I have this beautiful handwritten letter from my Great Aunt Bea, written several Christmases ago, probably as an insert in some long lost holiday card. The paper is old and worn from many readings, so now I keep it framed behind glass. It’s one of my most prized possessions. It reads:
Another Christmas is here, and the once a year time for getting in touch. That doesn’t mean I only think of you once. I often think of what a wonderful person you grew up to be. A truly one of a kind, and I am very proud of you.
Do not send me anything this Christmas. You know I am 81, and things go to waste so easy. I appreciate the thought, but just making me proud is a gift like no other.
The letter is undated, and I suppose I could ask my family when my great aunt was born to figure it out. Only, I sort of like it better, not knowing. I treasure this letter not because of what it says about me, but what it says about my Aunt Bea. She really understood people, and she knew that I needed every word in that little letter.
Aunt Bea was a great person. She was the kind of person who was driven by a passion to help anyone in need. She used her time and talents and limitless energy to come to the aid of friends, family or even strangers. My Aunt Bea left rural West Virginia when she was 16 to work in New York City. She managed to live her life on her own terms, yet she lived to serve others. It seems that every member of my family has multiple stories of how she helped them out with money, words of encouragement, a helping hand, companionship, or even her legendary Christmas cookie care packages.
I have a guess as to what prompted her to write the letter. While I was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design (back in the day when people still wrote each other letters-before cell phones), I had written her a thank you letter for all the things she had done for me as a kid. The list was long. She was the one who would take me to buy back-to-school clothes when my mother couldn’t afford to do so. She was the one who took me to Disney World (long before I moved to Florida). She took me to visit relatives in West Virginia and Ohio.
She invited me to come stay with her in Florida for Spring Break one year, and I remember feeling like a rock star telling my friends that I had travel plans! She took me to the beach and bought me souvenirs. I went back home to Georgia with Panama City shell jewelry, a tan and an airbrushed t-shirt with my name written in cursive across a purple, palm tree’d sunset.
I keep her letter where I can reread it from time to time. It reminds me of so many important life lessons that I can sometimes forget:
- It is wildly powerful to let someone know that you believe in them. Every successful person has a list. It’s a list of names (or maybe just one) of those who helped them in their darkest hours…the ones who believed in them when everything seemed hopeless.
- Don’t hesitate to help others. Just do it. If you wait until it “feels right,” it may never. If you think someone else will do it, they may not. If you worry that your help won’t be welcomed, you’ll never know. If you put it off til tomorrow, one of you may not still be here.
- The right words at the right time are worth more than gold. “I love you.’ “I believe in you.” “I need you.” “I understand.” “I miss you.” “I’m proud of you.” “Thank you.” “I’m so sorry.”
- Learn positive lessons from negative situations. My Aunt Bea was one of ten children. She grew up in poverty. She knew what it was like to be cold and hungry and isolated and desperate. She escaped all of that. Instead of letting that destroy her, she spent her life joyfully making things better for those who found themselves in similar circumstances.
- Helping others keeps you young. My Aunt Bea was so alive. She was always laughing, always smiling. She was in the flow of life, and she had so much energy. She was a force of nature. The more she gave away, the more she gained.
- You always have something to give. Time, a hug, a kind word, patience, understanding, hope, compassion, even a smile.
- You may never know how much your small acts of kindness will impact a child. Do them anyway. They make a lifetime of difference.
I know for a fact that when my little Aunt Bea wrote me this letter I wasn’t yet doing my dream or loving my life or helping others. I wish she were alive today so I could tell her how much that letter continues to mean to me. I think the way to make her proud is to honor and continue the tradition of what she did her whole life: support and believe in people and help them find their way when they’re lost. Erma Bombeck wrote, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me‘.” I am confident that my dear Aunt Bea gave everything she had to give, and I plan to do the same.
If you or someone you know is running low on hope and encouragement and would benefit from the support of a compassionate licensed mental health counselor this holiday season, please don’t hesitate to contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando at 407-443-8862 to make an appointment.