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Holiday Pen Pal

let’s get old-school

By Martyna DearingPublished 7 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - October 2023
Holiday Pen Pal
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

The holidays are coming and it’s tough. This will be my second holiday season without my husband. Only last year it all happened so quickly after he died, I didn’t even have the time to think about it. I was overwhelmed with grief and simply didn’t care to please others with my presence. But now it’s been a year since Andrew’s death and I feel like some people expect me to move on, and join the festivities.

It’s not going to happen, though. I cannot possibly imagine participating in family gatherings without my husband. I can’t even phantom the idea of getting a Christmas tree or blowing candles for my birthday when he can’t celebrate his. People see me smiling and posting on Instagram… getting ready for a marathon and building my own business - and they assume I moved on with my life. But the hurt is still there. The pain of everybody having their loved ones at home, when I spend every night alone with my pets. This season brings out all the loneliness and anxiety, and I know I’m not the only one struggling.

I woke up one day and decided to open a bookstore in my husband’s name. Drew’s Bookstore is something that I’ve been working really hard on for the past few months. I realized that the corporate environment wasn’t really grief-friendly. I was expected to be okay, to take on more responsibilities, and I had no flexibility to focus on my mental health. Every time I needed extra time off I felt like I was hitting a wall. I had to explain myself when the explanation was always the same… I changed. I was hurt and broken. I still am. I simply cannot mentally handle working 9-5 and responding to pointless emails. Every time I saw a call coming through I felt like I wanted to die.

This store won’t fix my depression. I’m fully aware. But doing what I love in the name of the man I love feels right. And that’s all that I want to do now - things that feel right.

It’s going to be hard, I know. At the same time, I’ve already built such an amazing community of self-published authors who want to be a part of the store. I’ve gotten so much support over the last few months from people who I’ve never met. The store isn’t opened yet and I already feel like impacted many amazing authors from all over the country. I am beyond proud and excited.

But I’m also embracing myself for the impact of the holiday season. It’s going to be tough to see everyone coming by the store, buying gifts for people they love. People will be wishing me “Merry Christmas” not aware that my Christmas stopped being merry the day my husband didn’t come back home. And I know that there are plenty of people just like me, wishing others didn’t overwhelm them with their joy. Being joyful is a privilege and unfortunately, most people don’t realize that until they lose it.

That’s how the idea of the Holiday Pen Pal came around. Well, it all started with a postcard from my brother. Per usual, I took a photo and posted it on my stories saying “Let’s never stop sending each other postcards”. It’s been a beautiful tradition that we’ve been keeping alive with my friends and family. Every time we go somewhere we send each other a text “Can you remind me your address?”… and a few weeks later that little piece of paper makes it across the ocean straight into our mailboxes. I feel very lucky to have a group of people willing to participate in this ancient practice with me. It’s been almost ten years since I left home, and I still send postcards to my best friend from high school who I see only every few years. Those postcards always make my day and then go straight onto my fridge.

After I posted about the postcard, a dear friend who I met through Andrew, started telling me about the letters she used to get from her grandma. We talked about how special it is to get things in the mail and how it’s a shame people don’t do that anymore.

The idea popped into my head. Holiday Pen Pal project! Eight weeks of anonymous letters between strangers to support each other through this difficult time of the year.

And yes, it does sound a bit like a Hallmark movie I watched last year. But at the end of the day, don’t we all need a bit more Hallmark magic in our lives? The world is a scary and depressing place sometimes - very often, actually. Let’s do something that is different, old-fashioned, and simply exciting. I know that I need more simple pleasures in my life for sure.

So if you’d like to be a part of Holiday Pen Pal, check out the link below. Also, if you’re an artist and would like to work with my bookstore, let me know! I just quit my corporate job to pursue my passions over the holidays and in the New Year. Let’s make it worth it!


About the Creator

Martyna Dearing

Martyna Dearing joined vocal right after COVID started in April 2020. Since then she got a few Top Stories, republished her book "Green Card Marriage", and is about to release another one titled "Loved, Death, and In Between".

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Comments (13)

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  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶5 months ago

    Beautiful Top Story... so very sorry about the tragic loss of your precious husband... opening a bookstore in his memory is wonderful and will bless many people. Also, I love post cards & not having travelled much in awhile, I had quite forgotten how lovely they are. Thanks.

  • Abdullah7 months ago

    I can feel your loss

  • Erica Wagner7 months ago

    So sorry about your loss, Martyna; but what a beautiful project and best of luck with your bookstore. I applaud you and hope lots of folks get in touch and find comfort.

  • Antoinette L Brey7 months ago

    so sorry about your loss. I am alone over the holidays as well., I think there are probably a group of us on vocal who are living alone. Good luck with your bookstore.

  • Naomi Gold7 months ago

    I relate to this so much! I spent the past year grieving, and this winter I get to start working towards my dream career and new life. Also, if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as job security, so you might as well throw caution to the wind and do what you love! I know your bookstore will be successful because you’ve already decided for yourself that it will be. Huge congrats on that. 🥂 And on your Top Story, too. Christmas has been hard for me my entire life. As a child, it meant forced togetherness with my dysfunctional and abusive family. As an adult, I simply had no interest in a mindless consumer holiday, and people would treat me with pity when I chose to be alone for it. When I would celebrate it with people who insisted I join them, that’s when I truly felt alone, because I was never wanting to participate. I finally realized I was always meant to be Jewish, and this year will be my first Hanukkah. But I feel ya on how people force Christmas “cheer” on everyone, not knowing their circumstances. It’s bizarre, and in my opinion it’s one big corporate cash grab we feel societal pressure to participate in. Even when I was a Christian I was well aware it wasn’t a religious holiday. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention December 25th, or spending obscene amounts of money to express love. It makes poor families feel more poor, it makes middle class families try to display opulence they don’t have. The decorations, the gifts, the feast. It’s a lot, and it doesn’t leave people feeling happy when it’s all said and done. Your pen pal idea is so great. I always had pen pals as a child. I now have a few electronic pen pals via email, but you’re right, getting things in the mail is special. I hope this holiday season is much easier on you than the last. I’m sure your husband is very proud of you, and I hope you feel proud of yourself for this journey you’re embarking on.

  • Suze Kay7 months ago

    Martyna, I remember your story about your husband’s passing. You have no idea how much joy I feel to see you pursue your dreams! Congratulations on your new chapter. This is such a great project. I’m going to sign up - thanks for sharing!!

  • Aleena Huda7 months ago

    I loved it.

  • Gerald Holmes7 months ago

    I loved this, so open and honest. Congrats on a well deserved Top Story.

  • Matthias Evans 7 months ago

    Great post

  • Congratulations on your Top Story💕🎊📝

  • Inspired by this article, Thanks for sharing something Good to Read🫶🏾📝

  • Babs Iverson7 months ago

    Martina, loved reading your story. Leaving corporate and starting a bookstore named after your husband whom you miss so deeply is courageous.❤️❤️💕

  • Kendall Defoe 7 months ago

    My father passed away when I was ten...two days before Christmas. I was lucky to have family around, but it was still very hard for me. And I can only imagine how you feel. I think that I may have to write a few postcards... Thank you for this! ;)

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