muster the words, but a drink she would know I wanted.
I tried to smile when I took it from her and drove away and finished my call. By this time, I had pulled into a parking stall and was trying to regain my composure. I reached for my iced coffee, and when I looked down in the cup holder, I saw it.
A pink straw, and the words ‘We love you’ written around it.”
The unbelievably sweet and simple act of kindness at a time when she needed it most left Diana “ugly crying again.” But this time, for a different reason.
“This girl barely knew me,” she shared. “I don’t even think at the time she knew my story. All she knew was that at that moment, I was hurting. She couldn’t fix it. We couldn’t talk about it. She couldn’t hug me. So she used the only tool she had in that instance – a pen, and a pink straw.
She wanted me to know I wasn’t alone. And that whatever trial I was going through, that there were people out there who cared about me. That regardless of knowing all the details, they cared anyway.”
That moment taught her that even the tiniest act of kindness can change someone’s life for the better. And she wanted to be a part of the movement.
“I take that lesson with me wherever I go and I retell that story to anybody who will listen,” said Diana. “Because I want them —no, I need them— to know how powerful their actions can be to a person in pain.”
Now she visits a different Dutch Brothers, but nonetheless, the legacy of the ‘pink-straw girl’ moves on:
“I don’t know what she’s doing now, but to me, she left a legacy. A legacy of kindness.”
Now, every time Diana visits a new stand, she asks for a pink straw just as a reminder that no matter what she’s facing, “there’s always somebody out there who cares.”
And that’s certainly not the end of the “pink straw” movement that evolved into something even more beautiful.
Once the manager found out about the impact a simple straw had on Diana, his team jumped in to help her raise funds and awareness for pancreatic cancer.
“They’re doing it [simply] because some girl in Idaho thought enough one day to be kind and now that story lives on and has evolved into something so much more,” the widow shared.
A few months later, the manager mentioned he had a surprise for her, as he presented her with a drink holding a purple straw. Why purple instead of pink this time? Because it’s the trademark color for supporting those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“More ugly crying in line, thank you very much,” said Diana, explaining that they don’t even have purple straws, but went out and specially bought them for her.
“The ones they get every so often; they have my name on it. Because they want to show me they care,” she said, adding that often a simple act of kindness is all it takes to change somebody forever.
“This small thing has literally changed my life,” said Diana. “I hope you remember that as you go on with yours.”