For the last number of years of her life, my mother was primarily housebound—not because she was an invalid, but because my father was totally dependent on her care, and because she did not drive. So on the occasions when someone came to visit or a neighbor took her on a “quick run” to a shopping mall, her first stop was to a card store so that she could stock up on a variety of greeting cards. You know the types—birthday, anniversary, get well, sympathy, and so forth.
When she died, I found a bag of unsigned cards, intended for family and friends for the next few months. Among them was a “Dear Daughter” birthday card I knew was for me. My daughter, her granddaughter, mailed that card to me, not with my mother’s pretend signature, but left as we had found it, with unspoken wishes, familiar to my heart.
Always when she sent a birthday card, there would be handwritten sentiments of “Go slow” or “Be happy” or “Take care” or “One day at a time” (her favorite hymn, whose words she kept in her wallet).
Always there were hand-drawn happy faces, as well as joyful stickers inside the card and outside on the envelope to cheer me. Very often the well-wishes were accompanied by an assortment of “holy jokes,” cut out from the weekly Church bulletin.
In addition to annual birthday cards, there were cards for other annual holidays— including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day (Yes! She acknowledged my motherhood on Mother’s Day!) And for each holiday there would be a follow-up thank you card, too, with a handwritten expression of gratitude for cards, gifts, and visits.
Throughout the years, there were special personal milestone cards, congratulation cards for the births of children and grandchildren, beginnings of new jobs, acquisitions of academic degrees, and so forth.
Perhaps more appreciated than the congratulatory cards were the ones that reached out in times of illness or sadness. Cards with sentiments of encouragement and “I love you; I’m praying for you; I’m with you.”
Sometimes, notecards arrived unexpectedly, unconnected with any life event, carrying within some carefully clipped article, with a note about how she thought I would enjoy reading it. Sometimes, the expected enjoyment was based on my vocation or avocations. Sometimes, in a motherly way, the article was meant to punctuate advice or concern on matters of health or safety that I hadn’t been so readily accepting—at least not to the degree my mother desired.
In addition to commercial greeting cards, my mother sent various Mass and Spiritual Enrollment cards for the same purposes, and on the same occasions as she sent the commercial ones.
Along with the bag of greeting cards and spiritual Mass and enrollment cards that had been her mercy ministry, her way of fulfilling a number of Scriptural admonitions, referred to later in this reflection, I found her address book. (Yes. Handwritten information, not digitally entered into a pad or phone.)
In addition to addresses and phone numbers, she had entered all the calendar information she needed for sending cards. For each person or couple, there were notations concerning birthday, anniversary, and death-day dates: month, day, and year. Based on that detailed information, she knew not only the particular day on which someone was born or married, but how old the person was or how many years a couple had been married.
…If you still are reading: thank you! …If you are wondering how all this remembrance about my mother’s mercy ministry connects with keeping a “Mercy Calendar”: your patience is about to be rewarded.
Unlike my mother, I did not keep a date-filled address book. No, I pridefully relied on my memory to acknowledge the special days with a call, more often than with a card. Problem is, although I told myself I would remember, the truth is, I forgot. Or, worse, out of preoccupation with other self-centered matters, laziness, or indifference, I ignored those special dates. In doing so, I missed the give-and-take of my mother’s works of mercy.
So…in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’m making an advanced new year’s resolution to keep a Mercy Calendar, starting by transferring onto one of the many 2016 religious calendars that will come my way, the applicable dates from my mother’s book, last updated by her before her death more than six years ago.
By entering the information on to a 2016 calendar, rather than purchasing a perpetual one, I will likely repeat the transfer process in succeeding years. A waste of time and energy? In one respect: yes! However, writing that information at the start of the year, I hope, will remind me of upcoming celebrations. ..Hopefully, as I transfer the information, I will do it prayerfully, which in itself is a work of mercy.
In addition to transferring information, I will add information all during the year. Doing so will allow me to be particularly merciful to one group of people: the grieving. How often in the past I have regretted asking a colleague if she enjoyed a day off only to be reminded that it was the first anniversary of her husband’s death. How many times I wondered why a friend was so ultra-sensitive, so teary, only to learn afterward from someone else that it was a wedding anniversary or birthday of a spouse who committed suicide, or the anniversary of a miscarriage.
If I had noted those events on a Mercy Calendar, even if I had not sent a greeting card or made a call, I could have reached out in understanding and kindness—things out of ignorance and self-absorbed business I did not do.
As a hospice volunteer, I remember learning that it’s not the time immediately following a loved one’s death that proves most difficult. No. The mind has a way of protecting itself during an initial grief-shock; a certain numbness overtakes the body and the brain. Also, during the initial time, there are plenty of family and friends to comfort and support.
...But in the successive months, the condolence outreaches begin to diminish in frequency and number. That’s when the numbness, too, begins wearing off. That’s when the bereaved needs comfort most…Like a call or an encouraging card…not a patronizing outreach, but a thinking-of-you; is-there-anything-I-can-do-for-you outreach. That’s where the Mercy Calendar can be a big help in keeping track of those “tough” anniversary dates.
But not just the tough anniversary dates need attention. Christians need to be joyful; to be thankful. Sending cards for joyful events tells people that they are remembered; they are loved—by God, through us. Celebrating other people’s joyous events makes us joyful, too.
As we read in the letter to the Romans (12:15): Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
And in the first letter to the Thessalonians (5:11): Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…
In the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us do something extraordinarily merciful compared with the usual way we go about remembering and acknowledging our friends and family. Let us send greeting cards, Mass cards, thank you cards, no-special-reason cards…Let us pay particular attention to days when people need recognition for their joys and their sorrows. Let us be merciful in this Jubilee Year, for in addition to receiving God’s Mercy more purposefully and gratefully, let us recognize and respond to our invitation and obligation to show mercy to others. Keeping and acting on a Mercy Calendar, it seems to me, is one very plausible, practical way of doing that. Don’t you agree?
One final word. In these days of digital interaction with emails, ecards, and face-to-face screen talk time, let us use these new technologies with those who will appreciate them, and let us be willing, too, to use “old-fashioned” means of communication, as my mother did, to reach out to those who will appreciate that form of correspondence.
Among my mother’s most prized possessions were the cards and letters sent from her daughter, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren. Within a personal scrapbook album she kept for each one of us, were the greeting cards we had sent her. As much as digital communication is speedily convenient for senders, there is something kinesthetically appealing for receivers about seeing the signature of a loved one, reading a handwritten message, finding a greeting in a snail mailbox, holding, displaying, and saving a card from a cherished sender. Sacrificing time and treasure to purchase, write out, and mail cards can be part of the merciful giving that Part One of Keeping a Mercy Calendar helps us to do.
In Part Two of this Mercy Calendar reflection, we will focus on our receiving, rather than giving, mercy, as we explore keeping another kind of Mercy Calendar—one that helps chronicle our personal mercy relationship with our God.