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What happened when this kid wore a dress to his grandma's funeral.

"I want to wear a dress. That's how Nana would want me," C.J. declared.

What happened when this kid wore a dress to his grandma's funeral.

When my mother, Nana, died on Memorial Day, we immediately started planning her Celebration of Life.

Mostly, it felt better to be actively doing something as opposed to sitting immobilized unable to do anything. And those were our only two options.

As we began planning, my brother Michael, my husband Matt, and I explained the event's significance to my sons, C.J. and Chase. "What are we going to wear to the Celebration of Life?" C.J. asked immediately, because even when grieving, he's concerned about fashion.


"I'm wearing a tie," said 12-year-old Chase, who loves any excuse to wear a tie.

"I want to be a girl at Nana's Celebration of Life. I want to wear a dress. That's how Nana would want me," 8-year-old C.J. declared. He asked if we could go shopping. I promised him we would.

Baby C.J. and Nana. All photos provided by the author, used with permission.

"Will everyone at the Celebration of Life know that I'm gender nonconforming?" he asked.

"No." I waited for the usual self-editing and deep consideration about his gender expression around new people to begin.

As C.J. explains it, he's a boy who likes "girl things" and "girl clothes" and wants to be treated like a girl, all while preferring masculine pronouns and his male body. We say that he's gender variant or gender nonconforming, and he floats on the gender variation spectrum from super-macho-masculine on the left, all the way to super-girly-feminine on the right.

"I don't care," he said. "I'm wearing a dress."

"That sounds good," we said.

C.J. could have said he was going to dress up like a dragon or be a dandelion, and we would have said it sounded good.

The sudden death of a loved one puts things into perspective, and the Celebration of Life would be casual, loving, and accepting, just like Nana was.

Every day that week, C.J. pressured me to take him shopping for a new dress, and every day, I told him that we needed to wait until his uncle Michael got back in town. I was physically and emotionally spent and didn't feel well-equipped to help my son pick out a dress for his grandmother's funeral. I needed some back up, some support, and in this case, I knew my brother was the person I needed most.

When Uncle Michael arrived on Thursday, our first stop was Target.

C.J. led us to the "girls' section" and started purposefully working the aisles and holding out fabrics he fancied. Uncle Michael and I did the same.

The three of us called out to each other when a dress caught our eye and held it up for comments and opinions. Uncle Michael and I have similar tastes and found a few options that we thought were perfect. C.J. nixed them all.

C.J. finally decided on a cream linen dress with delicate eyelet detail, a dainty navy blue cardigan and a headband with blue and yellow flowers adorning it. He could not be swayed.

Over the next two days, C.J. kept reminding us that he was going to wear a dress at Nana's Celebration of Life.

We said we knew and thought it was perfect. If that's how he felt Nana would want him, then that's exactly what he should do.

He never again asked about the strangers who we would welcome into our home and what their reactions to a boy in a dress might be. He was unwavering in his decision and he didn't care what other people thought. He was committed to making the event about him and his Nana, and that made me proud. That's what memorializing a person and the relationship you had with them is all about.

"Pa, I'm going to be a girl at Nana's Celebration of Life," he said to my dad the night before the service. He looked his grandfather right in the eyes and stood firm. If anybody in our family was going to have a reaction, it would be Pa. I nervously held my breath.

"That is exactly how Nana would want you and that's what you should do. It's about you and Nana, and she loved you so much," Pa said as he wrapped C.J. in a hug.

The day of the Celebration of Life, C.J. made sure I steamed his dress, like I did mine, and flat ironed his hair, like I did mine.

He spritzed on some Chanel Coco perfume and applied his favorite lip gloss. After he put on his cream dress, navy cardigan, and flowered headband, I surprised him by presenting him with a strand of Nana's pearls to wear.

He greeted people at the door as they arrived at our house for the Celebration of Life. We introduced him to people from my parents' church and to their friends who had never met him before.

"This is our youngest son, C.J.," we'd say.

"It's nice to finally meet you," they'd say. “Your Nana told us so much about you."

That afternoon, my son was not one bit worried about what perfect strangers would think about him wearing a dress.

He listened to those strangers tell him that his Nana loved him very much and that she told everyone all about him. He was unabashed and unashamed. He honored Nana and their special relationship beautifully.

I imagined her looking down on him.

"That's my beautiful boy! You look so pretty! I love your dress!" she'd say, like she always did.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

William Shatner on Blue Origin's second space mission.

Once fictional space captain, now real-life astronaut William Shatner was moved to tears after his 11-minute journey beyond Earth's atmosphere.

As he landed back on the desert grounds of Texas, Captain Kirk himself remarked on the profound experience. His speech is so heartfelt and full of poignant reflections on life, it felt like another episode of "Star Trek."


"It was unbelievable. I mean you know the little things. To see the blue color and then this black. That's the thing—the covering of blue," said Shatner. "This sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue. We think, 'Oh, it's blue sky.' And then suddenly you shoot through it all of a sudden like you whip off a sheet, and you're looking into blackness. Into black ugliness."

Getting emotional, he continued, "you look down, and there's the blue down there, and the black up there ... there is mother Earth, and just comfort, and there is just—is that death? Is that the way death is? It was so moving to me. This experience has been something unbelievable."

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!