A few weeks ago, I had my 52nd birthday. You don’t get any new privileges when you turn 52. Nonetheless, I still love birthdays. Among the many reasons is that I always get a funny card from my parents who retired in The Woodlands, Texas. As long as I can remember, they have always sent me humorous birthday cards. In fact, I can never remember a time when they sent something serious. It’s just a family tradition for which I take the blame. Mom says I was born laughing and that probably accounts for much of the levity in the selection of cards.
When I checked the mail on the day before my birthday this year, there was no card from my parents. It was the first time that had ever happened. However, on Monday when I went back to check the mail an envelope was there with my parents’ return address. But this time something was different. The envelope was addressed to me in my mother’s handwriting instead of my father’s. I opened it up, removed the card, and read the following:
Can’t look at you
a surge of pride.
Can’t hear your voice
your growing-up years
without a little tug
at the heartstrings.
Can’t let your birthday go by
without reminding you
how very much you’re loved.
The writing at the end of the card was also my mother’s. The reason was that my father, Joe Adams, could no longer hold a pen to write. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in September. By the end of October he had lost his capacity to do many things he had done before. By November, he had lost the ability even to feed himself.
There is a reason for the change in tone of the 52nd birthday card I received from my parents. When they picked it out they knew it would be the last one they would ever send to me. The time for levity had passed. There were some things they had to say. And I am glad they did. It’s the best card I have ever received from them or from anyone else. I will hold on to it and cherish it forever.
I’ve been pre-occupied these last few months and I’ve been writing very little. Indeed, this is one of the shortest columns I have ever written. I know that it comes at a time when people are starting to select cards to send to their loved ones. Maybe some of you reading this come from one of those families with a tradition of sending humorous cards for birthdays and holidays. Maybe you’ve been doing it as long as you can remember. If you are like most people, you never know which ones you send will be your last.
I hope that readers of this short reflection will do themselves and their loved ones a favor this year. When you select your cards, imagine each one you select will be the last one you send to them. This is especially true for those who have had a rift in their families during this election season. I know I’ve lost a few friends – although my family suffered no political casualties. Regardless, never forget that politics is temporary and death is permanent.
Just make sure you say the things that need to be said before it is too late. It’s taken me over half a century to understand just how important that is.