Shortly after Michael Jackson’s sudden death, there was a large tribute concert packed with A-list celebrities, friends, family, and fans. Songs were sung and meaningful words of praise for the King of Pop were shared with millions around the world. I remember thinking it was such a shame that he wasn’t there to see all the outpouring of love. I recall hoping these same people had been there for him when he most needed them, and that he knew how much he was appreciated and adored. The controversies of his lifestyle aside, I think of this event often. And the same feelings and emotions often come flooding in when I attend funerals.
I’ve heard of a Living Funeral and I can certainly see the appeal. You hear wonderful words of praise from all the important people in your life. You have the opportunity to really understand how you have touched, and in some cases transformed, others’ lives. And everyone in the room relishes in stories about you and learns about a side of you perhaps they never knew. Your colleagues enjoy a peek into your more personal side. Your family gains a deeper appreciation for your professional achievements. You probably hear the words “thank you” dozens of times within a few hours.
I’ll admit, I sometimes kick myself when I think about how much more I could have learned from my grandparents on my father’s side, both holocaust survivors, when they were with us. And more importantly, what I could have thanked them for. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same opportunity with my mom’s parents as they died when I was just eight years old.) I asked questions and I was curious. And as a teenager, I even audio-recorded my Zaidie telling his courageous story. But the magnitude of their struggles and triumphs, and their incredible perseverance and strength, became clearest when their eulogies were read at their funerals. I hope I never took them for granted and they knew how much I loved and appreciated them.
A big, grand Living Funeral is certainly an interesting concept and potentially a way to maximize the likeliness of a person’s legacy being carried on to its full potential. But what’s on my mind even more these days is the opportunity to do better at showing my appreciation to those in my life every day. In the moment. Right now.
This year, my son’s JK teachers started using a new private sharing app called Seesaw to share photos and videos of the kids in action. Halfway through the school year, I’ve become accustomed to receiving multiple notifications per week alerting me that new content has been uploaded. Each photo and video is accompanied by a cute description, 10 to 20 words long, and tagged to highlight the children who are featured. When I catch up on my viewing every few days, I love every second and savour these small nuggets of joy featuring my little guy and his friends singing, playing, learning, and laughing.
Recently, for the first time since we started using the app at the beginning of the school year (at this point, at least a couple hundred photos and videos have been uploaded), I sent the teachers an email, CCing the head of school and principals, expressing how much I love seeing so many special moments in the classroom, and showing appreciation for providing my son with a truly special JK experience. I could practically see their grins through their email responses. My small gesture of saying thanks, and referencing specific videos I thought were especially delightful, seemed to give them tremendous satisfaction. Perhaps my message was one of many they receive. But I suspect every email is another wonderful reminder that their hard work is acknowledged, enjoyed, and appreciated.
I received a similar reaction when I wrote personalized notes to each of my children’s teachers, wishing them happy holidays and thanking them for their dedication and hard work. Though my kids have been in school for many years, I haven’t been consistent at doing this. The execution of such a gesture requires very little, really: a 10-pack of blank cards from the dollar store and 20 minutes in the evening after the kids go to bed. But up until this year, I have, for the most part, been satisfied with being part of a group gift and card from the whole class. And nothing is wrong with that, of course. But this year, something inside was driving me to give a little more of myself.
After many of years of thinking of, planning to, but dropping the ball at the last minute, this past year I hand-delivered over 20 Christmas cards to various colleagues, some of whom provided valuable guidance during a recent job search, and a holiday card was my way of ensuring they knew their support was valued. For others, it was just my way of spreading some holiday cheer and letting them know they were in my thoughts.
Compared to people who write these notes often, perhaps I’m just catching up. But for me, it’s a step in the right direction. The direction towards not just feeling appreciative, but making sure I make time – and it’s often just a few minutes – to ensure the people in my life know I value them.
I’m finding these moments – these opportunities to give more of myself – everywhere, every day. Often it’s as simple as acknowledging and making eye contact with an employee behind the counter in a restaurant or store. While I’m sometimes multi-tasking on my phone, I’m reminding myself to take a moment to look up, and really see those I’m interacting with.
The outpouring of love for one of the most talented pop stars of our time continues today, almost seven years after his death, and will no doubt carry on for decades to come. Did he know how much he was adored? We’ll never know. I certainly hope he did. But the events following his passing remind me to do my part – and I’m working on it every day – to ensure those around me receive the kind gestures and personalized thank you’s they deserve. And really, in the end, I know I’m the one who receives when I choose to give more of myself.
As MJ’s wise words remind me:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wannna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself
And then make a change.