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So Hard To Say Goodbye: Advice For Farewell Notes


Looking ahead to our last day, many of our friends and colleagues have been faced with a dilemma. Well, how do you say goodbye? For many of us, finding the right words can be difficult. And when inspiration fails and panic sets in, well, we often turn to the long racks of greeting cards. So we've asked former Hallmark greeting card writer and creator of the YouTube series "Greeting Card Emergency" David Ellis Dickerson. He'll join us in a moment. But what's the best goodbye card you ever got? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. David Ellis Dickerson, with us here in Studio 42. Nice to have you back on the program.

DAVID ELLIS DICKERSON: It's a lovely to be back, Neal.

CONAN: And I have to say, broadly speaking, there seemed to be two categories. Hey, congratulations, you're moving on, or, oh, I'm so sorry.

DICKERSON: Right, right. There's the you got fired and, you know, we're not going to see you, or you're going back to school. You're following your dreams. Right. Yeah.

CONAN: Exactly. When you left Hallmark, did anybody sent you a card?

DICKERSON: Oh, of course. Their cards...


DICKERSON: People buy the cards a week in advance, it seems like. Everyone knows everything beforehand. I was also thinking - another event that happens a lot when people have to say goodbye are temporary gigs, like television or theater or putting together something like that, camp. And so it's an interesting challenge, because so often, the farewell cards you get are things like, it was great working with you. We'll see you again, you know, I'm looking forward to - but they all seemed to miss - what I love best about this new world is that there's no goodbyes, you know?

I'm on a road tour right now, a cross-country, and I'm staying with friends I've suddenly been able to stay in touch with, 10, 15, 20 years. There - in a way, every goodbye is temporary. And I was hoping to see more cards that would - that reflect that.

CONAN: Have you seen any?

DICKERSON: I don't shop at card stores that much anymore...

CONAN: Oh, really?

DICKERSON: ...because I'm in my own head.


DICKERSON: In fact, most greeting cards writers don't buy greeting cards. They write their own.

CONAN: They write their own?

DICKERSON: Yeah. But, you know, I do know that most card stores go straight into the strike zone. You know, they want the most popular kind of card, and that's generally going to be business, you know, we're sorry to see you go.

CONAN: Or flowers on the cover, and...

DICKERSON: Exactly. Yes.

CONAN: The nice thing - well, I'm going to say - you know, there is that category, people who are gone forever...



CONAN: ...but they're not going to read anymore cards.

DICKERSON: Exactly, exactly. In a way, you can sort of miss on a card like that. You can say whatever you want, and it's not going to matter.


DICKERSON: That actually reminds me one of the cards I had in mind when I was thinking about a card for this, would - a card that would say something like in this, you know, Facebook era, you know, how can you ever really say goodbye? And on the inside, it would say something like, but if you find out how, please let me know, because I've got stuff I need to do.

CONAN: It's even weirder that radio, which you think of as this ephemeral medium, that, you know, you put it on the air, it goes out. You wait for the reviews from Alpha Centauri.


CONAN: The fact is, all of this stuff is archived on the Web. All of this stuff is going to be around forever.

DICKERSON: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. That's amazing. Well, that was the other - because my mind went to a scientific mode, as well, and I was thinking about the fact that - oh, I had one idea that said something like: Matter cannot be created or destroyed. Every particle in our body is immortal and will survive.


DICKERSON: It is a scientific fact we will meet again. And on inside it says: We'll probably have doing jobs, though.


CONAN: That's a good one.

DICKERSON: Yeah, thanks.

CONAN: Yeah. I like that one. I like that one. Let's go to Linda, and Linda's on the line with us from Longmont in Colorado.

LINDA: Hi, there.

CONAN: Hi, Linda.


LINDA: Hi, Neal. I've been on four times, five including now, and I wanted to give you one of the best goodbye cards ever and just to tell you that we love, love, love you, and we'll miss you. And NPR's crazy for canceling the show.

CONAN: Oh, well, thanks. That's very kind of you to say, Linda, and we appreciate that.


CONAN: But come on, we're going to have to demand a little more creativity from our audience than that. You got to tell us the best card you ever got, or you can write one. All right?

LINDA: Thank you. We love you, bye.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Linda. This is from Pat who is writing us from St. Louis. When I was 15, I began working for my hometown newspaper. My job was vacation rotation, so I worked in every department as people took their time off. On my rotation in the business department, I had what was up to then my most embarrassing moment. When I shut the bathroom door, the doorknob fell off on both sides, locking me in. The business manager and I had to match our respective knobs to free me. Oh, my. I wanted to die. When I left the department a couple of weeks later, they gave me a farewell card, thanking me for my work. The greeting said, we'll keep a night light on in the potty for you.


CONAN: Oh, my. She goes on to say TOTN folks, will miss you. Best wishes for your future endeavors. But that's very nice.

DICKERSON: Oh, that's wonderful. Yes. So that's something you couldn't write a card for even if you planned it ahead of time, you know?

CONAN: And that's maybe why that specific card - if you've got somebody who's creative in your department, that's really the best way to go as opposed to, you know, going down for the pre-printed material.

DICKERSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I'm a big fan, of course, of greeting card companies and all of that. But nowadays, particularly in a kind of post-paper society, the reason you send a card is as a keepsake, as a token, as something you put on the refrigerator, as something you keep on the mantle. And so you want it to be personal, something that resonates, and the best way to do that is with a personal touch, a personal joke like the knob. That's really funny, the night light.

CONAN: And there is the other interesting aspect of this. So much of this turns out to be in French.

Oh, really.

Yeah. Bon voyage, adieu, au revoir.

DICKERSON: Oh, right.


CONAN: A bientot.

DICKERSON: I hadn't thought about that. You're right. That's funny. The language of diplomacy is also the language of saying so long.


CONAN: Well, maybe they're connected. This email from Gretchen in Oshkosh. Goodbye doesn't mean you'll be forgotten. It means you'll be missed.

DICKERSON: Oh, nice.

CONAN: That's not too bad.

DICKERSON: That's very nice, yeah.

CONAN: Let's see if we go next to - this is Ethan. Ethan with us from New Albany in Indiana.

ETHAN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ETHAN: Yeah. Enjoy your show so much.

CONAN: Thank you.

ETHAN: Whenever I - I went out to school in Northern California, and I got a card from a really good friend. And the card just had a single pine tree on it, covered in snow, and it said, when you're alone, remember that you're never really alone, except you are alone, so very alone.


ETHAN: And it kind of perfectly encapsulated what you're talking about. It was like, there are no real goodbyes. I assume you're not going to die, so come back and don't worry about it.


DICKERSON: I like that.

CONAN: So very alone.

DICKERSON: It's so wonderful. It's interesting, saying there's no goodbyes. A friend of mine, I remember, just the other day posted on Facebook, saying she was having a rough day. And 20 people immediately chimed in to cheer her up, and she said, my God, that actually worked.


ETHAN: And to me, it's amazing what just a little bit of positivity and humor can do to help you get through something.

DICKERSON: Amen to that.

CONAN: Ethan, thanks very much.

ETHAN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Let's see. We go next to - this is John, and John's on the line with us from Redding in Pennsylvania.

JOHN: Neal, you're beautiful, man. I'm just going to miss you so much.

CONAN: Thank you.

JOHN: But, yeah, it's great to even get on the air. So for me, the idea was, what can I or what have I heard that really motivated me to look at this in a positive way. Because when you got - when they took the show off the air, I got very resentful. And Clint Black wrote a song called "Leaving A Better Man." And the chorus is I'm leaving here a better man, having known you this way. Things I couldn't do before, now I know I can, and I'm leaving here a better man. And so the whole idea was instead of focusing on the bitterness of being rejected because the woman he loved turned him away, he just focused on what it had meant to know the person and to - and how his life had changed. And so I think the idea of focusing on what was good about the relationship is the sentiment I really will take with me.

CONAN: Country songwriters seem to have graduated from the Hallmark school.

DICKERSON: It is. Actually, I once actually did a lecture on that...

CONAN: Really?

DICKERSON: ...for Hallmark writers - country songs because, right, they're doing the same thing, the same kind of structure.

CONAN: Hmm. Interesting. John, thanks very much. Can you give us an example?

DICKERSON: Oh, well, it's just that - like, for example, if you look at - this would've been in the '90s, so you had - there were two country western songs about saying goodbye. And both of them made reference to the rearview mirror. One with the rearview mirror is torn off. I'm never looking back. That was Jo Dee Messina. And then the other - I'm blanking on her name - had one about how I'm not going to look in the mirror. So the metaphors go together, but one was up-tempo, one was slow tempo. And so you have (unintelligible)

CONAN: One was major key, one a minor key.

DICKERSON: Different ways of doing the same thing, and that's what greeting card writers have to learn how to do. How do we tell the same story again?

CONAN: Again and again and again.


CONAN: Let's see. We go to Suzie. Suzie is with us from Wilmington in - the one in North Carolina.

SUZIE: That's right. Thanks for taking my call. I was going to tell you about the greatest goodbye card ever. I received a framed bus ticket. I was leaving my first real job out of college and moving to a new city. And my group of co-workers bought a bus ticket from the new city back to my old city, and they framed it. They used all my nicknames when they addressed it to me. And then at the bottom, it said, in case of emergency, break glass and come home.


DICKERSON: Oh. That's beautiful. Oh, my goodness. How long were you with those people?

SUZIE: Well, it was a long time ago, but it was - I haven't worked for that company in over 20 years, and I was with them for two years so...


SUZIE: ...it was quite a nice send off.

CONAN: After 10 years, did you get an SST ticket?


SUZIE: Well, you know, times were different then. I could crawl back faster than I could take the bus now. But, you know, that's OK.

DICKERSON: I still am curious. What industry was that that has that many nice people in it?

SUZIE: Well, it was, as you said before, creative industry, and they come up with great things. It was a publication.


CONAN: Suzie, thank you very much for the phone call. And that's inspirational. That's inspirational.

SUZIE: Thank you.

CONAN: We're - thank you. And we're talking with David Ellis Dickerson, the former Hallmark greeting card writer and creator of the YouTube series "Greeting Card Emergency." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Sharon's on the line with us from Reno.

SHARON: Hello.

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Sharon.

SHARON: Hello. Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I just wanted to say many, many thanks for years of wonderful programming. And I have, yeah, been in the middle of Nevada, mapping underground. And I just was telling your screener I have come up - made it a point to always come up from underground to listen to the program to try to contribute more often than not. I've been waiting on the line to contribute, but - I'm so grateful for the programming. It's gotten me through many rough days. And I'm just super, super appreciative, and I'm going to miss you. Thank you so much and thank you for being so gracious.

CONAN: Thank you so much, Sharon.

SHARON: And it's been wonderful.

CONAN: It's very kind of you - we got to work that into card, somehow.

DICKERSON: Well, I was just thinking.

SHARON: I wish you the best.


CONAN: Thank you.

DICKERSON: I was just thinking, what the previous caller had said about we are leaving a better man out. The ways you've improved people (unintelligible)

CONAN: (Unintelligible)

DICKERSON: Yes. One of the things that's kind of nice is you, in addition to producing this program, apparently, have also increased this lady's exposure to sunlight.


CONAN: So melanoma, she can blame me for.

DICKERSON: No. It's...

CONAN: It's a great way to go.

DICKERSON: It's the vitamin D. It's wonderful, and you don't - you didn't even expect that to happen.

CONAN: Here's an email from Corine(ph) in Portland: When preparing to leave China after teaching university students for three years. One of my students presented me with a small card and glass jar with some dried flowers and soil from the university grounds where she'd studied I taught and we both lived.

DICKERSON: That's beautiful.

CONAN: That's really nice. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Katie, Katie on the line with us from Buffalo.

KATIE: Hi. Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Katie.

KATIE: I'm a huge fan of the show. It's so special to me that I'm getting to call you today, of all days.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the dialing. What's your greeting card?

KATIE: My greeting card was actually made for me this year for my birthday by my father. I live really far away from him, so I don't get to see him. Growing up, we would always make my parents card for every occasion on the old Print Shop program that used to run on DOS on the computer. And I remember. And this year, my dad actually recreated DOS on his computer so that he could upload and put on a new Print Shop program. And he made me a homemade, old-school Print Shop card.


DICKERSON: That's brilliant. Oh, my gosh.

KATIE: It was awesome. It was so thoughtful, and it was such a throwback to our childhood. It was just great.

CONAN: Who remembers MS-DOS?

DICKERSON: That's amazing.

KATIE: I know.

DICKERSON: But what about that? We were just talking about how you can never say goodbye to people. We can't say goodbye to anything. There's probably - everything is available online right now in some file, somewhere.


KATIE: As long as you can do the computer magic, you can make it happen for sure.

CONAN: Katie, thank you very much.

KATIE: Of course. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is James, and James is on the line with us from Orlando.

JAMES: Thanks, Neal, for many years of great, interesting stories. I had a lady break up with me, and I thought she was so talented when she signed the card, applaud, friends. The comedy is over. So many years later, I found out that was the dying words of Beethoven, I believe.


JAMES: Also, Neal, what will happen to the theme music? I travel a lot, and you were not in Orlando for many years. But then, you finally came, and I heard the theme music come on and I said, I am tuned in. So what will happen to the theme song? Will SCIENCE FRIDAY retain it?

CONAN: I believe SCIENCE FRIDAY will retain it because I know Ira Flatow well, and he's not going to commission another tune. But the - other than that, you know, maybe it'll end up on a website somewhere. Who knows?

JAMES: Then you will live on forever in our hearts. Thanks.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much. We appreciate it. Let's see...

DICKERSON: And probably for several years too.

CONAN: Probably. Keith is on the line with us from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

KEITH: Hey. Listen, Neal. We love you so much, man. And I just want to let you know, man, I'm taping this so I can let my little grandkids hear that I talked to Neal, this famous guy. He's a reporter, and he always, he always made sure, in way or the other, that he let black folk listen. Your legacy is not (unintelligible). You got old kingdom over there (unintelligible) and all that was going on. Those black folks running their own country. And the last time you did it, you said, where is the (unintelligible) from? You had this guy (unintelligible). And I said, well, Neal, you're the greatest ever. And we love you, black, white, everybody, man. We're going to miss you. We're going to miss you so much. Man, I don't even want to start crying on this phone, brother. We love you, man, and you take care of yourself, Mr. Neal. OK, sir?

CONAN: I will do that, Keith. And I'm going to hang up or I'm going to start crying.

KEITH: You're the greatest, bro. You always made sure black people listen. You somebody. You always made sure we knew that. Thank you, sir. And we love you. Be good now, OK?

CONAN: I'll do my best.

KEITH: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. So, David, before we leave, we just have about 30 seconds left. Anything you want to leave us with?

DICKERSON: I had one more card that I wanted to talk about, that I thought of doing for - that will be good for a job. It would be - on the outside, it says, you're leaving? That's so uncalled for. If you wanted a bunch of hugs, you could've just asked.


DICKERSON: Having said that, I actually wrote a card for you, Neal.


DICKERSON: As you could see, it has a little dog on the outside.

CONAN: It does.

DICKERSON: And it says, whatever else you're doing next, I already like it.


DICKERSON: Thanks for making this a pleasure too.

CONAN: David Ellis Dickerson, author of "House of Cards." Thank you so much for not just this appearance, but for all the others in the past.

DICKERSON: Thank you for, you know, all those years. It's been really, really wonderful,.

CONAN: David Ellis Dickerson joined us here in Studio 42. I guess it's SCIENCE FRIDAY tomorrow. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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