In The Spirit Of Giving

She Asked People To Contribute To Her Mother's Christmas Gratitude Book. The Response Was Overwhelming.

" ... please write a short note so she knows how she’s brightened your life."

We love tinsel and trappings as much as the next Elf on the Shelf devotees, but here at A Plus, we believe that true wintertime magic comes in the form of connection and human kindness. Over the next month, come back and join us in raising a glass to those who give — because what's December without a little holiday spirit?

I learned the power of gratitude from my mom. When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she began shouting from the rooftops how thankful she was for the amazing life she'd lived. She was given a horrible prognosis—an estimated fourteen months left to live. The easy response would have been for her to choose anger. Instead, she chose gratitude.

A week after she was diagnosed with her brain tumor, my mother wrote a surprisingly upbeat analysis of her situation:

This illness gives you plenty of time to prioritize and do all the things that you might want in order to feel you have lived a complete and fulfilled life.

So far, the first and predominant feeling I've had, rather than fear or resentment, is this rush of great, overwhelming gratitude for the life I've already lived and all the people, places, and experiences in it. Everyone should be so lucky as to feel this!

I had only just begun knowing my mom as a friend, after years of rebellion in which I pretended that I didn't need her. She may not have been angry, but I was. She wouldn't get to know her grandchildren and she wouldn't be able to continue the writing career that she had just begun after raising four kids.

If there was any blessing in my mother's illness, it's that it gave her fifteen months to truly live like she was dying—and for her family, the time to tell her how much she meant to us. She was clearly flooded with gratitude, often writing about how lucky she'd been for having the life she'd lived. Another of her early musings read:

I truly am in possession, still, of a tremendous sense of gratitude for my life and the wonder of everything in it. If only the feeling could be bottled, sold, and dispensed as needed!

The more she told me how thankful she was for the life she'd been given, the more I began thinking about how very thankful I was for her. I knew it wasn't just me, though. She had a family, a large circle of friends, and a larger circle of acquaintances whose lives were better because of her.

My mother's influence extended far beyond the six of us in her immediate family. Everyone she met remarked on her kindness and wisdom. I had to make her understand that. I needed her to know just how incredible she was.

And that's how I got the idea for the Gratitude Book. I reached out to everyone I knew and asked them to spread the word. "If you've been touched by Betty Sue O'Maley in any way, please write a short note so she knows how she's brightened your life." It was a much larger undertaking than I'd originally thought. E-mails and letters came pouring in and I worked to put them all together as quickly as possible since there was no way of knowing when her last day might be.

I was able to put the gratitude notes together with beautiful photos of her life just in time for Christmas that year. It was the most important present I'd ever given, and the look on her face when she opened it was priceless. My mom would die five months after receiving the Gratitude Book, but she would die knowing how special her life had been to hundreds of her grateful admirers. My hope is that everyone who wrote a piece for the book was also given a gift—the gift of slowing down and thinking about just what they have to be thankful for—particularly all the people who have made life a little better for them.

My mom was taken from this life too soon, but she still managed to appreciate all that she'd been given. I try to remember how she lived and honor her by remembering my blessings every day.

This story is from  Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles: 101 Stories of Holiday Hope and Happiness © 2017 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cover image via  Purino I Shutterstock

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