Is it weird to send Christmas cards from the dead?

Posted Dec. 22, 2012, at 5:07 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 23, 2012, at 7:56 a.m.
Emily Yoffe
Slate
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudie,

In 2006 my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Just over a month later my father passed away from his own previously undiagnosed lung cancer. My mother’s friends were such a huge help to my mother and me during that tough time. My mother passed in 2008 and my brother and I sent out notices and thank yous to them.

Here is my dilemma: I just discovered a box of cards that my mother had written to her friends and never sent. They are all sealed and addressed. Do I send them out? Part of me wants to with a letter explaining the history of the cards. But another part of me says not to. I don’t know how I would feel if I received a card from a friend who has been dead for over four years. What should I do?

— No Return to Sender

Dear No Return,

Send them. You’re right to want to attach a letter of explanation. You can type up a note and just fill in the appropriate name for each addressee. Explain you just came upon a box of cards your mother wrote to her dearest friends but never got to send. Say you hope it is not upsetting to receive a letter from someone now gone for so long. But you were happy yourself to see your mother’s handwriting, and you’re assuming they would appreciate reading her last thoughts. Say that in the years since she’s been gone you’ve thought often about how important her friends were to her and how much they helped you and your brother. Add a few lines about how you’re doing and send your wishes for a wonderful New Year. I myself would be moved to get one last message from a beloved friend who was much missed.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I’m the oldest of my father and stepmother’s combined five children. My husband and I have both been very lucky to do better financially than all the rest of the family. My husband loves Christmas. Every year he gets excited about the gift that he picks out for one of my family members — we each draw a single name and exchange one gift. He usually remembers something that someone has mentioned being excited about over the course of the year and spends a couple hundred dollars. Every year, we get pressure from my father to purchase less expensive gifts. But I haven’t heard that pressure from any of the siblings. They have always expressed appreciation at my husband’s thoughtfulness. Our gut feeling is that my father feels insecure that he can’t compete with my husband’s income. Is it reasonable to put a somewhat arbitrary price cap on everyone’s gifts? My husband puts a lot of thought into gifts and just wants to have the freedom to express his love of Christmas.

— Who’s the Scrooge?

Dear Scrooge,

I bet your siblings don’t want to put the kibosh on your husband’s generosity. The participants in this lottery are limited enough that sooner or later each one is bound to be the winner of your husband’s largesse. But it usually is the case that when there’s such an unbalanced gift exchange — someone gets an iPod Touch but gives a CD — people generally feel awkward. That’s why it’s standard for families that institute these round-robins to also put a range on how much people should spend so no one feels embarrassed or cheated. It’s too bad if your father is speaking up out of his own insecurity. But I agree with the suggestion that your husband should put a lid on these displays. Surely his pleasure in making other family members happy doesn’t have to be limited to a single day. If you two are so flush, then treat your siblings at some point over the course of the year to a meal at a good restaurant, or remember them with generous birthday gifts. That way there will be fewer fervent prayers over who picks the rich Santa.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I am dreading my family’s annual Christmas get-together this year, but not for the usual reason. My mother, who’s in her 60s, her sister-in-law, and a female cousin are huge fans of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books. They literally cannot be in a room together without discussing the book in great detail, regardless of who is around. They have all badgered me to read the books; however, any interest I had in reading them was squashed by their incessant and overly detailed accounts of the books. They all call me a prude, laugh at me, and deliberately try to cause me discomfort. I have been warned to not be “so oversensitive and uptight” and that they plan to discuss this openly at our family Christmas dinner in front of the children. Am I wrong to think they should be respectful of my feelings and others? Am I the only grown woman having this issue or are all women so crazy for those books they have lost all concept of appropriateness?

— Dreading the Holiday

Dear Dreading,

I can understand that after years of discussing the thickness of the gravy and the thinness of Uncle Herbert’s 401(k), these ladies have grown sick of post-Christmas Mass talk and would prefer a mass reading of Christian Grey. Sure it could be awkward explaining to the kids that even though Grandma keeps going on about her favorite brand of ben wa balls, that they are not getting their own set in the Christmas stocking. And yes, they might wonder what Aunt Lois did that was so bad that she keeps talking about getting spanked. But respect your elders and let these ladies have the pleasure of thinking that isn’t a hot flash, they’re just hot. As you’ve seen, the more you object and squirm over their passion for the trilogy, the more they’re going to torment you with references to Christian Grey-flavored popsicles. (Just tell the kids it tastes terrible and you’re sticking with grape.) Ignore this senior trio or laugh at them, and agree with the kids that they sound very silly. And if ice cream is served for dessert, just tell the children that even if Grandma keeps talking about letting it drip down her body, they’d better keep theirs in the bowl.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

 

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