More than 17,000 cards flood in for Don and Bev Enman
SUMMERSIDE — Mark Enman had posted a request for Christmas cards on a social media page, hoping for a light flurry of cards to help revive the spirit of the season that his family had lost over the past few years.
© Michael Nesbitt/Journal Pioneer
Mark Enman (centre) with his parents Don and Bev as thousands of Christmas cards that were sent to the couple are revealed on Saturday.
The original Journal Pioneer story can be read here.
What he got was a blizzard of response, which, as the cards were opened on Saturday, was as well received as a classic white Christmas.
Enman’s parents, Don and Bev, have been in care in recent years due to declines brought on by dementia. The change in their family dynamics has been difficult, especially at Christmas as family traditions have been discontinued and spirits withered.
“These last three Christmases there has been an absence in our family homes,” said Don and Bev’s youngest son, Mark. “My parents had such a strong presence in each of their children’s homes over Christmas times.”
Bev, particularly, loved to decorate her house with Christmas cards, and watching “Miracle on 34th Street” was a favourite holiday event.
Mark, while communicating recently with his sister who lives in Germany, decided to post a request for Christmas cards on his social media page. He asked that Don and Bev be given a “Miracle on 34th Street Christmas.”
He expected that friends and relatives would send cards to re-create the holiday magic once more, and that the family could celebrate their spirit of Christmas with their parents at Summerset Manor.
The request went “viral,” described Mark’s younger daughter, Hayley.
More than 17,000 cards and gifts had been received by the time the Saturday’s celebration event was ready. The cards, from all over the world, were stacked in bags and totes like an update of the courtroom mail delivery scene in the holiday-classic film.
“I was not expecting that response,” admitted Mark.
Just minutes before his parents got to see the outpouring of support displayed through the thousands of cards that were about to be revealed, he was unsure how they would respond.
“We don’t know how they will react,” he admitted. “My primary concern is to make them comfortable and not to overwhelm them.”
His hopes for the event were “just spending time with family, visiting with my parents. Just enjoying an afternoon with them, with the holiday season in mind.”
“If they are having a good day, I’d like to watch a movie with them — ‘Miracle on 34th Street’. It’s queued-up and ready to go.”
Recognizing that dementia can limit concentration, Mark pre-set the film to his mother’s favourite scene where the identity of Kris Kringle is confirmed by the delivery of bags and bags of mail from the U.S. Postal Service.
Now it was time for the big reveal.
Bev and Don were led from their care units to Summerset Manor’s community room, accompanied by Mark, his wife Karen, daughters Carly and Hayley, and other family members.
The couple looked around the room, which was littered with tote bins full of cards and several tables piled with even more cards, before being led to two reclining chairs near the television screen.
Don and Bev took their seats and began to examine some of the many cards that had arrived, each passed to them by their children or other relatives with an explanation of who it was from and encouragement to read the enclosure.
Never getting too excited, Don and Bev seemed to enjoy the attention, even if they were a little perplexed at why so many people were periodically observing or waving through the hallway windows and why so much activity was taking place within the common room.
“This has been more than I could have hoped. Their reaction is perfect,” Mark reflected after the initial introduction.
“This is them both having a good day. That’s a Christmas miracle. That this happened is a miracle. That they could enjoy it is the key, and I couldn’t be any more pleased than I am.”
He added, “To see my mother reading these cards, with a smile on her face, fills my heart full of joy. I’m very happy today.”
Mark readily admits that the event was as much for himself and his family as it was to try to revive some special memories within his parents.
His three siblings, who live away from P.E.I., were unable to attend, but he knows the spirit is portable, mentioning that his sister helped with the promotion and that his brother in Massachusetts told him he has regained the spirit he had lost.
Mark’s wife, Karen, hopes that the positive frame of mind Don and Bev displayed will allow them to recapture some of their holiday tradition with a Christmas Eve visit to their home.
“Mom’s happier now, so I’m hopeful. It’s been a good couple of weeks,” she assessed.
Mark feels an improved spirit in the manor as well, and it has made him consider the long-term consequences of his simple request. He hasn’t had much time to think about the volume of cards that have been received, but thought that leaving a basket of them at the manor and refreshing the collection every week would serve a useful purpose for manor residents.
He has also used the experience as a “teachable moment” with his elementary grade students. They have expressed growing interest in proportion to the extent of the response, and the origin of the effort has opened channels of discussion of dementia, which some students may face among their own family members.
The volume of mail has forced him to think about what to do with it afterwards. Even as the event was in progress, Mark expected that more cards would continue to arrive, perhaps well into the New Year.
“Many people can connect to this struggle. Many people, many families, are affected by having someone in the family with dementia, and they can relate to this.”
Mark is considering discussions with the Alzheimer Society of P.E.I. to see if some fundraising use could be made of the cards.
After a remark from his daughter, he also realized that a new tradition may have been sparked, and wondered if a campaign might be mounted to popularize the idea of sending Christmas cards to one’s local manor or to isolated members of the community, stranger to stranger, just for the sake of the spirit of Christmas, to pay the miracle forward.
“That’s the kind of person Mark is,” his wife reflected.
“When you see something like this, where strangers, all across the world take a moment out of their day, to purchase a card, write a card, address it, stamp it, and send that card to a complete stranger because they are having a difficult time, is amazing,” Mark reflected.
“It shows me that the true Christmas spirit is alive and well. It is a message we can all take from this and hold onto.”