I used to love making Christmas gifts for my family. Everyone eventually received one of my signature velour robes. And when my niece was little, I loved making dresses for her as well as a matching dress for her doll.
In 2001 as I was making out my Christmas gift list, it struck me that not one gift on my list was handmade. Life had gotten pretty complicated with children in high school and a job that had me on call 24/7.
And then it occurred to me that I could still give a personal gift. I could write a special, personal letter to every member of my family. Think of the moment in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey realizes how he touched others lives and how different their lives might have been if he never existed. That resonates within each of us and leaves us questioning, what type of impact have I made on others lives?
So for that Christmas, in each letter, I tried to tell each member of my family what impact they had on my life, what I admired most about them and how they had helped to shape my character and, at times, re-directed my path in life. It was also a great opportunity to reflect back on my life, what I had accomplished and what I still wanted to achieve. In every letters, the words flowed easily and each was very unique.
I intended that the letters would be read in private, not knowing how each person might respond to the content. Believe it or not, I was so intent with sharing my thoughts that it hadn’t occurred to me to anticipate any feedback, I had just wanted to let them know what they had meant to me. My mother actually made me rather uncomfortable by reading the letter the minute she opened it. But the look on her face afterwards helped to offset any discomfort I felt. The warmth of everyone’s response was rather overwhelming.
One year later we were celebrating our first Christmas without my father. In August of 2002, during bypass surgery, the surgeon discovered lung cancer. We found out later that had already spread to his liver. After his surgery, he had only brief moments of lucidity and we were unable to hold a conversation with him. He passed in October.
Afterwards, I reflected that I had not really left anything unsaid to Dad. I felt I had told Dad how important he was to me, how I recognized his influence in my life and thanked him for the bits of his personality that were wrapped up in mine.