I recently watched an episode of the television series “This Is Us.” While I am the first to tell you that I am not much of a TV watcher, this series has captured me and become part of our weekly routine. It’s a multi-generational, complex family story that has a lot of characters and storylines that I find engaging. At any rate, in the most recent episode, there was a poignant moment when one of the characters sought out the site where another character’s ashes had been spread after their death. While they had never met, this man wanted to say thank you to this other man, a man who had played a pivotal role in his son’s life. He wanted to acknowledge the gratitude he felt even though he could no longer express it to a living person.
It made me think about gratitude and it made me think about the roles that others play in the direction of our lives. Some of those roles are profound and long term while others are brief but filled with impact. When I began to talk with people about who made a difference in their lives professionally, many referenced even one conversation that changed their course, someone in a leadership position encouraging them to try, someone giving them even a single piece of advice that resulted in choices with long term results. Many of them focused on the same theme—that this individual saw something in them that they, perhaps, did not see in themselves. Or that the person encouraged them to grow, to try, to stretch.
Of course, on a personal level we all have lists of people to whom we are grateful. Many of us would begin with parents, siblings, grandparents and include children, friends and so many more. Whether your family is biological or falls into the category of “friends who become family,” everyone to whom I mentioned this was able to rattle off a list, with example after example of ways in which they felt supported, valued, nurtured and all the rest.
The second part of this, though, was really the conversation about expressing that gratitude. How often did we acknowledge the person who made a difference for us? Did we ever stop and tell that individual how much we appreciated them? So often we realize this in retrospect, that a moment — or a lifetime of moments — has had a significant impact on us and the opportunity to express our thanks is no longer available.
But what if, rather than shaking off that overdue gratitude because the individual is no longer in our lives or no longer with us – what if we spent a moment and thanked them? Whether on paper or screen or just in our thoughts? What if we let ourselves say the words we might have said long ago? While gratitude can change our perspective every day, there is a certain release and even joy that comes from recognizing for ourselves those who have touched us and letting our thanks — even internally — be heard.