One of the things I discovered when I became my Grandmother’s full time caregiver was that she really loved sending cards. I mean I knew this in my own way as I was a recipient of hundreds of cards from her through out my lifetime. But it wasn’t until she allowed me to help her send cards that I truly saw her devotion.

She used cards as a way to jot a quick note. She also used them as vessels to hold much longer hand-written letters. She sent cards to remind me to do things. She sent me cards to thank me for gifts. And when I sent her a thank you note she would respond with a thank you for the thank you. (not even kidding)

Correspondence was an art form for Millie. She took care with it. She expressed her love, her concern, her encouragement with it. I received a card from my Grandmother every week I was in college. Every. Week.

When I had to start helping Millie with her correspondence I was allowed access to her writing desk. As a child I was well aware that Millie’s desk was private. I was given permission to look for and use writing tools from the middle drawer (as long as I returned them in good condition) but I was not to go into other areas of her desk. As an adult, and only in the capacity of helping, I was given the nod.

Yes. Go ahead. Open the drawers.

And I discovered the cards.

Every drawer was filled with blank cards. For every occasion you could imagine. My Grandmother would fall in love with a card, purchase it, and then keep it in the drawer until the right moment or person was ready for it. Dementia was not kind to this sort of loyal stockpiling. There were many, many duplicates. Oh so many.

Pulling the cards out and sorting through them was like a tour through the decades. When we moved from Alabama to Florida Mother and I found boxes and boxes of cards. It was such a bittersweet manifestation of the Alzheimer’s creeping in – but how like Millie that even as her memory was fading she still had this deep need to connect with others. She could no longer write notes on the inside fold of the cards, but she would spend hours sifting through her collection until she found just the right one to say what she wanted to say.

The collection of unsent cards was a surprise. We found stacks of cards with our names on the envelope but for one reason or other they never made it to the post. After Millie died I spent some time with her cards. I read them all. I tried to imagine who she had selected each card for. I tried to hear her voice reading the prose inside.

When I first started writing posts for Hallmark I asked them if they had any suggestions for what I could do with all of these cards. Of course I could recycle them in the curbside way, but that seemed so wrong and offensive. These cards were purchased with such love that I wondered if there was something that could be done with them. Something as unique and special as the woman who bought them.

The team at Hallmark was amazing! They first suggested I look into a recycled card program at St. Jude’s Ranch. Then they shared with me tips from Hallmark editorial director Cheryl Gaines about what to do with old holiday cards:

“When the season is over and the display comes down, keep the ones that have special meaning to you — from a child or an aging loved one or the photo cards. But it’s perfectly okay to “recycle” the remaining cards. Consider using them to make bookmarks, ornaments, paper wreaths, paper candle rings, gift tags for next Christmas.”

In a few days (September 9th) it will be Grandparent’s day. I think Millie would have loved the idea of turning her collection of cards into art or sending them to an organization that would benefit from them. It will be my gift to her.

This year W and I are working on a project together to celebrate Grandparent’s day for his Lolly. Hallmark sent us a recordable storybook to fill with stories. Each page is a sweet prompt and I know that we will have a great time making it special for his Lolly. W has such wonderful adventures with his Grandmother and it is going to be pretty amusing to interview him about that!

What do you do with your old holiday or birthday cards?

Do you have any other ideas that I should consider? I’m starting a pinterest board to keep track because there are so many brilliant and creative craft ideas. I’m also interested in the idea of making my own paper from these cards. (um, yeah, probably will never get that going, but I dig the idea of having beautiful new paper from old cards…)

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