Monday, March 15, 2010

A Card That Goes On Giving.

My friend Daphne wrote a blog post yesterday about Mother's Day (ok it was about Mothering Sunday to be precise) and it got some interesting comments.

My mother died in 2003 and my dad, 17 years earlier in 1986 and even after all these years, I'm not really sure how I feel about Mother's Day (and Father's Day). I suppose since 2004, it's just been another day and since I'm nearly always in America when it takes place in the UK, I'm not even aware of it these days. I was very aware of it in 2004 of course, being the first one after mum died, and I didn't like the feelings of sadness and sense of loss that it invoked.

Walking along the rows of speciality cards in any store, I usually laugh at how the greeting card companies have just about covered every eventuality, event and personal relationship that we could possibly have or celebrate. We can wish everyone from our parole officer to our pets a Happy Birthday. We can send Christmas Greetings to our local Rabbi or Mullah and we can even send a Wishing You A Successful In Vitro Fertilization card to the spinster down the road.

Right now it seems that most Americans are claiming Irish ancestry as the shelves and clothes racks are full of all things St. Patrick and I can tell you that seeing someone dressed in a 'wife beater' t-shirt and raggity shorts in mid Florida wearing one of those oversized green felt top hats with a large shamrock on it, is just plain bizarre.

Although most events may have pre dated companies such as Hallmark and Clinton, I still think of them now as just greeting card company events, designed to make money for them and riddle us with guilt if we don't fall in line by, at the very least, sending one of their cards.

Take this test : think back to your last card and apart from reading the signature and the personal message from the sendee (if they actually wrote one), did you bother reading the rhyme - especially at Christmas time when a dozen or so land daily on your mat or appear in your box ?

But back to Mother's Day and if yours is still alive, of course your feelings about the day will be formed by your relationship with her. In my case, my mum lived in N. Ireland and I live in England ( case homeland Security is reading this) so needing to actually buy, stamp and post the card was enough of an effort to sometimes lead me to just take 'the easy option' and ring her. I told myself this was really a better option anyway as surely hearing my voice had to have pleased her much more than getting a card, no matter how wonderful the rhyme inside !?

When mum developed macular degeneration to such an extent in her later years that she was registered blind, my phone call option became the norm and I kept the guilt at bay by telling myself she couldn't read the cards anyway. Then when she died and I was clearing out her house, I opened a drawer and found a large tied up bundle of Birthday and Mother's Day cards from me going back several decades. I asked her sister, who looked in on her most days, about the cards and she told me how mum would treat the arrival of each one like a lottery win and have my greeting read to her over and over.

As I held that bundle of loved memories in my hands, the tears flowed again. Yes it was only a few days since she'd died and I was standing in her home of 52 years going through her most personal possessions, collected and treasured over my lifetime, so it was an emotional time anyway. But the knowledge that a seemingly impersonal and crappy Hallmark card from me had meant so much to her and that it was now too late for me to do anything about it, was just overwhelming. My sense of loss was taken to new heights and mingled with added regret and guilt.

So yes, my feelings about such card sending events are mixed but after my experience with my mum, I think the deciding factor should always be, what effect getting a card will have for the receivee ? We sometimes never know until it's too late but there are usually signs, if we are open to picking them up. Often they are confusing signs ("oh I don't like getting cards" and then the cards are up on display for weeks !!) so we have to do a bit of work to get to the truth.

I think my final thought would be, make and send your own card. This way you can make the greeting 100% personal and the twee rhyme and greeting inside can at least be your twee rhyme and greeting.

That way you have the win/win situation of letting the receivee know you were thinking enough about them to make this effort AND you reduce the profits of the greeting card companies !

Happy 15th March Day to all my readers. And before you ask, none of you will be getting a card.

P.S. I published this post and then decided to add a photo of my mum as she'd have been tickled pink to think she was on the internet. This was the last one taken of her, less than 4 weeks before she died, and I was happy that I used the self timer and took it myself so we were the only ones in the room. She'd just gone into a nursing home as she couldn't look after herself and she loved it there and wished she'd 'moved in' earlier ! I believe she then realised she had no reason to remain on this earth or be a burden to anyone. After 17 years, she effectively gave up on life and after slipping into a coma, she got her dearest wish; with me holding her hand and whispering a final goodbye, she went to be with dad.


Daphne said...

What a beautiful photo of you both. And though it's sad for me to see the photo when I never met her, your Mum looks both very contented and with a slightly mischievous twinkle. Did she pass that mischief on to either of her sons, I wonder?!!!

rhymeswithplague said...

Very good post, Ian! Being American, I never knew about Mothering Day in the UK. As you probably know, our own Mother's (or Mothers' or Mothers) Day in the U.S. falls is the second Sunday in May.

I love the photograph, and the story behind it.

Richard Speight said...

Nice story. My wife (and her father) put an immense significance on the verse in the card, such that I know I have to read the one I buy for her to see if it's entirely appropriate as she will take it as though I wrote it! Similarly though, I know the verse she choses for me is of great significance.

Jay said...

What a sweet photo! You did a great job with the timer, there!

You're right. I sometimes don't bother with a card for Mum, if I'm sending her a huge bunch of flowers, but she does love cards. I am chastened, and I promise to do better in future.

I do tend to make my own though, especially at Christmas. Not for everyone, just close friends, but like you, I hate lining the pockets of the card manufacturers, and yes, they are more personal.

Debby said...

I love cards. I love that someone thought of me enough to make the effort to go out and look for a card and send it to me.

I ALWAYS read what's inside the card. Often, I read it over and over.

I like homemade cards especially...but only if time and thought went into them. No fair using a pencil on the back of a napkin.

I love phone calls, but not in the place of a card. Nope, gotta have both on those special days!

Glitter. I love glitter on cards. One of my most favorite cards I ever got from you, you'd written 'glitter' all over it! I loved that so much! I cut out one of the 'glitter' words and keep it in my jewelery box.

It's the thought that goes into a card...when someone finds a card that plays into my life..I know they took time and were thinking of me. Yep, I love cards.

You can't beat yourself up for things you didn't do as that just can't be changed. You have to focus on the good things you did do. Your Mum knew you loved her, but she also knew how to use the good old Catholic guilt.

When your mind goes to all those 'why didn't I's', just think of all the things you did. If that doesn't work, think of her making us biscuits and wheaten bread. Man that should bring a smile to your face. Or her wanting to wash our smalls...bless.

You were there when it counted, we both were. You used the word coma, but you know she knew you were there. You saw her breathing change when you took her hand, you saw that little smile on her lips. We might have been jet lagged and tired, but we were there when it really counted. She did not go to meet your Dad alone. You were there to send her off and she knew it Ian. We both held her hand in those last minutes. She went out of this world knowing that she was loved. I told her I would take care of her baby boy and I intend to.

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