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Sarah Gassen: In these troubled times, let generosity into the heart
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Sarah Gassen: In these troubled times, let generosity into the heart

Recovering from a loss is hard, but small, genuine acts of kindness are always appreciated

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

My late husband is starting to get mail at my new address.

He’s been gone almost nine months.

But his junk mail survives.

The first catalog arrived last week. I’ve become used to seeing forwarded mail — bills, mostly — addressed to both of us. Those are petering out because I’ve moved and sold the house. It’s not my life anymore.

Seeing his name on my solo address threw me. A gut punch and a burst of tears that felt like it came out of nowhere. But, as I’m learning with grief, it — whatever that it is — comes from everywhere.

I sent a note to the generic customer service email address on the catalog, asking them to please remove my deceased husband’s name from their mailing list.

He doesn’t live at this address because, I wrote, he unfortunately no longer lives anywhere.

A return form letter assures me my request has been forwarded on to the appropriate department. I’m sure an automatic reply, spewed out by an algorithm, will arrive soon.

Today’s mail brought a request for updated contact information from a cremation service.

The company is updating their files and asked him to please send back the prepaid postcard if “you want to know more about the benefits of cremation.”

I think he knows all he needs to know about cremation.

It’s OK if you laughed. He would have, too. Sometimes, you just have to laugh because heaven knows there are enough tears to go around.

Injuries inflicted by routine machinations of modern life deserve notice. Knowing that, dead or alive, we’re all just a name on a mailing list doesn’t warm the heart, does it? Knowing that it’s not personal or intentional doesn’t make the wounds prick less. The disinterest feels so hollow.

There are bigger things to worry about: The climate, the coronavirus, the presidential election (one of my husband’s last wishes was to urge people to vote and defeat Donald Trump), the economy, the overload of trying to work and manage kids doing remote school at home, unaffordable quality child care, gun violence. I could go on.

But it’s OK to notice the small things, too. It’s OK to be sad, angry, depressed, anxious — and to say so out loud. It’s healthy, I think, to have a sense of perspective that yes, other people have much bigger challenges and that I have it pretty darn good.

But damn, sometimes it’s hard. Life is hard. This life, right now, is hard, in so many ways. And yes, gratitude is important, but the cult of gratitude in popular culture — journals, calendars, inspirational posters, jewelry, cards, coffee mugs, water bottles, books, t-shirts, yard ornaments, you name it, and almost all aimed at women and girls — can feel like pressure to negate reality.

I’m thinking more these days about generosity — the sharing of spirit, of what we can give and how to be open to receive the generosity of others, because that’s a gift, too.

In the months since my husband died I have received more kindness and caring than one sentence can hold.

Generosity is about taking measure. Gratitude right now feels like a comparison, but generosity lives as a state of being and action. Sometimes what we can give is a hello with smiling eyes above a mask, sometimes it’s more concrete.

Generosity is the opposite of the impersonal mailing list world.

Generosity is the world I choose.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Star’s Opinion editor. Email her at

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