You’ve Got Mail–the three most important words in my world during the holidays. And not emails and not for the reasons you might think.
Following several catastrophic medical issues, my beautiful vibrant parents needed special care and the only way they could remain together was in assisted living with occasional trips to rehabilitation and nursing facilities. They had been married over 50 years when they left me just a few months apart in 2010. Even though my mother had lost the ability to remember my daily visits, her smile lit up the room when I’d arrive each day.
Dad, a big man with a booming voice, would take a walk with me daily to the main desk of his new ‘home’ so he could update me on mom’s condition. I’d remind him that I still remembered what he’d told me the day before but then I would try to listen because it was becoming more and more apparent that he was going a bit stir crazy and needed these brief moments of sanity my visits would bring him in his new world of wheelchairs, walkers and set eating times. He always believed he would die in his garden sort of like Vito Corleone in The Godfather, but life and Alzheimer’s took mom and dad down a different path.
As we’d make our way to the mail desk, there would be dozens of regulars waiting in line, some sitting on their push cart walkers, some leaning on their canes. A few would mistake me as their daughter or granddaughter and would reach out to touch me or stroke my arm. My dad would whisper, “Play along,” afraid that I might do otherwise. He’d stop and speak to each one, then turn and tell me what they were doing ‘time’ for and how he had never seen their families visit. I tried not to judge the families of those that had placed their loved one here and disappeared from their life. Maybe their lives had taken a rough turn or two as well and they simply couldn’t find the time.
Time was the enemy–time and loneliness. Some, like my father, felt time moved like molasses while others were locked in private worlds where time had ceased to exist. But loneliness was universal for everyone, including my father who missed my mother, even though she was sitting right next to him most of the day.
Dad would get to the mail desk and he’d ask one of his ‘girls’ for his mail. They’d smile and hand him his usual stack of junk mail with a sprinkle or two of letters from old friends and family who lived too far away to visit. Mom and Dad always had mail. As dad would stand aside sorting his stack the next resident would approach and the next and the response was always the same:
“No mail today, Samuel [Alice, Mr. Press, Edna …], check back tomorrow, I’m sure there will be some tomorrow.”
Their eyes told the entire world how sad they were. My heart ached. Some would look at dad and if he had a piece of junk mail, he’d say:
“Hey Jacob, here,” as he handed him the flyer from the local insurance agency. “Your mail got stuck in my pile.” Jacob would eagerly take the ‘gift,’ and shuffle off clutching his mail like newly discovered gold.
Dad would sort through his stack continuing to distribute his mail to others and then we’d return to his room. I told him how sad this daily trip made me and he stopped and asked a question he’d asked me no less than a hundred times throughout my life, “So, what are you going to do about it?” It was a family rule that you couldn’t complain about something unless you had a plan to fix it. And dad had just invoked THE RULE.
Our family sent out over a hundred cards to friends and family each year, sometimes with a funny newsletter and photos of the kids as they grew and we received hundreds in return. It was an exhausting and time consuming ordeal every year, one I had stopped enjoying long ago but continued because I thought it was expected. You send them, you receive them.
This was the holiday game we all played. I was thinking what could I do? Nothing, I didn’t have any time. But I did. And so, instead of sending that stack of cards to all my friends, I sat down and sent a card to each person in the assisted living facility and every staff member with a note.
It took me days to complete. My husband and I, along with dad, sat in the main hall as resident after resident made their way up to the front desk and asked for their mail. Each and every resident received a card. The room was alive. You could feel, taste, touch, hear and see the happiness as no one went away empty-handed. Dad was proud of me and truthfully, I felt pretty darn good.
For the next week and for many more, I would see the cards I had ‘mailed,’ in their baskets or tucked in the pockets of their robes. This simple act had created much more joy than I had ever anticipated.
And my family has continued to do this. But that isn’t the point of this story.
I knew I could do more. So after dad and mom left me, I set about telling my friends on my Facebook pages how they could help in my attempt to deliver mail to every senior in a facility across the United States. Some were teachers or Scout leaders who took up the cause and in 20 minutes had their group put together 100 or more cards to be delivered. Each year the “You’ve Got Mail” event started a few years ago at my kitchen table has quietly grown, under the radar, but it has grown.
This year, I decided I wanted to take this nationally and my friends at Addicting Info agreed to give me this platform and I’m truly grateful.
So here’s what you can do:
It is as simple as buying a few boxes of cards in the discount bin after the holidays or wherever you can find them. If you have a captive audience of any kind, co-workers at lunch, teachers with students, social clubs with members that meet, book clubs, political groups, Scout leaders, church members, family get-togethers—any group that gets together for any reason will work. And let the kids help. It’s a life lesson they will carry forever.
It only takes a few minutes and everyone feels good about themselves. Trust me.
Last night we attended an ‘ugly sweater’ holiday party. With the hostess’s approval, I brought 10 boxes with over 150 holiday cards and envelopes. I brought pens. And after everyone had enjoyed a wonderful meal, I announced the card signing event and I had hoped it would be well-received.
And it was. Everyone joined in. Every single person sat down at the coffee table, around the fireplace and in chairs throughout the house writing cards and sharing their messages with each other. My heart was filled with memories of my parents and past holidays.
Some wished the recipient a warm and wonderful new year while others wrote long detailed notes for the recipient to enjoy.
No names are necessary. While we all signed ours with our first names, the envelopes remained blank because the facility knows who needs these cards and will handle the distribution of them. They know the haves and the have-nots better than anyone.
There are nursing homes and assisted living places in every city and town across America. You can easily find one close to you home. Call and let them know you are on the way over with a bag of cards. They will gladly be there to receive them.
20 minutes after we started signing the cards, we were done and all the cards were in a bag and are ready for delivery this week. I won’t hang around this time to watch the faces light up but I know they will. I can feel it in my heart.
JOIN ME and make this a holiday tradition. Any holiday will do. The residents are as lonely on Valentine’s Day, Mother and Father’s Day and the Fourth of July as they are the rest of the time throughout the year. And you have the ability, we all have the ability, to make a huge difference.
The original article appears on Addicting Info and a big thank you and shout out to the owners for allowing me the opportunity to bring this message across our great big generous country! Here Is How We Can Send The Holiday Spirit To Lonely Seniors Across America. The Results: Magical
Featured image courtesy of youtube.com