Jodi DeSantis-Helming teaches children to embrace miracles, she said, but not in the superstitious or extraordinary sense of the word.
As a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade writing instructor in the Mineola School District, DeSantis-Helming explains to her students that miracles can be found in a wave from a friend, the first sip of coffee in the morning or starting to write a new story.
In her work as a teacher and writer, DeSantis-Helming uses positive psychology, which explores how individuals and communities excel.
The 46-year old East Meadow resident published her second book, “The Life You Have Ordered Is Currently Out of Stock,” last month. It is a self-help guide in which she uses the metaphor “create a new story” as a technique for persevering through tragedy by embracing daily miracles. She has been writing the book since 2013, but two years into it, she said, she faced a personal tragedy when her husband, Eric Helming, died of heart failure on Feb. 14, 2015, at age 46.
“It’s like the universe was saying, ‘You believe in these strategies. Now you have to practice them,’” she said, sitting at a table covered with newspapers, pages ripped from notebooks and writing supplies.
As she spoke, two boys could be heard talking down the hall. She looked in the direction of the voices and said, “I had to be a role model for my children.”
DeSantis-Helming’s sons Logan, 15, and Payson, 14, attend East Meadow High School, where their father was a beloved social studies teacher. The family moved to East Meadow from Holtsville in 2008 so the boys could start high school at “the big house,” as their father called it, with him to look after them.
“If there’s any one word you can associate with [Helming], it was laughter,” said Bob Koleba, who taught with Eric for 18 years and played music with him after school. “When that guy laughed, you could hear him clear on the other side of the building. That was his superhero power: He could make people laugh.”
Helming was declared the school’s Best Teacher several times, based on a vote by students in the yearbook. He met his wife when they were both teaching at a high school in Arizona in 1995. They married in 1998 — the same year they moved to New York together — and later named Payson after the Arizona town where they got acquainted.
“Whenever there’s a problem, she always teaches me that there’s a positive side to it,” Payson said of his mother, who repeated the phrase “we are OK,” almost as a mantra, in the months following her husband’s death. To her, it meant going to work every morning, sending her children to school and finishing the self-help book on resiliency.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Create a new story’ when life is going just as you thought, and you marry just the person you love, and you have two kids and a dog and your career is booming and everything is just as you expected,” she said, and then lowered her voice almost to a whisper. “But what do you do when this happens? … The life I ordered is not to be a widow at age 46 with two children by myself.”
DeSantis-Helming said that she and her sons learned to celebrate her husband’s life and remain resilient using the techniques she has written about. One way she did this was by joining her sister, Nicole Bartone, of St. James, to hold a “Silver Linings” party with their friends and family.
In November 2016, she took another step in her coping when she and a friend, Nicole Ruiz, of East Meadow, started a business called Come On Get Happy, which holds workshops on positive thinking and mindfulness. Their next event, called A Glass of Gratitude, will be held at the Vine Wine Bar in Merrick on March 12.
“Everything that I talk and write about, we’ve done it,” DeSantis-Helming said of her and her family. “We had to.”