The ritual of writing thank you cards
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Thank You Cards as a Ritual of Remembrance

Last week, I finally tackled the piles of paper and years of detritus accumulated on my desk and dresser. I filed, recycled, and discarded stacks of paper and then faced years of hoarded “to do” items: I copied photos from my previous cell phone, a task in waiting for over four years; packed books and other items long needing to be returned to friends in boxes and envelopes to mail; and updated addresses in my contacts from Christmas card envelopes. In my decluttering mania, I pondered that perhaps I was physically manifesting the clearing of psychological clutter from my brain.

As I made my way through the pile, I avoided the stack of condolence cards from my brother’s death three months prior and the list of people who had contributed to my niece and nephew’s college funds. Writing thank you cards is not my favorite task. My parents didn’t make me do them growing up and historically, I saw them as a waste of paper. So often they’re generic. What does one say after “thank you”?

Nonetheless, I recognize they often have meaning for others. I’ve also increasingly found pleasure in the thought and effort taken to prepare them. So I planned to write them, but I couldn’t seem to motivate. Now, however, I wanted my desk clean!

This moment coincided with waking up, “below the line.” My body was heavy and lethargic, a little heaviness behind my eyes. Not exactly sad, but below what I think of as an equilibrium mood. I couldn’t identify any reason for my state. But I listened as my body directed me to conquer this decluttering, and ultimately, the completion of the thank you cards.

The writing started slowly, laboriously, as I wrote to people I barely knew. The flow picked up with the closer, but still somewhat distant acquaintances and relatives. Then, as I started writing to the people most close to me and my brother, tears seeped from the corners of my eyes. I remembered the times we shared and I felt their love for me and him. Rereading their cards, my heart doubled in size. Occasionally I had to put the pen down to cry. I crawled into bed after I finished, empty. The next morning, I woke to joy.

I didn’t recognize that day the grief that lay under the surface. I’m now grateful for that ‘below the line’ day because I needed to feel that loss, and I may have otherwise ignored it in the busy-ness of life. Moreover, I will never devalue thank you cards again. They opened space to grieve his loss, once more, and provided a moment for memories we shared with others. I’m adding thank you cards to my happiness resolutions list as a ritual, not just to express gratitude, but as a way to remember.

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