Family of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley walks in field
Love and Chris

Holiday Cards

Holiday cards have not been easy for me over the past few years. The year Shawn was dying, we somehow sent one out with the five of us on the front, and then for months afterwards when I’d go into my friends’ houses, I’d see our photo up on their walls. I loved that they were remembering him…and it was hard to face at the same time. He looked sick.

The next year, I had no idea what to do about a holiday card, because the options I was faced with included statements like, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year!” and “oh what fun!” which was basically the opposite of how I was feeling. Eventually, I settled on one with the word, “peace,” and a photo that I loved of me and the kids. On the back I wrote, “Sending love and gratitude to our friends and family who have helped us throughout this year. We feel your prayers and your support. You showed up for us this year and that’s the best gift we could ever get.” I didn’t need to mention Shawn. Everyone getting a card already knew what had happened in my life.

Last year was more straightforward, though I still wondered what I was supposed to do with the image and the writing on the back. Should I include my dad? What should I say about Shawn? Was it time to put a peppy saying on the front, once again? After some debate, I went with a photo of me and the kids running through a fountain, with the words, “peace, love, joy” on the front and “Marjorie, Claire, Austin and Tommy Brimley” at the bottom. (Grandpa Tom and Shawn both were included on the back of the card.) Even if the year had been a bit up and down, it was ending on a relatively hopeful note. 2020 was looking like it was going to be a good year.

And, well, 2020 has been a good year. (Okay, fine, it’s been a shit show in a million ways. But, personally, 2020 had some real highlights. Falling in love – a for-real kind of love – can give you a new perspective on everything.) Now, Chris is in our lives. Which means the whole holiday card production is a bit different this year, and maybe not less complicated.

Chris and I discussed what to do. Should we just merge our lists of addresses, take a photo of the five of us and write “happy holidays” at the top? I mean, why over-explain our life?

But what about all those people who we haven’t talked to all year, all those people who don’t read this blog and all those people who we haven’t seen for nine months and don’t know the full update about our lives? I mean, wouldn’t it be just a bit confusing for them? (Yes, I get that some of you only send holiday cards to close family and friends. That’s not us.) But that’s not the only reason. We also want to tell our story.

Lucky for me, Chris’s sister Becky has been quarantining with us and took some photos of our family together. We could make the card we wanted.

But what did we want to say about our family? What was important? What was meaningful? With different last names, were we supposed to hyphenate the “from the (family name)” part? And how in the world could we fit all that into a couple of lines on a holiday card?

Because what I wanted to say was, “yes, there’s someone new on this card this year! And guess what – he’s so great!” What I wanted everyone to know is that we are happy. What I wanted everyone to think is, “That is a happy family just the same as all the other happy families who send us holiday cards every year.”

Of course, all of that would be a ridiculous thing to put on a card. Also it sounds a little desperate, kind of like I’m screaming, “accept us! We’re great, I promise!” I think if I got a card like that, I’d worry that there was something wrong with the family on the front.

So why was I trying so hard?

I guess it isn’t just about creating a card that doesn’t confuse people. It’s also about asserting who I am – and who we are – now. It’s about saying that there’s joy in my life and in the kids’ lives, and that a big part of that joy is having Chris is all of our lives. “I am proud of the family that we have become!” I wanted to write on the card, because that’s what I wanted to convey.

Instead, we came up with just one phrase that fits our family today, a family that looked a little different last year at this time. Ours is a family that is made up of different last names and different life stories, one that doesn’t come with easy labels or straightforward explanations. In the end, we decided on one simple line to run at the bottom of our photo. It was the phrase that we could say was definitely true about our new family, the one we are so proud of:

All You Need Is Love.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.