Andrea M. Tam is the founder of Robiins. Motivated by an unimaginable loss, Andrea moved from a place of suffering and despair to a new life full of happiness, love, and wisdom. Here, she shares the genesis of her gift boxes.
Q: You describe where you were at before as “blah.” Can you tell us about “blah?”
It’s such an awful feeling in such a short word!
In January 2013, one of my girlfriends invited me to attend a book signing. She excitedly told me about this new author, and healer, who she had personally met several months earlier. Despite her obvious enthusiasm, my initial response to her was, “We will see.” I told her my attendance would depend on how well I felt the day of the book signing.
At that time, everything I did was dependent on how I felt. And I usually felt “blah.” I lacked the energy and enthusiasm to muster anything more than the most minimal responses. I was divested and disengaged from my life and most everything happening around me.
Q: Did you get an official explanation for blah?
I did! The official diagnosis was a health issue called adrenal fatigue. I was extremely tired and it was difficult for me to concentrate on much of anything. I had gained a significant amount of weight, approximately 35-ish pounds, and my general outlook on life was “whatever.” I was too tired to be concerned about much of anything.
One of the factors contributing to adrenal fatigue is extreme emotional stress.
Q: Emotional stress. Was that something that resonated with you?
Hmmm. Extreme. Emotional. Stress. Let’s say I took extreme to the extreme.
Both of my parents and my husband Brad died over a short two-and-a-half years. My mother died suddenly, four days after my husband, Brad, was diagnosed with cancer. And, Brad and my Dad both died of cancer, nine months apart.
During that same time, my husband and I both lost our jobs.
Soon after our dual job loss, my husband and I hired highly skilled attorneys who carefully crafted a plan to keep us afloat financially. My husband filed for bankruptcy—fueled exclusively by his enormous medical expenses. Next, I reluctantly and tearfully filed for dissolution of marriage. That tricky but effective strategy protected me from his bankruptcy. And, I was able to continue to care for and financially support all of us.
Brad passed away before any court appearances regarding the legal dissolution, so we remained married until his death. That was incredibly important to both of us.
That would be enough, wouldn’t it?
However, my story continues. Someone stole my identity a few weeks before Brad passed away. It took a few years to resolve those issues and settle all of the legal matters.
And, let’s not forget the three estates to settle: my father’s, mother’s, and Brad’s. Anyone who’s dealt with estate stuff knows it brings out the awful in almost everyone.
Q: That sounds devastating. All of it. What happened at the book signing?
Right. Back to that day of “meh.” I felt unusually energetic the day of the book signing. The event was close to my home, and I would only be gone for a few hours, so I decided to go to it.
The event started with the author reading several passages from his book, and then he opened the floor to see if anyone had any questions. At the end of the event, I talked with the author/healer. He said that he had several private sessions available the following week.
Talking with him had sparked my interest, so I took the opportunity to book a private appointment. It had been a while since anything had sparked anything.
Q: So you’ve got the spark. What did you think would happen during your session with the healer?
Before I arrived at the session, I anticipated that we would talk about what I thought my primary issues were unemployment and how to land a new job.
The healer took one look at me and said, “My dear, your life is not moving forward. You are stuck. Do you want me to help you to get unstuck? Are you open to moving forward?”
I sheepishly answered him. “Well, I guess that is why I am here.” Still, I thought we were talking employment.
And then, something bigger happened.
Q: Meaning more than job stuff?
Much more. The healer was clairvoyant and went on to say that I had promised Brad that I would be ok after he died, but I wasn’t ok. I held onto him after he died and remained tethered to him in many ways. I frequently told people stories about Brad. And then, I would realize how much I missed him and his sense of humor. Often, I picked up the phone to call him, and then I would stop and remember that he was gone. I missed how he would snort when he laughed hard. I missed his voice and how he would shout, “Yeah Baby!” whenever he loved something I did or something that I said. I had continued to hold on to him as though he was still alive. My overwhelming grief and connection to what was, in the past, was preventing me from moving forward and creating a new life—a new path and new happiness—for myself.
The healer asked me if I was open to letting go of my Brad. Through my tears, I softly said, “Yes.” Holding on was not helping.
Q: Moving on and letting go is easier said than done. How’d the healer help?
The healer gave me an affirmation to say three times a day for 30 days, and he instructed me to write a letter to Brad. I was to tell him everything I ever wanted to say to him. The length of the letter didn’t matter. I just had to make sure I said everything that I wanted to say.
Next, I was to read the letter aloud to one person who understood the significance of it. And then? I was to burn it outside. The act of burning the letter would release the tethered bond I had with Brad so that both of us could be free.
Q: Did you follow the healer’s rules?
For the next 30 days, I did what the healer had told me to do. Little by little, I noticed that my energy level was gradually improving, and I didn’t feel so blah anymore.
Q: What about the letter? Did you write it? Who’d you read it to?
On the 25th day of my mourning ritual, I stood near a frozen pond and read my letter aloud to my therapist and my sweet dog, Schmoopy, as a blustery, cold wind blew into our faces. I could feel my throat closing up as I read the letter while sniffling and wiping away the tears falling down my face. I realized at that moment that this really would be the last letter I would make to my Brad. I hated going through the process of letting go, but I knew I had to do it. I was so tired of being so tired and sad.
After I finished reading the letter out loud, all 15 pages of it, my therapist and I wrapped it in a paper bag so it would burn. We set it on fire and watched as it turned to ash. My therapist and I hugged each other and agreed we would talk about it during my next session with her.
Q: Did you notice a difference after you burned the letter?
Yes. That very evening! I felt amazing! My energy had returned. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to go out and do something, anything, everything! At that moment, I wished that my close friends would have been with me at my ‘burning ceremony’, and we could have celebrated together afterward.
Over the following weeks, I continued to feel better, and my health improved. My energy gradually increased, and I started to become interested in my life again. I slowly started working out, and I became excited about creating my next happiness.
Q: Ok, so you felt better. But the process you just described was for a beloved husband and your first healing kit is for the loss of a relationship that was important to you. What connected those very different things?
It’s all about losing a relationship. I lost quite a few that were important to me and I was drowning in grief. I learned that we label our relationships, and sometimes we tell ourselves a particular one is more or less significant. But, the heart can’t discern loss; it feels what it feels.
It was during that time that I remembered my “Boyfriend Bonfires” from my pre-Brad days. These were these quirky little practices I did every time I broke up with a boyfriend. It was my way to acknowledge my feelings and let go of the relationship. They always helped me to move on. I realized that my mourning ritual for Brad was similar to those bonfires that I used to do, a healing fire, an opportunity to rise from the ashes (and not be a part of them), and a chance to start moving forward.
Q: And that memory sparked an idea?
It did. But not at first. I was unemployed during this time, so I continued to network, interview, apply for jobs, jobs so very different from what I do now. I kept playing with an idea I had called “The Boyfriend Bonfire Box”.
Still, I could not believe how much better I felt after I had finished my mourning ritual for Brad. I started reading about rituals and discovered there’s scientific evidence that they can help people alleviate their grief and feel more in control of their lives. And, my experience supported those findings.
I wanted to share my story with others. I wanted to help others honor themselves, process their loss, and feel better. If I could move from feeling like I had lost everything to feeling like I had found myself, maybe other people could benefit from what I learned. I got to a point where I felt that my networking and job search and all those things I thought must be my next steps were taking me away from the work I felt I was meant to do in this lifetime.
Q: Is there any significance to the name Robiins?
I'm so glad you asked me that question! I went through a time when I was searching for my life's purpose. It was during that time that I kept seeing robins around me. One day I looked up their meaning online, and I discovered that: "Robins symbolize the stimulation of hope, spring, new growth, and renewal in one's life. The energy of this bird will teach you how to move forward with grace, tenacity, perseverance, and assertion. Its meaning compels you to exercise compassion and patience in mental, spiritual, and emotional areas. Thus, this creature will teach you how to incorporate new beginnings with faith and trust in the process. It is time to believe in yourself and use the inspiration that you receive. Listen carefully. It is time to sing your song for a new period in your life."*
When I reflected on that information, I realized that my gift boxes offer people hope, an opportunity to renew their spirit, and to move forward to the next chapter in their life. Consequently, robins became the perfect symbol for my business.
Q: Why do your healing kits arrive in a gift box?
I believe that when you choose to do the work of processing a loss, you are giving yourself a gift.
Relationships are everything, so I designed the gift boxes to help you identify the gifts you gave to yourselves during a particular relationship. Consequently, I felt that offering a tool in a gift box was an important part of the product and the user’s experience.
Q: So there are gift boxes for more than just ex-partners?
Yes! As I thought about the transition from loss and feeling whole again, I began to think about all of my major life transitions. Each one began to make sense when I thought about what I had gained from every experience.
Our lives are all about relationships. Everyone will experience the loss of a relationship that was important to them. It may be the loss of a relationship, loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, and so on. Sometimes you can get lost or stuck in the grief - the suffering - that can come with a loss, and there are few tools available to help you step out of that.
I can bring the wisdom of all of my experiences, and the expertise of a supportive community, to each gift box, making each one an opportunity for a relatable and authentic experience. And I can help guide people out of suffering through the healing process, encouraging them to make it personal and powerful.
Q: Any last thoughts?
I have created a new life for myself and recently remarried. I understand what it’s like to lose your family, your spouse, and your person. And, I know how challenging it can be to imagine yourself happy again. You never get over grief, but it does get different. For me, grief was a catalyst. It showed me what was important in my life and what was not. It helped me see who showed up for me and cared for my well-being. It pushed me to make significant changes in my life because I could no longer stay in my old life. It helped me let go of the people, relationships, and things that no longer served me well. It helped me identify my new priorities, and then they became the cornerstones of my new life. And for that, I am grateful. Now, I am choosing to share what I learned to help people process their grief and move forward with their life.