A Living Legacy: Spreading Kindness with Ellie

It was a year ago today that I got a call no one wants to receive. My beautiful niece Ellie Bulger passed away unexpectedly.  She was 17. I didn’t have the words to express my grief back then but as a way to keep her spirit alive, I decided to share the eulogy I gave at her celebration of life along with a way we can all honor her memory.

Eulogy for Ellie

When pulling together my thoughts about Ellie, I was told to speak from the heart. Normally that wouldn’t be hard to do because my heart is so full of love for her. But it is hard today….like many of you, my heart is broken having to say goodbye to her too soon.

Ellie gave us so many gifts….

….As a daughter
….a sister
….a granddaughter
….a niece
…a cousin
…a friend

She had a big heart and an even bigger capacity for kindness and adventure. Ellie felt things deeply—more so than most— and although she lived her days with the sting of this sensitivity, it was also a gift. And as a result, she had such a soft spot for others who were struggling. People who knew Ellie well got to see her gifts firsthand. She was:

  • Kind but strong
  • She loved her family, friends and all creatures big and small
  • She had an adventurous spirit which made her so much fun to be around
  • And she was fearless…I have the stories to prove it.

Every summer, without fail, we got the cousins together. From a very young age, Ellie and Cole braved traveling from Pennsylvania to Oregon to be with us – we were always so impressed that they made the trip by themselves. That’s when we would catch up on their lives in Pennsylvania. They shared stories of their amazing friends – their trips to Hershey park, school, Halloween parties and we would get to see Ellie’s latest gymnastics routines, which were always so entertaining.

When the cousins were together, that’s when the magic happened.  Mia, Ellie, Cole and Dylan, collectively, were a force to be reckoned with. They had an undeniable bond. Although the kids lived on opposite sides of the country, as soon as they were together, it was as if they had never been apart. Glued at the hip, as they say. And they’d pick up right where they left off—without missing a beat. They got to be “free range kids.” They went on adventures, swam, paddle boarded, rode horses, bikes, explored in nature and most importantly laughed until they cried. Just kids being kids.

And as a mother and aunt, it was magical to witness.

During one of our trips, we decided to do one last adventure and take the kids to Elk lake to go paddleboarding.  No big deal that the weather looked a little daunting…the weather changes quickly in central Oregon so without much of a game plan, we rushed everyone into the car and off we went.

Well, we got there and hardly anyone was there. That should have been our first clue that it wasn’t a good idea.  But the kids were excited so off they went on their paddle boarding adventure. We could barely see them when the massive storm rolled in. Picture the worst storm imaginable — dark clouds, torrential downpour and cold gusts of wind pelting the lake. Yeah, not good. We were told everyone needed to get off the lake asap.

Unbeknownst to us, the kids tried to get back to shore but the current was so strong they were struggling. While Bret and I were panicking and planning a rescue mission, they were scheming how to get back. They all coped with the situation differently. Dylan who was young at the time said a few choice words while Ellie and Cole joined their paddleboards together and were laughing and having the best adventure of their lives.

We ended up sending a boat out to rescue them but to our surprise, they declined it and were determined to make it back to shore on their own. When they finally got back, they were ecstatic and couldn’t wait to tell their parents about it — I honestly felt like they would have done it again but was slightly mortified how the story would land with Darcie and Patrick.  Just another example of how Ellie was fearless and loved to live life to the fullest.

Ellie’s room was her sanctuary and she made it a special place for her friends to gather.  She loved exploring Seattle and having friends create artwork that she could display — she made every inch of her room special. I was able to see how she cleverly displayed beautiful artwork from her friend Allie under her desk.

For someone so young, she experienced so much. Despite her struggles, she didn’t ever complain. I know in my heart she’s at peace now and would want her acts of kindness, courage, adventure and love to live on with each of us.

It’s been said that grief is the price we pay for love…and that’s why the grief runs so deep today. We all loved Ellie so much.

As we all try to heal from this loss in the days, months and years ahead, I know for certain that Ellie would want us to continue the love and support for her family. We are all on Team Bulger – not only will we continue to support Patrick, Darcie and Cole but we will look for ways to honor Ellie’s memory.

I think this poem represents how Ellie would want us to go about our days remembering her.

A limb has fallen from the family tree.

I keep hearing a voice that says ‘Grieve not for me’.

Remember the best times, the laughter, the song.

The good life I lived while I was strong.

Continue my heritage, I’m counting on you.

Keep smiling and surely the sun will shine through.

My mind is at ease, my soul is at rest.

Remembering all, how I truly was blessed.

Continue traditions, no matter how small.

Go on with your life, don’t worry about falls.

I miss you all dearly so keep up your chin.

Until that fine day we’re together again.

Spreading Kindness with Ellie

To honor Ellie, my sister and brother-in-law created stickers to encourage people to spread kindness in her memory. The stickers were shared with Ellie’s fellow high school students and close friends. You can download the image here and use it to share a photo, a quote, or any representation of kindness on Instagram by tagging @spreadkindnesswithellie. Your contributions will help us keep Ellie’s legacy alive and spread kindness around the world, one sticker and image at a time.

With love and gratitude,

Danielle Cullivan Signature



Danielle Cullivan

Career Insight Studio

Danielle Cullivan is a seasoned leader in tech with over 20 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies. She is also the creator of Career Insight Studio, a career and lifestyle blog dedicated to providing insights and new perspectives for working women. Danielle lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and high-school-aged son, and visits her college-age daughter as often as possible! 

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