The Gratitude Letter
Out of the ashes rises the Phoenix. In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is reborn and represents the cycle of renewal. Yet death, symbolized by fire, signals a sense of loss before a new stage can begin. It is this lesson combined with my client’s predicament that generated the idea of the Gratitude Letter.
My client, let’s call him John*, had felt estranged from his brother (umpteen years his senior), since he was a little boy. Throughout his life, John made futile attempts to (re)connect with his brother. Now in his 50’s, John hoped that his brother would like to put the past behind them, since they are the only surviving family members of their immediate family. His brother refused.
It was time to let go. I advised John to write his brother essentially a “living eulogy”…one he would keep to himself. The letter would focus on all of the things for which he was grateful. We long for what we are grateful. When that for which we are grateful becomes absent, the void often morphs into resentment, sadness, and bitterness. If this is the case, we become victims and not survivors; living in the past instead of walking more strongly into the future.
John brought himself to say goodbye, so that he could begin again and fulfill a similar gratitude elsewhere.
Here is how I advised John to proceed:
Beginning: Dear Brother, I am writing to you to express gratitude for all that you have given me. Without these experiences, I would not be who I am today.
Body: Thank you for… [Each line begins with the same 3 words. Begin with your earliest memory, e.g. driving me to school, and end with your last, e.g. attending my high school graduation. Nothing is too inconsequential.]
Closure: For all this you have gifted me, I would not be the leader I have become. Thank you. Sincerely, John
There is no sarcasm, no reprimand; just acknowledgement. Do NOT mail it, unless you would like to rekindle a relationship. If you wish to mail it, I advise that you wait a week, re-read it, and decide at that point. This is an exercise in lifting a weight off of your heart. It is not about forgiveness; it is about moving forward to a healthier, happier, more productive state. Yes, all the negativity you experienced was an unfortunate aspect of your growth, AND, there are positive portions of your relationship with this individual which brought some joy and meaning into your life. Be kind to YOURSELF and choose to focus on the fonder memories of your life experience.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”- Cicero, Roman philosopher
Live. Love. Laugh.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of a virtual consultancy of OD experts, CLG. Visit us at CorporateLookingGlass.com.
©Rossina Gil, 2014
*John is a fictitious name, to protect the identity of the client.