Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Write it! by Ruth Smith Meyer
Elsa was a storyteller supreme. When she started relating a tale from her childhood exploits, she riveted the attention of staff and fellow clients alike. Her nonchalant manner was negated by the twinkle in her eye. You knew something comical was coming, but she kept you in suspense until the last moment. Elsa (not her real name) lived with her son and his family in a few rooms built especially for her. When Elsa spoke about her family, she glowed with love and pride.
When she died after a short illness, I wanted to convey to her family the gratitude for being so supportive of their elder. When I spoke about the love and pride she had in them, they looked at me strangely.
“Are you sure you’re at the right visitation?” one of them asked.
“Why would you say that?” I questioned.
“We never experienced those sentiments from her. She always complained and we thought we weren’t able to please her no matter what we did.”
Too often we hear, at someone’s death, the wish that the living would have done or said more while the departed were still alive. It can work both ways. We need to express our deep-felt appreciation to people while they are still alive, but we also need to do our part while we still are here on this earth.
How sad if we feel it but don’t say it to the ones for whom we have tender sentiments or if we tell other people instead of the ones who would benefit the most from hearing it.
Last fall, I took advantage of my husband’s 75th birthday to give opportunity for some of those word gifts to be made to him. At a dinner and open house I had slips of paper made up with “Characteristics of Paul that I enjoy” and “Memories” with space for people to fill in their personal responses. Those were to be their gift to him.
My dear wise one, like many, has been a giver most of his life, but hadn’t realized the influence and effect he had on others. He certainly didn’t have an over-inflated opinion of himself. We had a lovely day as we celebrated him. He was amazed at how many turned up for the occasion. Afterward as he read through the comments people had written, I sensed a change in his demeanor—a level of contentment, comfort and acceptance of self-worth more pronounced than before. That has been a lasting effect that I believe has helped sustain him through several difficult months of pain, surgery and recovery since. I am now putting those comments along with pictures of the day in a book that he can read and reread.
When I was growing up, whether it was just in my family or whether it was society in general, there seemed to be a reticence to affirm children for doing well or for their strengths, for fear of making them too proud. In my personal experience, that left me with two tendencies I’ve had to work hard to overcome. First, I am so apt to doubt myself, even when I’ve done my best—I always think I should or could have done better. Second, when I am affirmed now, for doing well, I find it hard to accept or know what to do with those expressed sentiments. It has been difficult to just say, "Thank-you!" It seems to me, that a child will be much better adjusted if given affirmation, from day one, when they genuinely deserve it.
How often do we appreciate something someone has done, or a gift they freely share, a strength they display, and just keep our feelings of appreciation inside? How often are we apt to mention it to a friend or spouse, but not to the person? Why not write a note to the one we admire or appreciate and tell them so? What do you think it would mean to them if we told them? What could the loss of that affirmation mean if we don’t?
Saying it is good, but for writers, putting it on paper is even better! For then those words can be read over and over. I dare say that some of those notes will be kept for years and treasured in the hearts for whom they were meant.
I don’t know about you, but I want my family to hear my love, pride and appreciation from my own lips and pen before I die. What about a note for each of my family members, for my diligent, committed co-worker, my faithful fellow-church members, my caring pastor, the friendly clerk at my usual grocery store…
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