Years ago my Dad said he could tell where he was in the life cycle by the tone of the family Christmas letters we received. Back in the early days people were starting out and talked about new babies, new jobs. Then suddenly kids were graduating and getting married and starting jobs themselves. Grandchildren began arriving. Eventually his friends started retiring, traveling, dealing with health issues. News of death was beginning to appear in holiday letters the last years of his life.
I think about that a lot as I see it reflected in the Christmas cards I receive each year. People I went to school with are grandparents now. And more and more hints that life doesn’t last forever are popping up in those yearly letters.
But it’s more than the annual holiday letter that provide clues about mortality. Social media, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest keep us up to date with people we might never have stayed connected with prior to the internet. We hear about life events almost instantly. We offer congratulations and condolences and support from a keyboard. And while I appreciate the connections I feel an old fashioned responsibility to send something more, especially when condolences are required.
So I have letters to write.
Today is the funeral of a blogger friend’s dad. Early next week a friend from high school will be burying her own dad. The two men died on the same day; I learned of their deaths while on the internet. At Christmas I learned that a coworker died last year. I hadn’t known he was sick and I want to write his widow who I never met. And last week I read online that the father of kids I used to babysit has died. His widow still lives in the house down the street from my old home. Though the children are grown, probably with kids of their own, I feel a need to let them know I’m thinking of them.
Somehow it doesn’t seem enough to just say ‘sorry for your loss’ in a Facebook post. Yet I’ve done it that way too. A friend from the dog training community lost both her parents in September last year, and all my communication was in the form of emails and Facebook posts and private messaging. Is that enough? Does that provide a more immediate support? Has the world moved on from handwritten letters that arrive with a stamp?
Or do I have letters to write?