Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Are there people in your life who, at one period of time in that life, meant something to you when you needed a boost or help or comfort? Those helpers could include a neighbor, teacher, professor, mentor, boss, a friend of your parents, coach, the owner of an animal you loved, roommate, childhood friend, teammate, random distant relatives, and so many others. Memories of them and how they helped you pop into your mind, sometimes regularly or, more likely, occasionally, and when they do, you feel deep gratitude.
When you remember, take a minute to reach out and tell them. You can bet that the people who cared about you and invested time and energy in helping still regularly think about you fondly, pray for you if they are religious, and wish you the best. If you were a child when they helped you, their fondness is even more likely to remain because I have found that if I loved someone when they were a child, I am more likely to love them forever.
People who help others don’t do it for the thanks, but they still enjoy thanks and knowing that their kindness was appreciated. In offering thanks, you aren’t seeking to re-open friendships or go back to that time. Like being in the wedding of a childhood friend with whom you now have little in common, you are honoring history rather than trying to continue the same connection you had at a different time. How delighted I have been over the years when former students, elderly people (or their children who found my letters to their deceased parents), neighbors, children of my friends, and even an ex-boyfriend of my daughter texted or emailed me to tell me thank you for having been there for them. Those remembrances made me so happy. It matters!
No Need for Perfection, Length, or Dramatic Gestures
I suspect that many thank you’s are delayed or never offered because the grateful person wants to make a grand gesture that convincingly conveys the deep gratefulness they feel. Folks don’t send anything because they are waiting to send the perfect thing. Don’t wait! A “thinking of you” text you send is infinitely better than the well-crafted, two-page letter you are composing in your head but is never perfect enough to actually send.
What if you can’t think of anything “good enough” or original enough to say? Don’t worry – platitudes are fine. What can you say to a 7-year survivor of pancreatic cancer when all the cancer trials are on hold for Covid 19? To an MS victim suffering yet another bout of misery and back on high doses of prednisone? To the ardent teenager whose girlfriend just dumped him? The platitude of all platitudes, a heartfelt “I’m so sorry”, is about the best you can do. But it is crucial that you say those words so that the sufferer knows you care.