Thanksgiving in late November ushers in the December and early January season of religious and secular holidays that celebrate light and rededication, the birth of a man whom some call savior, and family, community and culture. Peace, joy and kindness are the hallmarks of the season.
It can be difficult to embody those qualities if life isn’t going the way you’d hoped it would.
The triumph for Dunwoody resident Deanna Mitchell is that she chose to embrace the good things in life in the face of personal losses that included the death of one of her children.
That resulted in the creation of Fully Alive, an outreach offering opportunities to gather and share in the nourishment of the mind, body and soul.
Mitchell said she felt “fully alive” in October 1983 when her first child, Robert, was born. “I thought my heart would burst, feeling the deepest emotions of love and joy I’d ever felt in my life,” said Mitchell, a Dunwoody High School graduate who was married and living in Montgomery, Ala., at the time.
Mitchell and her family, including two more children, returned to Dunwoody about 15 years ago. She was a busy carpooling mom, living close to her parents and longtime friends. “Life was good,” she said.
Things began to change for Mitchell in 2006 with the death of her father, followed the next year by the death of her mother. In 2008, her 27-year marriage ended in divorce and her youngest child started college.
Although she had been an active volunteer, substitute teacher and entrepreneur managing her activities outside the home around her family responsibilities, she felt at loose ends after years of caring for her family, her home and her parents in their final years.
Then, in November 2011, Mitchell’s son Robert died at age 28.
“I felt the deepest emotion I’ve ever felt in my whole life and again I felt as though my heart would burst, only this time it was heavy,” Mitchell said. “It felt as if I was the one who couldn’t breathe and truly had no reason to be amongst the living.”
Mitchell turned to her faith, meditating daily at St. Jude Catholic Church in Sandy Springs, where she gathered strength, hope and courage to face one day after the next. For a time, that was all she could do, too grieved to interact with others or participate in activities. Then she began the healing process.
“By the grace of God, life does go on,” Mitchell said. “And what I’ve come to realize is that God truly is preparing us all along for every step in life.”
During her married life, Mitchell’s family moved seven times and she established a community for them by becoming involved in school, church, neighborhood and extra-curricular activities.
“God had instilled in me, instinctively, the need for our family to be nourished in mind, body, and soul,” she said. “I was being prepared for and gifted with the basic structure for the Fully Alive Outreach and community many years ago without even realizing it.”
Mitchell launched the Fully Alive website in September 2013 and inaugurated the venture with a five-session health and wellness workshop. A four-session positive psychology workshop is scheduled to begin the end of January and a relationship seminar is planned for the spring.
Mitchell also hopes to organize retreats, conferences and travel opportunities.
The website, designed by Kenneth Dummitt, the son of Mitchell’s Dunwoody High School classmate Dianna Dummitt, includes blogs and resource information in keeping with the Fully Alive theme.
Dianna Dummitt also assists with Fully Alive, preparing food for the workshops and helping in any way she can.
“I’ll always help [Deanna] because she’s my best friend of 40 years,” Dummitt said.
“She said, ‘As much as I love all that I do, what can I do to help other people enjoy life?’ Helping others helps her.”
Said Mitchell, “Outreach is an opportunity for me to continue to stimulate my body and soul in sometimes unexpected ways, and to meet new people. When you’re loving and serving others, it takes you out of yourself.”
Visit the Fully Alive website at fullyaliveoutreach.com.