“When was the last time your saw your family in person?” a neighbour asked me.
As they all live in the United States, which is experiencing alarming increases in Covid-19 cases and deaths across the country, it has been a long time.
“My last trip to the US was in September 2019,” I replied, recalling my niece’s wedding in Cleveland. “My daughter Lulu and I attended along with my parents, my brother, my step-brother and his family, my sister and her family and a veritable assortment of friends. Back in the day of big family gatherings.”
I sighed and continued, “We haven’t returned since then. In fact, after last Christmas, none of them have even reunited physically. My parents, for the first time in their lives, shared Thanksgiving dinner between just the two of them. We had planned to all meet in Hawaii this coming Christmas. But, of course, that’s off and my elderly parents will mark another holiday alone.” I sighed again.
As we prepare to close our remote-working laptops and take a much-deserved break during the holidays, many of you are probably joining me in those sighs. For this Christmas will not be about open-house parties, tables pushed together to accommodate numerous extra diners, cacophonies from a miscellaneous collection of squealing children or glasses clinked together by loved ones who traveled home from afar.
Instead, we have an opportunity to focus on making connections in different, but still meaningful, ways. I say opportunity, because if we have our health right now, it’s better to look for opportunity this holiday season than disappointment.
We have been relying heavily on digital communications over these many locked-down months, and I’m happy to encourage you to deck your Zoom rooms with boughs of holly and welcome Aunt Mary and Uncle Harry virtually. But I’m also urging you to dig out a piece of stationery or a simple lined notebook and write an old-fashioned letter.
- Letters move you from digital to tangible
Emails, Whatsapps and other forms of digital DM, are no substitute for putting pen to paper.
“There’s been a reawakening of the physical,” said Anna McHugh, An Post’s head of communications. “There’s been a big increase in personal mail this Christmas like we’ve never seen before here in Ireland and internationally. Not only the massive increase in parcels and care packages but a return to the written word. Everyone knows how they feel when they receive the tangible nature of what makes us human.”
- Receiving a letter can become an event
“I remember when my granny would receive a letter from her family in America,” my dear friend Damien O’Reilly recalled. The presenter of the RTE Radio 1 programme CountryWide explained that three of his granny’s siblings emigrated to the United States during the 1930s.
“Living in rural Cavan, Granny didn’t have a phone until the 1980s, so getting a letter was a big deal. I remember the envelopes with their navy blue and bright red edges signifying airmail. She would call us all into the kitchen where she would put on her glasses and read the letter aloud. I can even hear her imitating her sister Manie’s voice.”
For that reason alone, when you write your letter, make sure you craft it the same way you speak. Take your time. Make sure your personality and sense of humor ring through.
- A hand-written letter is a treasured piece of history
“A letter is like a present. You can share it. You can re-read it,” Anna told me.
In fact, Damien’s dad Paddy recently re-read the letter his mother (Damien’s granny) wrote to her American-based sister Manie announcing his birth back in 1940.
I saw a photo of the letter. In it, you can vividly see the letter’s distinctive tilted pen-stokes. No two people’s handwriting is the same. For instance, there’s a delicate curlicue embellishment on the capital “D” in her salutation, “My Dearest Manie”. There’s quite a bit of spacing between her words. She writes her final thoughts in the margin – sideways.
This letter has outlived its writer and stands the test of time for her family as a wonderful study of her style and character during a significant time in her life.
“A cousin found the letter in Manie’s house and sent it back to us. It was written just three days after my dad was born and is completely irreplaceable,” Damien said. “We may worry about this one Christmas where we can’t sit around with our loved ones. But in my granny’s generation, many family members who emigrated did not return. My granny never saw those three siblings in-person again.”
By not visiting our families, we are protecting our elderly family members like Damien’s dearly departed but not forgotten granny. So, compose a keepsake of a letter for your absent loved ones this year. Don’t re-open your laptop to type and print it. Craft it by hand. An Post have created Adam King’s virtual hug into a special post mark for the holiday season. You can share his hug and your unique handwritten sentiments. Make it a moment and momento to remember.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon