What Began as a Gesture Turned Into Something I Truly Enjoyed

Category: Musing

My in-laws live in Manchester, England, and we don’t get to see them every year. My mother-in-law, Delia, is someone I consider a friend and pal, and she loves to take pictures of all her adventures. When she came to visit several years ago, I decided to surprise her and be her photographer without her realizing it. I never shared with her any of the photos I took, but instead, I turned each photo into a greeting card and suddenly found myself enjoying a ritual of writing her a letter every Sunday morning.  

Greeting cards featuring photos of Tina with her in-laws

Each week, she would receive the card and be surprised and delighted by a photo memory of our time together. She’d share it with her gal pals and husband, and the grandchildren would want to know what this week’s picture was. I always had taken well over a hundred photos during each trip, so just when I would start to run out of photos, we would visit again or they’d come to the States, and I’d renew my supply.

It became such a lovely connection between us. I found myself sharing more and more what was going on in my heart, confiding in her about fears, frustrations, hopes, and dreams rather than just the regular updates.  

When the pandemic hit, I was running out of cards and started making cards out of photos from our daily lives. It wasn’t until about six months into the pandemic that I realized that no one wants that many photos of our cats or her son cooking or reading a book. So I began using my walks to capture pictures of nature, a cool San Francisco street scene, or the redwoods. The challenge brought new clarity and appreciation of the small world around me.

My father-in-law, Peter, had a tough health year in 2023, and my husband went back to England at the beginning of that year to be with them. We returned eleven months later to honor Peter’s life and be with family. I took many photos of all the people who came to say cheers to his life and legacy. I took pictures of the afternoon tea we shared at a garden center. I took pictures of the unexpected and amazing meal we had in a pub in a town called Ramsbottom. But these are the first pictures I took that I just can’t seem to put into cards. I worry they will cause more pain or bring up sadness. 

So I’ve run out of cards, and my ritual has been interrupted. I tried writing on stationery for a while, and there’s just something missing. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s not the same. Each time I’d pull a photo card from the pile, I’d relive the memory and the shared joy together. These were gratitude moments for me as much as extensions of joy for her.  

So I’m in this limbo period … waiting until we go to England or Delia comes to visit us, and I’m feeling the absence of our letter connection. When I find cards I know she’d love, I buy them and write a note. But my Sunday ritual is disrupted, and I miss it. I feel sad that the same pictures are on her wall because they’re not being replaced by new ones. As time passes, circumstances disrupt our routines and something fills that time. But I’m not sure what replaces feelings of nostalgia. If you only knew how many photos I have of Peter eating a pastry with a cheeky grin on his face, reading the paper in the sun while we shopped around, or pictures of Delia and Peter together holding hands on the beach or palling around together. It’s hard to accept that I won’t be taking any more of those kinds of pictures. The absence of the cards is more related to facing the absence of Peter than I want to admit.  

Even though this cherished ritual is experiencing an understandable pause, it’s something we’ll both return to when time has healed both of us a bit. This simple practice has enriched our lives immensely, so I’m looking forward to that day. In the meantime, we’ve moved to video calls since Delia is hip to WhatsApp. It works but we know we’re both waiting for the supply of photos to be refilled during our next face-to-face visit. Until then, I’ll continue longing for more bread pudding, more giggles, more hikes, and more time together. 

If this story inspired you to reconnect with handwritten notes, I’ve taken the liberty of sharing twenty suggestions on my Resources page.

And if you want a friendly nudge, I encourage you to accept my 30-Day Note-Writing Challenge. Click here to learn more.

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