In Lieu Of Flowers

– by Albert Berkshire

In December of 1997, Hilary Montbourquette taught me two of the most valuable lessons I would ever learn in business.

1) Never be the drunkest employee at the company Christmas party when you know there will be cameras present; and

2) Always make your Thank-You’s personal.

As I opened his card in my office, a few days before Christmas, he exposed a rather disturbing grin as he walked away from my desk, and on to see the next person, who, I was about to discover, would likely experience the same fate as would I.

Inside the Christmas card, was some cash, a personal note thanking me for being a loyal and hard-working guy who was always ready to step up when needed (I was) … and a photo of me … well, I was indeed the drunkest person at the party, and there was evidence…and possibly a wig. I still have it in a box labeled “Shit Albert, For Some Reason, Can’t Throw Out”.

Sidebar: Also in that box are three Toronto newspapers from January 1, 2000, a number of photos I shot and particularly liked from my days in Journalism School, a video tape of the artist L. Hope Young smoking a cigarette to the music of Sinead O’Connor, a few important-to-my-security photos of some people I know, a couple of photos from Nassau in 1995 documenting my friend Jen consuming a lot of beef noodle soup, and me with the Stanley Cup (also very drunk and again in front of a camera, despite having learned the photo lesson from Hilary two years prior). The Stanley Cup story, by the by, is particularly odd and wholly deserving of its own story…and thank you card. Oddly, I drink very little these days. There’s just no time. There’s writing to be done.

The photo from Hilary was amusing, and I wasn’t the only person to receive one, thusly, we all had some good laughs recalling the 1996 Q93 Christmas Party. (Sometimes holding onto a photo for an entire year is worth the self-imposed suspense. I’ve done it myself.) And while I may to this day question his motives in presenting me with what was certainly a ‘copy’ of the photo, I do know that even if it was a reminder to me that he had the upper hand, it was also very personal.

I don’t know of many instances when I have received a photo of me from someone else. I’m sure the guys have shared some pictures, and a few colleagues have done the same, but those are more common since the explosion of the digital age, where it is quick and easy to email or post a photo and tag a friend in the process.

Instant. Cold. Impersonal. Yes decidedly convenient. Meh.

The fact that Hillary took the time to write a personal note, in a card, and include a copy of the photo (actually on Kodak paper), meant more to me than the $50 or $100 bucks in the card – despite my paltry salary. I am, perhaps, more touched by the recollection of the sentiment, than I was back that December day. Still, 15 years later, it remains fresh in my mind.

The personal thank you card; one you actually write in, sign, and post, is the quintessential form of communication. And I will defend it beyond the day Canada Post, USPS, or even the Royal Mail cease to exist.

Digital junkies, hold-over yuppies, corporate multi-multi-multi-taskers will argue it takes too long and they can send emails with their signature already formatted at the bottom of the page to fifty clients in the time it takes to send one, personal card.  But to what end? Anyone can type (or copy and paste) a thank-you email, complete with the luxury of digital editing, spelling and grammar check – although it seems to be less important to an alarming number of “corporate” types. On the flip side (a place you know I like to spend my time…debating…everything), there is something profoundly special about a) receiving something in the mail; b) the unedited, personal note in the sender’s handwriting – however unpracticed it may be since we all spend far too much time typing and very little, if any, time writing with a pen or pencil; and c) having something to display on your desk, night table, studio speaker, cork board, refrigerator, or the like.

It is real. It is tactile (humans being a tactile species – we like to touch). It is far better, more important, better received, and more fondly remembered for years and years and years than any email you could ever write. I’m a writer. I know this fact because I carefully craft every email I send. (Yes, you may have received a few quick replies form me, but I am very anal-retentive about my grammar and spelling. Typos are free game from time to time – everyone has to have a signature quirk.) Plus – you can’t delete a real thank you card.

And if that doesn’t convince you; it is something in the mail that isn’t a bill or a flyer.

I have received a lot of thank you cards from people over the years. I love every single one of them. I keep them all. From family, friends old and new, employers, past lovers, business colleagues, clients, and my spouse. Some come in the mail, some are hand delivered. One client likes to courier them to me. (seriously)

The thing is, if you really want to be remembered – a month from now, or 15 years later – be the person who took the time to send a personal note, penned in your hand, with something personal that you know will matter to the recipient. Even if you print a couple of photos on standard printer paper. Because short of sending a person flowers (Oh, the cliche) with a little card on a pitchfork wedged into an oddly textured green sponge-like substance, nothing says I appreciate you more than the Thank You card.

I smile every time I read, and re-read them. And I fondly remember the sender.

It matters that much.

What you write, in your own hand, means far more than you could ever imagine.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes for a living, and refuses to allow the digital world to erase the purity and significance of the hand-written word. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Pouring his heart onto a page, and relentlessly appreciating the emotion found in the written word, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.