When you care enough to send the very best …

I was driving back from my overnight moonlighting gig this morning … well, driving may not be the best word choice. I was inching my way down Route 1 in the middle of morning rush hour traffic, with my trusty coffee at my side and WBUR on the radio, and exercising my extraocular muscles by doing every other minute eye rolls during the report on the Senate’s inability to vote on whether or not to have a vote on a non-binding resolution regarding Iraq.

As you can imagine, I almost choked on my blueberry scone when I heard a little blurb reporting that Hallmark, the greeting card behemoth, has just launched a new line of greeting cards for “life’s more difficult moments”. Like (and I’m serious here) struggling with an eating disorder, quitting smoking, caring for an aged parent, miscarriage, and traumatic loss, such as someone dying in an accident or homicide. They have cards for thanking a hospice worker or organ donor’s family. Cards for waiting for test results. Oh, and of course, the new line of cards also includes those for people tackling cancer diagnoses, treatment, and hair loss. A $2.99 greeting card for chemotherapy-induced hair loss. My goodness.

As reported in this news story:

Others are more happy and even humorous, celebrating a year being cancer-free, nearing the end of chemotherapy or general encouragement for teenagers. There are even a few birthday cards encouraging the recipient to celebrate even though they’ve had a rough year.

Some cards feature whimsical or inspiring photographs – a baby making faces, a marathon runner – but the majority feature abstract designs or just words in flowing script. Card designers said they aimed for bright colors that matched the mood of the card, ranging from bright orange for the more hopeful cards to purples and blues for somber notes …

No topics were off-limits, said company spokeswoman Rachel Bolton, noting two cards that could be sent to gay people who have disclosed their sexuality. The cards don’t directly refer to homosexuality, only extolling the person to “Be You” or “This is who I am” or featuring a rainbow, a symbol of gay pride.

I suppose that this was inevitable. My question is why? The news report on the radio said that Hallmark was doing this in response to feedback from people indicating that they were unable to find cards to express these thoughts. Are moments in life like this so difficult to ponder that people would rather pay $2.95 to buy a pre-made sentiment than take pen to paper in order to write out their own thoughts and feelings? Have we become so used to prepackaged goods that we now need to look for something similar for our emotions?

Even the card writers seem to raise this issue:

Writing the cards proved a challenge because the messages were designed to take a more personal approach than the standard sympathy card, said card writer Sarah Mueller.

“You can’t send somebody who is seriously depressed a ‘cheer-up’ card because it’s insulting and it doesn’t help,” Mueller said. “That’s what depression does, is it makes you feel like you’re all alone. So just being able to write something, the attempt was just to say, I’m here.’ ”

Fellow card writer Linda Morris said society has become more open to discussing people’s feelings on difficult topics, such as divorce or drug recovery or serious illness, which is why people are demanding cards that deal with those issues.

“There was a time when we weren’t so detached, when writing a note to someone was very simple, when picking up the phone and calling was just what you did,” Morris said.

Have we really moved that far away from each other that we rely upon a faceless corporation to help us express our compassion for each other during times of illness or other difficulty? Are people really that averse to calling or writing someone with cancer? I’m not sure how I’d react to someone sending me manufactured best wishes instead of calling to ask me “are you OK?”.

A few weeks ago there was a flurry of stories about the difficulties that physicians face in having difficult conversations with their patients. After hearing this story, it is increasingly clear that this is not a problem solely with physicians. This is a problem with people in general in our modern world. These cards are not part of the problem – they’re a symptom.