When Wellness Also Means Healing the Soul
I like to say I came for the food when I joined National Dairy Council (NDC) more than 20 years ago. As a dietitian, I fully understood and believed in the value of dairy’s nutrition and health benefits, and sharing this story would be my passion.
But as many of us at NDC experience, our drive stems from the people we represent —America’s dairy farm families. They are the reason I have stayed for more than two decades and they are my inspiration every day I go to work.
There has been a shift among consumers during my time at NDC. People have redefined health to being about more than the absence of disease — they want wellness and holistic health as they face more struggles and stresses in their daily life.
It’s no longer just talking about dairy’s nutrient package. It’s now about a farm-to-table story and sustainable nutrition. It’s about food that comes from a good place that’s good for people and the planet. Yes, we still talk about calcium and protein, but we now share how dairy farmers care for their land, animals and communities to produce milk in the most responsible way they can.
Our farmers are not only a major part of my professional life, they are integral to my personal life, too. My three children grew up understanding how hard farmers work, and they are well-versed in dairy’s nutritional benefits. Milk and dairy products always were on our table at family meals.
Being a parent to Joanne, Stephen and Bud has given me some of the most joyful moments you can imagine. But being a parent also comes with an understanding you may experience unthinkable heartache. That happened to us when we lost Bud on June 15, 2018, to an opioid overdose. It was five days after he turned 30.
Bud didn’t fit some people’s perception of addiction. He was full of life and extremely fit. He was one of the strongest guys in the gym and crazy about CrossFit. He ate healthy foods and he loved to cook. And he was a diehard Chicago White Sox fan.
But addiction doesn’t discriminate, and our world has been much emptier without his zest for life and his wonderful smile and laugh.
Part of dealing with grief is finding a way to channel it into something productive and beneficial for others. After his passing, my family and I decided to make sure his life wasn’t in vain. We wanted to help others dealing with the challenges of addiction.
I found my calling by serving on a Recovery Home board of directors in the Chicagoland area. Our family came together and set a goal to raise money for a gym to be built in Bud’s name at the facility. We want to enhance the experience for people who come there for help.
We chose a Grand Canyon hike as our first revenue-generating project. It was our “trek against addiction.” My sister, two brothers, a niece and my daughter joined me on this quest.
After eight months of training, we arrived at the Grand Canyon on May 20, ready for our two-day, 24-mile hike. Our walk started in a blizzard, uncharacteristic for Arizona that time of year. But that soon settled, and we were on our way.
You truly feel like a tiny speck as you descend the canyon. It’s vast and you feel like you’re travelling to the center of the earth. Its beauty is unparalleled, and it was the perfect setting to reflect on why we were there.
Ragalie-Carr with her son Bud
It was an experience of ups and downs, hills and valleys, and it made me think about Bud’s life and his own journey and the struggles he faced. I drew strength knowing he would have loved the scenery we experienced and the physical challenge we endured.
When we climbed back to the top of the canyon, we celebrated Bud and our accomplishment with a chocolate milk toast.
We raised about $17,000 and found a donor who agreed to match what we generate up to $50,000 to get us closer to building the gym. We have other plans in the works, including a 5k run later this summer.
All of this has been so bittersweet for me and my family. I have felt the tremendous support and love from my NDC and local dairy council teams, my fellow colleagues in health and wellness around the country, and the many dairy farmers who reached out to me. I have called this my year of love. It’s truly been one of the most touching experiences of my life and I never once felt like I was alone.
Our Grand Canyon hike was just one part of our journey. It was not our final destination. We will continue to not only work to get the gym built but work to stop the stigma of addiction by educating people.
This speaks to the core of the responsibility and abilities of my fellow health and wellness professionals — we help the whole person, we get to know them and the challenges they face so we can best assist them with their journey.
Bud was loved by many and I know he will not be forgotten because we will move forward in his honor to help others in need. We want them to know they are not facing their challenges in isolation.