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Taking time to reach out is always worth it

If a situation calls for affirming words or tender acknowledgments, what do you say?

“It depends on the circumstance,” you might respond. Yes it does. But when we receive unexpectedly unsettling or sad news, there are certain phrases that can usually be used reliably.

“I’m here for you” is one.” “You are in my heart” might be another. “I feel your pain” — not so much.

There’s a viral 30-second video rolling across the internet that uses my favorite affirmation. It features two golden retrievers sitting side by side. One gray-nosed dog nudges closer and closer to the other, wrapping a lanky front leg under and over the other dog’s leg and then reaching both front legs around the sad-appearing dog next to him in something that resembles a hug. It is all set to a song by Bruno Mars, “Count on Me.”

“You can count on me like one two three. I’ll be there. And I know when I need it I can count on you like four three two. You’ll be there. Whoa, whoa. Oh, oh. Yeah, Yeah.

Yeah. In the past week our 6-year-old grandson took a catapulting fall off his bike and was bruised from nose to toe. I sent him the golden retriever video and a big box of homemade chocolate chip cookies. He knows he can count on me. A close relative was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. I sent the video to his wife. And she sent it to their children.

Also, a dear 97-year-old friend and neighbor died recently. At first, I thought I had nowhere to send a “Count on Me” affirmation of any kind. But then I realized I could/should call my friend’s faraway children and ask if we could hold a neighborhood Celebration of Life on our covered patio. Their gracious response was extraordinarily affirming.

An authentic affirmation whether written, spoken or set to music is a gift. As we get older there are increasingly more occasions to give that gift. Our age peers become ill or pass on. Life takes abrupt turns and twists. Things distract and absorb us, and we may forget to reach out to someone we have not seen for a long time but know is going through tough straits. I am guilty of that and plan to correct it as soon as I’m done writing this column.

Some people do acknowledgments and affirmations better than others. As are many elders, my mother was masterful at giving written thanks. She had elegant script and always seemed to capture something tender about a recent visit or the special joy of a gift she had received. For her, having an available supply of thank-you cards on hand was a personal imperative.

Some people think George Bush (the first one) was elected because he carried a box of cards with him at all times and reportedly wrote brief personal notes of acknowledgment immediately following an encounter. Employers tell me any candidate who interviews for a job and follows up with a handwritten note has far greater possibility of getting offered the position. Be advised, this is powerful stuff. You can count on that.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.