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The Importance of Thank You Notes

 In the days of yore when most written communication took place via mail, it was always a pleasure to open the mail box and find a handwritten note.  If there was a return address, that was usually a clue as to what the letter concerned.  Thank you notes were part of common courtesy and I suspect there are many readers who suffered the same childhood irritation as I did after Christmas.

My mother would sit me down on the 26th of December with pen and paper supplied and a list of addresses to which I was expected to write a thank you note.  My budding talent as a wordsmith was not apparent.  All the notes were the same scrawl:  “Dear Granny (or whomever),   Thank you for the present.  Sincerely, Hayden.” I suppose it was enough to satisfy my mother because she dutifully sent them off and I was done with that chore for another year.  Birthdays didn’t require notes.

Her efforts must have paid off because as I matured, I still wrote the notes, but with a little more thoughtfulness.  Then I began to expect notes from friends and non-resident relatives to whom I had sent a gift.  As friends married and wedding gifts were sent, the note writing took another turn.  They fell into three categories:  You never got a thank you note leaving you to wonder if the gift had ever arrived.  The second type was barely better than the “thank-you-for-the-gift” efforts of my childhood.  Then, there would be the third form that not only was thanks for the gift, but a little news about life after the wedding.

Even no note is better than one remark we received from the bride-to-be as she opened our gift, a handsome imported casserole dish.  A distant relative, she said, “Well, look at this thing!  I can’t imagine what I will do with it, since I have no intention of cooking.”  We all looked at one another and thought that’s going to be an interesting marriage.

In later years I learned the importance of notes in general, not just the thank you variety.  A note of appreciation for a kindness delivered is a special treasure.  We don’t do kind things to get recognition, or at least that’s not a very good reason for the action.  When someone receives such a note, it is a real day brightener, especially when it’s a total surprise.

A letter of support to someone who is going through a difficult time means more than most can possibly imagine.  I have had people tell me, “I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what to say.”  Just saying you care about what they are going through is enough.

One of my mentors in my postgraduate medical training taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten.  When a patient died, he would send a hand-written note of condolence to family.  I took up that practice, and to this day, decades later, I occasionally run into someone who tells me how much such letters mean.  In losing my own family members, a note like that has brightened many a dark moment.

Now, of course, we have email, e-cards, Facebook, twitter etc. to carry out these communications.  It lacks the personal touch that makes notes so special, but it’s certainly better than nothing.  A verbal thank you with a phone call may suffice, but I don’t get a lot of satisfaction from a text message.

So after the holiday clutter is cleared, let’s remember an acknowledgement of thoughtfulness; however you deliver, it is a good deed in itself and my mother would recommend it highly.

Hayden Hollingsworth

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