“I want to thank you for always being there for me, listening without judging and supporting me through more than you ever had to,” I read to my grandma. “You changed my life with the time and energy you invested in me.”
Our arms were wrapped around each other and tears were in our eyes. I was reading her a gratitude letter, detailing exactly why I was thankful for the precious gift she has been in my life. While I have told Gram that I love her and have given her countless sentimental cards, I wanted her to know exactly what she had done to make such a huge impact on me.
She smiled when I told her how awesome it was to have her pick me up from school in her red Corvette. We laughed thinking about the time I had tried her favorite oysters—she had made me stand over the sink, just in case. Gram grinned at the silly songs she used to sing and blushed when I mentioned her fondness for Chuck Woolery and “Love Connection.”
All of these memories seemed to bring back a sparkle in her that had been dormant for some time.
I wanted to do something special for her, but hadn’t realized how wonderful it would be for me, too. I told Gram that she and Grandpa transformed my life when they took me in as a teenager.
My grandpa, her husband of almost 60 years, passed away in the snow before last Christmas. After giving a eulogy at his memorial service, it struck me that there were so many things I wanted to thank Gram for while she was still with us. A few months later, my husband and I took a Zen Parenting Radio Virtual Relationship Retreat. Gratitude was a primary focus. Two women participating in the retreat recommended a “gratitude visit,” an exercise developed by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, founding father of positive psychology.
While I loved the idea, I was nervous. I worried the letter wouldn’t be poetic enough. Then I realized it should sound authentic, the way that I talk to Gram every day.
I had heard it would take courage to read, and it did. I started crying as soon as sat down with her. But I am so incredibly glad I did it.
“I will keep this forever,” Grandma said, clutching the letter tight.
When she is feeling sad or alone, I hope she remembers just how important she is to me.
Whether it be your grandparents or the grandparents of your children, I highly recommend a gratitude visit. On Grandparents Day, Sept. 7, or any day, it is important to let them know how grateful we are for them.
How to conduct a “gratitude visit”
- Think of a person who did something to change your life for the better. It should be a person you could meet face-to-face.
- Write a one-page, detailed letter that explains why you are grateful. Be specific. Explain how they affected your life and how you think about them today.
- You can decorate or frame the letter, if you like, but the key is to visit the person and read it aloud to them.
- When scheduling the visit, be vague about your purpose. Make reading the letter a surprise.
- Expect it to be a moving experience. Both people typically cry.
Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, creator of this exercise, says you will be happier and less depressed one month from your gratitude visit.
For more information, check out his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being
Cortney Fries is a freelance writer and Chicago mom to a 3- and 5-year-old. She enjoys writing about life after kids and spends less time than she should making sure their home isn’t a total disaster.