The first Christmas after my mother died, I helped my father with his Christmas cards.
My mother had always been the organized one, who kept the list up to date. Her death several months before Christmas had left many things up in the air.
I thought it would be a relatively simple task. However, we could not find my mother’s most current list. We worked from the previous year’s list. Right away we hit a snag.
Our conversation went like this.
Me: Let me read through the list and see if we’ve got everyone you want to send a card to. (I began to read the list. Several names down, he stopped me.) (Names changed in following scenario to protect the living and the dead)
Daddy: Wait! I think Jack’s dead.
Me: OK, I’ll take Jack off.
Daddy: But I’m not sure. He was pretty sick and I think he died. But he might have pulled through. If he didn’t die, he’d be upset if I didn’t send him a card.
Me: OK, I’ll put him back on.
Daddy: No wait, what if he did die?
Me: Then he won’t get the card.
Daddy: But then his family will know I didn’t know he was dead. I wonder if Pearl sent a sympathy card if he died. But then I really don’t know who died first … Pearl or Jack … if Jack died.
Me: Why don’t we send a card to Jack and his wife and just write a general note that could be taken as an expression of sympathy or season’s greetings? Just don’t ask him how he is!
Daddy: Yes, that sounds like a good idea. (He picked up his pen to write a note, than paused and looked puzzled.)
Daddy: Wait a minute. It’s coming back to me now. I think it was Jack’s wife, Ann, who was so sick. And I think she died.
Me: OK, then we should take Ann off, but leave Jack on.
Daddy: No, don’t do that yet, because I’m not sure. I shouldn’t send a card to Jack if he’s really the one who died.
(Daddy looked very sad at this point.)
Daddy: I sure wish your Mama hadn’t died. She would know who is dead and alive.
Me: She probably does, Daddy. I wish she was here too. But since, she isn’t, why don’t we just send cards to everyone on the list. Whoever is alive can know we still think of those who have been promoted, as still living.
Daddy seemed satisfied with that. We did get a few back with family explaining who had died and expressing sympathy to Daddy in the loss of my mother.
It was not only Christmas greetings shared that year, but it was also a shared grief. That in itself was comforting.
And Jack really appreciated the Christmas card, since he had just lost his wife, Ann.
It was much easier to help Daddy with his Christmas cards after that first year. Several years later, after Daddy died in November, he received Christmas cards from people who did not know.
As I wrote them back, I smiled at the precious memories. We all thought of Daddy as still alive. And we were right. He had just had a change of address!