I need to reach out to others on their terms, communicate good intent, and check for understanding.
The Unopened Mail card’s story is a sad one. During the COVID pandemic, due to restrictions, we couldn’t visit my father in person where he lived. So my brother’s family and I reached out to him via phone and mail, sending greeting cards, letters, postcards and drawings on a regular basis.
I usually sent Dad one or two postcards a week. At first I sent postcards from my various travels: where I’d lived in San Francisco, the scenery I drove through back east, the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula, or where we’d lived in Colorado. Then I found an app that would mail him postcards made from my iPhone photos. So he got pictures (with stories) of my yard, day trips, the free box in the neighborhood, whatever made for a fun picture.
I felt like the postcards weren’t enough, although my mother said he liked getting those. I sent the occasional letter and photo book, since I didn’t know how much he felt like reading. As it turned out, the postcards were a better decision than I knew.
After Dad passed away, I collected his mail from the past year, including the cards and letters we’d sent him. I pulled an envelope out of the pile to see what drawing my nephew had sent Grandpa. I was shocked to discover the envelope had never been opened.
I looked through the rest of the stack. Some cards and letters had been opened, but not all of them. I was shocked and sad to see how many of our missives had remained unread. Each one represented love, thought, outreach, caring….but the message hadn’t been fully received.
I can never know what my father was thinking during that time in his life. Why hadn’t he opened our mail? Did he forget? Was he mad at us? Was he glad to get something, even if he didn’t read it? I’ll never know. But he didn’t have to open the postcards…just holding it in his hand would have gotten at least part of my message through.
Unopened Mail is a reminder to me to reach out to others regularly, and on their terms when possible. I should check in to see if messages—especially loving ones—are being received, and ensure that good intent comes through despite any communication clumsiness. There’s always a gap between what we try to communicate and what the recipient understands. I should strive to see how big the gap is, to not make assumptions, and do whatever is possible to close it, especially when matters of the heart are at stake.