It’s not often I find something of value on Reddit other than the time-suck black hole that it is.
But what I stumbled upon on this particular day resulted in one of the most soul-nourishing and impactful things I’ve ever done.
Someone asked, “People who have lost their parents, what advice do you have for those of us whose parents are still alive?“
The responses were a mixed bag of heartbreaking and beautiful advice from people who deeply loved their parents.
As I read the responses, I saw in me a regret I’d have if left unfulfilled. My father had been diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer the previous year. The signs of its onset were still barely perceptible. But I knew that eventually it’d come and his awareness would be nonexistent.
His clock was ticking.
It’s these thoughts that ran through my head as I read responses from people who had lost their parents. I realized that the thing I’d regret most was never telling my own parents how grateful I was for all the gifts, opportunities and love they had given me.
I decided to use this as an opportunity to take action to prevent future regret.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I had remember reading about something called a gratitude visit, an idea by Dr. Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology. The idea is to think of someone who changed your life for the better but you’ve never properly thanked. The task is to write a well-thought and intentional letter of gratitude to this person and read it to them in person.
I knew this is exactly what I was looking for.
I spent the next month crafting a letter for both my parents. It required some deep emotional labor. It was both enriching and emotional having to recognize that this may be my last shot to express deep gratitude to my dad before he lost the mental capacity to comprehend.
The exercise unlocked a deep well of happiness in the process (something I still experience to this day whenever I reflect on the memory of it).
After a month of crafting it, I finally put it in the mail (my parents live in another state). Without realizing it, my parents received it on their wedding anniversary – a serendipitous gift from the universe. They were deeply moved by the gesture, but I feel like I got a lot more from it than they did.
The point is that life is short and fragile and beautiful. It’s up to you to find ways to make it meaningful.
If you are reading this, I challenge you to try this exercise. It doesn’t need to be with your parents, but find someone who changed your life for the better (a mentor, a teacher, a friend) and express your gratitude. I guarantee it will be something deeply meaningful for both of you.
The things that matter most take work but the rewards are greater than you can imagine.
Happy gratitude hunting!