The holiday cards include pictures and printed letters—or sometimes, the hybrid picture with printed updates of activities and travels. (No one ever says, “Mom died, and we’re still hoping her last few months were as comfortable as possible,” or “I was so sad that it was tough to get out of bed some days in 2017, so the kids got a lot of extra unsupervised screen time.” Or: “I found myself crying in my car for so. many. days.” – Crying and grieving in whatever way aren’t yet milestones to brag about or share).
It makes sense that I am looking at these cards today. I’m ready for it—we had to rip down every photo and framed object for an annoyingly timed paint job that ended on December 22. Every word now echoes since the walls are barren, although the place does look admittedly cleaner since it’s lighter and brighter and the telltale signs of chipped paint from when I’d lug a bookshelf up the stairs and bang the walls with every step are now painted over.
(Memorably, a senior citizen helped me when he saw how sweaty I was when I brought a fully assembled grey shelf from a store down the street. I do get myself in trouble. And am lucky to find help from unexpected sources, most of the time. Oscar wanted to know what I would’ve done if the senior was a killer or rapist. I’d push the shelf on him, of course! Or scream or throw books at him!)
Looking at the letters buoys me but also serves up sadness and tiredness. I can blame the flu bug that is weakening me and tethering me to my favorite giant bed (making me love my velour robe even more), but I am also sad because someone I went to high school with passed away on December 27. If I wasn’t a snot factory, I’d be at his funeral today. Trust me, you don’t need to attend any event when you can’t walk two feet without coughing up bright yellow globs of phlegm. Or worse, have drips of liquid pour out of your nose. Get thee some Dayquil and avoid other beings, stat!
I mailed his brother a simple card when I heard about the death. Even though I write for a living, getting words onto a page for a condolence card is never easy. Still, it’s a must. These lines are my go-tos:
“Sending you love” – that’s always a good line to include.
I also include a sentence or two about what, exactly, I remember about the person, whether it’s how good a storyteller or talker he/she was to how he/she smiled when surrounded by friends.
Which reminds me of talking to a couple at the first holiday party of the year, where giant donuts from Bob’s Donuts (on Polk Street in SF, you must get these hot and fresh at some point if you love sugary carbs) shared table space with thin slices of Escape from New York pizza. It was simple comforting fare, yet thrilling in how relaxing it made everyone—there was more than enough food, and the vegetarians were taken care of with tasty versions of the pizza.
The man I was talking to shared that years before a close friend had died, they had both agreed that they wanted to be loved and missed when their time came.
Isn’t that what we all hope for?