American Greetings/Hallmark: Cards for nearly everyone and everything — even dogs and divorces — but not for the old


My mom’s cousin, Dorothy, turns 84 this month and I can’t find a birthday card.

Dorothy, like my mom, grew up poor.

(How poor? Dorothy likes to tell a story about coffee grounds: Her mom used them once for a fresh pot, then a second time for a not-so-fresh pot. Afterward, she carefully packed up the grounds and gave them to my grandmother, who squeezed out whatever caffeine was left for a third pot, thankful that her family had coffee at all.)

But like so many of that generation, Dorothy climbed into the middle class, working a good-paying factory job, marrying a man who did the same and frugally saving until they could buy a tidy ranch in a rural swath of Northeast Ohio where they lived for 50 years.

Life was good until last summer when Dorothy fell over picking strawberries in her garden and bonked her head on a stone.

She ended up in the hospital and shortly after, her husband, Lou, fell and broke his ankle.

Dorothy is home now, isolated, unable to drive because her fickle heart sometimes frolics causing her to faint. And Lou is in a nursing home 12 miles away, confused and calling daily, begging her to pick him up, unsure what he’s done to be sent away from his wife and the home he loves.

Happy Birthday? That, to me, implies Dorothy’s past year was swell and her next year — if there is a next year — will be better.

Nevertheless, a birthday card is necessary. If mom doesn’t send one, it’s more than a slight. It’s an invisible white flag conceding life has ended for both mom and Dorothy even though each continues to breathe.

So, as a pharmacist bagged up 28 prescription refills for mom and dad yesterday, I pawed through racks of birthday cards.

I first gravitated toward a slew of funny, acerbic old lady cards that mom and Dorothy would have happily picked for one another just a decade ago. But jokes about diapers or forgetting your name aren’t funny when they’re true.

Next I discovered a whole birthday genre dedicated to: “We’re both so busy, I never tell you how special you are.” Inappropriate when life turns into a series of medical appointments with naps and tv in between.

The rest were a hodge-podge encouraging the birthday girl to party, to swill wine until drunk or to do something special or naughty just for herself. No. No. And double no.

At least 80 cards into my card safari, I abandoned the hunt. I paid the pharmacy clerk $500-plus for drugs extending my own parents’ not-so-pleasant lives and hauled my mini-drugstore home, hundreds of pills in bottles rattling like tiny, sad maracas.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this card problem. Since my parents moved in, I have been their personal shopper for all cards and gifts they give to each other and anyone else (including me).

Anniversary, Christmas, Sweetest Day (an Ohio tradition concocted generations ago by a clever local chocolatier): Each holiday is filled with land mines and chasms of time that neither candy nor warm bathrobes can cross.

Even buying cards for them is impossible. Most cards grown children give their parents involve “thanks”– thank you for all that you do, thank you for supporting me, thank you for bringing joy to our lives.

I’ve given scores of these sorts of thank-you cards to mom and dad over the years. And I thank them now for being the parents they have been. But the sad truth is, they should be giving me and my husband these thank-you cards now.

And that’s impossible because I would have to buy them. And I wouldn’t, fearing that such a move would trigger a weird psychological echo chamber, maybe even a worm hole for unplanned traveling through time.

But picking out sympathy cards is the worst. And I buy a lot of sympathy cards. Being in your 80s — like my parents are — is not unlike being in your 20s. But you’re sending sympathy cards and attending funerals instead of buying shower gifts and toasting with bad wedding champagne.

Of course it’s sad when anyone loses someone they love. But what is the appropriate sentiment when someone’s body dies years after their brain withered, leaving them a shell? Or when a person, who has longed for the Grim Reaper’s visit, dies after years of suffering, pain and loneliness?

Those passings, I always think to myself, should be celebrated (even if bittersweet).

Unlike so many birthdays, which now seem better off mourned.

Poor Dorothy.

I don’t know what we’re going to drop in the mail this year.

Maybe a blank card, scrawled with words of love and an old photo of better times, a snapshot of her and Lou smiling alongside mom and dad, martinis raised in jubilation.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

16 thoughts on “American Greetings/Hallmark: Cards for nearly everyone and everything — even dogs and divorces — but not for the old

  1. Thanks for the follow. I stumbled over your blog and noted that you are just a few steps ahead of me on this caregiving journey. My very independant but mid-80s in-laws live with us about 1/2 time – full time any minute now. I’m not working from January to probably June this year – in order to get my own parents packed up from their 30 -year home five states away and moved in ten doors down from us. I’ve been considering whether or not to include the overwhelming topic in my personal blog. It will probably creep in whether I intend it or not since I think it will eventually take over my life. All four of my charges have given their lives for so many others, they deserve the best possible golden years. I just hope I’m up to it. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just started blogging after Christmas. I ran into a newspaper friend on a rare night out and she kicked my butt to start this. I was hesitant at first to reveal too much. And then life took some bad turns and it helped me to keep my head on straight. Since then, I’ve heard from a lot of people like you and like me. I don’t know how you are…I’m 48..and I think the caregiver generation that is Web-savvy is just starting to come online now. And from the feedback I’m getting, people crave blogs like this…to know they are not alone, to know (maybe) what to expect, to share information. My blog is still a work in progress..and really, I’m still so overwhelmed by my own emotions, I’m locked into personal essays…but I encourage you to include your journey online. It’s a service to others. No one can be prepared for this. I fail every day. But having a connection to others in this same strange boat helps. Cheers to you for taking on the challenge.


  2. I’m 52 so we are in that same timeframe. Your comments echo my thoughts and questions: how much to share? Will it be helpful to me? To others? I have hesitated somewhat because I don’t want to expose the others involved. But they are not likely to read it and I think we all desire to support their dignity to the end – or we wouldn’t be doing this.

    I have a small private group of online friends – we met in a forum for decorative painters many years ago. Some of us have since met in real life, many of us have not. But we are all like old friends. Thing is: now our private online conversations are 80% about caregiving and precious little about art, design or painting. We’ve all come to this place at about the same time. A few are ahead of the pack and some have survived to the other side and be able to encourage or offer suggestions to those of us just getting started.

    Just shows how valuable it can be to have a place to unload and share. An open blog is less private but you are proving that it can be of value to total strangers. Thank you for blazing the trail. It’s not one any of us should try to travel alone. I think your personal essay format is fitting. It exposes the inner experience rather than the more clinical “How To” articles that are already abundant. Strength to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. The example of your decorative painters group is a great illustration (forgive pun) of the wave that is about to hit so many. I really don’t think anyone — government, hospitals, nursing homes, churches, grocery stores, furniture makers, etc — are prepared…even as the chattering among us grows. I’m torn on the essay v. how to because I was craving so much info when this all started and I couldn’t find it. I was talking to another blogger the other day about possible launching a second, but connected blog…to talk about products that can help caregivers. Completely $ involved (so many sites are selling something..drives me nuts). A $30 bed rail my mom found before she moved in with us. She wouldn’t be able to get out of bed without it. An ice gripper for the bottom of my dad’s cane. That kind of stuff. I don’t want to clutter this blog with that info, but I still think it could be useful to some. Just typing (thinking) out loud.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sure both are of value. The running blog could be personal essay and then a separate page/or pages for tips, resources, etc. Keeping it all in one place but orderly could make it easier for you to manage – like, you’re going to have all the time in the world – hah.

        So many things we take for granted need serious rethinking.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Doesn’t it just make you wonder who writes those cards? And if they are clueless, out of touch, too young to know what some of us are dealing with (and I mean ALL of us, those caring and those cared for). They think for instance they have done such a great thing by creating pet sympathy cards, to make the ignorant buyers who are so considerate of those who have lost a pet feel that the receivers will be ever so grateful for the very special card. When, in fact, for many of us, pets are family, so that a pet card nearly trivializes the grief. (I suggest people buy a REGULAR sympathy card. Grief and loss are the same emotion regardless of who has passed away).

    I prefer the less emotional cards, with less said. Just like you concluded. You can’t ever go wrong in wishing someone all the best, and letting them know they are being thought of. It is better I suppose to send any card, then to not at all and have someone think you have forgotten about them.

    I have found some nicer ones at Barnes and Noble…even Trader Joe’s has some cute ones that I spruce up as my hobby is to make cards for loved ones, and then they know all the time and effort that goes into them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Robin, I completely missed your message. I think I’m having some WordPress issues. I’m getting emailed comments that aren’t showing up in my comments…and I’m not getting real comments like yours emailed. Weird. I admit buying pet sympathy cards… I don’t think my mom would be happy unless a card had the holiday/event name on it. In fact, I know it because she has said it in the past. She was extremely picky about her cards. No funny ones. Had to be sappy….


  4. Hi Amanda – I’ve got into the habit of collecting blank cards at museums, bookshops, art galleries or even charity shops and keeping a few at home (I mean cards with pictures/designs, but no ready written message inside). Then I can choose the one the recipient’s most likely to like and write my own message inside.

    I don’t know if that’s unacceptable in the US (different countries have different traditions, I know – I remember, when I was teaching in Spain, one of my students told me that he’d be horrified if a dinner guest brought a bottle of wine as a gift. To him, it would imply that his own wine wasn’t good enough to drink!). I think most people like individual messages and it’s satisfying, as the writer of the message, to know that you can put yourself into it.

    This is a bit off-topic, but I saw this article (with lots of links below it) with some good news about health professionals and the families of people with dementia

    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Elaine. I think blank cards are perfectly acceptable in U.S…and, as a writer, I’ve always leaned toward them. BUT — I don’t think older people enjoy them as much because they want to see the sentiment displayed loud and proud on cover (I’m basing this purely on my own experiences…so could be wrong)…almost as conversation starter. A graphic artist friend from a newspaper reached out to me and generously offered to come up with some cards for my needs…sort of excited about that because I think we could come up with some standard cards that would work for many people, particularly those in the Hospice and Alzheimer’s communities. Thanks for link…I’m heading there now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah. You led me to the Hallmark page on Wikipedia and I see they started putting ‘When you care enough to send the very best’ on their cards in the 1940s. It’s a powerful message, isn’t it? I can see how it would lodge in the mind of somebody of your mum’s generation.

        Wouldn’t it be great if your graphic designer friend could come up with a new generation of cards. They’ll have a closer idea of what’s needed, through knowing you.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post. I’ve had similar issues finding cards but for a slightly different reason. For the last 20 years our relationship with my mother-in-law was strained to say the least. We didn’t want to ignore her birthday, we even took her out to dinner each year but oh the card finding was tough. She wasn’t nice to my or my husband or even to my children so all those “Thanks, Mom for all you’ve done” cards were a no go. Then we found a genre of cards called, “Simply Stated.” I think they were actually created for people with strained relations. Can you believe there are so many people suffering the same fate with toxic families? (Okay, that may not be all bad, for me it could result in my book being a best seller!) Sad, really, but those cards, because they don’t have a lot of fluff may be just what you need. I think they are a Hallmark product, alas because they may represent a “hallmark” of some of today’s families. Fortunately for me, I had loving parents and in fact took care of my dad until he died in my home of lung cancer. (HIs choice, the location, not the cause of death.) I like your blog a lot and wish you and your loved ones peace ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Debby, I haven’t checked my blog in a couple of days and just found your message…after I posted something new about American Greetings sending me a box of cards. I think the blank cards are there for those of us who have to paper over non-Hallmark (or non-American Greetings) moments and people. It’s not easy. There’s someone in my family who, no matter what anyone’s intention, would read a card, twist a card, in the worst way. I always have to go generic…even fearful that a picture of a cute dog could be misinterpreted. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

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