When I found the note shown here, in my mother’s saved items after she passed away, I was not surprised to read it. Mom was known by many for her acts of kindness and support. I smiled at this particular item, because Mom was not a great housekeeper. (I did most of the housecleaning and did not always do a very good job of it.)
Mom worked six days a week, primarily as a department manager and sales clerk at Woolworth’s. (Are you old enough to remember those?) She rushed home and fixed hasty-but-tasty-meals, went to church for an activity almost every night, and spent her free time counseling and helping people–in spite of a chronic physical condition that made her feel tired and sick much of the time. It is very probable that while she was washing dishes for someone else, our house was a mess!
However, this post is not about my mother’s helping spirit. This post is about JoAn Parks, who wrote a thank you note twenty-six years after my mother helped her.
Think about it: My mother washed a woman’s dishes in 1953 and received a thank you note for it in 1979. Mother saved the note the rest of her life, until 1996. Now, I am writing about it in a technology unknown at the time the act was done or the thank you note was written. Isn’t life amazing? This series of events reminds us that it is never too late to tell someone thank you for even the smallest things–and that those thanks are precious to people.
Who do you need to thank?
- A supervisor, manager or boss from your early years.
- A friend who was loyal and true when others were not.
- Someone who helped you when you were stressful, busy, unhappy or grumpy.
- Someone who gave you helpful information even though that person was not your friend.
- A steady employee who made work easy because of his or her positive, upbeat approach.
- Someone from whom you now are estranged, but who once was close to you.
- A loved one whose acts of kindness and support you may not have appeared to notice at the time.
- A neighbor who always took care of his property and made your home look better as a result.
- A former school teacher, doctor, plumber, or member of a club or group who left a mark on your life.
- Someone in your organization who made a tough decision that had good results–or, though it was meant well, it did not have good results. We should sometimes thank people just for trying their best!
- Someone who gave you a gift or had you over for dinner, but you forgot to send a thank-you note.
- Someone who you will never forget for some positive reason–any reason at all.
- The person who helped you unjam the copier yesterday; the person who cleans the restroom in your building; the supervisor who approved a request of yours last week; the people who process your paycheck; the person who picks up your garbage; your pastor; your child’s teacher from grade school; the person who assisted you five years ago; the colleague who told you the truth you needed to hear; or, any one of hundreds of other people, going back months, years or decades. It is never too late to say thank you.
Mentally review your life and career and think of the people who have moved in and out of it. They had their concerns, worries, needs, goals and sadnesses, just as you did. Because of that, many of them were only focused on their own lives, just as you were on yours. Others took the time to do something that helped you in some way.
Pay forward or pay back? The concept of paying it forward–doing something good for the next person–is a valid one. However, you will feel better if you combine doing a good deed for someone else with thanking the person who helped you. If that person is no longer living, you can say thank you by thanking someone who loved them–or even by contacting someone who knew you both and telling that person about it.
An easy and comfortable way to say thank you, a long time after the event: One way to thank someone you have procrastinated about thanking, forgot to thank in a timely manner, or want to thank again, is to pick an approximate anniversary to do it. “It has been three years….” “Every year on this date I think of you, because…..” “About eight months ago….” You can increase the value of the appreciation by letting the person know you have thought of him or her regularly.
I have a friend who sent thank you notes for wedding gifts ten years after she received them. The gift-givers were even more impressed than if she had written them on time! (They were probably most impressed with the fact that she was still married.) There is no one who will resent your thanks, even though it is late in being expressed.
JoAn Parks is no longer living–I know, because I tried to locate her and thank her for writing the note to my mother. I also tried to locate her family, to no avail. However, I have her handwriting on a yellowed piece of stationery to help me remember her–because she remembered that my mother washed her dishes twenty-six years earlier and my mother was so touched by the thank you that she kept the message safe until I could find it, seventeen years after that.
It is absolutely never to late to say thank you. Who do you need to thank?
Wonderful news! It’s July 2, 2009 now–and I had a very fun conversation with JoAn (Parks) Beemer last night! She’s alive, well and living in Oxford, Kansas. Her daughter was surfing the ‘net a couple of nights ago when she discovered this post and saw her mother’s note. We had a great phone reunion! You can see a comment from her son, below. I have the material for a brand new post.
See how that whole thank you thing works?