“Did you say thank you?”
As a child, I was constantly reminded to recite these words. Any time I received a gift, a favor, or a kind word, no matter how big or small, my mom never failed to whisper in my ear, “Remember to say thank you.”
And I always did. For many years, I simply spoke the words by force of habit. But even though I didn’t feel the emotion behind the words, I always maintained that mindset that my mom had taught me.
It wasn’t until I had a little life experience under my belt that I truly understood not just the importance of saying “thank you,” but also the spiritual value of outwardly acknowledging my gratitude.
And I owe this, in part, to the Oprah Winfrey show.
It was back in the nineties when my mom and I used to watch Oprah, and there was a season about the importance of gratitude. On one episode, Oprah had a guest on her show who explained that if you just write down five things you’re grateful for every night, you will notice a huge difference in how you feel, how you act, and even how you look. She painted this beautiful picture of how gratitude can change your life.
Not surprisingly, my mom and I jumped on that bandwagon real quick. The next day after that episode aired, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a couple of fancy-dancy journals—endorsed by Oprah herself. I gave one to my mom and kept the other for myself.
And I said, “Let’s do this.”
And so we did. Every night, we would write down five things we were grateful for, and the next day, we would share with each other what we wrote down.
Neither of us could stop raving about how much better we felt after implementing this new habit. Our outlook on life was better, we were more positive, and the world looked so much brighter.
We kept up that trend for a few months, and then life got in the way. We still kept the gratitude in our hearts, but we fell out of the practice of writing it down, and the journals went by the wayside.
Fast-forward 10 years. My very upbeat, perky, positive, faith-filled mom was midway through a very vigorous series of chemo treatments, and it was getting the best of her.
It was so heartbreaking to see her struggling and to witness her hope starting to dwindle. I tend to soak up the emotions of those around me, and the spiritual connection I shared—and continue to share—with my mom meant this effect was multiplied times 10.
I was desperate for relief. One night, when I was certain I couldn’t take it anymore, I prayed, “Please, God, show me a way that I can help my mom, because she’s not listening to me. No matter what I say, she’s just not getting it. You know her best. Show me a way that I can help her.”
And that’s when the flashbacks came.
I got a flashback of her when I was a little girl, whispering in my ear, “Did you say thank you?” Make sure you say thank you.” And I got the flashbacks of her and I feeling giddy after sharing what we wrote down in our gratitude journals during the Oprah Winfrey days.
I snapped back to reality, and I thought, You know what? I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna introduce it to her.
I went back to her room, and I said, “Hey, Mom, why don’t we go back to that gratitude journal thing we used to do in the nineties?”
It didn’t take much convincing—she seemed pretty on board with the idea. We went to Walgreens and got ourselves some little rinky-dink spiral notebooks to keep in our purses. And we agreed that during her chemo appointments and her doctor’s appointments, we would write down whatever made us smile, what made us happy, or whatever we were grateful for.
And our entries went something like this:
“Nice receptionist at the front desk.”
“We only waited 10 minutes instead of 30 minutes in the waiting room.”
“All scans came back clear.”
“We didn’t have to pay for parking.”
We wrote down every little thing we could think of to be grateful for. As the days went on, our list grew more and more, and the pages became fuller and fuller. That was when I saw my mom’s eyes become more bright. Her energy soared, and the way that she tolerated the side effects of the chemo changed. It was like she got a second wind.
Looking back, I realize that gratitude journal was the game changer during that difficult phase of my mom’s cancer journey. Not only was the journal a blessing, but it was also a full-circle moment: the practice of gratitude that my mom taught me—the childhood lesson that stuck with me most—was the lesson I ended up teaching her right back.
Mom was the queen of gratitude. She knew how to do it. She just needed a little reminder to get her through. And that in itself is a blessing that I still treasure to this day.