In my last GratiTuesday post, I wrote about my first grade teacher and how a group of her former students had honored her at a luncheon. We all had fond memories of having her as our teacher and were grateful to have the opportunity to thank her in person so many years later.
There’s actually a little more to the story that I’d like to share. It is a detail that taught me – in two very important ways – how simple actions can still have a profound effect many years later.
Soon after my mother passed away in 2000—when I was still rocking from my grief and loss—I came home to find the message light blinking on my answering machine. The call had been from my first grade teacher, Miss Miller, who I hadn’t seen since elementary school. She said that she had read my mother’s obituary and wanted to let me know how sorry she was… then she shared a story.
Miss Miller told me about a letter my mother had written to her almost 40 years prior, just after I had completed the school year in her class. In the letter, my mother said what an inspiring teacher Miss Miller was and that the positive experience I had taught me that learning could be both fun and gratifying.
In Miss Miller’s message to me, she shared how much the letter meant to her. When she received it, she was new to teaching and my mother’s kind words gave her much-needed acknowledgement and encouragement. She said the she had kept the letter and re-read it many times over the years. After saying good-bye, she hung up without leaving her contact information or any hint of how I could return her call.
If you’ve ever lost someone you’ve loved, you may know how much it can mean to hear stories about how they made a difference in someone’s life. More than all the well-meaning “I’m sorry for your loss” and “Please let me know if I can help in any way,” these personal stories help to ease the sorrow and keep the memory of your loved-one alive.
Since it was pre-Google when Miss Miller left her phone message, I was unable to locate her. The phone book didn’t have a listing for her and my former elementary school wasn’t any help. I wanted so badly to let her know how much her message meant to me but I was at an impasse in my search.
So, that is a big reason why—over 50 years after being her student and 15 years after her phone message—when I found out that not only was Miss Miller alive and well, but that a classmate was still in contact with her, I jumped at the chance to re-connect. I finally had the opportunity to tell her how much I appreciated her phone message and how grateful I was that she took the time to make the call. It was a thank you I thought I would never be able to deliver, and I admit there were a few tears when I did.
My gratitude to Miss Miller goes beyond her being a great first grade teacher, it extends to two important lessons she taught me years later by making one simple phone call:
- Never miss an opportunity to write a letter of appreciation or encouragement. Your kind words will mean so much to the receiver and can lift them up well beyond the first reading. An email will do in a pinch, but nothing has the impact of a hand-written note.
- When someone passes away, if you have a positive story or remembrance about them, share it with their loved-ones. Tell them how the person made a difference; share a funny story; express your admiration. Sharing how that person impacted your life—and the positive outcome it had—will help to buoy them in their grief.
Thank you Miss Miller. Lessons learned.