News reporters, and now bloggers, are always being approached with story ideas. Some are good, some not-so-good... but we always listen to “the pitch,” because that's central to the job. If something matters to one person, it probably matters to other people, too.
When my former neighbor called up the other day, I wasn't prepared for such a pitch — she's long since retired from the business world, has no agenda to “sell.” Or so I thought, until we started talking... and I realized her proposal, though hardly Brookfield-specific, was both good and worthy. And it made sense coming from Lady Claire, since she's “old school” when it comes to friends and family: she writes thank-you cards at the drop of a hat, and marks nearly every holiday — Easter, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day — with yet more cards.
Her idea? That people should write “farewell notes” to their near-and-dear before it's too late — before they pass on, or lose the ability to speak or write, or become too weak or drugged or incapacitated to access their best emotions.
Her drumbeat was “Thank people while thanking is still possible”: focus on what you're grateful for, on those you love, rather than on what you've lost, what you fear.
The idea came to Claire quite recently, when circumstances seemed to compel a move away from the Southbury/Heritage Village area, where she's lived for more than a decade. She'd leave behind many friends... among them Patrick, who's been her aide-de-camp for some 16 years. Patrick came into Claire's life after her debilitating Route 7 car accident in the 1990s, and quickly become indispensable as companion, chauffeur, consultant, mood-enhancer; became, in brief, a member of the family. As the years went by, and as Claire stayed home more, required more “professional” services, moved into a more senior-friendly center, Patrick wasn't needed so much... but the relationship remained strong, so Patrick still came by. He made her laugh, and she him, and that alone was plenty.
Claire's “Send a note now” suggestion is remarkably simple... and reminded me, again, why her best-known business was as a designer and producer of greeting cards. She believes in staying connected to people... but not in a “whussup,” Tweeting, Facebook “friend” way, but in forms that underline genuine feeling. Claire does Emily Post one better — politicks for handwritten notes with substance and purpose, rather than to fulfill the requirements of “proper etiquette.”
In the normal course of events, I might have forgotten Claire's phone call. But she followed up with (of course) a letter, which included some suggested “farewell note” language — 'Dear X, I want you to know how much happiness and fun you brought into my life,' and 'Dear Y, As I am leaving and going to a special place, I will always remember how lucky I was to know you.'
She concluded, in her letter, “It would be best if [people] wrote [notes] only to family members, so some friends would not feel bad if they didn't receive one.” Makes sense to me — otherwise, people with many good friends would never be able to put down their pens!
Mission Accomplished, Lady Claire. And now I think I'll call my 91-year-old parents — these days, they can hear better than they can read.