There are two types of people in the world: Those who write holiday letters every year and those who don’t. My mother fits the first category, I the second. My mother’s justification for sending holiday letters is the desire to “reconnect” with friends and family. My justification for not sending holiday letters is really a question: If all that’s left of a relationship is the exchange of a mass-produced letter once a year, what’s the point? Shouldn’t we all just move on?
For the most part, I have stayed the course. However when my mother, whose eyesight is failing due to macular degeneration, asked me to help with Christmas cards this past year, I didn’t hesitate. Working together over the Thanksgiving holiday, we were in agreement that her Christmas letter should be upbeat. We kept it brief and ended it with a “toast” to the New Year.
Over the next several weeks, cards and letters from around the globe filled my mother’s mailbox at her retirement community as friends and family returned her greetings. Overall, the incoming correspondence had a positive spin. From nephews and nieces, there was news about job promotions, new homes and exotic-sounding vacations. Babies were being born, students graduating and workers retiring. From Mom’s contemporaries, the news centered on volunteer activities, gardening successes and anniversary milestones.
It wasn’t all rose-colored. Although not nearly as much stationery was spent on the downside of living, there were job losses, divorces, illnesses and deaths reported. Clearly some of my mother’s motivation to send out her own card every year was needing to let friends and family know that at 92 years of age, she was still alive and kicking.
As we drew closer to Dec. 25, the numbers of cards and letters began to wane, and Mom expressed concern that she hadn’t received a letter from her college friend Josie. The two had been dorm-mates for four years at Smith College, class of ’42.
Finally, a few days before Christmas, Josie’s letter arrived. I tore into the envelope, eager to update Mom on one of her best friends.
“What’s wrong?” my mother asked, sensing something was amiss.
“Nothing, really.” I said slowly, choosing my words carefully. “Josie enclosed a picture.” The photograph was of Josie herself slumped over in a hospital chair. Secretly I was glad that Mom’s eyesight wouldn’t allow her to see the picture.
Wanting to further divert Mom’s attention, I put the letter aside and asked about their college times together. She opened up, and I heard about late-night gab sessions, learning to knit and cramming for finals.
Eventually, my mother demanded, “Let’s hear her letter.”
Indeed, the first part of Josie’s letter relayed the news of a stroke, a fall and all the subsequent life changes that come with those events, including assisted living arrangements. I paused to let the information sink in. There was more to the letter, but I wanted to gauge the effect this was having on Mom. I expected sadness not only for Josie, but also in general for the ravages of advanced age and loss of youth.
“Is that all she wrote?” asked Mom plainly.
I looked again at Josie’s picture. Under a thick shock of snowy white hair, Josie’s blue eyes still sparkled. I picked up the letter and continued reading. Sure enough, there was a lot of living going on. Maybe as much as I wanted to hear about what the two of them were like when they were young, it wasn’t about the past. It’s about the present.
Like Mom, Josie today has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and all of the drama that comes with each generation. She enjoys current literature, movies and many hobbies. She belongs to a political party and goes to church. And she most certainly has views and opinions about the world today. This is the Josie that Mom wants to hear from every year at Christmas.
So, if I were to ask either of them, “Shouldn’t we all just move on?” Their response would be, “Absolutely . . . and we’ll catch up over the holidays.”