After the passing of his wife in 2013, Dowling, 95, has received thousands of letters to help him feel warm and happy during the holiday seasons.
George Dowling has hated December, his once favorite month, for the past nine years. Christmas has become a difficult time of the year for him after the death of his wife in 2013. Lucille, his late wife, lived for the holidays. She decorated their Christmas tree and their Pawtucket, Rhode Island, house the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas cookies were continuously being baked.
"She was Christmas," Dowling, 95, told The Washington Post of his wife, who he was married to for 70 years. "She did everything big; all the cooking and baking." Lucille passed away on December 1, 2013, following a battle with Alzheimer's. Dowling and his daughter, Suzan Brito, pulled down the tree and canceled Christmas that year.
"My father couldn't handle it," said Brito, who lives with Dowling and is his primary caregiver. Dowling is a World War II Navy veteran. “He’s only been with one woman in his whole life, and she’s gone. When December 1 hits, my dad gets really sad," Brito added.
As December neared the year after Lucille's death, Brito considered ways to cheer up her father, whose grief was overwhelming. "Dad loves getting mail," the 64-year-old revealed. "I thought maybe some Christmas cards would make him happy."
She reached out to her friends and family on Facebook, requesting them to send her father a Christmas card. To her relief and joy, about 30 of them did. Brito decided to do it annually since the cards served their function. Now, family, friends, and even strangers offer Dowling sincere Christmas greetings. He got 102 letters in 2018. According to Brito, her father reads each card and letter and proudly tapes them to the walls around their house.
"We have been doing this since my grandmother passed," Brito's daughter, Charlene Fletcher, wrote on Facebook, urging people to send greeting cards to her grandfather. "It helps him get through the holiday." The card-collecting campaign took a life of its own after her post, finding its way to TikTok and the local press. Dowling got over 10,000 cards in eight days.
Meanwhile, Fletcher got comments from strangers, thanking her for drawing their attention to her granddad. Many of them could relate to his story. "I wanted to say thank you. It has been such a blessing to me and brought back a lot of my Christmas spirit to try and help you with this," one woman from Alabama wrote. "It's so heartwarming," Fletcher said. “Nowadays, people don't really open up like that, especially to a stranger. They feel connected to him."
Cards have been received from all 50 states and even from around the world. Some were written by children, while others are authored by adults. Some cards feature adorable Christmas drawings and many offer sympathy for Dowling's holiday loss.
Reading the cards, Dowling said, "keeps my mind busy." It also serves as a reminder to him that "people are good." Dowling, who has four children, three granddaughters and four great-grandchildren, has also received sweets, cheese platters, plush animals, gift cards, pajamas and handmade knitwear in addition to cards. The White House Historical Association also sent him a card and an ornament, as well as letters and trinkets from local politicians.
"It's been crazy," Dowling remarked, adding that he has recently felt like a celebrity. Fans who have read his tale have stopped him on the street, in the grocery and in restaurants in recent days.
Dowling's favorite card thus far is from Nina, a four-year-old girl. "I love you George. You're my best friend. Merry Christmas," she wrote and included a drawing of a colorful Christmas tree. "It's unbelievable," Dowling said, adding that he has too many cards to reply to by hand, but he is appreciative of each one. While he still misses his wife, he says the unexpected outpouring of love from individuals near and far has made this holiday season joyful.