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Virginia Stem Owens

When You're Scared Enough to Send the Very Best

Thanks to "ongoing research of consumer needs and social trends," America's premier greeting-card company has discovered the truth that made M. Scott Peck rich: Life is difficult.

We human beings catch diseases, some of them incurable. We get downsized. We lose our minds or our parents to Alzheimer's. Some of us even die.

Well, thank goodness we now have one less worry—Hallmark's new Thinking of You greeting cards "account for more of life's relationships and complications, challenges and struggles, concerns and moods." And just in the nick of time. As one of the front-running lemmings rushing to the edge of 50, I've been needing those cards for several years now. The old "hope you'll soon be on your feet again" didn't quite convey the sentiments I wished to express to a friend facing permanent invalidism from a damaged heart, or to another friend who recently wrote that hospice has fitted her with a morphine pump. And when the twentysomething daughter of friends was brutally murdered in her Washington, D.C., apartment, the traditional "God will comfort you" seemed presumptuous.

A decade ago, when I worked for the American outpost of a British publisher, we used to have good-natured arguments about book titles. Faced with cancer, depression, illness, or loss, Brits coped. Americans, I tirelessly pointed out, triumphed. Brits lived with. Americans vanquished. When the U.K. office sent us a book titled Making Friends with Pain, we Yanks drew the line. No way, we said. We're not kinky.

Maybe we were just young. Alas, "some 3.89 million people will turn 50 this year," Hallmark announces. That's more people than live in Chicago, many of us now the elders of our families, all of us dealing with unexpected limitations and loss, most of us noticing for the first time that we are mortal. My turn comes next year, which may be why a friend of mine, just old enough to have missed the Boomer label, keeps sending me books with titles like The Alchemy of Illness and A Year to Live. ...

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