Amends and Gratitude

 

When I met my future husband 41 years ago, I didn’t know I was destined to soon make a significant change in my relationship combat style. Before I met him, during a quarrel, I would typically engage until it was just too uncomfortable for me to go on. I’d say my final angry words, then storm out, preferably with a door slamming behind me. First of all, that never felt satisfying. But after just a time or two of that behavior, my partner asked if it was something I could consider changing. He said, “Give me the silent treatment or continue screaming at me; just please don’t leave.” 

His further explanation would change it all for me. On a Sunday night, when he was 13, he went to bed after telling his father a lie — a fib made up to keep him from being punished for a typical adolescent misstep. His father died in the middle of the night from a massive heart attack. Enough said. I got it.

That new behavior, difficult at first to adopt, has informed many, many decisions I’ve made about what needs to be said or what remains unsaid when I separate from loved ones. 

I cringe when I hear of people who are estranged from their families or from long-time friends. When I was in college studying King Lear, a professor provided another pivotal moment. At the end of the book, during our final classroom discussion, she began to weep and said that this play always reminds her about how difficult people make loving each other. 

There’s no question that toxic, abusive relationships often don’t warrant the extra effort that might be required to feel any closure or any calm and sane separation from those ties. But for small annoyances, hurt feelings or insignificant misunderstandings that might easily be cleared up, I just think “How might those people feel if something suddenly happened to one of them? What if there was no opportunity to clear the air, apologize or express love and forgiveness?”

As we approach the end of the calendar year and during this month of gratitude and appreciation for the things and people in our lives, consider taking an hour or two to close a circle, heal a sore heart or start off on a new foot. Write a note or pick up the phone.

For more than three decades I have followed a tradition I discovered in a magazine: writing Thanksgiving thank you notes. Some years, I have written only one; once, I wrote seven. My intention has been to express my appreciation for someone who has made a difference in my life. One year, it was a note to that college professor; another year to a former employer who had modeled great fairness and availability to his employees. Once my recipient was a young man who regularly bagged my groceries at the store, who never failed to be pleasant and attentive.

Arguably, one of the best parts of this process is reflecting on the past year — or farther back — to find my recipient. Writing the letter gives me further cause to think about my gratitude, the intention of the person to whom I’m writing and, maybe most importantly, it offers a chance for me to examine my own behaviors and my part in my connections with the people in my life.
I’m grateful to say that I feel clear with all of my loved ones. I believe that if something suddenly happened to me, they would neither feel there was anything left unsaid nor would there be anything that had to be cleared up.

Of course, expressions of gratitude and amends for hurtful actions are not only appropriate in the season of thanksgiving. They are appropriate and likely well-received any day of the year. And, no matter the reception, the expressions of amends and gratitude are gifts you can give yourself. Start now.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

 

Laurel Yeates is a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, doula, nanny, Alameda Sun calendar editor and a nascent thanatologist.