As I got older, I actually liked writing thank you notes. I'm still a big fan of hand written correspondence (even though I don't practice it all that often) and I liked taking the time to write out my appreciation for people who had taken their time to think of me. After David and I got married, I wrote almost all of our wedding gift thank you notes myself (while watching TV and drinking wine, sure, but my penmanship is pretty good when I'm buzzed). I like the little process of using a favorite pen and sealing the envelope and sticking on a cute stamp. I still think the postal service is kind of a marvel and it amazes me that you can pay a relatively small sum to send almost any object anywhere in the world.
In fact, I kind of pride myself on sending thank you notes if I receive a gift and I cannot thank the giver in person. I choose cute stationary and I send notes in a timely fashion. It's like a throwback to the simple etiquette of the nineteenth century, when people wore gloves and left calling cards, and the Victorian part of me really enjoys that little ritual (the note writing, I mean. I'm not in the habit of wearing gloves and leaving calling cards. Although I'm not ruling it out entirely...).
To tell the truth, I was also kind of judgy about thank you notes. If I didn't receive one for a wedding gift I'd give, I thought that was "super tacky." But mostly I was more interested in sending than receiving them.
I had two baby showers before Eliza died. I'd ordered cute baby duck stationary from Etsy and I'd just mailed the last of the thank you notes two days before I went into labor (six days after the shower). It was fun. I loved going down the list of useful and adorable things we'd been given, imagining Eliza dressed up in all her cute clothes, or wrapped up in her swaddling blankets, or listening as we read from one of her many books. I remember writing, I can't wait for you to meet Baby Duck! in a thank you note to one of my cousins.
|from Bumblebee Press|
And then it all fell apart.
Our baby was dead and all of those gifts got put away and suddenly we weren't celebrating a new life, we were figuring out how to keep living with this great emptiness inside us.
And while I sat on my couch and alternated my time between staring into space and fits of wailing and sobbing, many people did really nice things for us. Dropped off casseroles and lasagnas and soups. Sent over veggie trays and edible fruit arrangements. Had lovely flowers and plants delivered. Made thoughtful donations in Eliza's name to scholarship funds, the Methodist church, the March of Dimes, children's hospitals, a program for bereaved parents at our hospital, the National Share Organization, and other charities like Blessings in a Backpack. Sympathy cards stacked up in our mailbox everyday for weeks and I sobbed gratefully over each one. People sent us angel figurines and books and personalized Christmas ornaments. It was overwhelming and such a great thing to feel surrounded by the love of people who care about us and about Eliza.
My friend Monica kept a list for me, of who gave what, just as she'd done at my baby shower two weeks earlier. I knew that eventually I would want to send notes, thanking everyone who had been so kind and thoughtful.
But I never sent a single thank you note.
I am thankful. I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who sent a gift, or made a donation, or stopped by the house, or mailed a card, or uttered a prayer. I can think of no greater gift you could give us than to do something good in memory of Eliza, and then tell us about it and write or speak her name.
I should make sure to send a note to everyone who did that.
I keep thinking even now that it's not too late. I want to tell people how much I appreciate it all they did for us. Obviously I am capable of expressing myself in words, and I want to tell people who reached out to us that the darkest time in my life would have been even worse if I hadn't heard from them.
But I can't bring myself to do it. It's not the tedium of the chore, it's the emotional exhaustion I feel when I even begin to contemplate doing it. It's just too hard. I don't want to do it. I just don't want to. I bought cards to send. The package is still unopened.
I feel terrible about it because maybe it's tacky not to send notes and I don't want anything associated with Eliza to be tacky. And I feel terrible about it because in some ways the donations that people sent after her death were even more significant than the gifts we received before she died. The donations told us that she still mattered and that her life was meaningful, that she was loved and wanted and missed and that her memory was honored by people who cared about us. Nothing could have been more comforting in those days (or now, really) than to know that other people were thinking about her and typing or writing her name. I want people to know that it made a difference to me, I want them to know that it is so important to make that effort to buy a stamp and send a card and that the donation they made in Eliza's name was truly an honor to my baby's life.
My mom said that people don't expect thank you notes for this kind of thing, and I know that even the judgy part of me wouldn't care if someone failed to acknowledge a gift when they were in mourning. But I've gotten thank you notes from grieving people acknowledging donations I've made in honor of their loved one and it makes me feel guilty that there were so many people I never thanked.
I'd like to say that I'll do it someday, but I know that's not true.
I don't want to write cards that try to strike a balance between sounding hopeful and sounding sad. I don't want to figure out a way to say "we're doing okay but our new definition of okay is shittier than I would have ever dreamed possible for still fitting into the realm of okay." I don't want to make it sound as though I'm still in the not-eating, not-sleeping, barely-existing phase of December, but I don't know how to adequately explain where I am now in a few handwritten lines in a thank you card. And I know a thank you card doesn't require all of that--I could just say, "Thank you for your donation to ____ in memory of our Eliza. It meant so much to us." I just feel like that doesn't even begin to cover it--how much it meant, how much we love her, how much we still can't believe that this is our life and it doesn't have our baby girl in it.
Maybe I'm expecting too much from a thank you note.
Maybe I just know that writing every single one would make me cry, no matter what I put down on paper.
The fact is that I am eternally grateful to everyone who reached out to us. But I still don't know whether I'll ever send this set of thank you notes.