By Daryenne Wickliffe
Lexi Behrndt, the founder of the #OnComingAlive Project, survived what some consider the ultimate tragedy—the death of her son Charlie. As she mourned, Behrndt turned to writing to deal with her overwhelming emotions. She immediately gained a following online, and people began to share their similar experiences with her. The stories grew in number, each increasing Behrndt’s maternal feelings. “I wanted to just scoop them up and give them a big hug. I’m not even a hugger,” she said.
But, as time went by, Behrndt realized that her feelings were evolving, the more stories she heard. There was a pivotal point when things changed for her, as well as for others in the same position of loss. One day she realized that she was no longer drowning in her loss, but—against all odds, coming back to life. More stories rushed in, as people shared their moments of coming alive with Behrndt. As her inbox filled, Behrndt felt a responsibility to those sharing their stories and realized a missing platform for this kind of support. “I realized that the best way to tell people that they could rise wasn’t by me saying it by myself, but by having others join with me,” she ssaid.
She envisioned an art gallery of faces and their stories, available online, inspiring other going through similar suffering. Through sharing her story and having the privilege to receive others’ stories of rising from the ashes, Behrndt saw a way to spread awareness and inspiration through “coming alive.”
Behrndt and her team launched the site in February. The stories may appear sad at first glance, but they all contain a common thread: hope. The stories are personal accounts of suffering, each resulting in coming back to life. They range in content from homelessness and mental illness, to abuse and the death of loved ones.
The stories on the site take away the stigma of suffering, Berhnt believes. The stories “show the other component, that suffering doesn’t have to only be in the darkness, that we can make our way into the light. No matter what we face, we can make it into the light.”
The Art of Coming Alive
“The part of the art of the project is that coming alive looks different to every person…their hearts are so beautiful” Behrndt said.
The variety of topics and the eloquence of each contributor’s moments of “coming alive” create a beautiful gallery that draws you in and gives bursts of light through the initial darkness in each story. The contributors have “allowed their suffering to mold them in really beautiful ways.” Behrndt noted that tragedy has a way of refining people, leading them to become some of the most compassionate, wise, and even funniest people she has met.
Courtney Fitzgerald suffered the death of her husband. However, she emphasizes the new perspective she acquired. “Instead of looking to the darkness for comfort, I found light. Light is everywhere when you really look for it…Color is derived from the spectrum of light, so even on the darkest of days, where you see color, you see light,” she wrote.
Munchie Morgan lost her sister to suicide after addiction. Munchie’s pain is present, but her hope shines through. “I search the stars for silver linings…in her absence, without her to find them for me. It’s so my grief doesn’t swallow me whole…I take my husband’s hand and it’s there that I find the strength to share her story with the world.”
Behrndt’s gallery of stories showcases the complexity of grief and the human ability to handle many things at once. Alison Chrun writes it perfectly, explaining that, “the pain never goes away but we grieve, and the pain becomes manageable, and we move on, we thrive and we come alive.”
Although the stories contain both aspects of pain and joy, Behrndt still received pushback when she launched the site. She received comments that the two could not coexist and that suffering cannot be ignored or covered up by hope. Behrndt explained that the goal of the project is not to ignore the darkness or pretend that the suffering does not exist. Instead it reveals an outlook; it’s about, “finding hope in the darkest of places [and] really learning to live like that.”
Emma Livings, a contributor who survived sexual abuse, explains the coexistence. She writes that, “being a survivor does not mean you turned lemons into lemonade. It means you’ve had sour experiences but continued to believe that life offers sweet ones.”
Behrndt agreed, noting that these are not just sad stories. She believes that sharing them, places an importance on community and encourages us to come together, hold hands, and support each other.
Despite the few negative and skeptical comments, Behrndt has been surprised at how quickly and intensely Coming Alive has grown, anchoring her belief that she and her team need to keep going.
“This isn’t just a fad. This is a movement,” she said.
Her authenticity and willingness to share sparked the fuse, but the beauty and bravery of those that have shared their stories have provided a strong foundation for the project. Their bravery paired with those that have supported the project have heightened the success of the project. What about those who want to share, but experience last minute apprehension about sharing their stories? “It’s really up to them and their timing. Whenever they’re ready, we’re ready for them.”
Too often, she explained, people see something sad and turn away. So, Behrndt launched 72 Coming Alive stories at once, wanting to make the world pause just long enough to hear the stories and see the beauty and texture of those willing to share.
“Please don’t turn away from the sadness, because if you do, then you’ll miss the joy,” she asks.
Behrndt thinks the world needs more people to be willing and open to share their stories. The power of story, she explained, is that it “heal[s] our hearts when we get to share…but it also can heal others.” Behrndt and her team are passionate about the need to share these stories, to spread the healing that coming alive allows. Though Behrndt does not feel the need to “reinvent the wheel, ” she will continue to provide and expand a platform for as long as they “see that no one else is doing it really well and that it’s going somewhere.”
The Future of the On Coming Alive Project
“If I didn’t have a single limitation, what would I do? That’s what keeps challenging me to dream bigger,” Behrndt said.
In the near future, the On Coming Alive Project will grow to include a video series on the site. Further down the line, the project will host retreats and workshops. Behrndt explained that she doesn’t always feel qualified, she recognizes the power of sharing her story and the power for others to do the same.
“We aren’t experts, we are just fellow sufferers…we are also hope-clingers,” she explained. The future of the project will operate on that foundation.
At the least, out of Behrndt’s suffering, others have had the opportunity to turn to the site and find a place of support. She has received positive feedback that “there is a light at the end of the tunnel and to know they are not alone.” As Franchesca Cox notes, “Great grief is the product of great love.”
For Behrndt, the work is rewarding and continues to remain personal. “It’s my way of mothering Charlie in death,” she said.
Read more about Lexi Behrndt’s On Coming Alive Project at www.oncomingalive.com.