Taking Care: Say it now, give it now

By Alice D. Outwater Ph.D. | Contributor

Yesterday I received a long letter from a psychology client I had worked with decades ago—so far back I had forgotten her name. She wrote that due to my help she had been able to address unresolved problems that held her back. A critical one was her resentment and rift with her mother.

She wrote, “You enabled me to gain clarity in my life and dump my grudges. My mother and I finally dealt with the toxic stuff. During her terminal illness, I moved in and took care of her to the end. The sessions with you made all the difference: I felt lighter and began to make solid personal decisions that never seemed possible before. I’m ever grateful to you, and want you to know this.”

Her letter moved me to reconsider my own regrets: actions from my past that still hampered me, unkind words said in a fit of hurt or annoyance—some from decades ago. I decided to write Jennifer, a high school friend, and apologize, as well as to some other people.

Most of them responded to my letters. Jennifer wrote, “I never understood why you became so upset, then shunned me when I befriended Helen, and began to spend time with her. I had liked you so much…It seemed cruel. It must have been hard for you to write me, and I appreciate it.”

Her letter touched a chord in me. I decided to pursue something else. I had extra money in my bank account, so rather than leave bequests in my will, I thought why not give them the gifts now? I wrote each a letter, thanking them for being in my life, letting them know how much they meant to me and my admiration for the way they lived. I instructed, “This is a secret fund to be used on yourself for something you otherwise couldn’t afford.”

My friend Nancy responded, “I opened your letter and cried all morning. The check sat on my bureau for a month. My husband said, “You seem so upset, just send the check back.” “Her son advised, “OH NO, don’t do that. Your friend really loves you. Do you think this might happen to me in the future?”

She continued, “Now I’m figuring out how to handle this amazing gift. I’ve never had the opportunity to just do something for myself. We’ve always had to be so careful with every cent.”

Another friend Heather shared, “At age six I made paper flowers and was selling them in the neighborhood to buy a football for my brothers. I had jobs through high school, then took on four jobs to put myself through college. I’ve worked all my life and had to watch every penny. When I received your gift, I could hardly think straight. I put it in the bank and I’m still stunned.”

I shared these heartwarming responses with my financial advisor who had encouraged me to give now. I asked if many of his very wealthy clients did this. “Oh no,” he said. “What you’re doing is unusual, and I’m proud of you. Many people just want to accumulate more and more money. It becomes an obsession.”

We all read about people of enormous wealth. Some start foundations with carefully thought-out parameters and help make a difference with humanitarian projects. Others try to sway elections, inhibiting the democratic process.

I can’t believe the gratification and awakening this giving has brought me. I approach my days with more thought and care.

The amount of the gift is irrelevant. You can give an heirloom or other special object of yours to show someone you are fond of them and admire their courage and choices in life.

Our communities and the universe need us all to be our best selves.

What are you waiting for?