It’s happened to me perhaps twice, possibly three times. The first time was a lovely German lady, who sadly died of breast cancer. Her daughter wrote to me and told me. It was terribly sad, but I was touched and humbled by her daughter taking the time to write to me, a stranger to her. I cannot begin to express how grateful I was for that.
I found out today that another lovely lady, from the US, died last summer. I had sent her a Christmas card last december. One of my cards that I send to people who haven’t written for a while, but I don’t want to lose contact with them. But I did not hear from her. I suspected something might have happened as she had been ill for some time. Perhaps, I thought, she had had to go into a home. In her last letter she had written about that. Or she had become too ill to write.
Last week I sorted through my letters. The letters from people that I had not heard from for a year or more were put into one box. Letter from people that I wanted to get in contact again, went in another. The letters in the first box were shredded and the remains were put out with the recycling. It sounds harsh, and I hate to do it. But I just do not have the room to store countless letters from people who have no interest in writing to me. I put my friend’s letter in the second box, ready for a quiet moment, with no letters pressing to be answered. Then I would select a penpal and send them a short note. Sometimes it is just a matter of having lost my address, or of having thought they had replied to me. Sometimes letters to get lost in transit.
But something was niggling me about my US friend. So I googled her name. Nothing. I googled her name again and this time added the word “obituary” after it. And there she was. The name was unfamiliar; she was listed under her family name. But the details; the names of her children and grandchildren (which were not common names), her previous job, her interests, the fact that she liked to write letter in her spare time, were all there. She had died in june last year and her funeral was in july. It has been a whole year since she went to the Summerlands. I just feel so terribly sad that I didn’t now that she had gone.
That possibly, perhaps, third one was an elderly lady I had been writing to for some time. She was not one to have just faded away by not replying. So I am guessing that she had died too. My husband has promised that if and when the day comes for me, he will let my friends and penpals know. Perhaps it is a good thought, to have an address book and possibly a supply of stamps handy, just in case. Because not everyone has the time or the patience to wade through boxes of letters and other impedimenta of penpalling. There is a little matter of grief. But it is difficult for the penpal, waiting for a letter from a friend, and not knowing that they will never hear from them again.