Holiday card of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
What Not to Say

Holiday Cards (Part 2)

As we put our holiday card together last month, Chris and I debated what to write on the back. We’d already decided to put “all you need is love” on the front, but we recognized that there were going to be some people who would be super confused when they got our card. For my friends, who was this new guy on the front? And (maybe even more confusing) for Chris’s friends, who was this woman and these three kids with him?

So, on the back we wrote the following:

Not sure who one (or four) of the people on this card are? Drop us a line. We can talk about what a curveball 2020 has been for the world. We’ll also update you on our new family.

We had a bet going about which one of us would be the first one to get the question, “wait – who is this with you on the holiday card?” (I won.) We joked about what people’s reactions must have been as they opened our card, and we tried to remember that even though our love story has been the center of our lives in 2020, people had a lot on their plates this year. Maybe they didn’t know (or didn’t care) about what was happening with us. That was fine.

But obviously people paid attention to the changes in our family, as evidenced by the cards we received from other people, the ones that were addressed to our new family. Sure, some of them were clearly auto-generated from people’s online lists, and looked the same as they had last year (i.e. “Marjorie Brimley and the kids!” As a side note, I remember the year after Shawn died getting auto-generated cards with his name on him. Thankfully, that stopped after the first year. But I digress.)

So, yes, many of the cards we got had addresses written in by some holiday card website with little changed from the year before. But many others had a recognition of our new family, whether they were handwritten or otherwise edited by someone before they’d been sent. Just a smattering included, “Marjorie and Chris and kids,” “Chris (and all!),” “Chris and Marjorie and family,” “The Brimley family and new member Chris,” “The Brimley family (plus Chris too!),” “Marjorie Brimley and Chris and family,” and “Marjorie, Chris, Claire, Austin and Tommy.” We each got a few only addressed to one of us, but many of the ones that had been generated by some online system had handwritten notes next to them, so something like, “the Brimley family” had (“and Chris too – yay!”) inserted off to the side.

We got a kick out of them. A few even had my maiden name on them, and a few had no last names at all. We started saving them and seeing which category got the most. At one point we realized that our own card had been sent out with a return address of, “Marjorie Brimley and Chris – null” because we hadn’t correctly filled out the return address form. We knew this when we got a card sent to us that said, “Marjorie Brimley and Chris Null” as though “Null” was Chris’s last name. It made us laugh out loud.

But as we reflected on it, this “Null” card – and all the cards – were really touching. No one knew what to put when they were filling out our cards. Hell, we didn’t know what to put on our own card. Everyone was just guessing, which is I suppose what you have to do when there’s no set convention about how to do something.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog (especially in the beginning) ranting about how insensitive other people can be to widows. How no one realizes how hurtful it can be when a room full of couples is telling the “how we met” stories and all you can think is, “well, my husband is dead so I guess I don’t really have a story.”

But I also have so many stories of people trying their hardest to be good and kind and somehow do the right thing when there’s no roadmap about what the right thing is. What’s the best way to be inclusive and thoughtful when your friend is going through something that you can’t really imagine? There’s no specific path, really. All you can do is guess.

Holiday cards never tell the whole story of anyone’s family, of course. It’s just a card, and the address on the envelope doesn’t really matter.

But I still love the ones that are trying so hard to say, “we love all of you.” Maybe that’s why we thought the best card we got was from a widow friend of mine who effusively wrote, “The Gorgeous Marjorie, Mainer Chris and Family.”