Once we get over the election hump, we will be in the season of gratitude. Gratitude, as both research and my own personal experience tell me, is one of the most important happiness practices we can engage in.
Expressing gratitude can also warm the other person’s heart. There is a ton of research — I can, and have, preached on it from time to time (a sermon you can read in my book, Preaching Happiness: Creating a Just and Joyful World). And/or, you can can check out this amazing video from Soul Pancake, “An Experiment in Gratitude” in which participants call up the individuals toward whom they are feeling grateful, and read their gratitude letters to them over the phone. I suspect watching the video will make you a little happier, too.
Now, here’s my caution: don’t wait. Life is brief and capricious. I, sadly, waited too long to express gratitude to my mother, and it didn’t go well.
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize I needed and wanted to say thank you to her — not for the ordinary exhausting tasks of birth and raising a child but for the extraordinary help she gave me, my husband Bob and our young children. I guess I was too involved in my own growing up and my own motherhood work to recognize the enormity of her gift.
As I’ve written before, Bob and I got married when I was 17, a senior in high school, and 3 months pregnant — not a recipe for success. All our parents chipped in and helped us so that our relationship could, in fact, succeed. But no one helped more than my Mom. She created a small private apartment for Bob, me and the baby in her own house. Rent free for four and half years, until Bob graduated from community college and went to work for I.B.M. She babysat a lot. When I was still pregnant and a panicked Bob got caught shoplifting a yo-yo, his dad paid the fee and she gave us $5.00 to go out to dinner at Howard Johnsons (we had fried clams). When our kids were 2 and 4 years old and we finally moved to our own apartment, she gave us money to buy furniture.
Yet, it was only when my mother was close to death after a 40-year bout with breast cancer that I felt the urge to shower her with gratitude. We drove to visit with her just a week before she died. I held her hand and poured out my thanks. But it was too late. Though she was conscious, she was beyond wanting or needing to hear anybody’s thanks for anything. My thanking her just made me feel awkward and inadequate.
I feel like Scrooge in the Christmas Carol when I say to you, please don’t make my mistake. Thank abundantly and frequently. Now’s the time.
There is still a happy ending to my story, though, for which I am profoundly grateful. My daughter Jennifer joined us for that last visit with her grandmother. Jennifer did not use words, she used touch, sending love to her precious “Ninny” through gentle massages. The last words I heard my mother say were addressed to my daughter, “You’re so wonderful.”
What a gift. Thank you Mom, and thank you Jennifer for this incredible memory.
Comments on: "Say Thank You Before It’s Too Late" (4)
Oh, Ginny! This should have had a warning. Now I’m crying in the Thai Restaurant on my lunch break from working Early Voting. Luckily no one seems to have noticed. Thank you for sharing
Gosh, Peg, sorry to make you cry!
I love your last memory of your mom and Jennifer. My last memory of my father before he died was of him laughing at something my daughter said. It was lovely.
What a wonderful memory from you.