Wednesday, March 26, 2014

It's the thought that counts...

How often have we heard that platitude?  It’s a statement meant to placate someone on the receiving end of an effort gone wrong or a well-meant gift that strikes a bad chord. “Don’t worry about it, honey.  He meant well.  Just remember, it’s the thought that counts.” The funny thing is, it’s true.  It IS the thought that counts…literally.

The “gift of thought” is the secret I discovered when faced with the imminent passing of a favorite cousin, back in 1989. Plagued by the need to do something to help, but unable to find a way to do so, I gave my cousin the gift of thought. When someone is terminally ill, what exactly do they need? Certainly not clothes that will go unworn, or gadgets that will never be used, or food they are unable to swallow or digest. What does a person with a terminal illness think about when they know their time is limited?

How about a list like:
  • Why did this happen to me?
  • What did I do wrong?
  • Did I do this to myself with all that (drinking, smoking, carousing, unhealthy eating…fill in the blank)?
  • What’s going to happen to my spouse/parents/kids?
  • Who will take care of them?
  • Why didn’t I take the time to travel?
  • Why didn’t I spend more time with my family?
  • For what attributes will I be remembered?
  • Will I be remembered at all, and by whom?
  • Why didn’t I save more money to provide for my family?
  • How will my children survive with no parent providing?

You get the idea.  If you knew you had a month to live and you were in a deteriorated physical state, wouldn’t you be thinking about, asking yourself, or berating yourself for many of those things and more?

Every moment we have here is precious:  every minute with family, every minute doing what we love.  We enjoy that time because we don’t think about its limits…until we are forced to do so.

So how does the “gift of thought” weigh in on all this conjecture?

I came to the conclusion that the best “help” I could give my cousin was something else to think about:  something funny, something thought provoking, something inspirational, something other than his imminent demise or his regrets over things left unfinished.  But that help had to be continuous and anonymous to give him the maximum benefit of being on the receiving end of the gift.
For the last three months of his life, my cousin received an anonymous postcard in the mail on every mail delivery day.  On each card was printed a quotation that was intended to provoke thought, encourage laughter, or inspire him to change the direction of his thoughts outward…to thinking about others rather than his predicament.

I knew it had worked when the postcards were a heavy topic of conversation at the calling hours, the subject of a portion of the eulogy, and when one of the quotations was printed on the leaflets passed out at the funeral.  What I didn’t know was just how important those card were to my cousin, his wife and his kids.  I wouldn’t find that out for 20 years.  When I talked to my cousin’s widow a few years ago and heard about the real effect the postcards had on him and his family, I cried with both happiness and sadness.  You will too, when you read about it.
I did know enough, shortly after my cousin passed, to assume that what worked for him would work for others in similar situations.  And so began the 25-year journey of providing the “gift of thought” to those in need.
And that, my friends, is why I threw off my shield of anonymity and wrote the book.  “A Mystery in the Mailbox” is meant to inspire others to give the “gift of thought” to someone they might know who could benefit from the project.  That person could have a terminal illness, some sort of chronic condition, or just be enduring a long-term recovery.  Receiving the “gift of thought” might be just the thing they need to boost their spirits and give them something to look forward to…something to keep them going.

If you were on the receiving end, think what such a gesture might mean.

You don’t have to wonder.  The evidence of how it works and how it helps is found in the book, as well as instructions for doing it yourself.

May you be inspired.