Just now everybody must be working through their address book (or books!) to compile this year's Christmas card list, and begin the task - the ritual - of getting them written and posted.
I've done my list. As discussed in a post a while back, I wanted to be fairly rigorous about not sending cards to people who weren't part of my regular life, or who hadn't been able to fully accept me as Lucy, even if they were 'family'. But it's been harder than I thought.
When it comes to it, it seems a bit off, sticking to an inflexible plan and firmly closing the door on anyone at a time dedicated to peace, harmony and good cheer. It's a time for confirming and maintaining connections, not breaking them.
I have for instance a distant female cousin who has kept me at arm's-length because of my transition, and I was in two minds about putting her on my list, especially as her husband is definitely unhappy about ever meeting me again. Then this morning I received a really nice card from her, complete with a family photo, all properly addressed to 'Ms L Melford' and with 'Lucy' on the card itself, and I can only interpret this as evidence that she is OK with me, even if her husband is not. I feel compelled now to send them a Christmas card.
There is of course another aspect: 'my family' is a very small entity, and distant cousins matter. If I confined my cards to 'close family' only - which in my case means sister in law, nephew and niece, plus partners - I'd have only three family cards to send. (I have of course no parents, brothers, sisters, or children of my own)
So my list as finalised contained as many as twenty-six names of individuals or couples, most of them friends. A bloated list compared to the slimmed-down one I originally conceived for this year! And, inevitably, there'll be a few incoming cards from people not on my list, which I shall have to consider responding to. Unexpected cards, coming out of the blue.
Some of these unexpected cards will be for Mum and Dad, even though they both died in 2009, and even though I was conscientious at the time in telling the sad news to as many people as possible. But I didn't know everyone that Mum and Dad were still in touch with, however vaguely. Those persons - lifelong friends, friends from the bowling club, perhaps neighbours from their Southampton days forty or fifty years ago, or even from the Barry days yet further back - will have examined their own address books, profusely littered with crossed-out or amended names and addresses, Mum and Dad's somewhere among them. And theirs is a generation that will, if still up to the annual chore of trawling through those names, and identifying who might still be alive, dutifully despatch a card.
Each such card puts me on the spot. At the very least, I must write to them and tell them the sad news that Mum and Dad are no more. Phoning is no good. They won't know my voice, or who 'Lucy Melford' is. I don't want to confuse them with a difficult-to-digest explanation of who I used to be, and what has happened to me since, and why, and what Mum and Dad thought about it. Let them read (and re-read) a short and to-the-point letter signed by me as Lucy but referring to 'my parents', so that the information can sink in gently, and they can assume I was a daughter never mentioned in the past. I'd prefer to keep them puzzled over the signature on a letter, than deliver an oral shock over the phone that might badly upset them.
Of course, given the advanced age of these persons, I could as a policy simply not respond, and leave them ignorant of what happened to Mum and Dad, and myself. And I would do exactly that if I judged it to be the best thing. But on the whole, I feel that somebody who goes to the trouble (and significant expense) of posting a Christmas card deserves a response, even it will not be good news for them.
I am sorry for the very old. Theirs is a world full of sad news, as every year more and more of their contemporaries die. We all know that this is how life is: we know it from the moment we discover that death exists. But we don't want a steady diet of mortality.
Getting very old must be like contemplating a night sky in which the visible stars are getting fewer every time you look up. One night the sky will be entirely black. Just you, and a blank infinity.