Marjorie Brimley and her children during the summer after she became a widow


When Shawn and I got engaged, I sent out my first holiday cards. I was 24, but I felt like such a grown-up. On the card, we joyfully held each other with the sun setting in the distance. Honestly, when I look back at it, I think about how cheesy it looks. But in 2003 I thought it was amazing.

I’ve always sent out holiday cards, and over the years, our list of recipients grew to over a hundred families. Part of the reason I enjoyed sending out cards was that I loved getting cards back from my friends. I hung them up in my house for months, and they reminded me of how many wonderful people we had surrounding us.

I put up the holiday cards I received last year as they arrived. But I must have taken them down at some point, because by New Years Day, when Shawn came home to die, they were not up in my house.

Maybe someone helped me do it. I don’t remember. Maybe I took them down because I knew that it would feel impossible to see all of those happy families staring back into my living room where Shawn was dying. In any case, those cards are nowhere to be found.

So when I thought about sending out holiday cards this year, I just felt sad. I wanted to get cards from my family and friends and I knew that sending my own card would make others feel like they had permission to send theirs to me. But how could I do it? How could I put my family on a card – my family that’s missing a father – and send it out to everyone I knew? Maybe, I thought, I should skip this year. Or just send out a card with the kids on it. People do that all the time.

But I was always insistent that the cards have our whole family on them. People wanted to see me and Shawn too, not just our kids.

So I got my friend Stefanie to take some photos of us this summer. Then a few weeks ago, I decided on a picture that I liked and I began looking through the hundreds of holiday cards available online. I guess I should have braced myself for such an activity, but as with everything else in my life, I just did it. A few clicks led me to a photo card website and my screen was instantly filled with smiling families.

(As a little aside here, I want to say that I truly appreciate that holiday card advertisements have become much more diverse. Photos exist of single moms and interracial couples and families with two dads. I know that some people might feel like this is overdone, but I can tell you this – it’s nice to see my family reflected back at me in these cards. I bet other people feel the same way too.)

In any case, I spent the afternoon scrolling through the pages and pages of cards. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

Happiest Holidays!
Merry Everything!
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
Oh What Fun!
Counting Our Blessings!

Was it going to be impossible to find a holiday card that didn’t have the words happy, merry, bright or joyful plastered on the front? Or at least one without an exclamation point? The first hundred cards I looked at were exactly like this. I complained about it to my dad, who was sitting in the next room.

“Why don’t you just make your own?” he suggested.

“What would it say?” I asked.

“How about ‘it’s the holidays,'” he said. “That way it’s not like it’s always happy.”

I laughed – what would people think of getting a card that stated the obvious? But the larger question remained. Was it okay to give out a holiday card that wasn’t happy?

Because I don’t really feel happy. I feel moments of joy – times when my kids sing Christmas music in the car, for example – but happiness is much more elusive.

I remember reading years ago about how difficult the holidays were for some people. How seeing everyone else happy can be just another reminder to a sad or grieving person how different he or she is from the rest of society. I thought about that as I continued to look for a holiday card that was a bit outside of the mainstream.

And then I saw it – the perfect card.

It had a simple background with just one word in the middle of it: peace.

That fit. I put our family name on the card and a photo of me and the kids at the bottom. On the back, I put an image of the kids holding Shawn’s guitar, and a note that read, “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.”

Those words, I thought, captured 2018. And the word on the front, “peace,” captured what I hope the holidays hold for us this year.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.