The Christmas Card Pail, Revisited

This post (in its original form) first appeared in February this year, as I grieved my father’s death. In some spiritual traditions, one formally mourns a lost loved one for a year. This year, I have done my grieving publicly, using this blog as my vehicle of mourning, first for my father, then, unexpectedly, for my best friend. In just a few weeks, with one final post, Dad’s journey will be completed. Thank you, followers and readers, for walking this rocky path with me.

Shortly after taking down my Christmas tree and decorations, I start on my “First of Year Clean Out”. This event is separate and distinct from my spring cleaning, although a similar form of madness. But instead of attacking all the textiles—laundering curtains and pillows, blankets and throw rugs and quilts—and vacuuming, mopping and dusting little used or seen nooks and crannies and knick-knacks—instead of that, I attack paperwork. Rustling through the file cabinet, I toss old receipts and outdated files. I shred and sort and reassemble hard copy paperwork. Sifting through computer files, I delete mounds of unnecessary junk. Finally, I remove the big blue, oval carnival glass bowl from my china cabinet; the bowl where I have stored every card and note received during the previous year. Riffling through it, I remove all the birthday, thank you, get well, or various other cards that I’ve stored there. I read through them once more, appreciating and enjoying their messages. Then I return only a select few, the most precious of these, to the bowl before dropping the rest into the paper recycling bin.

CardBasket

But there is one group of cards which is never to be found in the carnival glass bowl: my Christmas cards. Far fewer these days, as rising postage costs deter sending cards, while for two years and some, quarantines, virus and lockdowns have prevented people from venturing out to purchase them, these cards, once read and enjoyed, are dropped into a winter white bucket, festively painted and decorated. At the end of Yuletide, when I “take down the Christmas”, I never remove my cards from the pail. Instead, cards and all, the bucket goes into storage with all the other decorations, awaiting another Christmas season.

Months later, on a day soon after Thanksgiving, the card pail again sees the light of day. Extracting it from where it lies nestled in the tub of garland and stockings, I take a break from my decorating and curl into an armchair, the container in my hands. Then, slowly, almost reverently, I remove the old cards and begin to reread them. Each is opened appreciatively as I scan handwritten messages and look at now-year-old enclosed family photos. Sometimes I re-read a letter included with the card, marveling at how much, and how little, has changed in the passing eleven months.

And often, I cry. For there, huddled within the standard, jolly or religious holiday greetings, lurks nostalgia and a touch of old pain: the card, cards, from those who have passed away during the intervening months. I open the pressboard to find and touch the loops and whorls of their signatures, once familiar, now never to be seen again.

One year, tears slipping down the curve of my face, I reread the letter, sent by surviving family members, describing the last weeks of a friend’s life. Denied (if he left the area of his medical service network) the dialysis he needed to survive, he went on one last vacation anyway, travelling to Hawaii for a few weeks. There he spent his final days in lush and gorgeous surroundings before returning home to close his eyes and die. I’d read this information in shock and dismay the year prior; this time I read it in renewed sadness, once more saying goodbye to a good and kind man.

In 2021, as I scanned the cards, I found included a host of pet sympathy cards, sent to comfort me for the loss of my best little cat just a few days prior to Christmas 2020. Bittersweet reminders of my sweet, mink-furred Bella hid there amongst the holiday greetings, drawing yet another tear or two and a sigh from the depths of my heart. I opened, too, the last Christmas card my father would ever send me—a simple card, probably a freebie received from one of the charities he supported. “Dad and Lucy Cat” he had signed it—the very Lucy cat whom I and other family members had spent six months looking after, as he slipped from hospital to care facility to death.

And so it was that this November I pulled the card pail out from the tub where it lay nested in garland and stockings. Carrying it to the new, uncomfortable armchair (the comfy old dark green one having gone to decrepit furniture heaven), I pulled out a card featuring an impossibly cheesy, adorable kitten peering from a Christmas stocking, and opened it to brush my fingertips one final time across the signature of my late, loved friend, Reneé. Cat Lady. “Reneé, Cymon, and Raja” the signature read, naming her beloved Sphinx and Persian cats as one would any family members, and I held the card to my heart for just a moment in a final goodbye to the very best friend of my lifetime.

Then, hands shaking just a little, I extracted all the condolence cards sent to comfort me for the loss of my father just a few days before Christmas during the 2021 holiday season. I mourned his passing once more, and then laughed a little, remembering how very much my Dad (although he would never say why!) hated Christmas! I recalled how, bringing a tiny decorated tree to him at his care facility, I was berated and scolded and told to “Get that thing the hell out of here!” I laughed one final time, shaking my head and rolling my eyes, considering his similarity to the pre-ghost Scrooge.

And then I placed them all, holiday greetings and expressions of sympathy, into the recycling bin, and, returning to my pleasant Christmas decorating, moved on.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Taking Down the Christmas”, which you can locate in the Archives, below, from January 3, 2020

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