The Names On My Christmas Card List

Dec 11, 2009

All week long, I have been working on completing our Christmas cards and yearly family letter, with the hope of getting them in the mail sooner than later. Over the years, I have developed a system which works pretty well. The key component to my strategy is that I have all my card recipients’ addresses stored in a Word document that is ready to print on the labels. This way, each year, there is no need to go searching for the addresses and writing them out by hand. I just open the file, stick my labels in the printer, and hit PRINT.

Of course, this system is not foolproof. Because we were an Army family for so long (and honestly, still think of ourselves in that way), many of our friends are military. Thus, that means each year many of the addresses have changed. And then, of course, people get married, they get divorced, they get remarried, names change – and then, a year later, they change again . . . I try to keep up with the changes all year long, as the friends email us their new locations and marital status and, of course, military rank. However, to be on the safe side, today, I scanned through all of the names and addresses and found a bunch of mistakes.

The Gash family and their five kids? Oops. No longer at Ft Leavenworth . . . need to get their new address in Korea.

COL. and Mrs. Watson? Didn’t he become a General this year? (Just kidding, Bryan! I know you were promoted!)

My friend, Renae? Did I change her last name when she got married this past summer? Did I add her new husband?

You get the idea. It’s a lot of checking and rechecking to make sure I have it right.

As I carefully scanned the list of familiar names, and smiled as I thought of people, I was also filled with a deep sense of sadness. For, over the past 15 months, three of my very close friends had passed away and all of them were still on my list. I paused at each name, my fingers poised over the keyboard and yet, I couldn’t bring myself to delete any of them.

Instead, memories filled my mind.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I met Marilynn for lunch to tell her I was pregnant with my third baby. And then, exactly one year to the day of that meal, I was speaking at her funeral.

Frances was an elderly woman I befriended. (Okay, who am I kidding? She befriended me, convinced we were just meant to be the best of friends.) On her 80th birthday, I took her out to a movie and then we came home to my house, where I threw her a surprise birthday party. She told me it was the only “real” surprise party she ever had in her life. I had no idea, that day, how few birthdays she would have left. She passed away last year on Christmas Day.

And then there was Jason – Major Jason George. I felt my eyes fill with tears as I saw his name. It was just a year ago, as I prepared my Christmas cards, that I emailed him to make sure it was still the correct address and he replied that it was, but not for long. He had just gotten orders for Iraq.

What a difference a year can make.

For, with not one of those three people did I realize when our last moment together would be. It had never occurred to me that someday, my lunches and phone calls and New Year’s Eves with Marilynn would end. The last time Frances and I saw each other and we said, “I love you” as we parted, I had no idea it would be the last time I ever heard her say those words. And, as for Jason, I got so used to him popping up to “chat” on Facebook’s instant messenger, I didn’t realize that one day soon, I’d log on and he wouldn’t be there to make me smile.

When Marilynn died, I had the sad honor of planning the funeral, along with her sister, Michele. When it was time to place the obituary, we were both surprised (and a little horrified), to be told it would cost around $800. We had no idea obituaries were so expensive!

Later that day, as I was telling my husband about the atrocious fee, he said to me, “When I die, I want you to pay that and put an obituary in the paper for me.”

“You do?” I asked, startled. After all, this was the man who has always told me to bury him in the cheapest pine box I can find. And yet, here he was, telling me to spend nearly a thousand dollars on a column in the local paper.

“Yes,” he said. “Because, honestly, that’s all your life comes down to in the end, isn’t it? What other people can say about you.”

And, as I thought about it, I realized he was right. When everything is said and done, the only thing left, of any significance, will be what the people in your life – the people on that Christmas card list – have to say about who you were . . . what you did . . . how you made them feel.

As I read through the names on my list again, I began to wonder what these people would have to say about me. I mean, if this were it . . . if this were the last time I ever had contact with some (or any) of them, what would their memories be of our time together?

Would they say I’d been a good friend . . . that I loved much and laughed often? That I made them laugh just as much? I’d hope they’d say I was there for them when they went through difficult times and celebrated with them in moments of joy. I’d like to think that, though I may have somehow hurt them at some point in our relationship, I’d done my best to make it right, even if it took what seemed like a lifetime. And, if forgiveness was asked of me, I’d like to believe they knew I’d give it.

Because, the truth is, none of us know how much time we have left . . . or how much time remains with the ones we love. Life is short. I pray that every single person on my Christmas card list is still around to receive a card from me next year. But, more importantly, I pray that I have a thousand more moments with each of them. A thousand more moments to laugh together until we cry. But, if by chance that doesn’t happen - and, in all honesty, the likelihood of it being so isn’t very good. Distance and time and real life often get in the way of one’s best laid plans - I want to begin this new year with the hope, and the intention, of making sure each and every one of them know, till the very end, how much they’ve meant to me.

Because, I am certain I never want to receive that dreaded phone call, about someone I love, and think, “There was so much more I meant to say.”

I hope those people know that they are so much more to me than names on a Christmas card list.

I pray they know that they’re a part of me . . . perhaps, the most important part.

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