At the Hallmark Store — Teary-Eyed in the Sympathy Card Section

An array of commercial birthday cards for mailing. Photo by BarbaraNewhall

My stash of birthday cards. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall.

When the kids were still in the house and I still had a newspaper job to report to, I finally got smart: I started buying birthday and anniversary cards in bunches whenever I spotted some good ones.

I kept them in my desk and pulled out the collection as needed.

This saved my busy self many a frantic, last-minute drive down to the stationery store, where I inevitably spent a frustrating half-hour looking for just the right card to pop in the mail to a sister-in-law or nephew.

Since then I’ve stayed in the habit of keeping a handy little stash of cards in my desk, a dozen or so birthday and anniversary cards ranging from funny to sentimental – but not too sentimental.

Sympathy, condolence cards on display at Hallmark store. Loss of a child, etc. Photo by Barbara Newhall

In the sympathy cards section. Photo by Barbara Newhall

But that’s not what I needed on a recent afternoon.

I needed sympathy cards. Two of them. A cousin had just lost her husband, and an old friend had just lost a sister.

Nothing in my stash would do. Nor would an email note or a Facebook post suffice.

I drove down to the stationer, a special trip this time, and hunted around for the sympathy aisle. Not a fun place to be, I learned.

There was a whole section for “Loss of a mother.” Also one each for “Loss of a sister,”  “Loss of a spouse,” “Loss of a son,” “Loss of grandchild” and so on.

I got teary. So many losses, waiting to happen.

I pulled out card after card to send to my cousin. None of them was funny, of course. There were lots of stained glass windows and autumnal leaves. Lots of dignified, understated typefaces and phrases like:

“Wishing you moments of peace.”

“Nothing can take away the happiness you shared.”

And, “Love lives forever in the heart.”

I couldn’t say any of those things to my cousin or to my friend. Too on the nose, as they say in Hollywood.

It looks like I’m at that time in life when more and more of my friends and relatives are going to be losing more and more of their friends and relatives.

I won’t be able to just pop a store-bought card in the mail and be done with it. I’ll have to think of something to say.

I wandered over to the “blank inside” section. There I found some locally printed cards embossed with sun-drenched, very-much-alive poppies and butterflies. Sentimental, but not too sentimental.

I stocked up. Then I went home and wracked my brains for something to say.

If this piece resonated with you, you might like to read “My Mother’s Last Words to Me Before She Died.” You’ll find a more light-hearted story about a first-rate old guy at “Comedian Robert Morse — Sweaty at 36, Sublime at 83.”

A greeting card with embossed and stamped poppies, blank inside by Emeryville, CA, printer Paula Skene Designs. Photo by BF Newhall

I settled on embossed and stamped poppies by Paula Skene Designs of Emeryville, CA. Photo by Barbara Newhall



  1. poignant and touching

  2. George Alvarez-Bouse—Jache says:

    About half-way through your article I had a wish that you would complete it the way you did. I would go a step further. Make certain along the road that you write as much correspondence as you are able, to family, friends, associates, and the public in general. You ‘can’ use the sentiments expressed in the cards as a premise for a longer statement, your statement, or write something not inspired by the formal statement at all. Social media helps us do some of this, although not all of my friends use it, including one of my best ones, Glenn in Albany, Western Australia, so I have to write the old way, albeit aided by ‘Word’ processing and all kinds of other aids. One final thing, in order for social media to really serve us, we should make it a practice of creating our own ‘riff’, your word, on the quotes that we post on Facebook or elsewhere, for that way we know what we all really think and not what we know unseen others do. Thanks again for this effort Barb. It resonates throughout the universe to borrow from you earlier story.

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